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From Chinle High to the University of Washington
Katrina Claw, Ph.D., talks Genomics, Higher Ed
TSAILE, Ariz. — On many school nights while a college student, after working shifts at a department store, Katrina Claw studied long and hard.

The Many Farms, Ariz., native graduated salutatorian of Chinle High School in 2001. Claw, Ph.D., is now a post-doctoral research fellow at the University of Washington in Seattle in the Department of Pharmaceutics, having received a doctoral degree from UW in 2013.

Claw spoke June 11 at Diné College as part of the College’s 2018 Speaker Series. The series highlights past and present people who have direct connections with Diné College.

“I hope from giving this presentation that I give you more motivation for learning,” Claw told the 60-plus mostly students and staffers attending the two-hour talk. Claw’s presentation was entitled, “Taking the Educational Ladder: From the Reservation to a Ph.D., and Beyond.”

Claw said, “There have been a lot of challenges that I have had to face over the years.”

Claw is an alumnae of Diné College’s Summer Research Enhancement Program which is overseen by science professor Mark Bauer, Ph.D. She is a biology and anthropology graduate of Arizona State University.

SREP is an annual program at Diné College, which utilizes classroom and experiential curricula designed to introduce predominantly Navajo undergraduates and paraprofessionals to health research. SREP influenced Claw’s decision to study science. She said after the talk that as a young student with Diné College’s SREP, she learned new aspects of science and valued the one-on-one approach with Bauer — who has overseen SREP for almost 20 years. “It’s funny how (Bauer) and I started out and now we’re colleagues.”

Claw said she started out at ASU as an engineering major, but later changed to the more research-oriented field of genome sciences.

“My brother and I were engineering majors and lived together while students at one point,” Claw said.

Claw’s talk centered upon how she chose her undergraduate and graduate majors and the road blocks she encountered along the way. “I wanted to do something that would impact my community,” Claw said of her career path.

Claw said emotional distress, financial uncertainties and language and cultural traditions are par the course for Navajos navigating the world of higher education at big universities. She said she got her share of rejection letters for programs she sought while going through graduate school.

“Don’t settle for the dirty jobs,” she said her father used to tell her.

As a post-doctoral Navajo researcher at the University of Washington, Claw’s interests include human genetics and genomics, pharmacogenomics, and the ethical, social and legal implications of genomic research with American Indian/Alaska Native and other indigenous populations around the world.

Claws aid she’d like to have an impact on the number of indigenous people pursuing science as a career. She said she and Bauer correspond on various subjects.

“We need mentors to who can provide support and guide us through the system, and help us find funding.” she said.

Miranda Haskie, a sociology professor at Diné College and an organizer of the Speaker Series, lauded Claw’s engagement with Native populations with respect to genomic medicine research.

“I think we all learned a lot about genetics and genomics,” Haskie said.

Former NN Chairman Peter MacDonald Talks Treaty of 1868, Education MacDonald: ‘…Our Kids Should Know Where They Come From’

TSAILE, Ariz. — As the 150th anniversary of the Long Walk nears, Navajos are forging the outlines of a new future.

It’s OK to slow down and recognize the successes of the past — successes that go back centuries. But don’t slow down so much that progress, particularly regarding education, is put on the backburner.

That was the gist of a near three-hour speech — interrupted a few times with applause — June 5 by former Navajo Nation Chairman and Navajo Code Talker Peter MacDonald.

The speech was part of Diné College’s 50th anniversary commemoration and was attended by more than 60 people. MacDonald served a record four terms as Navajo Nation Chairman between 1970 and 1986.

“All of our kids should know where they come from,” MacDonald said. “Go back to before the Treaty of 1868 and before the 1940s — and then you’ll know what is (technically) Navajo and what belongs to Navajo.”

MacDonald, 90, spoke about the ramifications of the treaty, saying that the Navajo leaders who negotiated the signing of the document were not formally educated, but secured something that passed multiple tests of time. Modern day officials must use the same zeal employed by their predecessors — “all they had was their language, they didn’t have law or doctoral degrees” — to secure water and land rights, MacDonald suggested.

“When they got back from Fort Sumner, N.M. (involuntarily taken and held by the U.S. Army), they had nothing, but they knew they were coming back to live within the Four Sacred Mountains,” MacDonald said. (In Navajo lore, the Four Sacred Mountains include Mt. Taylor, Mt. Hesperus, the San Francisco Peaks and Mt. Blanco). “They knew there would be no more suffering like what had occurred at (Fort Sumner).”

MacDonald, who is from Teec Nos Pos, Ariz., said Diné College offers educational stability, saying that it was he who developed the formal proposal for an institution of higher learning on Navajo. He praised the College’s founding fathers, pointing out that Bob Roessel, Raymond Nakai, Ned Hatathli and Allen Yazzie carried forth a vision and stuck with it. A former U.S. Marine, he said he secured the “first big funding” for Diné College during his tenure as Navajo Nation Chairman.

“Diné College was designed to teach language and culture, the things that Navajos need because the early leaders believed in education,” he said. MacDonald’s daughter Hope MacDonald lone tree was in the audience. She is running for Navajo Nation president this year.

“I think the speech was very uplifting,” Miranda Haskie, Ed.D, a sociology instructor at Diné College and organizer of the 2018 Speaker Series, said.

Some Background

The current president of the Navajo Code Talkers Association, MacDonald enrolled in the Marines at the age of 15. He served in the South Pacific as a Code Talker and North China with the Sixth Marine Division. The Navajo language was the undetectable code that enabled the U.S. to win World War II.

MacDonald holds an electrical engineering degree from the University of Oklahoma and was featured in Time magazine in 1974 as one of 200 “Rising Leaders in America.”

MacDonald’s time in tribal government wasn’t always positive. He was suspended by the Navajo Nation Council in 1989 on suspicion of bribery. A riot in Window Rock ensued, which led to two deaths. MacDonald served federal prison time on fraud and racketeering convictions, among other federal convictions, but was pardoned in 2001 by then-President Bill Clinton.