News Release – Diné College Mourns the Passing of Prof. Herbert Benally

Diné College Mourns the Passing of Prof. Herbert Benally


Dec. 7, 2020

SHIPROCK, N.M. — Diné College lost a pillar of the community when long-time educator Herbert Benally, Ph.D., died Dec. 6 at the age of 76.

Lawrence Isaac, Jr., Ph.D., and Dean of the School of Diné Studies and Education at Diné College, confirmed the death to the college community. Isaac, Jr., who knew Benally as a professor of Diné Language and Cultural Studies, said he found out about the death from a Benally family member.

The cause of death was due to the coronavirus (Covid-19).

“He was a very well-liked faculty member by his students and had a reputation as an author and researcher,” Isaac, Jr., said. “He was a content expert to the Diné College Provost Council in its planning of the institutional transformation to a four-year college, and which consultation was based upon his research information on Diné College.”

Originally from Sweetwater, Ariz., Benally was a career Navajo educator and Indigenous philosopher. His nearly 50 years of research and work on Navajo spirituality and healing fundamentally shifted understandings of Indigenous healing and recovery from colonization.

“He humbly passed the responsibility to the next generation of Indigenous leaders to continue and build upon his work,” read a Dec. 7 Benally family Facebook post. “We will miss (Dr. Benally) for teaching us how to feel happiness and contentment, but we will be ever thankful for every moment he spent to support and encourage us,” continues the post.

Herbert John Benally taught at the School of Diné Studies and Education at Diné College’s Shiprock Campus. His course load included Navajo Culture, Oral Tradition, Philosophy, Navajo History, Navajo Nation Government, Contemporary Indian Affairs, Native North America.

Benally periodically lectured at San Juan College in Farmington, Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff and Northland Pioneer College in Holbrook. He earned a Ph.D., in Traditional Knowledge and Philosophy from the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS), a M.Ed. in Adult and Higher Education, with an emphasis on Third World Development, and B.A. in Health Education and Biological Science from Arizona State University.

Benally studied and conducted research on the Navajo Blessing Way, creation stories, history, philosophy and epistemology. His work in Navajo epistemology (Na’adá) is a research method used in numerical research, assessment, evaluation in health and environment.

Benally presented at numerous conferences in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Spain and Japan and worked with numerous communities, schools, social services, rehabilitation centers, the Navajo Nation judicial system and health-related programs.

Diné College’s Promotion and Ranking Committee and the Executive Committee of the Faculty Association, recommended Benally be given the title and rank of Distinguished Professor Emeritus.

“It is a sad time for our college and specifically the Diné Studies and Education Department. (Dr. Benally) was a true leader and educator. He will truly be missed at Diné College,” Diné College Provost Geraldine Garrity said.


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