Woven together in Donna Deyhle’s ethnohistory are three generations and twenty-five years of friendship, interviews, and rich experience with Navajo women. Through a skillful blending of sources, Deyhle illuminates the devastating cultural consequences of racial stereotyping in the context of education. Longstanding racial tension in southeastern Utah frames this cross-generational set of portraits that together depict all aspects of this specifically American Indian struggle. Deyhle cites the lefthanded compliment, “Navajos work well with their hands,” which she indicates represents the limiting and all-too-common appraisal of American Indian learning potential that she vehemently disputes and seeks to disprove.
As a recognized authority on the subject, qualified by multiple degrees in racial and American Indian studies, Deyhle is able to chronicle the lives and “survivance” of three Navajo women in a way that is simultaneously ethnographic and moving. Her critique of the U.S. education system’s underlying yet very real tendency toward structural discrimination takes shape in elegant prose that moves freely into and out of time and place. The combination of substantive sources and touching personal experience forms a profound and enduring narrative of critical and current importance.
While this book stands as a powerful contribution to American Indian studies, its compelling human elements will extend its appeal to anyone concerned with the ongoing plight of American Indians in the education system.