Marjorie “Grandma” Thomas Navajo Educator

Marjorie “Grandma” Thomas, an educator, author and fundraiser 

She was born in Ganado in 1931, and as a child was sent to the Ganado Mission Indian boarding school, which she hated. Her mother, Naanibaa Gorman, worked as a health care worker and translator.

Marjorie "Grandma" Thomas, an educator, author and fundraiser

Photo by Tom Grier/Navajo Oral History Project.

Marjorie said “When I went to the boarding school we were punished for speaking Navajo. I made up my mind not to have something that was mine taken away from me.”

So she quit school and got married.and raised eight children.
At age 29, upon the urging of her husband, she went back to school for her General Education Diploma.

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After graduating from Farmington, New Mexico, High School, she helped start the Navajo language program in Chinle, Arizona

She was a teacher and principal in Tuba City and served as a principal and Associate Superintendent for the Chinle Unified School District. and has worked with curriculum and school reform for over 30 years.

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She has served as a a teacher, bilingual coordinator, and principal in schools on the Navajo Nation and has worked with curriculum and school reform for over 30 years.

She has a BA in Elementary Education from Northern Arizona University, an MA in Educational Leadership from the University of New Mexico

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In recognition of her efforts she received an honorary doctorate from the University of New Mexico and from Diné College.

Marjorie Thomas continues to use her language as a storyteller and as an advocate for youth. She is known as “Grandma Thomas” to the youth of the Navajo Nation.

Now retired, Marjorie Thomas wrote two children’s books, printed in both, Navajo and English:
White Nose the Sheep Dog by Marjorie W. Thomas (Dec 1, 2000)
Bidii by Marjorie W. Thomas (Dec 1, 2000)

She a founded and continues to raise funds for the Central Navajo Youth Opportunity Coalition. For many years Grandma Marjorie Thomas, has led an annual walk from Chinle to Window Rock to raise money to build a youth center in the Central Navajo Agency.


This documentary film was researched, photographed, edited and produced by students of Winona State University (Winona, Minnesota) and Diné College (Tsaile, Arizona, Navajo Nation) during summer 2009.

It contains stories Grandma Marjorie Thomas of Chinle, Arizona, told the students during several hours of interviews about her life.

This documentary film is archived at the Navajo Nation MuseumNavajo Nation LibraryWinona State University Library, and Diné College Library, and will be archived at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian.

The film is part of the Navajo Oral History project, a multi-year collaboration between the Winona State UniversityMass Communication Department and Diné College– The official Tribal College of the Navajo Nation


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