Jennifer Wheeler has built a life around the Navajo language. She remembers sitting with her grandmother as a young girl, listening to her read a Navajo translated version of the Bible. Those experiences helped shape her life’s work.
“I remember her reading every line, every verse, so literally she had her finger under every word, every phrase that she was reading. That’s how I learned how to read Navajo.”
She has attributed her success in the Western world to the values her grandmother instilled in her as a child.
When I was little at the time she would say to me, ‘You have to always remember this is who you are. You are Navajo and Navajo is your language. But when you go to school, you will learn English and that’ll be your second language. But because you know how to read and write Navajo, because you had that interest, you gained that interest from me, I think that it would be very important and beneficial for you to be able to really become solid in utilizing both languages.’
Those words resonated with her and motivated Wheeler to do her part to preserve the Navajo language. Wheeler has an undergrad, masters and PhD in English and has taught Navajo at all levels. She translated the scripts for “Star Wars IV: A New Hope” and “Finding Nemo.”