Interviewing Indigenous Visionaries: Dr. Delores Greyeyes, Director of the Navajo Department of Corrections
Valene A. Hatathlie
Navajo Cultural Arts Certificate Student, American Indian College Fund Indigenous Visionaries Fellow
Our conversation only reinforced the knowledge that Sa’ah Naagháí Bik’eh Hózhóón, which is a four-step process of Thinking, Planning, Implementation, and Reflection, is pivotal to a person’s success. Within this philosophy there is the practice of personal accountability – we call T’áá hwo ajitéego. And part of the self-accountability is learning how and when to help others.
In the conversation Dr. Greyeyes, the second of nine children in her framily, revealed that a pivotal moment with her understanding of T’áá hwo ajitéego happened when she was about eight or nine years old after her mother, a woman raised her children based on traditional Navajo teachings and wove Navajo textiles to support her family, had made the well-thought-out decision to divorce her father to protect her children from domestic violence. As Dr. Greyeyes was out herding sheep, she watched them graze. Her focus shifted upward to the sky. In that silence, she made an oath to never let her own children go through the type of abuse her father inflicted on his family, and she swore to never leave her mother’s side.
With mentors like her mother, Dr. Greyeyes and her family lived on top of Black Mesa. The struggle they experienced was a familiar one that resonates with other families on the Navajo Nation – that same lack of resources continues to plague us still. Dr. Greyeyes grew up knowing that people around her needed help. Knowing that there was missing infrastructure, she sought to build a judicial foundation on the Navajo Nation. To achieve that goal, she set out on a pathway of higher education. Early in her academic career, Dr. Greyeyes received an associated degree in human resources. She then went on to earn a bachelor’s and master’s in social work. She did not stop there. She continued onward and a received a Doctoral Degree in social justice with an emphasis in criminal justice. As she wrote her thesis, her research reminded her that cultural teaching is substantial in a person’s lifetime success
Dr. Greyeyes believes these cultural teachings should be available to all Navajo people who want or need them. With the knowledge as her armor, she researches Native American prisoners and their journeys that have led them to the correctional system and their experiences while in the system. She learned they were eager for cultural teaching. She believes that early education roots individuals for lifetime achievements.
So the questions I have for myself now as I continue my leadership and weaving journeys:
(1) how will I be able to pull together my environmental concerns with my weaving knowledge and skills; (2) how can I use my voice to create change in those areas; (3) how will I choose to act?