LAS CRUCES – Pan American audience members had the chance to hear the national anthem sung in the Navajo language, Diné Bizaad (Diné is the term for the people and Diné Bizaad refers to the language), before the start of the men’s basketball game between the New Mexico State Aggies and the University of New Mexico Lobos Tuesday night, Nov. 30.
Singer Vanisha Sam is a nursing student at NMSU and president of the Native American Business Student Association on campus. She is originally from Coyote Canyon in northwestern New Mexico, which is on the Navajo Nation.
She said she volunteered to sing after finding out that the director of the American Indian Program was looking for someone to sing in their native language at the game. The Nov. 30 game was the last day of Native American Heritage Month.
Sam said she used to sing the national anthem in the Navajo language at basketball games her senior year of attending Navajo Preparatory School in Farmington. Diné Bizaad is not her first language, but she said she is working on becoming more fluent. Performing before taking the court with her team was a challenge she set for herself.
“It's actually one of the hardest languages to learn. And it's best to learn it when you're a (toddler) because you catch on a lot quicker,” Sam said. “It's kind of hard because of all the tones and the high tones and how similar some words are.”
Michael Ray, director of NMSU’s American Indian Program, said Sam’s performance was the second time the national anthem was sung in Diné Bizaad, as far as he knows. He said then-student Latoya Johnson sang at the NMSU women’s basketball Native American Heritage Game against Chicago State in 2014.
“We are always glad to have our students use their traditional language and knowledge on campus,” Ray said in an email.
Sam said learning and understanding her native language helps to connect more with her community, culture and people. She described Diné Bizaad as a “very powerful language.”
“Native songs are supposed to be good medicine and good energy,” Sam said. “That was my intention (Tuesday), to not only represent Native American communities, but also bring good medicine to everybody.”
Sam graduates from NMSU with a Bachelor of Science on Saturday, Dec. 11. She said she hopes to eventually work closely with the Navajo people and help positively impact the community via healthcare.
This article originally appeared on Las Cruces Sun-News: NMSU nursing student sings national anthem in Diné Bizaad