Fellow Prepares for 'Best Decade' of Life

Ashley Tsosie-Mahieu, 2015 UANews Student Columnist
June 10, 2015

Photo: John de Dios/UANews

Yá’át’ééh! Shi éí Ashley Tsosie-Mahieu yinishyé. Honágháahnii eí nishłį dóó biligáana báshíshchíín. Áádóó Ashiihi éí da shicheii dóó biligáana éí da shinálí. 

Hello! My name is Ashley Tsosie-Mahieu. I am One-Who-Walks-Around Clan born for White Man (specifically Belgians and Croatians). My maternal grandfather is Salt Clan and my paternal grandfather is of the White Man (specifically Belgians).

The above is how Dinè (Navajo) people introduce ourselves in Dinè bizaad, the Navajo language, and is a way for Navajos to identify our relationships to others based upon our clan system. Navajo culture is matrilineal, so my first clan is my mother's clan passed down from her mother, and so on. My clans are how I identify myself in relation to my family, and they are something that can never change about me as a person.

In the academic world, I am a doctoral student in the Department of American Indian Studies with a concentration in American Indian education. I am also working toward a certification in higher education.

During the 2014-2015 academic year, I had the pleasure of working at the Arizona State Museum as a graduate research assistant in three divisions: American Indian relations, education and exhibits. My experience at the museum directly led me to an incredible summer opportunity at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts. Out of a highly competitive application process, I was selected to be the Curatorial Fellow in Native American Art and Culture.

In addition to having the privilege of earning this prestigious fellowship, I also was able to take this opportunity to drive cross-country from Tucson to Salem with my sister, Cydney, to visit both sides of our family. Cydney and I left Tucson just as the Old Pueblo was approaching uncomfortably warm temperatures. After winding our way through the majestic White Mountains and Salt River Canyon, we made our way to Dinè Bikèyah, the Navajo Nation, to visit our relatives.

Once we arrived on Navajo lands, John Denver's "Country Roads" came on the radio. I teared up reminiscing about the numerous summers my mom, sister and I drove from the opposite direction — from Illinois to Arizona — and my mom would play that song on cassette or CD the moment the Rocky Mountains came into view. It's a song that will forever conjure feelings of going home, whether that home is Dinè Bikèyah, Illinois, Tucson or elsewhere. 

Although Cydney and I were only on the Navajo Nation for a short 24-hour visit, we hiked down Canyon de Chelly in Chinle, Arizona, with our cousins and had lunch with our grandparents, Nelson and Rosalie Tsosie.

As we were about to leave town, Papa Tsosie left us with wise words as he always does, explaining to his "million-dollar grandchildren" the importance of Navajo kinship systems, what it means to be Honágháahnii and that we should always have a positive attitude and never feel sorry for ourselves, regardless of our circumstances.

We left Many Farms, Arizona, with those words in mind and drove through southern Colorado and the snow-capped tops of Wolf Creek Pass late into the night, finally seeking sanctuary in Pueblo, Colorado. We were able to enjoy a five-mile run along the Arkansas River and a boat cruise along the Pueblo Riverwalk before the final push to Moline, Illinois, where both of our parents and the majority of our father's side of the family reside.

During our four days in Moline, my sister and I spent most of our time with our parents and other family members. I celebrated my 30th birthday surrounded by my father's side of the family. It was the perfect introduction to what I anticipate will be the best decade of my life. And it's all beginning with a remarkable journey to the East Coast.

Stay tuned for the next part of my trip that details my travels from Illinois to Massachusetts, orientation to PEM, and meeting the three other PEM Native American Fellows.

Ashley Tsosie-Mahieu is one of four students selected as a 2015 UANews student columnist. The columnist initiative was launched in June by UANews and provides students the opportunity to share insights about the work and research they will be doing over the summer in various parts of the United States and abroad. It is the UA's 100% Engagement initiative in action, and the experiences will prepare the students to be real-world ready upon graduation.

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