Through perseverance and planning, Diné (Navajo) students worked to leave a legacy honoring and representing Native American students at New Mexico Military Institute (NMMI).
On Nov. 7, the Navajo Nation Flag was ceremonially raised in Bates Hall at NMMI, joining other flags representing all the nations of current and past students. The month of November is also Native American Heritage Month.
Geraldlynn Notah, a NMMI high school senior from Moriarty, explained that this is the first flag ever raised at NMMI, in the school’s 128-year history, that represents a Native American tribe.
According to a Navajo Nation press release, 33 Native American students “with a large majority from the Navajo Nation” are currently enrolled at NMMI.
“… I look forward to having more Native Americans (here) in the future and having them know that somebody cared and had to represent leaving a legacy behind,” Notah said. “And let them know that they’re not the only ones struggling besides us that went through the whole process — that they know that they can do it too, and be motivated to push further and succeed more in life.”
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Notah, 18, is president of NMMI’s Native American Club and said the process of getting the flag raised took about two years from start to finish. She explained another Diné student named Dylan Begay requested to have the Navajo Nation flag at NMMI, then graduated, so she carried on filling out paperwork to make it happen.
President Jonathan Nez of the Navajo Nation and Victor Begay, the first Navajo student to graduate high school and then junior college from NMMI, in 1977, were some of the honored guests and speakers at the ceremony on Nov. 7, along with cadets, teachers and NMMI staff present.
Notah also invited Tehya Barber, Miss Indian New Mexico Teen, and Shenoa Jones, Miss Indian New Mexico, to attend, and Barber sang the National Anthem in Navajo for the event.
When Notah toured NMMI as a prospective student in July 2017, she and Dorine Kemp, her mother, noticed the absence of the Navajo Nation flag in Bates Hall, which is the dining hall. Kemp said she would do everything she could to help her daughter get their flag up.
After plans for the ceremony were in the works, Notah and Kemp traveled to President Nez’s meet-and-greet event in Tuba City, Arizona, where Notah personally invited President Nez to be present at the flag ceremony. Notah recalled that Nez agreed to come “on the spot” and later presented her with a flag to keep for herself.
Former Native American Club sponsor Vicki Burress said Notah worked diligently with the new club sponsor and other NMMI staff to arrange for the flag to be hung as well as planning a Navajo taco dinner and the ceremony.
“… The ceremony would never have happened without Cadet Notah’s good-natured perseverance,” Burress said. “Considering that we figure there have been well over 100 — and possibly over 200 — Navajo graduates from NMMI, this flag-raising was long overdue.”
Attending a club fair day led to Notah joining the Native American Club and meeting other Native American students on campus. She served as a member and vice president in the past.
“… Yes, it’s Native Americans, but we also want to include everybody …” Notah said. “It’s Native American Club — it’s not just for the Native Americans here on campus. Everybody here on campus is from all over the world and we want to include them into our culture, into our traditions of whomever in the club is from the tribe of.
“There’s Navajos. We have Chippewa, we have Cherokees, we have other people, Apaches and they get to teach us — not them just teaching us, but we get to teach them of what we do in our culture on a daily basis and what we’re taught — stories, traditional wise, our morals and thoughts — of how we are and how we grew up …”
The club meets once a month and goes on trips to Laguna Pueblo and Santo Domingo in Northern New Mexico, as well as a camping trip and a visit to the Gathering of Nations in Albuquerque.
Being a student at NMMI for the past two years and getting involved on campus changed Notah’s life and prepared her for her future. She said she feels “sad” about graduating and leaving in the spring, but may return for junior college.
Notah plans to major in kinesiology to eventually be a physical therapist after college. She tore her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuring her knee while playing basketball. She had to go to physical therapy, and this inspired her to pursue this career path. Currently, she is employed by NMMI and works in the infirmary.
On campus, Notah is a ropes course facilitator and a member of the National Honors Society and NMMI Honor Board. She also sings in the choir, plays guitar and is on the basketball team. She has already been offered two basketball scholarships.
“Her true personality and everything just came out,” Kemp said, with tears in her eyes, of her daughter and the experience NMMI has provided for her.
Notah has two older sisters — one of them is her twin — two younger brothers and a nephew. Kemp raised all of her kids as a single mother. Notah’s twin attended NMMI with her their junior year, but returned to Moriarty because of cross country scholarships.
“Geraldlynn is exactly the kind of young woman that we need as a future leader,” Burress said. “She is energetic and fair as a leader in the corps of cadets … Cadet Notah is one of the hardest working young people I have ever met. She is liked and respected by her peers and teachers. It is extremely difficult for Native children to make the choice to leave home to go to high school, and even more difficult to get accepted to NMMI. She excels at everything she does.”
Special projects reporter Alison Penn can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at email@example.com.