Don't Demolish the Domes (Little Singer School)
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Help preserve the dream brought to life with the prayers of a Navajo Medicine Man and the actions of his Bilagaana (Anglo) friend.
Yá’át’ééh shik’éí dóó shidiné’é. A threat exists today that would demolish the original Little Singer School (est. 1976) in Birdsprings, Arizona on the Navajo Nation. This first of its kind school was the dream of Hataałí Yázhí (Little Singer), a powerful Diné medicine man, and was the design of Thomas Ryan Sr., a physicist from northern California. The dream was to halt the forced removal of Dine children to far off residential schools.
My family and I are originally from Birdsprings, Arizona, and our maternal clan is Tódích’íínii. We come to you today to humbly ask for your help in saving the original Little Singer School in Birdsprings, Arizona on the Navajo Nation. The name of the school carries the legacy of Hataałí Yázhí, Little Singer, who is remembered for his knowledge of Diné ceremonies, prayer songs, wisdom, generosity, and kindness. Hataałí Yázhí’s innovative thinking, especially with regards to the welfare of the Birdsprings community allowed for his vision for the betterment of his people.
In 1970 he befriended my stepfather, Thomas Ryan Sr., who was living at Rincon Ranch in Winslow, Arizona. Although Hataałí Yázhí only spoke Navajo and Ryan only spoke English, they often visited and conversed and soon a friendship blossomed. It was Hataałí Yázhí’s concern for the future of his people that led to the vision of building a school “to bring the children home.” Hataałí Yázhí was aware of an unnatural deafening silence due to the absence of children in Birdsprings. Ryan learned from his Navajo friends that the U.S. Federal Government’s Indian education policy was to separate children from their families for nine months out of the year to attend Federal Indian Boarding Schools. Therefore, he wholeheartedly accepted Hataałí Yázhí’s request to build a community school, where the curriculum would incorporate the Diné language and culture.
Beginning in the early 1970’s Thomas Ryan Sr. designed the iconic red geodesic domes and an “A-frame” building that comprised the original school. The geodesic shape was built for strength and longevity, as well as, to mimic the form of the traditional Navajo hogan. Since no electrical lines existed in Birdsprings at the time, two wind generators provided the electricity for the school; and solar panels harnessed the sun’s energy to heat the school. Through prayers offered by Hataałí Yázhí, the steadfast efforts of the Birdsprings community, and Ryan’s ingenuity, the Little Singer School opened in 1979. It was the first sustainable school on the Navajo Reservation. The education received at Hataałí Yázhí Bi’Ołta, Little Singer School, enabled one to read and write in the Diné language, to sing social and prayer songs in Navajo, and to learn about the Diné culture and history from elders.
Although my family and I are happy that a new school is built, we do not want the original school to be demolished. As the name of the school carries Hataałí Yázhí’s legacy, so does the engineering and design of the geodesic domes carry the legacy of the guiding light and leader of our family, Thomas Lee Ryan.
The present contract in place with the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) calls for the demolition of the geodesic domes. The original red geodesic domes should continue to exist and serve the school in a multitude of educational capacities; or alternatively, they could be relocated to another location to become a community center, museum, or whatever the Birdsprings community feels is best.
We respectfully ask that you sign this petition in support of NOT demolishing the original Little Singer School’s historic red geodesic domes and “A-frame,” which Hataałí Yázhí and Birdsprings community prayed into creation. This petition will be presented to the Little Singer Community School Board, officials within the Bureau of Indian Education, and other Navajo leaders to prevent the planned demolition of the original historic Little Singer School.
Ahéhee, Thank you.
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