Building Opportunities in Indian Country: Congratulations to the Graduates of Navajo Technical College

By Dr. Jill Biden, White House Blog
Dr. Jill Biden walks with the procession of graduates of the Navajo Technical College Class of 2013Dr. Jill Biden walks with the procession of graduates of the Navajo Technical College Class of 2013, Navajo Tech President Elmer Guy, Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly and the Board of trustees on the Navajo Tech campus in Crownpoint, New Mexico. May 17, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

On Friday, I had the honor of addressing a class of graduates at Navajo Technical College in Crownpoint, New Mexico. The Navajo Tech graduating Class of 2013 earned certificates in 34 fields that will provide the tools they need to serve their community as teachers, nurses, engineers, mechanics, bankers, chefs and countless other opportunities all made possible by their commitment and dedication to improving themselves through the pursuit of a higher education.

Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs) play a key role in President Obama’s educational goal of making the United States home to the best-educated, most competitive workforce in the world. TCUs are critical institutions that build tribal communities, create good jobs across Indian Country, and provide Native Americans with the skills they need to do those jobs.

As a community college teacher, I love seeing what a tremendous difference a community like the one I saw at Navajo Tech can make in the lives of its students.

The impressive class of graduates included veterans like Jerrilene Kenneth, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan as an Army mechanic, before she became the first college graduate in her family with an Associate Degree in Early Childhood Education. It also included Navajo Tech Student of the Year Sherwin Becenti, who dropped out of college more than ten years ago but returned to school in order to build a better life for his family and set a good example for his children. Dwight Carlston, who grew up with no running water or electricity, was also among the graduates. Dwight maintained a 3.8 grade point average, ran cross country, served as Student Senate President and was recently elected as the Student Congress president of all 38 tribal colleges.

The Class of 2013 also marked a key milestone for Navajo Tech itself as they celebrated their first student to graduate with a Baccalaureate Degree.  Dody Begay received his Bachelor’s Degree in Information Technology-Computer Science – a path many other students are now planning to follow.

It is thanks to students like Jerrilene, Sherwin, Dwight, and Dody, and their dedicated faculty and administrators, that for the second year in a row Navajo Tech was recognized by the Aspen Institute as one of the top 120 community colleges in the United States. It was the only TCU and the only college in New Mexico to receive this distinction.

During my trip to the Navajo Nation, I also had the privilege of taking part in a traditional blessing by Medicine Man Robert Johnson who shared the traditions and spirituality of the Diné people. Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly and his wife First lady Martha Shelly also provided a wonderful welcome to their community with an introduction to the leadership of the tribal government. Students from the Diné Bi Olta Language Immersion Elementary School and Miyamura High School performed the traditional basket and ribbon dances at the Navajo Nation Museum in Window Rock, Arizona.

Dr. Jill Biden listens to Medicine Man Robert JohnsonFrom a traditional hogan in Window Rock, Arizona, Dr. Jill Biden listens to Medicine Man Robert Johnson along with Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly, First Lady Martha Shelly, Speaker of the Navajo Nation Council Johnny Naize and Barbara Naize. May 17, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

Thank you to the Navajo Nation, and the faculty, staff and students of Navajo Technical College for welcoming me into your community. Your drive to improving yourselves and the generations who will follow you through a continued commitment to education sets an example for not just Indian Country, but for communities all across America. Congratulations to the graduates of 2013. But above all, congratulations to your parents, your grandparents and your ancestors for having the vision and commitment to strengthen their community by building your college and investing in all of our futures.


Dr. Jill Biden is the wife of Vice President Joe Biden, a mother and grandmother, a lifelong educator, a proud Blue Star mom, and an active member of her community.

Two Tribes Move Closer To Securing FM Radio Stations

American Indian tribes hold less than one percent of the roughly 15,200 radio station licenses issued by the Federal Communications Commission.”

March 24, 2013 as published in Diverse Education

By Felicia Fonseca, Associated Press


FLAGSTAFF Ariz. — Two Southwest tribes are moving closer to securing radio stations that others in Indian Country have turned to for emergency alerts, health tips, the latest rodeo news, traditional stories and language lessons.

American Indian tribes hold less than one percent of the roughly 15,200 radio station licenses issued by the Federal Communications Commission, a figure the commission has been trying to boost through a rule it approved in 2010 to give federally recognized tribes priority in the application process, and help preserve language and culture.

“Telling one’s own story, broadcasting in one’s own voice, in an exercise of self-determination and self-reliance, is so important a goal of so many broadcasters in tribal communities that its value cannot be overstated,” the FCC said in its 2012 annual report.

Earlier this month, the FCC set aside the first two FM allotments under its Tribal Radio Priority for the Hualapai Tribe in northwestern Arizona and Navajo Technical College in northwestern New Mexico. The tribe and the college owned by the Navajo Nation are now waiting for the FCC to open a filing window so they can secure construction permits and build their stations.

“Radio will give them tremendous community outlook,” said Fred Hannel, a consultant for the Hualapai Tribe. “They can rally the whole community around a radio station, give them a sense of identity.”

Other tribal entities will have an opportunity to apply for the same allotments for the commercial stations after the FCC’s order takes effect April 15. The Hualapai Tribe says it isn’t expecting to lose out because no other tribe is located in the area it wants to broadcast.

Applicants who want to be considered under the tribal priority must be a federally recognized tribe or an entity, like the college, that is majority-owned by a tribe and propose to cover at least 50 percent tribal land. Successful applications are processed without going through an auction.

Navajo Technical College had faced competition in applying for a construction permit for a non-commercial educational station under a points-base system. But the college did not build the station before the permit expired in August 2008, and the FCC denied a request for an extension and to downgrade the service area. The college said it erroneously believed that grant funding it secured to set up the radio station and the construction permit would expire at the same time, and it also couldn’t get electricity to its original transmitter site, according to FCC documents.

At the time, the college said it was “virtually guaranteed” to prevail under the Tribal Radio Priority for a commercial FM station. The FCC said it wouldn’t prejudge a future proceeding nor apply the tribal priority retroactively. The station would reach out to 13,500 people in remote, isolated areas around Crownpoint, N.M., and be broadcast in Navajo, the college wrote in FCC documents.

The Hualapai Tribe already has been using the Internet to broadcast morning blessings, results of tribal elections, a radio drama aimed at improving health, traditional Hualapai music and community service announcements. The FM radio station would allow anyone within a 30-mile radius of the station to tune in, particularly those who can’t access the Internet.

“Once we get our FM frequency on, it’s really going to build a lot of interest,” said tribal member Candida Hunter.

The spread of information on the reservation otherwise comes through fliers posted at government offices, a tribal newsletter or word of mouth. Terri Hutchens, project coordinator, said tribal members could have benefited last year from an announcement over the radio about water contamination, which led to a temporary school closure. She said some people received fliers but others didn’t find out until days later when the problem was fixed.

“That’s something certainly that could be addressed through the emergency alert system,” she said.

The radio station won’t reach the entire 1-million-acre reservation along the southern edge of the Grand Canyon on the western corridor.  Hutchens said the tribe has plans to expand the range within five years. The funding is in place for terrestrial radio equipment, and the tribe will use existing towers for the transmitter.

For now, community members are encouraging each other to listen to the Internet broadcast and volunteers are pitching in to provide content in the Hualapai language.

“We’ve actually been having fun. We’ve been bringing them in to train them on how to be a DJ,” Hutchens said.