Not everybody takes David Harmon for a Native American, not even the Navajo people who share his heritage.

To him, it's not offensive. What it can be is a conversation starter, allowing the war veteran from Flagstaff by way of Chinle to share his identity.

The conversation at Northern Arizona University on Tuesday morning was also about embracing Native American diversity during a panel presentation as part of Native American Heritage Month.

As mixed-race children of Native mothers and white fathers, all of the panelists knew multi-culturalism from the home.

Harmon is Navajo, Tewa and white. Sakya Calsoyas is Navajo, Greek and English. Daisy Purdy is T'salagi (sometimes known as Cherokee) and white. Purdy grew up south of Boston, while the men were raised on the Navajo Nation.

They all strongly embrace their cultures -- Purdy works for Native American Student Services and is an adjunct faculty member in ethnic studies; Calsoyas, an NAU student, represented the Navajo Nation as a youth ambassador at the United Nations and wants to use his film major to tell Native stories; Harmon is also an NAU student and is active with the local Native Americans for Community Action.

Purdy, who is light-skinned, said being able to "pass for white" has kept people from assigning her stereotypes, but it's also allowed her to see unfiltered racism and denigration along the "there's a drunk Indian" lines. But she said Flagstaff has a good sense of Native community, and Natives have a far richer sense of humor than the stoic Hollywood Indian.

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The youngest of the three, Calsoyas is a traditionalist. When his uncles ask him why he doesn't cut his long black hair, he said, he asks them why they haven't grown theirs out.

Before returning to NAU to finish a business degree, Harmon was a Marine; as a youngster, he appreciated the valor of Navajo Code Talkers. He's an Iraq veteran and he found a sincere curiosity about his culture among his non-Native colleagues while becoming a role model for the Native troops.

Harmon said being Native is an honor. His Navajo grandmother told him that he should speak carefully, as he speaks for his ancestors.

"Hopefully I'm doing my grandmother justice and I'm speaking how she'd like me to speak," he said.

The panel was sponsored by the Coconino County Inter-tribal Advisory Council and the City of Flagstaff Commission on Diversity Awareness.

Hillary Davis can be reached at hdavis@azdailysun.com or 556-2261.

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