Four Generations of Navajo Women Speak on Cultural Conflict

For immediate release:
October 30, 2007

Contact: Molly Tarantino,

WELLESLEY, Mass.— The complicated and sometimes difficult interaction between European-American and Native-American cultures will form the basis of discussion Nov. 8 and 9, when four generations of Navajo women visit Wellesley College to speak and make presentations.

On Thursday, Nov. 8, from 7-9 pm in the Library Lecture Room, the five women (Grandmother Dorothy Walker; her daughters Mae Peshlakai and Angie Maloney; Peshlakai’s daughter Tina; and Tina’s 14-year-old daughter Shelby) will speak about Navajo art and religion, public health, educational challenges and the realities of life on a Navajo reservation. They will also present a demonstration of traditional Navajo weaving and offer handmade jewelry for purchase.

The women will interact with students and community members Nov. 9 from noon-1:30 pm on the fourth floor of the Wang Campus Center, where they will display their artwork and answer questions. From 1:30-2:30 pm in Jewett Arts Center, they will participate in an open studio demonstration.

According to Wellesley College psychology professor Beth Hennessey, who helped bring the Navajo women to campus, attendees will learn about “the clashes and syntheses that have been experienced as Navajos have negotiated a life incorporating both traditional Navajo and European-American cultural elements.”

“Navajo traditional culture is strongly matrilineal and matriarchic in a way seldom seen in other cultures,” Hennessey explained. “The Navajo culture is also strongly collectivist in comparison to the European-American, individualist culture.  Their pattern of child rearing and education—
when controlled by the Navajos themselves — is based on a system of respect for everyone and everything.”

Yet despite the cultural conflicts caused by these differences, Hennessey said, “We have, here in this family, women who have found ways to rise above these problems and choose careers that are involved in solving them.”

Wellesley College has been a leader in the education of women for more than 130 years. The College's 500-acre campus near Boston is home to 2,300 undergraduate students from all 50 states and 65 countries.