Forty-five years ago this month, a small school was founded on the Navajo Nation. Today, Diné College includes five satellite campuses in Arizona and New Mexico, and has an enrollment of about 2,000 students.
© Courtesy of Diné College
Navajo traditional practicioner Charlie Benally (center), Rep. Wayne Aspinall (D-Colo., second from right) and Navajo Tribal Chairman Peter MacDonald (right) conduct a ground-blessing at Diné College's Tsaile campus in April 1971.
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By Noah Austin
Not many colleges have octagon-shaped dormitories with fireplaces in the middle. In that and other ways, Diné College is unique. The school, the first tribally controlled community college in the U.S., celebrates its 45th anniversary this year. Diné serves residents of the Navajo Nation, which spans the Four Corners areas of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. The dormitories are intended to replicate the feel of a Navajo hogan, or traditional dwelling, says Ed McCombs, a Diné College administrator.
“The founders of Diné College wanted to incorporate and instill much of the Navajo culture into the campus,” McCombs says, adding that the layout of Diné’s campus mirrors that of a traditional Navajo community.
Originally called Navajo Community College, the school was founded in 1968 and spent a year in Rough Rock before moving to its present location, in Tsaile. Since then, it’s added three satellite locations in Arizona and two in New Mexico. From a 1969 graduating class of one student, the school has grown to a current enrollment of about 2,000 students.
In 1971, Congress authorized a $5.5 million appropriation to build permanent facilities for the college. Rogers Morton, President Richard Nixon’s secretary of the interior, said then that the school “is not just another academic institution; rather, it is a rich community resource of knowledge and expertise which can contribute in many ways to the betterment of the Navajo community.”
And contribute it has. More than 4,500 students have graduated from the college, earning associate degrees in fields ranging from fine arts and Navajo language to environmental science and business management. For students transferring to other colleges, McCombs says, Northern Arizona University and Arizona State University are popular in-state destinations.
Navajo Community College became Diné College in 1997; Diné means “the people” in the Navajo language.
To mark its 45th anniversary, Diné is holding a celebration on November 21, the day the school’s charter was passed and enacted by the Navajo Nation Council in 1968.
For more information, visit www.dinecollege.edu.
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