Betty “Red Ant” LaFontaine is a full blooded Diné (Navajo) born of the Red Clay Bottom Clan, for the Salt Clan. Raised on the Navajo Reservation, she lived most of her youth in the traditional ways of the Diné.
Betty is the middle child of eleven children, most of whom continue to live on the Reservation. Her ties to her family and homeland remain strong.
At age five, Betty began her formal education. While attending school she was taught English as a second language. She was not permitted to speak her native tongue during the school day.
As a modern urban Indian she has sought to educate others about the realities of Reservation life and the history and culture of her people.
Perhaps Betty’s greatest accomplishments are those of being a wife and mother. As a mother of five with numerous grandchildren, she is keenly aware of the problems that face today’s youth and parents.
Growing up on the Reservation
Red Ant’s biography is fascinating and fast-changing. The following are some brief “snap shots” from her life.
As a petite girl in a white tee shirt and stone washed jeans, she would go with her shima’ (mother) into town to sell the rugs her shima’ wove at night. Betty would translate for her mother and would negotiate the best price for her rugs. Betty also remembers the long hot summers in New Mexico working as a migrant farmer with her family. She remembers once when her brother accidentally hoed her. Because there was no hospital nearby, she carries the scar to this day.
Betty, along with her brothers and sisters, would sleep on the dirt floor of a hogan (a one room Navajo home made of clay) on sheep skin rugs. Her shima’ always told her children not to sleep with their heads toward the tail of the sheep skin or they would “fly off” at night. One brave night, Red Ant slept with her head towards the tail. Although her younger sister begged her not to, Red Ant would not be dissuaded. That night she suddenly awoke to find herself levitating above her family. In the morning she realized that it had been a dream… or was it?!
As an Indian educator, Betty makes presentations about her native culture, life-ways and heritage to school assemblies, clubs, groups, organizations and business employees.
Growing up in the heart of Navajo country, Betty has much experience and understanding from which to draw. Her presentations vary depending on the size, age level and special interests of the group.
She tells of early years in school and that her favorite subject was “lunch.” Often she would get foods which were not available at home, such as cookies or pizza, wrap up samples in paper, and take them home for her mother to taste.
In her presentations, Betty often plays on the hand drum, does storytelling and sings songs she learned from her shima’ while she wove. Betty also has adapted a number of songs to Indian sign language. Groups with which Betty works enjoy learning the signs and soon are singing along.
Betty tells of the daily rituals and teachings. “Don’t point at the moon, or your finger will grow crooked… Don’t leave your possessions out over night; the skin walker will take them and use them… Take a morning run before the sun rises. Run east to greet the rising of the sun.”
Letters from Schools
- ✤ “Red Ant speaks about her life, the ways of her people, and how she is living in today’s society. She presents each with love and respect. … She is a loving, caring person wishing and willing to teach others her way of life. It was a touching assembly from which we all grew and took away with us a new appreciation and knowledge. … I Invite you to share these wonderful lessons with her. I am certain you will leave appreciative and with great understanding.
—Linda Kurtz, Third Grade Teacher, Maryland Avenue School, Bexley, Ohio
- ✤ “Betty ‘Red Ant’ LaFontaine spoke to our 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students for an hour. They were enthralled. She spoke of her family heritage and of her life as a young native American, both on and off the reservation. She illustrated her talk with native crafts and models. In addition, ‘Red Ant’ sang for the students. She then showed the children a few simple Indian ‘signs’ and invited them to sing and sign along with her. Her program includes positive messages about the importance of education, as well as being exceptionally interesting and highly informative. I would recommend her for audiences of any age.”
—Claire Comstock, Assistant Principal, Rawlings Elementary School, Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
- ✤ “On Friday … Cassingham Elementary School students in kindergarten through fifth grade attended a most informative assembly presented by Betty “Red Ant” LaFontaine. Ms. LaFontaine introduced students to the culture of the Navajo tribe through songs, art and storytelling, and provided an opportunity for students to gain a better understanding about the differences among Native American tribes. It was also a special treat for our students to participate in several activities with Ms. LaFontaine and to learn the sign language for a beautiful song. I especially appreciated that Ms. LaFontaine arranged for two separate assemblies — one for primary students and the other for intermediate. By addressing the age levels of her audience, Ms. LaFontaine helped make the program more meaningful to the students. Thank you for providing such a positive experience for our students. It was a pleasure to have Betty “Red Ant” LaFontaine visit our school and share her culture with our students.”
—Barbara Heisel, Principal, Cassingham Elementary School, Columbus, Ohio
Betty “Red Ant” LaFontaine is available for:
- ✤School assemblies and programs (helping children and teachers gain better understanding of Indian culture, life-ways and heritage)
- ✤Programs for summer camps, scouts, YMCA-YWCA’s, craft classes, churches, civic associations, hospitals and special education programs for the physically or mentally challenged
- ✤Sessions for national corporations and federal, state and local employees relating to cultural diversity, awareness, and sensitivity
- ✤Appearances with symphony and chamber orchestras introducing James Westwater’s Reflections of the Spirit, a photochoreographic performance concerned with Indian heritage. Red Ant delivers the introduction (a traditional Native American invocation to the Creator) in English, Navajo and American Indian sign language.
For information contact:
Betty “Red Ant” LaFontaine
Phone: (904) 703-5165
“A highly effective Indian educator, sharing a Native American experience.”