Be the Change You Want to See: My Journey to College and Career Success

Two native american women in front of a mud hut

Yá’át’ééh. Hello. I am Diné/Navajo and come from a small community on the Navajo reservation in Arizona called Tuba City. I am of the Blacksheep clan, born for the Towering house clan. My maternal grandmother’s clan is Bitter Water and my paternal grandfather’s clan is Edge Water.

Growing up, I attended multiple schools on the reservation, where a majority of the students and teachers were Navajo. Despite being surrounded by my own Navajo people, I still felt like I didn’t quite fit in or belong. I was either not Navajo enough or too Navajo. I was either belittled for not knowing my language or not acknowledged at all for practicing my Navajo traditions, because students and teachers were either less or more acculturated to modern ways than me.

Throughout my education, I was confused by my language loss, by coming from a single parent home, and seeing family dysfunction related to alcoholism, drug addictions, and domestic violence. I remember being so quiet, humble, and doing what my mother and teachers asked of me, yet feeling so lost within the school system and at home. I remember in middle school and in high school internally yearning for attention and answers that couldn’t be explained by anyone it seemed. Because of this, I know first-hand the feelings of confusion with identity, battling two ways of knowing, and not understanding cultural trauma — issues which continue to be an ongoing fight and most of the time unresolved with countless numbers of Native American students.

While attending the School Psychology Program at San Diego State University, I had the opportunity of being a Scholar on the Native American Scholars and Collaborators Project (NASCP). Being a Scholar on our NASCP has greatly shaped and strengthened my overall well-being as a young Indigenous woman, a community member, and a learner, as well as how I see the field of School Psychology. In order to be an effective Indigenous School Psychologist, I had to learn more about myself and understand the deep complexities that come with being an Indigenous female learner in a western academy. I have come to realize how vital it is to talk about historical traumas that have severely wounded generations of our families and communities.

The traumas of colonization that have severely affected our people, such as the genocide during the era of relocation and the separation of children from their parents, language loss, and ways of being through forced assimilation at boarding schools have resulted in drug and alcohol addictions, depression, domestic violence, diabetes, and sexual abuse. Bringing this awareness to our educators, parents, community members, and our Native American children is critical in understanding a whole child, because these specific factors continue to mold and influence Native communities, and their students’ school performance across all levels of education. Knowing the source of the trauma can help us help the children re-build a resilient sense of self and community.

Through self-healing and learning more about traditional knowledge and applying what I have learned in our program based upon National Association School Psychology (NASP) standards and vision, I am more equipped with applying culturally responsive interventions and curriculum for our native students. While being a part of NASCP, I had a chance to work alongside a few Native American youth from the Kumeyaay culture. In working with these students, I made sure to establish a relationship with each and every one of them, encouraged listening and sharing about our life stories and implement culturally appropriate interventions.

As I share some of the ongoing challenges that deeply wound Native learners, I wonder how many educators and school psychologists really know and understand the deep-rooted issues that impact Native American students in education today. As a young Diné female, my purpose of going into the field of School Psychology is to be an advocate and serve our Native American children with skill and compassion from a position of resilience and hope. Native youth are highly under served, misunderstood, and over-identified in general and special education. I want to be one of the people that makes a change in this situation.  


About the Author
Alyssa Bahdesbah Ashley

Alyssa Bahdesbah Ashley

Alyssa Bahdesbah Ashley, Navajo/Diné from Tuba City, Arizona, received her Educational Specialist degree in School Psychology from San Diego State University (SDSU) in 2015. She is currently employed as a school psychologist on the Navajo reservation within the New Mexico Central Consolidated School District. Growing up on the Navajo reservation and being raised in a single parent home impelled her desire to serve the Native American youth and communities and strengthen awareness in the field of education about historical and inter-generational trauma, a powerful dynamic that continues to impact Native students’ identities and school success today.
Alyssa’s passion and self-awareness was strengthened while being a part of the Native American Scholars and Collaborates Project at SDSU, a federal grant that develops specializations in serving Native youth, and centers on indigenous methodologies, self-identity, colonization, and decolonization. As a young Diné female, Alyssa aspires to be an advocate and serve Native American children with skill and compassion from a position of resilience, hope, and collaboration with others.