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The Navajo Nation Returns to Robert Morris

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Pittsburgh -- She took first in the Miss Navajo Nation Pageant in 1982, won the “Navajos Making a Difference Award” in 2006, and in 2013, is RMU’s Rooney Visiting International Scholar.  

Sunny Dooley is a native speaker of Diné (pronounced di-NEH) Navajo from the Chi Chio Tah community who has worked as a storyteller, folklorist and cultural consultant – collecting, learning and retelling the oral tradition of the Diné Hozhojii Hané.

“I want to give individuals an insight into Navajo culture, into Navajo wisdom, and into Navajo world view because so many times people think that all of the Native American tribes in America are similar but we’re really quite different from one another,” said Dooley.

From Feb. 18 to Feb. 28 Dooley will host a series of lectures including, “The Levels of Knowledge in Traditional and Counter Traditional Folklore,” "Cultural Items in Context: Symbols and Meaning in Navajo Culture,” and "Diné Hozhojii Hané: Navajo Blessingway stories."

Traditionally, a chanter and two or three apprentices spend nine days and nine nights telling the Navajo creation story, which becomes a ceremony of healing and recreates order in an individual’s life. These renditions include traditional and ritualized storytelling, chanting, sand painting, and dancing.  

“Generally, as Navajo people we never really knew how important storytelling was until the stories began to disappear. People were becoming more educated in the Western world more than the Navajo context of wisdom. The stories are really quite instrumental. I will be bringing various cultural items to establish what they mean and how we use them in our culture,” said Dooley

Dooley is a renowned Navajo speaker, as she has shared these traditional stories with the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian, the Denver Arts Museum, Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, the Rhode Island School of Design, and programs sponsored by the Pew Charitable Trust.

Dooley has been honored as the Olive B. O'Connor Distinguished Visiting Professor of Literature and Storyteller-in-Residence at Colgate University and one of nine women, the only Native storyteller, to be included in the Women’s Chautauqua Institute. She is on the roster of the NMHC Chautauqua Speakers Program, which features specialists on New Mexico history and culture.

Since it began in 2004, Rooney Visiting International Scholars Program, named for funder and university trustee Patricia Rooney, has brought 27 visiting professors and scholars to RMU from Europe, Africa, Australia, Asia, the Middle East, and the Navajo Nation. Scholars conduct research, teach, or conduct a service project and give public presentation on their fields of expertise and their home countries.

Robert Morris University, founded in 1921, is a private, four-year institution with an enrollment of approximately 5,000 undergraduate and graduate students. The university offers 60 undergraduate and 20 graduate programs. An estimated 22,000 alumni live and work in western Pennsylvania.