Marie Pino, Navajo teacher who educated generations, dies at 67

(Natalie Pino via The New York Times) Marie Pino was a teacher who devoted herself to teaching Navajo children out of a conviction that they should be educated near their homes rather than sent away to boarding schools established to bring greater assimilation. Just weeks ago, the viral disease took the life of her son and after she tested positive for COVID-19, Pino was taken to a hospital in Albuquerque and died on May 13, her daughter said. She was 67.

Marie Pino, a teacher who educated generations of children in a remote part of the Navajo Nation, knew how deadly COVID-19 could be. Just weeks ago, the viral disease took the life of her son.

Marcus Pino was 42 when he died in April. He was the basketball coach at the Alamo Navajo Community School in Alamo, New Mexico, the same rural school where his mother taught for years.

“She got sick at the same time she was mourning,” said her daughter Natalie Pino, 32, a health care worker.

After testing positive for COVID-19, Marie Pino was taken to a hospital in Albuquerque and died May 13, her daughter said. She was 67.

Pino’s death, as well as that of her son, resonated in the Alamo Navajo Indian Reservation, a noncontiguous outpost of the Navajo Nation spreading over 63,000 acres of western New Mexico. About 2,000 people live there; telephone service didn’t arrive until the late 1980s.

The Navajo Nation is struggling with one of the deadliest outbreaks in the United States, with 4,071 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 142 deaths as of Tuesday.

[Read more: Outbreak on edge of Navajo Nation overwhelms rural hospital]

Pino was born on Nov. 9, 1952, to Luis and May Smith, and raised in the Navajo village of Sheep Springs, New Mexico. Her father worked for the railroad and herded sheep; her mother wove traditional rugs. They sent Pino to a boarding school for Native American children in Oklahoma.

Pino attended Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas, where she met and married Ira Pino Sr. The pastor of Alamo Miracle Church, a Pentecostal congregation, he is being treated himself for COVID-19 at an Albuquerque hospital.

Natalie Pino said her mother devoted her life to teaching out of a belief that Native American children should have the option of attending public school near their home instead of boarding schools established with the objective of assimilating Indigenous children.

Pino, who taught elementary school for much of her more than 40-year career, would talk to her students both in English and in Diné Bizaad, the Navajo language enduring in this part of the West.

She was still teaching middle school at the time of her death. In addition to her husband and her daughter Natalie, Pino is survived by her sons Ira and Anderson Pino; daughters Cheryl Ganadonegro and Ivonne Bogg; 17 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Natalie Pino said her mother was also known for closely following tribal and national politics with a well-honed sense of humor, often satirizing political leaders.

“She loved her students and was passionate about their future,” her daughter said. “She voted in every election, tribal, state or national. My mother had that sense of duty.”