My name is Farina King. During the summer of 2008, I was a student intern for the Diné Policy Institute (DPI), located in Tsaile, Arizona. I was an undergraduate senior, studying History and French with minors in Native American Studies and African Studies. I had to recite those same lines of personal information every time that I introduced myself to a Navajo social worker from the Navajo Nation Division of Social Services. I had to convince them to meet me, to spend some of their precious time (literally), and to share personal information with me in an interview.
I surprised Navajo social workers and family alike on the reservation by telling them, “Kiyaa’aanii ba shischin.” I am born for the Tall Towering House clan. I lived in Iyanbito, New Mexico during my field study with my aunt and her family. Most of my father’s family lives in Rehoboth, New Mexico, closer to Gallup. If I ever walked around Iyanbito alone, people would call out from their houses and hogans, “Are you lost?” or “There’s a bilagaana.” I just wanted to shout back to them that Florence and Phyllis were my aunts, and they probably knew who they were because of the small size of the community. Knowing my relatives were Navajo, maybe they would make the connection that I had to be part Navajo.
For the most part, though, many Navajos on the reservation were accepting of me; my family accepted me. My interviewees were more at ease, when I explained my background. My cousin warned me that I must introduce myself well to Navajos. I cannot just barge into their offices and demand that they allow me to interview them. First, I must introduce and present myself. She told me the elders would never trust me without such an introduction. I had to explain my research and the purpose of it numerous times to justify myself and an interview.
What was my purpose? Why was I, a bilagaana (white person), living on the reservation and needed to meet and interview Navajo social workers? I came back to the reservation for the same reasons that many of the social workers, who I interviewed, told me that they came back for. Of the eleven social workers I interviewed, all of them left the Navajo reservation to continue their education. One of the top reasons for coming back was for home and family. I was raised in Maryland and attended college in Utah, so I never had the opportunity to meet most of my extended family. I came to meet and know my father’s family, my family. The second major reason for coming back to the reservation was to help Navajo communities. Most of my college education was funded by Native American organizations. They invested in me, because I committed to serving the Navajo people, my people and my family.
During my last semester in Provo, Utah, I continually ran into Native American social workers, sparking social work as a theme for my research. I attended a lecture by a Social Work professor, Dr. Gordon Limb, who ended his presentation with the simple but inspiring words of Wilma Mankiller, “The best solutions to our problems are within our own communities.” I wanted to know how Navajos could better help themselves and contribute more to their community. I then planned to interview a group of Navajos who had a service-oriented career on the Navajo reservation, Navajo social workers. My interview questions were set to reveal what motivated and prepared social workers on the Navajo reservation to be effective in achieving their goals of improving Navajo communities.
I lived on the Navajo reservation, mainly in Iyanbito (a trust land of the Navajo tribe), from June 7 to August 12, 2008 (about nine weeks). I traveled to numerous parts of the reservation in Arizona and New Mexico, conducting interviews in Chinle, Crownpoint, Ft. Defiance, Gallup, St. Michaels, and Tuba City. I interviewed ten Navajo social workers and one case worker from the Navajo Nation Division of Social Services (NNDSS). These eleven interviews were tape recorded with the consent of the interviewees and transcribed. I had five other informal interviews with Navajos who worked with NNDSS, although they were not social workers. I recorded my observations in offices, from meetings, and from other experiences in the field study. I also learned much about the client experiences of social work on the Navajo reservation from my own Navajo relatives and friends.
Essentially, from my interviews, observations, and field experiences, I formed a formula of what I found to be a key for preparing effective social workers on the Navajo reservation. First, I briefly explain the need of such a formula on the Navajo reservation. Then, the project reveals and examines each part of the formula, which I present in a form similar to a mathematical equation: Cultural Knowledge + Educational Training + Attachment = Effective Social Workers who better serve their community. As I focus on each aspect of this equation, cultural knowledge, education, and attachment, I hope to apply mostly the personal experiences and examples of the interviewees.
I realize that I have only been able to collect limited qualitative information in my field study. Other Navajo social workers could have had completely different experiences from my interviewees. However, especially as a history major, I emphasize the significance of learning from the past and those who have gone before us. My primary objective in this project is to stress what my interviewees, experienced Navajo social workers, have learned to strengthen the Navajo Nation through social work. Their experiences and their journey are lessons and an example to those like me who wish to give back and help the Navajo people. The life of a single individual can make a difference, especially as a role model.
I wrote a research paper based on my field study that was submitted to the Diné Policy Institute. I was able to meet with Social Work faculty from Arizona State University to discuss and share my research findings. I have passed on my research paper to other Social Work faculty members from BYU and ASU, and social work students have asked to read my paper.