Women in the Academy: Farina King

By October 22, 2018


Bilagáanaa niliigo’ dóó Kinyaa’áanii yásh’chíín. Bilagáanaa dabicheii dóó Tsinaajinii dabinálí. Ákót’éego diné asdzá̹á̹ nilí̹. Farina King is “Bilagáanaa” (Euro­American), born for “Kinyaa’áanii” (the Towering House Clan) of the Diné (Navajo). Her maternal grandfather was Euro­American, and her paternal grandfather was “Tsinaajinii” (Black­streaked Woods People Clan) of the Diné. She is Assistant Professor of History and an affiliate of the Cherokee and Indigenous Studies Department at Northeastern State University, Tahlequah, Oklahoma. She received her Ph.D. in History at Arizona State University.

She was the 2016-2017 David J. Weber Fellow for the Study of Southwestern America at the Clements Centers for Southwest Studies of Southern Methodist University. She was the 2015­2016 Charles Eastman Dissertation Fellow at Dartmouth College. She received her M.A. in African History from the University of Wisconsin and a B.A. from Brigham Young University with a double major in History and French Studies. Her main area of research is colonial and post­colonial Indigenous Studies, primarily Indigenous experiences of colonial and boarding school education. Her first book was published by the University Press of Kansas, in October 2018, which is titled The Earth Memory Compass: Diné Landscapes and Education in the Twentieth Century. In this book, she explores how historical changes in education shaped Diné collective identity and community by examining the interconnections between Navajo students, their people, and Diné Bikéyah (Navajo lands). The study relies on Diné historical frameworks, mappings of the world, and the Four Sacred Directions.

Courtesy farinaking.com

Short Biography

I was born in Tónaneesdizí (also known as Tuba City, Arizona) and lived in Diné Bikéyah (Navajo homelands) as a small child until our family moved to the Washington, D.C. area for my dad’s work with the Indian Health Service. I attended school in Maryland within the D.C. metropolitan region. My relatives live mostly in what is considered the checkerboard area of New Mexico, including Tséyaaniichii and Bááháálíní, which I also call home. My parents both joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in their adolescence, and they raised their children in that faith.

To learn more about her work and background, visit her website at farinaking.com.

What formal education have you received?

My education stems from entanglements of different knowledge and epistemological systems and communities of learners. After graduating high school in Bethesda, Maryland, I completed my undergraduate degrees in History and French Studies with minors in African Studies and Native American Studies at Brigham Young University in Provo. After receiving my bachelor’s, I started and finished a master’s program in African History at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, with an emphasis on experiences of French colonial education in the former colony of Dahomey (the region of present-day Benin). I decided to redirect my studies to my home community in Diné Bikéyah for my doctoral degree, which led me to complete a Ph.D. program in U.S. History with a focus on Native American History at Arizona State University. Dr. Don Fixico, a distinguished Native American scholar of the Seminole, Muscogee, Shawnee, and Sac and Fox nations, served as my advisor, and his work and mentorship has guided me in my professional development. Many other scholars, elders, friends, and family have supported me in my intellectual journey. For my doctoral study, I sought and received the approval of Diné chapter communities, including Crownpoint, Tónaneesdizí, Leupp, and Oljato; the Navajo Nation Historic Preservation Department; and the Navajo Nation Human Research Review Board. Acknowledging and respecting the protocols of Diné peoples, communities, and the Navajo Nation are crucial parts of my education and development as a scholar and Diné citizen. Most importantly, my elders and relatives have taught me knowledge through oral tradition, earth, and kinship.How did you become interested in your area (s) of expertise/specialization?

My interest in learning stemmed from seeking to know my relatives and family as well as their stories. I am drawn to the stories of my elders and kin. Since I lived for an extended time in the Washington, D.C. area, I became rehearsed in introducing people for the first time to Diné history and heritage. It was common to come across people who knew little to nothing about Navajos or Native Americans more broadly. These exchanges shaped me as an educator.

What are you currently studying?
What are some of your current projects?

I recently released my book, The Earth Memory Compass: Diné Landscapes and Education through the Twentieth Century, published by the University Press of Kansas. I am currently working on a co-authored interdisciplinary project about the Intermountain Indian Boarding School and the significance of Navajo student creative works. My partners and I are designing an exhibit, featuring Intermountain student writings and art, that will travel to the Navajo Nation this coming summer. We are writing a book related to the exhibit.

I have also been revising a book-length manuscript about Navajo Mormon experiences in the twentieth century based on the Latter-Day Saint Native American Oral History Project, to which I contributed.

What has your experience been like “in the academy”?
What roles has gender played in those experiences?

“The academy” has mixed experiences for me. My pursuit of learning and understanding life and the world, as the academy promotes, brings me closer to my family and relatives in some ways; but it is also demanding and involves struggles especially for women with underrepresented backgrounds and identities. Those struggles are such that I would feel uncomfortable sharing them in a forum such as this one—an online, public blog for all to see and always trace to me. Unfortunately, we see how women, particularly women scholars, are made to suffer when they speak of their sufferings. It is sad that we cannot respect these struggles, listen, and seek to rectify them in a way that upholds our mutual respect and dignity foremost as human beings.

I am a human being. I am a Bilagáanaa Diné woman. I am an oral historian. I am a mother. I am a wife. I am a sister. I am a daughter. I am a learner. I am a teacher. I am a Ph.D. I am a Native American, Diné female scholar of faith.

Who are some people (living or dead) in your field you admire? Why?

I admire K. Tsianina Lomawaima for her kindness and abilities of storytelling. Her book They Called It Prairie Light: The Story of Chilocco Indian School exemplifies autoethnographic work as a study that is centered on personal connections to Indigenous community and family. I appreciate Jennifer Nez Denetdale who was the first Diné to receive a Ph.D. in history. She stresses the significance of oral tradition, kinship, and language in Reclaiming Diné History: The Legacies of Navajo Chief Manuelito and Juanita. Davina Two Bears, a Diné anthropologist, showed me how to respect our Diné elders through community outreach and care in our work. Hokulani Aikau is another exemplary person and scholar who writes and speaks with such clarity and truth telling, including in her A Chosen People, a Promised Land: Mormonism and Race in Hawai’i that gives me hope in sharing my own journey of understanding Diné experiences in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I always think of my Uncle Albert and Aunt Helen who first taught me the significance of k’é (kin) and our histories, welcoming and embracing me as one of their many children. My studies of Diné culture and history began and continue with shizhé’é, my father, and his stories and example of seeking knowledge and truth.

For someone who is interested in studying what you do, what are some books or experiences you would recommend?

Learn, develop, and sustain relationships with community and people. Reciprocity is central, being recognized and supported by community. Start with community and their needs by asking, listening, and learning from them. Be sure that you work with communities rather than “working on them.” For too long, academia has served to “extract” and appropriate knowledge from Indigenous communities, reinforcing and perpetuating violence and injustices of colonialism. I joined academia to support the efforts to change those dynamics, seeking to “unerase” Indigenous histories and stories. In their works, Dina Gilio-Whitaker and Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz have exemplified unerasing. Dina introduced me to the term. See their co-authored book “All the Real Indians Died Off”: And 20 Other Myths about Native Americans and Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States.

What has your experience been like as a Mormon in the academy? How have your Mormonism and sex/gender intersected in the academy?

This question is similar to the previous one regarding my experiences in “the academy,” and I have the same reasons for feeling uncomfortable fully discussing this matter in this forum. If people learn about your religious background, especially one of a minority faith, it can be concerning that they might have prejudices against you. On the other hand, if people criticize their own faith, they could be judged or affected by those within that community. Thus, I have been hesitant to discuss my religious background. The manuscript that I am revising about Navajo Mormons would open that discussion more and bring to light my personal connections to the church. I navigate various communities that sometimes intersect and even collide; they present their own layers and meanings of significance including but not limited to family, profession, ethnicity, sex/gender, and religion.

Ahéhee’. Thank you,

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