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 CROWNPOINT, NM — Former Governor Bill Richardson and a Cherokee Nation delegation visited Navajo Technical University (NTU) on Thursday, January 20th to tour NTU’s award-winning Culinary Institute and high-tech science programs that are creating good jobs for Navajo students.

They later visited Crownpoint Elementary School to deliver 100 pairs of Nike shoes to Navajo children donated by the Gov. Bill Richardson/Peterson Zah COVID-19 Navajo Families Relief Fund. The Fund also purchased shoes for 100 students at Lake Valley Navajo school nearby. During the Covid19 pandemic, the Fund has purchased nearly 800 pairs of shoes for children in need.

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“The Navajo people and our New Mexico communities suffered some tough losses in 2021, but we’re going to continue working to help overcome this pandemic,” Gov. Richardson said. “It takes all of us working together to protect our families, and I'm grateful to many friends and donors who contributed to the Fund so we can do more.

“I came back to Crownpoint on the Navajo Nation to promote job creation, education and to thank teachers who are doing their best in this pandemic. We need to remind everyone that it’s not over and we have to remain cautious by getting vaccinated, boosted, wearing masks, and keeping safe distances.”

H. Scott Halliday, digital tech center coordinator, gave a tour of the "Fab Lab" or fabrication laboratory which contains state-of-art technology for research and development. (Photo/Joseph Leon)

At Crownpoint Elementary School, 10 masked students accepted the donation of 100 boxes of shoes while the Navajo language class gave thanks with Navajo songs. Cherokee Nation Special Envoy for International Relations and Language Preservation Joe Byrd talked to students in his language as they accepted their gifts. Students presented him with dozens of thank you notes written in the Navajo language. Language preservation is a priority for both tribal nations.

“Cherokee Nation was able to help with a small donation because we’re in this together,” said Byrd. “As a former teacher, what Governor Richardson is doing to help kids touches my heart. When the two largest Tribes in the nation with a million citizens come together for the good of our people, it strengthens Indian Country as a whole. Some of the students in New Mexico who received shoes are Cherokee, and some are from multiple Tribes. In this pandemic, we’re stronger together as allies.”

The Dine' language class at Crownpoint Elementary sang songs in Navajo as a special thank you gift. (Photo/Valerie Taliman)



CES Principal Rhis Robinson said his school is one of the most diverse in McKinley County with many nationalities represented.

“Our greatest possession is our youth, and despite unpaved roads, lack of electricity, water or internet, our students come to school every day and put forth their best,” he said. “We’re overwhelmed that they chose our school to receive shoes and a Good Sports donation for sports equipment and apparel. We offer our heartfelt thanks.”

At NTU’s Hospitality Center, students, faculty, administrators, and Navajo Nation Council Delegate Mark Freeland warmly welcomed Governor Richardson and his guests to tour the advanced manufacturing lab and listen to student and faculty presentations.

“Governor Richardson helped lay the foundation for NTU with a National Science Foundation grant for infrastructure,” said NTU Provost Dr. Colleen Bowman.  “He was instrumental to the creation of the Hospitality Center we’re standing in and helped with expansion of the Culinary Arts degree programs. NTU will be forever grateful to his advocacy for our Tribal university.”


Provost Colleen Bowman and Vice President of Operations Jason Arviso presented Governor Richardson with a warrior’s blanket designed by NTU to thank him for his commitment to Navajo people and their university. (Photo/Valerie Taliman)

Governor Richardson, who also served as U.S. Secretary of Energy, said he was impressed by NTU’s Fabrication Laboratory where students train in cutting-edge technologies to research, test and fabricate airplane and satellite parts, medical instruments, prosthetic devices, hearing aids or replacement parts for old windmills. The lab houses unique 3D metal printing machines for advanced manufacturing.  

“We’re creating jobs for the future, high-tech and high wage jobs that will benefit society and the Navajo Nation tremendously,” said NTU President Dr. Elmer Guy. “We’re the only Tribal university with ABET-accredited engineering programs. That matters to international firms like Honeywell, Boeing, and the National Labs. Our students intern at their sites and get hired as employees, so it’s a direct pipeline to good jobs.”

President Elmer Guy explains NTU's partnerships with Sandia and Los Alamos National Labs to Cherokee Nation Special Envoy Joe Byrd as Governor Richardson inquires about laser technology. (Photon/Joseph Leon)

Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) credentials ensure that graduates meet high standards for critical STEM fields in emerging technologies. NTU has partnered with Sandia and Los Alamos National Labs to create internships and jobs for its industrial engineering and electrical engineering graduates.

In an interview at NTU’s radio station, KCZY, Governor Richardson praised the university for its 99 percent vaccination rate for fall semester among students and faculty. He said they set a great example for other schools to follow. NTU requires masks and takes temperatures for visitors to campus to prevent the spread of the Covid virus.

At a luncheon prepared by NTU’s Culinary Institute students, Dr. Guy praised the students and Chef Bob Witti who sold his restaurant and joined NTU in 1999 to help build the culinary and baking programs. Since 2000, the Culinary Arts students have earned multiple bronze, silver, gold, and People’s Choice awards and presented their skills at the 2002 Olympics. Graduates from the program have gone on to become Sous Chefs, kitchen managers and instructors throughout the country.

NTU's Culinary Arts program is headed by Chef Bob Witti who joined NTU in 1999 to develop award-winning teams of students who become Sous Chefs, kitchen managers and instructors. NTU also has a food truck that caters. (Photo/Valerie Taliman)

At the close of the event, Dr. Bowman and Vice President Jason Arviso presented Governor Richardson with a warrior’s blanket designed by NTU to thank him for his commitment to Navajo people and their university.

“In our culture, when someone helps you, you reciprocate by giving thanks,” said Dr. Guy. “You cannot just continue on without giving thanks, otherwise those good things you receive may not stay. Today we were given an opportunity to properly thank Governor Richardson for always being in our corner.”

Governor Richardson thanked everyone as he departed and said, “I leave with real gratitude for being able to serve the Navajo people for so many years. I hope maybe I made a difference.”

For those interested in donating to the Fund or receiving assistance for children, please contact Project Consultant Valerie Taliman at 505.270.3092.

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