FARMINGTON — As young people grow up and leave the reservation, they also often leave behind the language and culture that makes up the traditional Navajo way of life.

The White Shell Woman Workshop on Saturday aims to reach out to Navajo girls and women from ages 8 to 24 and preserve the Navajo culture.

Nonprofit organization Miss Navajo Council, which includes former Miss Navajos from 1952 to present, is sponsoring the workshop. The former Miss Navajos serve as "ambassadors" to the girls and women, imparting their knowledge of Navajo tradition, culture and language and teaching them how to integrate that into the modern world.

"Through the workshops, we hope to reinforce the teachings of our grandmothers, and help the students so they can grow with some foundation in their cultural heritage," said Miss Navajo Council president Sarah Luther. "When these young people leave their homeland, at least they're ready, and have a sense of self-identity."

Since the workshops began in 2007, more than 2,000 girls and women have participated in them, Luther said.

"Because of a history of things like (Navajos being sent to) boarding schools, there's a disconnect, and many girls weren't able to learn from their mothers how to do things that are relevant to being a Navajo woman. They have to be taught these things," said Michele Peterson, director of San Juan College's Native American Center.


Luther agrees that these types of events are vital to keeping Navajo traditions and culture alive.

"Many of us were privileged to learn from our grandmothers and mothers, who were rooted in our Navajo traditional values. Today, those valuable teachings are missing in the average home," she said.

Saturday's workshop will cover topics such as Navajo language and singing, Dine' healthy cooking, preserving Mother Earth and traditional parenting, as well as issues such as bullying and domestic violence.

Keynote speakers are Audra Etsitty Platero, the Miss Navajo titleholder from 1995 to 1996, and Leonard Anthony, a Navajo cultural teacher and former Navajo Nation Council delegate. Half of the workshop presenters consist of former Miss Navajo Nation.

The workshop is co-sponsored by the San Juan College Native American Center, Navajo Nation Oil and Gas Company and Tsehootsooi Medical Center.

Peterson estimated more than 300 girls and women will attend the workshop, including some who will be bussed in from Arizona's Window Rock and Red Mesa. Students from as far away as Tulsa, Okla., are also expected to attend.

The workshops have been so successful that in 2011, a similar program launched for boys called Hero Twins in Modern Society.

"The satisfaction that you get at these workshops is seeing the hunger in these children. They come away so saturated with all this information and they want to keep coming back," Luther said.

Leigh Black Irvin may be reached at; 505-546-4610. Follow her on Twitter @irvindailytimes.