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When new cultures and peoples are contacted, explorers typically ask someone else what the "new" people are called. Thus, most American Indian tribes have been called by what someone else named them. The word "Navajo" has linguistic roots with the Pueblo Tewa People, who the Spanish encountered first. The earliest Spanish record of the Navajo people in 1583 refers to them as the "Querechos". This is of unknown origin. In 1629, records show the Navajos as the "Apaches de Navaju'." In 1630, Fray Alonso de Benevides wrote of the Navajos as "Great Farmers.";"the Apaches de Navajo." Today, the linguistic roots for "navahu'" has been traced to the Tewa word "nava" for cultivated field and "hu'" for the mouths of canyon(s). The Tewas appear to have identified the Diné to the Spanish as the people farming the canyons to the west.
It is worthy to note that many American Indian tribes have, or are in the process of abandoning their assigned names and are returning to that name by which they know themselves.
Mis-spellings continue to be perpetrated. "Tsegi" overlook on the canyon's south rim drive is just another corruption of "Tseyi" by early anglo visitors that has been continued out of "tradition" by Park Service staff.
Note:November 1998. On the way to Spider Rock, I noticed a hand painted sign on the right of the road marking "Tseyi" overlook. At the overlook itself, both the older "Tsegi" spelling and more correct "Tseyi" spelling were used in plaques on the wall. Something is going on, but it is hard to say what. I won't know until I speak with Wilson Hunter at the Park Service. In the worst case, someone stole a sign. In the best, maybe the NPS is starting to make some long needed changes!
My oldest daughters have played volleyball for their high school. On occasion they have run into an off-the-reservation team with some very vocal and bigoted players. A trading of insults sometimes results. When it involves slurs, as can and does happen when young tempers flare, both girls were reminded by their teammates that they weren't included in the comments made by teammates to the other team's members, because both were "Navajo", having grown up on the here!
Along this same vein, team sports can take some mental adjustments for those from out of this area. This last weekend (May 1, 1998), I watched a volleyball team of area girls win the State Regional championships held in Phoenix. Every team they vanquished individually had players who were taller and stronger, however as a team working together, the area team could not be beat. Each of these young ladies, including my daughter had merged themselves into one. Any parent who chose to publicly praise any individual girl by name during a game was either ignored, or asked not to. The girls had managed to change a group of "me's" into one "we". Perhaps, this is easier to do here, as small family groups are tightly bound. Later the same day I attended an award dinner for outstanding State athletes. One of the points that was emphasized was how much community service each of the nominees was involved in. As president of the local Lions Club, we have been seeking local youth who are involved in their communities to the same degree to award in a similar manner. We really haven't been able to find many. Is it perhaps because more emphasis is to the community off Navajo land and centered on the expanded family here? I don't have an answer. I do know, however, that until "Dad" quit praising "his" daughter publicly at games and started praising the team as a whole, there was little peace at home. Note:It must be emphasized that this part of the FAQ's is based upon my experience. Your experience may be different depending not only how open you are to different cultures, but also where on the Navajo Nation you may live.
Someday I may try to isolate the differences in the two stories, For now, I am able to accept differences in the accounts exist. To some extent, the stories are not precise, but serve as a vehicle for teaching the same lessons. It is the message of these lessons that is important.
The Dineh cosmos is composed of a series of shell worlds. Escape through the sky of one, leads to the next. The story is populated with many characters and animals and explains their presence in this world. This world and all in it was a gift to the Navajo People by the Holy People. From this journey and experiences, grew a deep respect and stewardship for this world's environment. Father Sky and Mother earth are given the reverence due them as creators and caretakers. This respect survives in different capacities. The Dinetah, an expanse of northwestern New Mexico south of Shiprock holds more answers. The region is rich in rock art which some can read. Unfortunately, this area is largely un patrolled and unprotected. As a result, large panels of rock art have been removed using pneumatic drills and cranes. The panels undoubtedly are now sitting in some familiy's home as a mantle piece, or have been sold for similar use. The next inventory of the region will undoubtedly discover more losses The area involved is immense and the federal funding is inadequate to patrol it thoroughly.
It should be simple enough to confirm or negate where the Navajo originated by comparing the DNA of cells which are passed on by the women alone, but I do not believe such a study has ever been done. A similar study was done in Europe and Africa and used to successfully track human migration patterns there. Until this is done, the real answer may remain conjecture.
The Tribe officially holds the Bering Strait theory to have been created and used by invading Europeans as a partial justification for the European's claim on North American Lands and the westward expansion by people of the eastern states in the 1800's. Mormons, who you can read more about later, believe through revelation in their sacred books that the Navajo People and others are descendants of ancient peoples who landed in middle America then migrated north.
There is cause for thought. A Navajo man from Window Rock was in Mongolia doing missionary work for his church. The day he was to leave the country, that government declared that no foreigners could travel by public transportation for the next several days. His hosts provided him with local dress and escorted him on the rail system to where he needed to go. He fit right in! Milton has a photograph of himself and his comrades. It could have been taken on the Navajo Reservation, except for difference in clothing. Exchange students from the Orient have done the same thing here. A graduating Taiwanese high school senior announced in a commencement address that he would no longer tell people he was Chinese. He was Diné!
Yurts, which Mongolian nomads use for homes, bear striking similarities to hogans in shape and use... Makes one wonder.
I have received E-Mail from some who believe they know the origin of the Navajo begin as far away as Tibet and the plains of Mongolia. They tell of having both genetic evidence and quote similarities between the languages. To date, they have not presented a step by step documented history of how this migration occurred, complete with references. Until this is done, although their ideas may have merit, they will be discounted as unproven theories. I have also been told that genetic studies like I specified are underway by others who also saw the information on migrations that they would provide. I wait with high interest, the published findings of these projects.
Traditionally, individuals who share a common clan do not marry. This is far more restrictive than prohibitions against incest in other cultures, whose restrictions end beyond second cousins. As younger Navajos begin to choose their own partners, some ignore this limitation, or are not aware of the taboo, or regard it as a relic from the past, yet there are still many who respect this practice. In some cultures, the question "What's your sign? (Astrology), is often an opening question when couples first meet. In and around Navajo Land, it is just as apt to be "What are your clans?, if this was not covered in the initial introductions.
When the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Agents were first organizing the reservation, they had to submit listings of people who lived there to justify the distribution of supplies and the organization of their book-keeping to meet the demands of the bureaucracy. Often, the agents did not speak the local language and relied on interpreters. The interpreters in turn had to rely on others for their information, because it was considered rude to directly ask a person their name.
The rest is pure conjecture. It is based on stories from elders and from logically examining names in use today. Many of the surnames today appear to be descriptors given to define someone else. "Benally" equates to " his grandfather", "Tso" means "large or rotund", "Nez" is tall, "Yazzie" is small. "Nizhoni" is "beautiful". "Good luck" is obvious. The examples are many. "Bia" is a common surname, but from a different source. It is not of Navajo origin, but was believed to be a literal assignment of a note on a census sheet that the individual was under the "B.I.A.'so" care. Some last names are clans. "Tsiniginnie", "Kayani", and "Clauschee" are examples. Other names resulted from references to where a person came from. "Kinlichee", meaning "red house" is an example of this. The English translation also is common in some areas. A last name of "Dineh" is obvious, as the recorder, having no knowledge of the language probably did not recognize the individual was being identified as a member of the tribe. "Dine'tso" is similar, being a combination of two previous examples. Some adopted a surname of their own, like past Tribal Chairman Peter MacDonald.
The pattern continues. With an understanding of the language comes an understanding of culture and history; not just Navajo history, but also our own. It is like looking backwards in time, to the era when our own ancestors were in villages of similar size and the first last names were originated in a similar manner. "Cook", "Sawyer", "Cooper", "Miller", "Hunter", "Weaver", "Fuller", "Smith", "Wright", "Tailor", "Tanner", "Gardener", "Fisher", and "Miner" all were derived from professions. "Walker", "Shorty", "Jumbo", and "Christian" had other sources.
Once the initial pool of last names was established to fill the needs of the government's bookkeepers, further last names came from better translations of the language and through intermarriages with the others. I can see the results in a clash of cultures where the lessor in number were forced to accommodate the demands of those who did not understand them. Hopefully, we have made progress in the last century, but as computer systems are reducing our identities to a string of numbers, I have to wonder if it is progress, or just a repetition of history on a larger scale - a fitting legacy perhaps.
There are documents in the University of Virginia's collections that are available over the Internet, that include contemporary accounts of "the Naming of the Indians". One article was written by a BIA Superintendent for one of the monthly magazines in the late 1800's. It provided the missing pieces of solid evidence supporting conclusions I had arrived at by conjecture. A link to this library is included off the page dealing with References from the Navajo and American Indian Culture section on the home page for this site.
Compound families where one man will have more than one wife were not unknown in even the recent past. When this occurred, it was most common for two sisters to share a husband. The increasing practice of multiple cycles of marriage-divorce and remarriage without long term commitment that has been introduced from the dominant American culture is far different. It has been very difficult for this family centered society to accommodate the changing relationships of its people. Children often founder in the debris of these failed unions and they are the ones who seem to suffer the worst. Fortunately, there are often other relatives who can help fill this void. Communities truly raise the children and it is not unusual for older children to reside with someone other than their parents. This flexibility in child rearing compensates to some degree for the inability of every parent to be everything for every child. If there is another the child can relate to better, being able to do so seems to strengthen the society as a whole.
When young people marry, the husband traditionally would go to live with the brides' parents. As more housing becomes available this is less true. Also, most young people are now free to make their own choice of mate. This has not always been the case. Arranged marriages which relied on the experience and judgment of the parents are still spoken about. They often cemented alliances here as just as marriages between nobility were used to stabilize European governments.
Adoptions are different among American Indians. Usually, the parent or guardian can assign a child to another family's care. If a Navajo mother gives up a child, or is unable to care for it, and no relative is willing to accept the responsibility (rare), the Tribe has legal authority over the child and the responsibility to place him or her with a family of its selection, wherein the child may learn his or her heritage. This authority extends to children of all tribal members, on and off the reservation. Were a Navajo girl in Los Angles to give her child up for adoption to a non-Navajo family, the Tribe has been given the authority to re-place the adoption.
Division of property is worth mentioning. The hogan of residence is considered the woman's, as are all sheep and goats. The man has his horse, saddle and any cattle. A not too subtle way for a man to discover that he was no longer welcome would be his discovery of his saddle and other personal possessions having been placed outside the door. When I originally wrote this section I used "tossed out" here. Later editors prefered the kinder and gentler "placed", but I still have a mental image of an angry, emotional woman getting a great deal of satisfaction from not merely placing belongings outside.
Since the Spanish arrived with the sheep, the Navajo people have been shepherds. The extremely poor quality of the range available in the high desert where they lived dictated families live far apart in order to provide sufficient forage for each family group's animals. This is still true now, except where HUD has built high density housing projects to accommodate a growing population. Incidentally, author Hillerman's books can provide some insight into life on the Navajo Nation. I also find them enjoyable reading. Tony Hillerman has several sites on the Web. A Colorado map company www.mapz.com, also offers maps of Navajo Land and the surrounding are with the specific locales mentioned by Hillerman all plotted out - for those who want to follow along.
Ké is Navajo for shoes. Tires for a car are referred to as "chidi' bi'ké" - the shoes belonging to the car.
Like English, Navajo has words which were incorporated into it. Spanish is perhaps the single greatest source.
Navajo speakers served the United States well during WWII. Groups of young Navajo men were enlisted under a TOP SECRET project to train them as Marine Corps radiomen. They are officially referred to as the "NAVAJO CODE TALKERS." They developed a code using the Navajo language that was indecipherable to the Japanese enemy. American radiomen on South Pacific battlefields had been plagued by Japanese who were fluent in English and posed as Americans. It was difficult to be able to trust that the messages in English came from other Americans, or that commands in English would not be understood by the enemy. Navajo speaking radio operators provided rapid and secure communications at all levels in the American command. The program remained classed as "TOP SECRET" until 1983. The men involved were not recognized for their individual and group contributions to America's success until after their children were grown.
Visitors are welcome. Admission is usually charged. Cameras may be tolerated, but first get to know the people. Spend some time watching. In many cases you must bring your own seating (lawn chairs) if the song & Dance is outside, Concessions are generally available and families will be selling soda pop, roasted corn, fry bread and possibly Navajo Tacos and Kneel Down Bread. Do not be afraid to try some.
The pow wow's participant's regalia are much more colorful and elaborate than those seen at a Song and Dance. Many feathers are used. Grass Dancers have long shaggy yarn hanging from the legs and arms. Northern and Southern Plain's Indian's women's attire often have long fringes. Often there is elaborate beadwork on moccasins and leggings. Breastplates made of many hollowed out small bones laced together are worn by some men. Fancy Dancers are just that. Jingle dancers are women with elaborate dresses covered in metal cones that jingle against each other when the wearers dance. Cartridge cases were used on the first jingle dresses, but silver and brass cones are used now. Often the metal is stamped with a border design. The clothing is all handmade and are labors of love. The grand opening is the best opportunity to see everyone at their finest, if you have only a limited amount of time. There are no conventional programs, so a knowledgeable friend is a big help. Just sitting and listening and watching can be a sensory overload. Music is usually provided by drum groups. Better Pow-wows will have several drum groups which are known elsewhere as singers. They alternate providing music for the dancers. One group at each point of the compass is standard, but more may participate. A drum group consists of one large drum two to three feet in diameter, placed face up on the ground. Drummers, who also sing as a chorus, sit around it, facing inward. Unlike western bass drums, which have only one player, a Pow-Wow drum has many players. Raffles are common. Many time young women may be selling the raffle tickets to raise money to pay their own expenses at competitions. Donated prized will be given away that range from handicrafts to cash and jewelry. It is a worth-while chance to take and you may get something you could obtain no other way. Prayers, and respect for elders and those who have given military service are consistent themes in all gatherings. Take your key from others, if someone starts speaking in a language you do not understand and everyone else quiets down and is reverent; do the same. Don't take it as an opportunity to take pictures with your flash! If you absolutely MUST have some photographs, get a very high speed film so that a flash will not be required, even indoors. Be unobtrusive. Get to know people first.
The Enemy Way ceremony is paid for by families. If you attend, it is good manners to bring food. A sack of "Blue Bird" flour, a case of soda, or a can of coffee is very acceptable. The advice that people must be a friend to make a friend, works here too.
It is probably best if you attend your first "Squaw Dance" with a guide. Recently, emergency room staff in both Chinle and Ganado have commented that their case load increases dramatically, mainly in alcohol related injuries, when some large "Squaw Dances" are held nearby.
It seems illogical that he can gain support when "Squaw Dance" remains a term of choice in his homeland, where it is commonly used without disrespect by his constituents!
Respect your hosts. Become a guest that you would welcome back if this ceremony was in your home. Visitors are usually welcome, but be unobtrusive and respectful. These ceremonies do not often draw the non-Dine' in great numbers. Often times the lateness of the hour and bite of the cold air, make it a contest between staying awake and staying warm. If nothing else is gained, you should better appreciate why fellow employees may not be their best on the job when they are helping at one of these ceremonies - and trying to work an eight hour day. Since these are night activities, flash cameras are best left home.
Some notes jotted down after attending a ceremony may give you an idea of the atmosphere surrounding a Yeibechei:
It is early morning. We have just returned home from spending the previous afternoon and night out and about. I had the privilege to take my son and daughter to the ninth and final day of a Yeibechei ceremony. What had started out as a late afternoon social visit, ended up lasting all night. By my count there was a good crowd - over one hundred and fifty pickups and cars - mostly pickups, with more arriving all the time. They were parked up to three deep on both sides of the one hundred yard packed earth runway connecting the ceremonial hogan holding the patient and the brush house at the other end, where the dancers dressed. Those who had come early, to watch the ceremonies from their vehicles were pretty much committed to be there until dawn, since with one or more cars parked directly behind them it was impossible to move. Fortunately, I had parked my Expedition facing the only winding road leading to the homestead and when morning came was one of the first to be able to depart. Three evenly spaced fires and two large piles of firewood, holding about a cord of wood each, defined each sideline of the dance area. All of the logs would be burned before sunrise. Friends and families were seated around the fires for warmth and companionship. Some brought aluminum lawn chairs. There was even a chaise lounge or two. Colorful wool Pendelton blankets were folded in the seats to help fight the below twenty-five degree chill coming through webbing on the chairs bottoms and backs. Other spectators made bench seats from three logs, using two as a base, with the third log place across them. Some guests sat on cylinders of tree trunk that had yet to be split, turning them on end for stools. The remainder of the guests mingled with each other, standing around the fires. One continually had to turn to warm oneself evenly and prevent the chill from cooling the side not facing the fire and try to avoid the every changing smoke which seemed to follow, no matter where one moved. The drone of a generator in the background powered the halogen lights illuminating the area in front the hogan. The lights were wired to the top of peeled pine poles especially erected for this purpose. They also illuminated the constant snow of ash falling back to earth, that had been carried aloft in the fire's smoke. Children entertained themselves with imaginations, content to use emptied stryofoam coffee cups as cars, or a blanket-covered log as a bucking bull. Here and there, groups of high school girls huddled together and giggled in the fringes. One family seated by a fire, promoted traditional values by offerring any child who could recite their four clans a free hot-dog, or marshmellows toasted on the glowing coals. In the background, an almost un-ending drone in Navajo blared from a trumpet speaker mounted on the roof of an aging car thanking all who had contributed help in the preparations. Snow from a recent storm remained on the ground in the day-time shadows of the poles and hogan. Across what had become a parking lot, smells of roasting mutton and freshly brewed coffee wafted from a cook house. Framed in small pine logs on one side of a hogan, opened cardboard cartons nailed to the frame passed for walls. five tables and benches jutted out perpendicular to one inside wall, opposite to the kitchen where five women and a couple of young maidens prepared mutton and fry bread. All who entered were seated and served as honored guests. The fare was plates filled with traditional fry-bread and bowls of mutton stew. The stew was different than one finds in diners or in cans. Freshly cooked slices of celery and carrots and chunks of white potato floated with pieces of braised mutton in clear liquid. Steam rose from plastic bowls and one had to let the meal cool before it could be eaten. A Navajo man on the opposite side of the table, dipped his fry-bread into an open container of salt. Speaking in Navajo, through a translator, he teased me by asking if I knew what I was eating. "Dibe', Dibe' atsa'" I responded in broken Navajo. Smiling, I asked a friend seated next to me to tell him I had been raised on it since birth by a grandmother who acquired her taste for lamb while she was raised on a sheep station in Australia. Everyone laughed. A tarp sealed the roof and walls from the cold, except where the black stovepipe, coming up from the four-foot diameter wood stove commanding the center of the room, carried the smoke to the sky. On the stove's flat top, porcelain covered coffee pots and large stainless steel pots full of mutton-stew gently simmered. Large, fifty-gallon, plastic water barrels stood in corners. They were used to refill a 55 gallon metal drum that sat next to the stove. The room's interior was illuminated by a string of 110v bulbs spaced along a wire that ran through the unpeeled pine ceiling beams. Through the open door going into the hogan, one could see sacks of Bluebird flour piled against one wall. Number 10 cans of ground coffee, boxes of lard, sacks of fresh potatoes, celery, onions, carrots and a few wrapped heads of lettuce completed the larder. Numerous twelve-packs of Coke, Mountain Dew, Sprite and Pepsi stacked nearby would help wash the meals down. Outside, the night sky was black. The moon had not yet risen. The lights of Chinle and homes extending north to Many Farms twinkled like fallen stars below the distant horizon. Strings of headlights bobbed along the winding road coming up from the valley's edge to the homesite. In the parking area, several men struggled to slide a large package from the bed of a pickup. They carefully carried it across the parking lot and placed it on the earth about ten feet in front of the ceremonial hogan's door. Carefully unknotting the ropes that bound it, the covering was folded back exposing a brown mass that when unfolded, metamorphosed into a buffalo hide at least eight feet long, and nearly as wide. The hide was spread fur-side up on the packed earth. The patient, an elderly woman, perhaps in her eighties was helped from the hogan to stand, facing the dance area, on the center of the hide. A red patterned wool blanket covered her shoulders and a traditional flat basket filled with corn pollen was slung on a crooked left arm. Openings in the sling allowed her to remove this sacred substance in order to dispense it as appropriate. At the other end of the runway, three shadowy figures appeared before the brush house. As they began dancing toward the hogan, a hush fell over the gathered crowd. Admonitions were spoken to those regarded as outsiders that this was "very sacred" and all should be silent. This evening's ceremonies had begun.
After the blessing was over, the patient returned to the hogan and the dancers to the brush house. Through the layers of pine branches piled against the sides of the frame, one could see the orange flames of a dancing fire. The buffalo skin was carefully re-wrapped and carried off. Soon, chants from male voices in a rhythm unique to the Dineh, could be heard through the hogan's walls.
Patience is a virtue. Time comes to a standstill. There are no programs and no schedule. When one section is finished, the next will begin. My daughter asked a woman when the dancers would return. "In a little while", she responded. Suspecting time being a relative commodity. I asked if I could bring the same woman back a cup of coffee from the cook-house. "What time do I need to come back so I don't miss anything?", "Ten thirty", she replied. It was just past seven p.m..
Long after I returned with the coffee, the singing stopped. Like physicians leaving an operating room, A variety of men stepped through the hogan's door, pushing aside the blanket hung in front of it. They then vanished into the night. Some carried salesman's sample cases packed with jars and tins filled with different shades of sand. The contents had been used to construct a large sandpainting depicting healing tools of the Holy Ones on the hogan's floor. Having served its purpose, the remains of the painting itself, departed in a white, five gallon plastic paint bucket, carried by another man towards the direction of the brush house. In time, a large overstuffed chair was carried to the packed earth in front of the hogan by two younger men. Positioned facing the brush house to the East, a large comforter, perhaps an opened sleeping bag, covered the chair's seat. When the patient returned, she was seated and the corners of the comforter were used to cover her shoulders, head and legs. It would be her place of warmth for the remainder of the night. In time, a line of shadowy figures materialized before the brush house and in single file, began their trip to the patient. Protected only by kilts, boots, masks and ash or flour whitened skin, the dancers seemed oblivious to the 6,000 foot elevation's winter temperatures. All in all, over thirty-five groups would travel from the brush house to the patient to bestow on her the blessings of the Holy Ones. Hours passed. Log by log, the wood piles shrank. As the fires lessened and the temperatures dropped, more and more people took refuge in the warmth of idling vehicles. Children slept on seats, in camper shells, or crawled in sleeping bags and blankets. A cycle developed. When a group of dancers began their journey back to the brush house, their final steps were cadenced by the sound of opening and closing vehicle doors. Likewise a new group's first footsteps were unheard as newly warmed enthusiasts left the vehicles for positions around the sides of the lighted court. Finally, morning prayers began to be offered and soon the turning earth brought light again to the Eastern sky. Bumper to bumper, trucks and cars wound down the mile of rutted road from the homesite leading to a graded two-lane dirt road which, in turn, led to the paved highway. The nine-day ceremony was over, yet for many it was just a beginning. They will remember always what they had experienced here and some of the others who had come to this place to share it with them.
Modern players divide into teams and re-enact the same game. Each side has four boots and a pile of sand in front of them. Before the game a small Yucca is uprooted. One hundred and two of its leaves are used as counters. The remaining root is shaped into the ball. A small disk of root is colored black on one side and tossed in the air to determine which side goes first. With some team members holding up a curtain or blanket to conceal the activity from the players on the opposite side of the hogan, the first team puts the ball in one of the boots and packs all boots full of sand until only an inch of the boot remain uncovered. The curtain is then dropped and the opposite team then sends a member to discover in which boot the root is hidden. This is done by striking the boots with a stick of pinon pine and by asking questions of the other team. Finally, the player who is doing the finding must announce which boot contains the ball. Players may guess up to three times, given the right circumstance. For instance, you can declare "Not here". If you are right you can follow this process of elimination, unless you chose wrong, then the turn is ended. Succeeding the first time gains ten Yucca leaf counters. If correct on the second guess, the player receives eight counters and if the guess is right on the last guess, four counters are awarded. Correct guesses also give the team who has guessed correctly, the opportunity to hide the root for the other team to find in the boots on their side of the hogan. Guesses may be used to either select, or eliminate each of the four boots from holding the yucca. If the root cannot be located in three guesses, the guesser returns to his side. The "defenders" then raise a blanket separating them from the opposite side and re-hide the yucca ball. Games can go quite late into the night, some ending only when the rays of dawn that ended the first Shoe Game, start to streak across the Eastern sky. Betting is not unknown. Emulating the owl in the original Shoe Game who cheated by holding the ball in a claw is not considered fair play, but it still happens. The gopher discovered owl's trickery by tunneling through the earth and up into the bottom of the boots. A sharp rap on the knuckles of a player concealing the ball in a closed fist can serve the same purpose if this same act is suspected. The game reinforces the importance of being a team and at the same time builds self-confidence in the guesser.
If you have the opportunity, attending a Késitsé can be a highly enjoyable and educational opportunity. Wear comfortable clothes that can get soiled if you are on your knees in the sand. Again, a gift of some refreshments is always appreciated.
Discussions of Shoe Games and Winter Tales and the activities themselves are not done after early Spring or before November.
String games, using a loop of string (cat's cradle) to create designs when looped between the fingers of both hands, may be seen at the same time. Some designs like the "Running Coyote" are not simple static designs, but employ motion as well.
Around the turn of this previous century, English writer Aldous Huxley predicted a preservation of humanity in the "indian country" of southwest America when he wrote Brave New World. Characters in Brave New World had been overcome with a synthetic existance dominated by man made attempts to better life, yet which in the end, separated man from the randomness and variation of his original environment.Huxley's prediction has started to come true.
The world became aware of the Canyon's uniqueness when - something the Dineh had know for centuries - when the first Europeans visited the area in the late 1800's. By the turn of the century, the infant Park Service had asked the operator of the trading post that became Thunderbird lodge to watch over the Canyon's many ruins. Unfortunately, this was used as authorization to loot many ruins and sell the proceeds to eastern museums! In the early 1930's, President Herbert Hoover signed legislation creating Canyon De Chelly National Monument. It encompasses the Canyon, side-canyons and all land within one-half mile of the canyon's rim. It is noteworthy that the bill specifically reserved the rights of the Navajo people to use the land without restriction and to have preference in providing visitors transportation into the canyons. Consider this origin, as one looks over the canyon's edge, or takes a tour in the canyon, remember that you are in someone else's backyard! Because the legislation creating the Monument reserved the use of the canyon to its original inhabitants, non-Navajos are not permitted in the canyon without a guide, or chaperone.
Visitors who want to experience the Canyon's beauty may do so in several ways. Group motor tours are run out of the Thunderbird lodge. Rows of seats are bolted into the beds of large 4x4 and 6x6 trucks equipped with two-way radios. Locally known as "Shake and Bakes" because of the rough ride and hot sun, they are one of the better ways to see the Canyon. Half-day and full-day trips are available at modest prices. Rest stops are frequent and water is always available. Full day trips include a picnic lunch. There are also tours by horseback from stables in Chinle and Del Muerto. Hiking tours may be arranged. These generally start out in the cool of the evening. With a guide, overnight camping is allowed in the Canyon on land of consenting parties.
Individual guides must be certified by the National Park Service. Certification is a step to ensure anyone you hire under the program has a minimal knowledge about what you came to see. You can contract a guide at the Monument's visitor center. Certified guides are wear a unique shoulder patch identifying themselves as having been certified. Whether you go into the canyon, or stay on the rim drives, a guide can provide you with information and background that you are unlikely to find in books. Only go into the Canyon if you have a four-wheel-drive vehicle designed for off-road use. This does NOT include All-Wheel-Drive mini vans, unless you want to substantially enrich the local economy to get you out! These vehicles do not have sufficient ground clearance to be dependable in all areas. Conditions on canyon roads vary with the season. no roads in the canyon are maintained. Dry waterways are usually adapted. High clearance vehicles are mandatory. The phrase "Pick your rut carefully, you will be in it for the next five miles!" is appropriate. Sometimes dry sand makes areas impassable; other times high water levels do the same. Two feet of water in dips on the way to Mummy Cave is not unexpected. Your guide will know. Follow his or her advice. At this time the Thunderbird Lodge charges a minimum of $100 to pull a stuck vehicle to solid ground. The further you are in the Canyon, the more the rate goes up! Vehicle mounted winches afford little security since in the sandy washes used as roads for there is often nothing to tie onto. Peter Thomas reminded me to include mention of the pockets of quicksand that can form in the canyon floor. The canyon walls confine the flow of water through the canyon both above and below the surface. A sub-surface flow of water can be directed upwards toward the surface by an unseen obstruction beneath the surface. When this occurrs, the sand is suspended in the upwelling column of water. There are documented cases of vehicles sinking out of sight in a matter of minutes when driven into one. Generally, should a vehicle be lost in this way, they are not salvaged.
In addition to a guide, you will also need a permit from the Park Service to travel in the canyon. These permits are free. Overnight camping in the canyon is common. Guides are also helpful when viewing the canyon from the rim drives. They will be able to point out features that would otherwise go unrecognized, such as a series of holes in the opposite canyon wall that served the Anasazi as a path up the smooth sandstone.
WARNING: There are not any auto shops in the Canyon if a breakdown occurs. It is in your best interest to make sure your vehicle is in sound mechanical condition with good tires and a spare. Tire changing equipment and a foot square 3/4" board, to use to keep your jack from sinking in the sand should be included, as should a container of water.
If you are at an overlooks, or on the rim drives, send for help with another visitor, or wait for the Park Service ranger who makes the rounds. Stay with your vehicle. Garage and tow service may be hard to find on weekends, although the Chevron station has mechanics available for most work during the week (674-3241).
The nearest car rental agencies are in Gallup - they don't deliver. There is a bus that leaves for town in the morning and returns in the evening, if you really have to get to town and your vehicle is down. People have even had Gallup Air Service fly them to town, but that is not cheap! Prevention remains your best defense.
The Hopi have chosen to keep the same time as the rest of Arizona. In Tuba City (named for Chief Tuba) this can be even more confusing since one side of the main street is Hopi and the opposite side is Navajo! Some families alongside State Route 77, between Keams Canyon and Holbrook set their clocks by the school their child attends. Families with children attending the Holbrook schools stay on Arizona time, while their neighbors may remain on Navajo time! (No, I am not making this up!) There is a logical reason for this action: The Navajo Nation spans three states. Utah and New Mexico observe Daylight Savings Time, so to keep the entire reservation on the same time, the Arizona portion runs on Daylight time too.
Navajo Moccasins, sometimes called Navajo Boots are very different from moccasins found elsewhere. They are worn by many southwestern tribes, as well as the Navajo. The sole is generally made from heavy white leather which affords some protection from small rocks, stickers and thorns. A top of deerskin, or more commonly, split cowhide is sewn to this. The top fastens closed at the side of the ankle with buttons or toggles. Some boots have high tops that go almost to the knee. Attached to some women's boots are white leggings. Bessie Yellowhair and Annie Johnson provided me some insight about these. At one time, Bessie related all "proper" women had a set of the leggings and boots. Like Victorian England, it was improper for a Navajo woman to show any skin below the waist, thus a reason for the long skirts.
Women's hair is worn pulled to the back of the head, fixed in a bun and bound in yarn (usually white.) As much silver and turquoise inlay jewelry as one can get is fashionable. Buttons made from old silver coinage, such as dimes and quarters are common. Where coin buttons are not available, silver button covers are often substituted. Do not expect to see professional women dressed this way. Many wear ready-to-wear available in mall shops.
More conservative men's dress clothing is a velveteen pullover that is not tucked into the pants, Levi's and Navajo boots. A silver concho belt or woven sash may be worn at the waist. Necklaces of turquoise and/or coral and a headband, along with bracelets or bow guards on the wrists complete the image. Dancers at ceremonies commonly have a pouch, similiar in shape and use to a Scottish sporran. Some men wear a ribboned shirt (a western shirt with a yoke, with ribbons sewn along the seams with free ends hanging), Levi's , a western belt with a large trophy buckle and shined cowboy boots. A necklace made of drilled turquoise and red coral nuggets complements silver or stone set silver bracelets. A silver and stone bolo tie is optional, but often worn for more formal occasions. Some men who keep long hair, also pull it to the rear of the head and tie it in a bun bound with yarn. Rarely seen anymore are colored headbands or the flat-brimmed, high crowned black felt Stetson hats once so common.
Some Indian silversmiths are choosing innovative marketing techniques to eliminate the middleman. They are dealing directly with their customers. Some have gone so far as to market on the Internet. Do not hesitate to ask for references. In a small town, word travels fast if a customer is not satisfied. Dealing directly with the craftsman can let you order some jewelry by the piece. Use caution if ordering by mail and try to pay by credit card until you completely trust your relationship with the craftsman. If fraud occurs, you may have little recourse beyond your credit card company.
When considering the price of a rug, consider the number of hours it took to weave it and divide the purchase price by their number. The hourly rate may end up pitifully low compared to the pay you believe is equitable. Beware cheap imitations rugs that are sold as "Indian Rugs." Most come from northern Mexico, and although they are woven by native peoples there, the rugs severely lack the quality of rugs from the looms of Navajo weavers.
To combat fraud and to help assure that buyers receive the quality they pay for in a Navajo rug, some groups of weavers are considering a certification process wherein a guild-identified "proof of origin" would be either woven into, attached or bonded to the rug. To my knowledge, none of these has been implemented. Now, a photograph of the weaver and the rug, along with her name and address, the date and place of purchase, is the next best thing.
Where there is adequate forage, cattle are sometimes seen. As a cultural sidebar, horses and cattle are considered the property of the men, while the flocks of sheep and goats are considered to belong to the women.
Rodeo is sometimes referred to as a "Chicken Pull". The term comes from contests of horsemanship where a chicken would be buried up to its neck in the ground and riders would gallop past, attempting to reach down and pull the bird from the ground by its neck. Navajo children get acquainted with the concept of rodeo at a young age. Youth start trying to stay on the back of a sheep, before moving to other events. Barrel racing is a favorite of young ladies and women.
Most public schools and government entities such as public schools, the Indian Health Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (B.I.A.) and the National Park Service, provide some type of housing for their non-Navajo employees, since rentals are not available elsewhere.
With few exceptions, Navajo people
are accommodating and generous. Sovereignty and respect for their land
are seldom compromised. It should not be necessary.
It is against tribal regulations to remove any rock, fossil or antiquity (like pottery shards). This is a good opportunity to remind visitors that permits are required to visit ruins (such as Little White House) that are on the Navajo Nation and outside the National Monument. Contact the Navajo Tribal Ranger office in Chinle or Window Rock for more information.
At one time, livestock was the core of family activity. Even the youngest family member had an animal in the flock. With a rapidly growing population, many new families have been left without land available to graze livestock. Original grazing leases issued in the early part of this century, will soon expire. The leases are criticized as unfairly favoring a few. There is no yearly charge for the land's use, unlike other Federal lands. None of the profit earned from the land's use is used to manage it, improve it, or reimburse the tribe for its use. Limits on the number of animals a family grazes are seldom enforced, either by the tribe, or by the B.I.A. George Abe, the B.I.A.'s Western Agency Natural Resource Manager, concedes that some years ago, both the tribe and the B.I.A. lost control over grazing land management on the reservation.
This is an unfortunate turn because caring for the family's livestock enriches and builds family unity, independence and wealth.
At one time the United States Congress passed the Dawes act. Some reservations (like the Utes in central Utah) were subdivided out as parcels of private land. Indian owners who were not experienced in dealing with such ownership eventually lost much of the properties to pay their bills. The reservation became a thing of the past. This was a noble experiment to integrate the members of those tribes completely into American life. The only thing wrong with the program was that it failed the members. Unfortunately, this same story was repeated recently when Navajo families were forcibly removed from the land shared with the Hopi tribe. Some families with homes there were given new homes in a nearby city. Never having had real property, a few lost the houses because they did not understand how to handle their finances. Some returned to the reservation penniless.
Some reservation communities have grown large enough to want to incorporate. Local leaders want to establish townships with a tax base. Some have stated that they even want to make land available to non-Navajos, so that families who have spent a lifetime in the community do not have to leave when they no longer have a job. These may be dreams, as the population of Navajos grows faster the than land and moneys can provide. Kayenta has started down this path. It will not be long before other communities do the same.
Dependence on welfare checks has been debilitating. Schools appear to have taken over for many families as far as the responsibility for teaching children who they are and where they came from. Many are caught between cultures. Young people that grew up off the reservation are often ignored by older community members because the younger people can't understand, or speak the language. Gangs, at first wannabes then the real thing have shown up in many Navajo communities as a way to bind the younger generation together. The problem is serious enough that the Police formed several Gang Units.
Most people are not aware that the nearest place central Navajo Nation youth can learn to swim is over ninety miles distant! Area lakes are both cold and dangerous, since the bottom near the shore is often littered with the sharp edges of broken bottles buried halfway in the mud. Lakes providing irrigation water are rumored to have dangerous currents when water is being released. Motel pools are only available to paying guests.
Individuals interested in assisting "Grandma" Marjorie Thomas and her center, may contact her through Dineh Cooperatives at (928) 674-3411.
At this time, much of the control of what happens at the Chapter level remains in the hands of officials in Window Rock, under the provisions of Title II which defines Navajo Government.
Past Tribal President Albert Hale saw a need to distribute control of local matters to the Chapters, but met with little success in executing the transition. The lack of trained staff at local levels to assume the responsibilities and tribal members in Window Rock who may fear that their positions may be eliminated have been identified as two stumbling blocks in the plan in local newspaper articles.
Outside observers also realize that a constitution could reduce the number of council members. Since each member now earns about sixty thousand dollars per year, few, if any council members are willing to risk losing their jobs, so a constitution remains an unpopular issue.
With the lack of parental support, many students also lack understanding of why they attend school and few have an appreciation of how they could personally benefit in the long term. When unemployment hovers between 70%-90% for different age groups, relevance of education to employment is not accepted. Teams have begun looking for some solutions to this from a community-wide approach.
The Tribe supports education. Scholarships are available to those who are willing to earn them. unfortunately, the limited economic growth tarnishes the allure of college degrees. Few want to earn a MS in engineering from Stanford when the only opportunity at home is working at a gas station.
Educational opportunities beyond the classroom are much more limited on the here. We are four to seven hours away from educational resources in metropolitan areas; field trips made within a day in most cities, turn into overnight or three-day trips. With the increased costs due to travel expenses, field trips are few in number. The rural locations also sees a greater percentage of a District's costs eaten up by operating costs. Almost every telephone call to suppliers and resources is a long distance call. Hundreds of miles of dirt roads are brutal to the fleet of school busses. We have much higher fuel and maintenance costs than districts which have all streets paved and students concentrated in relatively compact residential areas. Because of the large area the district encompasses and the poor quality of many of the roads, it is not unusual for many students to spend one to four hours each day in transit to and from school. This exacts a price in student achievement.
Additional complications present in reservation school districts demand administrative time and expenses not dealt with in municipal districts. Most reservation school districts must provide housing for their staff. Teacherage construction and maintenance costs are significant. Managing housing assignments, cleaning and preparing the units as staff members and their families come and go is a business by itself. One of the quickest ways to get school staff up in arms is to give the perception of poorly managing the housing. The effect of this on the schools' administration is that less time is left to address academic needs. Better administrators are required to deliver the same quality of educational services, because more is demanded of them than for a similar job that lacks these extra responsibilities elsewhere.
Retail sales and service businesses on the Navajo Nation have a tough time offering low enough prices to be competitive with off-reservation counterparts. Unless part of a large chain, stores cannot maintain the diversity and depth of inventory that makes them attractive. Many residents avoid the local store's higher prices, knowing they will be driving to nearby towns some weekend. Distance is meaningless. Driving to Phoenix (six hours one way) or Albuquerque (four hours one-way) is not unusual on a weekend. Driving the one to two hours to a border town is commonplace. Until the shopping pattern can be changed, or until large stores can come here and last out the time it takes people to change shopping habits, no major economic development is predicted.
It seems that it would be in the best interest of the Tribe to permit some larger retailers like Walmart to build stores. Navajo money then could be recycled among more Navajo people, who would be employed. Some local business might suffer, however, the total economic and social welfare of the region would probably gain a great deal from the influx of money. It seems more beneficial to local people than spending money in a distant town where it now benefits other economies.
With few exceptions, non-Navajos must seek routine medical care from off the reservation and/or from private concerns. Often this may mean driving ninety miles or more to see a doctor, or get a prescription. Sage Memorial Hospital at Ganado is an exception. It has a clinic open to all, Monday through Saturday. Even though the Indian Health Service normally cannot serve non-indians by virtue of its funding, some schools have requested that all of their employees be able to be served at the local IHS facility on a fee basis. When backed by the local governmental bodies, then the Tribe, exceptions are allowed. Hopefully, more school districts will do this too. A lack of convenient routine medical care has caused many to choose not to come to the Rez to teach.
Advances in technology have been
implemented. Transmission of x-rays for reading by an "expert" in Farmington,
Gallup, or Albuquerque is now common. Live two-way video allows specialists
to view cases is in progress. Many nurses and support staff live in the
Classification of hogan structure is often framed in terms of the Navajo's contact with the western world. The first hogans shared much in common with the early Anasazi pit houses. These buildings had an internal log frame covered with a lattice of smaller logs. Bundles of willow tied to the framework formed the foundation for a layer of clay that was applied like plaster to the outside. The clay provided insulation and was waterproof. The inside of the hogan was excavated up to twenty-four inches below the surrounding grade, providing a place to sit and a shelf for storage. It also provided headroom so even the tallest could stand up straight. A smoke hole in the roof allowed in light to illuminate the interior as well as providing a way out for the smoke from the hearth, and a point of entry for the "Holy Ones." A blanket was used to cover the door.
As better tools became available, hogans evolved to be predominately single room, eight-sided structures. The log walls supported a log lattice-work that supported a domed roof sealed by a thick layer of clay mud. The smoke hole remained in the roof. While there were no walls, the room had specific areas used for specific tasks. After the Second World War, hogans underwent a major change. Dr. Anne Wauneka crusaded to rid the reservation of tuberculosis. Although the hogans of the time were warm in the winter and cool in the summer, they also provided a environment favorable to this malady. Sanitariums were opened in the dry climates of the southern Arizona deserts, like the Oshkin Sanitorium in Tucson. Navajo men and women would stay there until they "dried out." In order to improve the housing of her people, Dr. Wauneka promoted the log homes with windows in the southern, and western walls. The hogan's door faced East to greet the morning sun and the start of a new day. Hogan floors were packed clay. Few westerners have realized that dirt floors are not necessarily dirty! They are easily cleaned by sweeping and a new layer of clay can be added as required.
As one looks about Navajoland today, hogans have been constructed of many materials. Asphalt shingles and tar paper have replaced the mud roof. Log walls chinked with mud have been replaced by plywood, T-111 paneling or flake board. Some log cabin companies provide logs sawn flat on the top and bottom. Hogans constructed with them look like they have been built with toy "Lincoln Logs". Central fireplaces have been replaced by wood stoves with a length of stovepipe protruding through the smoke hole. Often as not, these will be made from converted 55 gallon steel drums set on end and equipped with doors on the sides to feed logs and remove ash. The barrel's end provides both a cooking surface, or a place for a coffee pot.
Culturally, the single room of the hogan reinforces the idea of the family group. The lack of internal walls also emphasizes that everyone is part of the family. There is no running off to one's room to play Nintendo. When it comes time to sleep, sheep skins and bedding are rolled out on the earthen floor. Privacy is a limited commodity.
New log hogans are still built using commercially available peeled logs , or from trees felled in the mountain forests. Dirt covered hogans are rarely built anymore. Most use tar paper, or asphalt shingles to cover the roof. While some prefer the hogan to modern housing, many hogans are kept for ceremonial purposes. A typical log hogan is about sixteen feet in diameter. It requires from thirty-five to seventy trees to build, if each tree is long enough produce two logs. Where caulking between the logs once was done with clay mixed with grass or hay, concrete mortar is often substituted today.
NOTE:During the Summer of 1998, many new hogans using traditional construction were being built. There were two in the Many Farms area, one in Chinle, and one in Window Rock that were visible from the highway. Not everybody knows what hogans look like. Once, I was at a lesson about Navajo Indians that was presented by a woman from one of the Pueblos near Sante Fe. She put a chimney on one side of a domed-roof hogan, in the fashion of her people. The Navajo people present did their best not to giggle: It just didn't look right to them. (Finally, someone tactfully questioned her about it.) Hogan design has its roots in Navajo religion. Traditional hogans are built with the one door facing the east. When young children wake up in the morning they take a run East to the morning sun and go around a post, or tree or rock, then run home. This helps wake them up! Traditional earth floored hogans generally lack plumbing. Everything the plumbing is used for is done outside. It is reasonable to expect hogan design to change to accommodate plumbing and electricity, which it has, as the two become more widely available. The arid nature of the region, combined with the geology, limits where water is available. Many families in out-lying still rely on hauled water.
As there are books on American architecture listing different type of homes, visitors should understand that there are many styles of hogans as well. Some, like the forked stick hogan are not octagonal. The "many legged hogan" uses many smaller logs placed vertically for the walls, instead of logs laid horizontally. It is found where large logs are not available. During the time when the Navajos were banished to Ft.Sumner, people used whatever they could to provide shelter. Some photographs show structures that appear like the brush wikki-ups of the Apaches. One uses what is available when they are given no other options. Hogans also come in male and female flavors. Log sweat-houses are referred to as male hogans. (This male/female significance is prevalent throughout Navajo culture.)
Families are discovering that mobile homes and prefabricated housing offers many advantages (such as more space, running water, electricity and indoor plumbing!) This is especially true as utilities become more universally available. Still, the openness of the hogan is preferred to a maze of smaller rooms and many new homes retain the hogan's distinctive shape. The primary concept to grasp is that the word "hogan" refers to most places of residence that are a refuge from the elements and provide safety. The corral behind many hogans is often referred to as the "sheep's hogan". How a hogan is constructed and orientated to the cardinal directions is a reminder of teachings about who the Dineh are and where they came from. The tassel of corn pollen that remains in a niche in the logs, even in the oldest hogan, is a reminder that the home has been blessed.
An excellent nine-page discussions of the hogan, its origin and its history is available on the Internet at "http://indy4.fdl.cc.mn.us/~isk/maps/houses/hogan.html"
It is this same respect for the dead that has allowed the many ruins in Navajoland to go unmolested for so many centuries.
They do resemble wood that is stacked for the winter if you don't look too closely. Local tradition stacks long branches vertically, instead of forming level rows of logs that are common elsewhere. In time of snow, the wood stays drier and is easier to locate. It rises above all but the deepest drifts. I doubt if this was a conscious consideration, but it works!
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