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How a Piedra Vista senior advocated for inclusive language at graduation

Principal and graduation committee initially denied Navajo language in graduation program
Kylie Talker, senior at Piedra Vista High School, started a petition calling for the action of the school and district to allow students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in Navajo at the 2024 graduation ceremony, after being denied by the graduation committee and principal. (Courtesy Kylie Talker)

On April 16, families and faculty of Piedra Vista received an email confirming that the Pledge of Allegiance would be spoken in Diné and Spanish during the May graduation ceremony.

The decision comes after a three-month push from senior Kylie Talker, who started the conversation when her request was denied by the graduation committee.

In February, Principal Kelly Thur sent an email to a teacher who was corresponding with Talker, claiming the Diné-spoken Pledge of Allegiance would not be included in the ceremony because the agenda had been set.

Talker said when she approached the graduation committee, she was met with a straight “no” as an answer to her request about the pledge.

After repeated attempts to speak to Thur directly, Talker took her concern to the district at the April 9 Farmington Municipal Schools board meeting.

Speaking during the public forum, Talker said she was nervous but determined. The board informed Talker that a response would later be determined.

Talker said she hoped the Native American district administration would be an ally for her address.

“I was like, maybe there's a chance at this (being approved) but then I was told that I had to wait,” she said.

District administration contacted Talker to set up a meeting, with no disclosed time, place or agenda.

The email sent to families and faculty on April 16 regarding the inclusion of the Navajo and Spanish spoken Pledge of Allegiance at the May 14 Piedra Vista High School commencement. (Courtesy of Neldine Ramos)

While she awaited answers from the school and district, Talker started a petition at Piedra Vista. It garnered 118 responses.

Piedra Vista has 1,530 students, with 495 identifying as Native American or Alaskan Native, according to a Farmington Municipal Schools spokesman.

Talker said her largest concern and confusion lay with the district’s response to this request.

“I don't get why we have to ask for permission,” she said. “It should just be a ‘yes.’ I don't understand why it has to take a whole process.”

Taking to social media, Talker posted a video on Facebook to address the issue, while saying she was stressed and anxious.

“Why can’t we say the pledge in Navajo at our graduation, being that we do live in a diverse community with a rich culture, heritage and history,” she said in the video.

Speaking with Tri-City Record, Talker and her aunt Samantha Bradley also discussed including traditional attire at graduation.

According to Bradley, the fight for Diné culture at graduation is a familiar one.

Since her advocacy, Talker said she has heard stories of graduates required to “cover up” their attire and told to change their beaded graduation caps for an untouched one.

Within their family, Talker and Bradley said they have experienced the attire issue as well.

“What's the whole point of saying that you're a diverse community, if you don't support or show that you're there for cultural students,” Talker said.

At Piedra Vista, the Navajo club is the only group Talker is aware of. One main component of the cub is reacquainting themselves with the Diné language, she said.

“We want to show that we do want their students involved in things in their Indigenous environment because some students were taken away or adopted,” she said. “We want to teach them this where you came from.”

Ramos received the email April 16 and delivered the news to Talker that same day.

“I was really overwhelmed and I was really happy to the fact they finally approved it,” she said.

Talker said she shed some tears of joy.

“I just hope this keeps going on for generations and it just grows onto PV,” she said.

Talker expects to have plenty of family at her graduation, including grandparents, who predominantly speak and understand Navajo.

As of May 2, Talker has not been contacted by the district about the meeting. On April 22, Principal Thur did speak with Talker to inform her of the decision.

Through a public information request, Tri-City Record obtained Piedra Vista graduation programs from the years 2021, 2022 and 2023.

The Pledge of Allegiance was not found on those programs.

Farmington Municipal Schools declined the Tri-City Record’s request for interviews with Thur and Superintendent Cody Diehl.

Piedra Vista High School in Farmington, New Mexico.