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Spotlight

Corey Ashley and Gracie Young

’18
Computer Science
Story originally published on Aug 2021
I am Tangle Clan. Born for Salt Water Clan.

Shí éí Ta’neeszahnii nishłį́ dóó Todik’ozhi báshíshchíín. Ma’ii deeshgiizhinii dashicheii dóó Naneesht’ézhí Táchii’nii dashinálí. (I am Tangle Clan. Born for Salt Water Clan. My maternal grandfather’s clan is Coyote Pass. My paternal grandfather’s clan is Charcoal Streaked of the Red Running into the Water.)

Ákót’éego Diné Hastiin nishłį́. (This is who I am as a Diné man.)

My name is Corey Ashley. I’m from Sanders, Arizona, a small Diné community on the Navajo reservation. As a senior studying science, technology and society, I’m interested in finding ways to intersect my Diné identity with technology as a means of culture and language revitalization. My work at Stanford focuses on bringing voices to the table that haven’t traditionally had access to the ideation phase of new technologies. We need Natives in tech.

Not a lot of people from the reservation make it to a school like Stanford. In my community people are susceptible to apathy, because they aren’t aware of opportunities that exist. I was lucky to have some influential teachers who helped change my mindset from “I’m just another kid from the ‘rez’” to “You have a unique identity and story, take the opportunity to share it in other spaces.”

I’m Gracie Young, also a senior, studying computer science, and I have Cherokee heritage. It’s really important to me to figure out how tech can fit in the language revitalization space. When I was a sophomore, Corey came to me with an idea for a project. He wanted to create an Android app, and I had just taken an Android development class and was excited about implementing the skills I learned.

Corey: I came to Stanford wanting to major in computer science, but I was too far behind everyone else. Other students came in with skills that I didn’t have. My high school on the reservation didn’t really prepare me for a place like Stanford. In the midst of failing CS intro classes, I had to find another way to do the things I was passionate about, which is how I became an STS (Science, Technology and Society) major.

Both of my parents are fluent in Navajo, but the language wasn’t passed on to me. Very few of my peers from home are fluent in Navajo because our parents wanted us to thrive in Western education, so they thought there was no need for the Navajo language anymore. As a result, we’re losing our language. For other tribes it is far worse; their language is already lost. Many tribes are scrambling to create a dictionary to preserve their language.

The app we created, Diné Adóone’é, is more than just a dictionary. It helps to bring K’é, a foundational component of Diné culture, to life. The closest English translation of this is kinship, but it means so much more than that – it’s more along the lines of how we are connected to each other, the culture, the land, the universe.

Gracie: We’ve been constantly thinking about how to move beyond using tech for tasks such as creating a dictionary. We don’t want to simply record the language, we want people to actively engage with it – through technology.

Corey: We designed an app that is meant to be used by two Diné people together. Each person enters their name as well as their clans. The app takes this information and uses an algorithm to determine how you’re related to the other person. We’ve deployed the app in app stores, but we don’t want to stop there. We hope this is just the first of many more steps toward connecting the Navajo community with technologists. I believe that we can save the language and culture by bringing these worlds together.

Gracie: We’ve done some research and there doesn’t seem to be a particular company or area in the tech industry for this type of work yet. This is something that Corey and I hope to continue working on and maybe even initiate after we graduate.

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