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Documentary From Diné Filmmaker Explores 'Medicine And Obligations' Of College Education And Tradition

By Amanda Luberto, Mark Brodie
Published: Friday, November 22, 2019 - 1:48pm
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Many college students talk about finding themselves while they’re at school, and figuring out which parts of themselves they’ll carry forward. Northern Arizona University student Tinia Witherspoon, though, says she feels like the decision is being made for her.

Witherspoon is a member of the Navajo Nation and a filmmaker. In a new short documentary, called "Medicine and Obligations," she highlights four students, including herself, and the struggles they face trying to balance life in college and life on the reservation.

“It’s hard to communicate to professors who don’t have the cultural competence to understand the sacredness, the medicine that is involved in having access to your culture, having access to the people who support you," she said. "And along with it being medicine, there are obligations with having to attend school and also attending home.”

Witherspoon’s documentary draws attention to issues that can make it more difficult for students with family on reservation land, from a lack of internet to transportation challenges.

“Often in Diné communities, specifically on the Navajo Nation, not all the roads are paved," she said. "So getting home, sometimes especially with severe weather, it’s not a guarantee that you’ll be able to travel home and get back immediately.”

Witherspoon calls the choice students have to make between Western knowledge and their traditional cultural knowledge an epidemic in Indian Country. The Show also reached out to NAU for comment; the university declined.

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