Stay on the path Navajo leader urges UA students
Arizona Daily Star
By Eric Swedlund
Tucson, Arizona | Published:

In a message emphasizing the resiliency of the Navajo people, tribal President Joe Shirley spoke to about 200 UA students Thursday, urging them to move on with determination to succeed in their studies and become leaders for the tribe.

Shirley spoke eight days after Mia Henderson was fatally stabbed in her dorm room and her roommate, Galareka Harrison, was arrested on suspicion of first-degree murder. Both were 18-year-old freshmen from the Navajo Nation.
"We cannot continue to dwell on it. We have to move on," Shirley said. "This is a great teaching from our elders, from our medicine people. What happened has happened and it is unfortunate. It hurts, it makes us cry, it makes us think about a lot of things. But to the best of our ability, spiritually speaking, we must move on."
Without mentioning either woman by name or specifically talking about the homicide and arrest, Shirley talked about how the Navajo people approach the hurt and sorrow of losing loved ones and how to honor them by moving on with life's work.
"There are no answers to why it happened and we cannot dwell on it," Shirley said. "We honor those who have passed on. We remember our conversations with them, songs we've sung, the sports we've played, the laughs, the jokes. But we move on. Life continues and that's the way of our people."
Nicholas Taylor, a 20-year-old junior from Fort Defiance, said Shirley's visit was important for students, many of whom live far from home and have a difficult time adjusting culturally to college.
"Down here you live in two worlds and you have to try to maintain balance," Taylor said. "It's good he came down here to remind students who don't often get back to the homeland of the teachings. He spoke like a true Navajo."
Shirley told the students about how in the Navajo teaching, the tribe's culture and way of life is the source of strength for its people. It's also the reason the tribe has come a long way in spite of all the atrocities the people have endured, he said, and its future depends on its leaders.
"A learned leader can take us a long way, so stay focused. Challenges come and go each day," Shirley said.
"Currently you need to have resolve and determination. You need it to stay focused. The goal you have today here at the University of Arizona is to get educated and we need to stay with it, to continue in spite of what has transpired. Do not be hindered or deterred. There are no impossibilities. Now is the time to have faith."
Shirley's offer to come visit with UA American Indian students came about through a week of close contacts between Karen Francis-Begay, the UA's special adviser to the president on American Indian affairs, and Leland Leonard, special assistant to the Navajo president.
"It's impossible to overstate the importance of his time here. His 10 words mean more than a thousand I could speak," said UA President Robert Shelton. "He's sending a message to all of our Native American students that we're here to support them. While we may never make sense of this, we each in our own way have to move on.
"His presence is a great comfort for us all. It is a symbol that we are indeed one community."
Speaking in Navajo and English, Shirley told the students that the elders teach people to take strength to face challenges from within themselves as well as from each other and the Nation.
"Life is bigger than all of us. We can only do the best we can to be here, to be a part of it. There are many questions in life, and few answers," he said.
"In our way of life there's no doomsday. There's only that life as we know it is changing and we must continue to get ourselves ready for it," Shirley said.
"Our elders have taught us there are many challenges along life's journey and we must be ready for these challenges. They said get to know hunger, get to know thirst, get to know fatigue, jealousy and greed. We've got to get to know these monsters, these plagues."
To stand up to challenges, you must have your system always at its peak, Shirley told the students, urging them to exercise both mind and body, to run and sweat and let off steam. He told them to read, recommending "The Power of Positive Thinking" by Norman Vincent Peale as well as scriptures, particularly Proverbs.
Shirley read from Psalm 139, which describes how God is everywhere and always with us, and ended with a sacred song of protection.
Francis-Begay, who introduced Shirley, closed the program by thanking him for visiting.
"We are strengthened by your presence, your wisdom, your songs, but most of all your compassion," she said.
On StarNet: Check out more images from Shirley's visit to the UA Campus at
● Contact reporter Eric Swedlund at 573-4115 or at