Renowned Navajo educator dies
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — Ruth Roessel, a prominent Navajo educator and writer who helped establish the first tribally controlled college in the country, has died at age 77 after a brief illness.
Roessel had been sick with pneumonia and died Friday at a hospital in Cortez, Colo., said former Navajo Nation spokesman George Hardeen. She was buried Sunday.
Roessel was born in Round Rock, Ariz., on the Navajo Nation and attended U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding schools. The experience led her and late husband Dr. Robert Roessel Sr. to develop new concepts for Navajo education programs that blended Western-styled curriculum with Navajo history, culture and language.
“They believed in that, and that’s what they preached,” said former Arizona Sen. Jack Jackson Sr. “She did a lot for Navajo education.”
Together, the Roessels founded the first school controlled by an American Indian community in 1966, now called the Rough Rock Community School. They also are credited with founding Navajo Community College, now known as Dine College, in 1968. Roessel taught at Navajo schools over several decades, including Dine College where her husband served as its first president.
She also is the author of five books on Navajo history, culture and education, and was a respected community leader.
“Ruth was just an extraordinary individual who cared so much, not only for her own family but for her extended family and all the students she ever knew,” said Peterson Zah, a former Navajo chairman and president. “She is a fine example of what being a Navajo woman is all about, and what Navajo women should be.”
Roessel is survived by her five children, 12 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.