Grownup Navajo

the Kinaalda through a modern lens

She said go to the water and pray…

Water is life, image adapted by Jared Yazzie.

Water is life, image adapted by Jared Yazzie.

I watched a video of a fierce asdzaan Diné on Friday shed tears at the bank of the Animas River as she watched gallons of waste from a mine blowout in Colorado kill her beloved river. I read her posts via social media of the yellow-orange water leach its way deeper into Diné Bikeyáh. With each post, newspaper article or account, my heart caved.

It’s taken me days to process, believe, begin to understand how fast the water from the mine oozed into the waterway. I remembered in one post this same woman pleaded for her K’é (relatives) to “go to the water and pray”.

I carried those words around until tonight, when I was able to run along the canal here in the desert. With each step I prayed for restoration of the water’s spirit and the strength of people who fight for the water we have. As I ran I thought about how when I’m old I will remember the time the river turned yellow. In the same way people talk about the rock slide on Black Mesa before the Long Walk began, the way people talk about the rocks that have fallen from Monument Valley. Each of these events have communicated to us how out of sync we are with our mother earth, teachings and practices. But are we ready to listen? When will we be brave enough to act?

These rivers are not the ones I played in when I grew up but I have those memories, in my community, on the other side of the mountain. I know the joy of being able to sink my feet into the shore of the river and feel the coolness of the earth in the heat of summer. I understand how refreshing it can feel to pray at the water and be reminded of the center of your being. I understand how safe being near the water can be.

I thought of my recent trip home and how happy I was having found freshly cooked kneel down bread along the San Juan River. I thought about the water that gave life to the corn and how I found it on a day my soul needed to nourish itself with the tastes of the land. I thought of how when Ghąąjį’ (October) comes this fall, the harvest will be quiet. I thought of how my cousin will not be sharing in the crops of squash or even pumpkins for my home in Phoenix. I think of my close family friend who had memories of playing in the river with his cousins and whose animals will be thirsty now.

Shí eí Táchiinii. I am of the Red Running into the Water people and tonight my heart aches for a river whose life has been taken because of recklessness. As a community we call ourselves Diné meaning “the People” and when we speak of humans – Bila ashlaííi or “five-fingered people”. Not only are we all connected by the curves of fingers but also by the foundation of water that allows the blood to flow through our veins. We are the water and it is us. If you can look at the photos of the damage and not feel anything then tonight I will not only pray for the water beings, the animals and plants, the people whose lives have been intertwined with these beautiful bodies of water for generations, but I will also pray for you. I will pray that you may find your way back to yourself.

She said go to the water and pray…it is at the water where I found so much heart ache, where I was able cry but also give thanks because I can still hear the rushing water. I have hope we will rise in our awareness to protect the water’s preciousness. Tó’ éí’ iiná, water is life, let us carry this in our hearts because this truth flows through us.

Seeds of Gratitude


Yesterday, my niece and I spent the afternoon planting a batch of flowers in my yard. It was our first gardening endeavor together and it was filled with profound ponderings only a three-year-old can conjure. As we planted the blooms I told her about how I planted flowers with my late Nalí asdzaan. She asked if my Nalí asdzaan was as silly as her Nalí (my mom). I told her she definitely was. We laughed in the cool spring breeze certain of the exact kind of silliness we meant and continued to arranged the flowers in the planters.

It is fitting we chose yesterday to plant as today marks three years since her passing. I wrote on one of my social media accounts how my longing for her has changed. I still miss her deeply but somehow, I am able to understand she is with me, perhaps even closer than before and for the moment that seems satisfying. I know this feeling will flow and shift back to the unbearable feeling of loss from time to time but today, for now, I feel grounded in my grief and grateful I am able to appreciate knowing such a beautiful being.

As we planted the last few flowers, I started talking to the flowers – telling them thanks for coming home with us and how beautiful and strong they are. Angela asked me why I was speaking to them. I told her this way they know we want them to be here, this way they know we appreciate them. She smiled and then started to talk to the flowers too, giving them thanks. It reminded me of the songs I’d heard my Poogie sing as we planted in the corn field. I don’t remember the words today but I remember her spirit so grateful and hopeful for what was to come forth from the field.

Planting with Angela, I looked ahead to her starting school and one day her Kinaaldás. I wondered about my life and if I will ever get to be a mom or what new career adventures I will have. Then I turned to how much life I will experience without my Nalí asdzaan and it is startling. But as I touched and turned the soil in the planters I realized when my Poogie was here she planted so much in me. Different seeds I am not even aware of – that I don’t even know. I believe she wouldn’t have left us if she didn’t think we could thrive. So I am going to bed tonight, with a grateful heart for all the adventures I have had with both my beautiful niece and my late Nalí asdzaan. Two lively, fierce and strong Diné women whose presence in my life feeds my work and nurtures my spirit. Tonight I pray for the words of those planting songs to come to me in hopes they continue to nourish the seeds of resilience planted in me. I also pray tonight for the unknown seeds in me – may they continue to grow within, rooting me in a culture so beautiful and complex it will always deliver me what I need as long as my heart is open and willing to cultivate it’s essence.

Moonlight Respite

My house is quiet in this hour. Nothing moves but my heart, ceiling fan, and the occasional sighs of my dog. The stillness is my soul’s reminder to be reverent. There is a lunar eclipse occurring on this spring morning, one of the shortest of the year. We are taught as Diné (Navajo) people to respect this period in the moon cycle. This respect is shown in several ways but the most stark is our dedication to letting the moon be.

Growing up, during an eclipse we were told to be sure we stayed inside and not playing around – we were to be still. We were also not supposed to look at the eclipse and in general not eat, drink or sleep during it. Traditionally, families or healers would share different stores during this time or say certain prayers. This is still carried on today by a lot of families.

In a discussion with my partner recently, we were talking about the idea of taboos. I shared with him how it is important for Navajos, as we carry on teachings, to remember to not overly simplify our ideas to the point where things are either good or bad. For instance, some elders when explaining why we don’t do something would say only – “yiiyáh (oh no/yikes/that’s not good) we don’t do that because it’s bad.” It’s the modern “just because reasoning”. In this model effort’s not made to explain what I think is a more complex reason.

For instance, many of the things we consider taboo – a coyote who crosses your path going north, looking at the moon during an eclipse and other teachings – aren’t meant to simply scare us NOT to do something. What I believe to be the purpose of the teachings is to learn to recognize the power in the world around us. Yes, as Diné people we live in a world with a cause and effect. Meaning we believe when something ails you it is because you are or at some point on you path have lost balance – you are out of Hozhó (harmony/balance).

Being able to take ownership of our responsibility in respecting the world around us is critical. It allows us to live in greater Hozhó. We simply can’t be afraid of the “bad signs” but understand we live in a culture which shares with us many opportunities to connect to all living things. We often don’t do certain things not because we were supposed to be scared of them. But because there is so much power occurring or it is a sacred time – as in the case of an eclipse, that we need to be ready or prepared to understand that power. We need to understand our own strength so we can be certain of our ability to carry the new knowledge.

I find great comfort in my culture because it all encompassing. It teaches us to be soulful in our practices and challenges us to remember many different ways to engage with the world. We don’t make enough time to connect with the world around us. I think many of these practices including observing an eclipse are more important to do today because it gives us an opportunity to reflect. As I sit here in the darkness of dawn I think of conversations I’ve had with relatives during this sacred moonlight. Thinking of the stories I’ve heard or words shared. It is beautiful and powerful to have these memories and then to look ahead with hope to see the new ones I’ll create.

In the Time of the Eaglets’ Cry

My late Nalí asdzann would prepare for a new school year, a ceremony or chapter meeting with gusto. She dove into things. I never knew her to announce her fear. When it came to how to start something new, or even what to do next she would simply do. Always reminding me “don’t just talk about it, do it,” when I shared a new idea with her.

Lately, I have been thinking about what advice she would have for me at this point in my life. What words she’d share and I am not sure she’d have any. Though this lack of advice shouldn’t be taken as abandonment but actually a reflection of all that she has already given me.

I return to the memory of my Kinaaldá ceremonies and think about the people that gathered around me. I remember the wisdom shared with me and how much love I felt. I can recall what it felt like to be in the Hogan surrounded by so many of my elders – most of whom have since past away now. It was these pillars of strength who I believed prayed my life into existence. It is them who have created a life so beautiful I could not imagine the wonder, magic and blessings.

It is the time of the “eaglets’ cry” or Wóózhch’įįd (March), a time of year which symbolizes the start of spring. While a cry usually is a mark of pain we must remember the pain fades and what is left is the opportunity for harmony to be found as the beauty pours into the mold that the pain initially created. There was a point during my ceremony where I felt as though my arms would fall off as I ground the corn for my cake. It was hard work and at several moments I felt as though I was going to quit. But each time an aunt or my mom would share a story or would tell a joke. Then I would be fixated on its ending or the punch line I would forget my arms hurt. Before I realized it, I finished grinding all fifty pounds and we were ready to mix the cake.

I think of my Kinaaldá and I remember the smells, tastes, the laughter which would roared from the Hogan. In each scene I have of my late Nalí adszaan, she was always smiling. It was one of the best memories I have of her. So far in my life this ceremony has been the most precious gift my family has given me. In hard times it is easy to forget what a foundation the Kinaaldá has provided. In moments of doubt and darkness I try to visualize the Hogan, the faces that surrounded me and how much I must trust my life has already been prayed for…it is now up to me to just DO.


Shíkeyáh as Medicine

Sunday morning I said goodbye to my family after a delicious breakfast prepared by my mom. We ate and laughed as a late winter snow fell outside. My heart swells at all the scenes we took in together and remember the prayers we said for each other and ourselves before I left.

I know I carry these scenes and prayers with me until the next visit. Returning to Diné Bikeyáh (Navajoland) each time as though on a pilgrimage. Each trip is filled with such anticipation of being able to unload the angst and chaos of the city. Born in the vastness of a place which makes you feel like it belongs all to you while simultaneously allowing you to feel small enough to question your being, I recognize how much I am a part of the land and it is a part of me.

Though it means so much for me to be home, I forget how fast times passes when I am away. A recovering perfectionist, I want to not miss anything. I want to always be home and am often heartbroken at missing the simple things – the first snowfall, ceremonies of family friends or even the stories my Grandma tells in between her cup of coffee and dinner. While I can beat myself up for the moments missed I have to remember the faith and practices instilled in me.

Diné Bikeyáh is my medicine. Not just the place, my parents’ home, but the land. I crave the calm of the land as soon as I depart. While away in the desert I find echoes of home on my hikes, while on runs at dawn, each outing sustaining my spirit. It is the land which soothes me, makes me stronger, knows my weaknesses and strengths.

While driving with my Mom as the rain, snow and rain fell, we were graced by a family of gorgeous glowing blue birds. They fluttered by us sharing the same vistas of the Lukachukai Mountains as we made our trek. A moment of fleeting perfection that didn’t have to last long as it provided more than enough serenity. This recent trip was so much about self-care and focusing on restoring my balance. Traveling from the stillness to clamor I humbly look forward to my return to Shíkeyáh (my land).

Shine Love.

It is hard to escape the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. today as it is the day which bears reminding of his work and sacrifice of life. There are many favorite quotes of his I have gained inspiration from, “To serve. You only need a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love.” “Everyone can be great for everyone can serve.” But today what I choose to focus on are his words of love.

It’s his belief in the power of love which echoes an outlook which I spent nearly half of my life basking in, learning from. When my late Nalí asdzaan was alive she would talk about her day and share stories of her interactions with her students. She would note the top students in her class but much of her recollections were the students who struggled. She would note how hard talking to them was or what trouble they may have gotten into. At the end of her story, she would sigh – this was her trademark sigh as it would be her entire body surrendering to the situation but also accepting her place in that moment – it was a beautiful moment when she did this. I remember once asking her what she was going to do. She smiled and say, “I am going to show them I love them.” It was simple.

Her answer was love. Whether it was a child who would act out in a classroom or someone who wronged her, she would always choose forgiveness and love. My late Nalí asdzaan did so many incredible things during her life, in her career but of the many things I treasure is her showing me that love can change the world because it allows us to strengthen our ties of Ké’ (kinship) by showing we will be here and we are responsible to one another.

Since her passing, I’ve adopted the mantra – “Shine Love.” It is the way I work to live my day by exuding a love for life and respect for others. “Shine love”, is my attempt to leave those I come in contact with a feeling of being appreciated because you and I are here. (Of course, it also shares my unwavering connection to all things sparkly.)

On this day as we reflect on the work of the giants of grace, love and change in our lives and past, let us think of our call to action. Because these quotes and mantras are only words – stagnant on pages, resting on computer screens in the latest meme – without action. How will we summon the greatness in our souls out into the world? For these words to create the next movement our society needs we need to live them out. I believe love is the action, love of ourselves and others.

Shine loves.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Yá’at’eeh Hai


I rang in the New Year surrounded by family, in the land I love and call home. Diné Bikeyah (Navajoland) was white with snow and blissfully cold the first of the year. I ended and begun the year in the way I aim to start and end every day, with a grateful heart.

Processing my hopes from the vantage point of a fresh year, much of what I want to be is better. Whether it’s a better daughter, sister, girlfriend, auntie, or friend, I believe I can be kinder and give more love to those around me. I share these aspirations in the middle of the Hai (winter) season in the “time of the melting snow” Yas Niłt’ees (January), a period of time whose cold air and weather is seemingly harsh but also reaches out to us with caring grace of warm homes and family love.

I am looking forward to a new year sharing more of what I have learned in this undeclared break from blogging. Grownup Navajo celebrated two years in existence and there is much planned for this next year but for now I want this post to simply be a reminder that we are enough even as we strive to be more. Yá’at’eeh Hai (Happy Winter).

Stay Gold.


At 30, I am making every one of my English teachers happy, as this almost birthday girl has been thinking of Pony Boy Curtis. The greaser from the S.E. Hinton’s book “The Outsiders” has come to mind several times this August as I set to mark my golden birthday – the day you turn the age of the day you were born. While the American novel is filled with the drama of rumbles and the fuzz, the phrase “stay gold” stands as poetic reminder to remain true to oneself and in full of goodness and innocence.

August prompts me annually to reconnect and give more of myself to others and the causes I am passionate about it. Last year I launch a month long thank you campaign – #30for30notesofgratitude – sending notes of thanks to people in my life. In the same vein this month I want to pledge to donate 31 extra hours of volunteer time.

Much like my gratitude practice I dedicate a great deal of my time to volunteering. I find it rewarding to work with many organizations including Whisper n Thunder, Arizona Humanities, Valley of the Sun United Way and the Phoenix Symphony. In each role I have learned so much about the impact the organizations have in our community.

My #STAYGOLDGIVE31 challenge is my effort to remember being involved and active in the many communities I am a part of is critical to my personhood as an asdzaan Diné (Navajo woman). Whether it is helping out relatives with ceremonies or taking care of our elders, the giving of time to help one another is a priceless gift. Foundational to improving our society is remembering being a part of a community carries with it an inherent obligation to not solely show up but be present and participate. Stay gold friends.

Yá’at’eeh Ya’iishjááshtsoh


Normally a month full of activity July seems to pass so quickly. This year is no exception as I post this I am confounded by where the time has gone. In Navajo it’s the season filled with the “flourishing of early crops”. A time when working in the corn fields is critical. This idea of tending to what needs care is something I am working to fold into my daily practice.

I am most comfortable when I have a full schedule but lately I am trying to find ways to breathe deeply and enjoy the warmth of summer. In an effort to stop the glorification of busy, this month’s list is curated with trying to add more “soul time” to your day. With a list of easy to-dos, take a stop day (or hour) to simply treat yourself a little more gently.

CREATE. Check out one of my favorite bloggers and Phoenix native, Kathy Cano-Murrillo a.k.a. Crafty Chica for inspiration to feed your inner Frida. Her stenciled scrapbook paper tutorial is my pick.

TUNE IN. This Sunday, August 3, listen as I, along with my presence 4.0 co-founders Chelsea Chee and Nanibaa Beck, host a radio show on Native fashion and style. We will be joined by Rezonate Art and Beyond Buckskin Boutique owners. Airing 6pm (Atlantic) find more on the show details HERE.

SIP. I am an avid tea-drinker. Find time to savor a cup – I love a strong brew of ginger tea. Problems never seem so bad after a cup.

CELEBRATE. Few people know my passion for noting, knowing and actually celebrating obscure and bizarre holidays. Between National Cheesecake Day (July 30) and National Jelly Bean Day (July 31) there are many options to risk your dental health.

Ode to the Desert


I was raised in Diné Bikeyáh (Navajo land) but I grew up in the desert, a place that has taught me many lessons. Of them, how important it is to stay hydrated and (one of my favorites) how a place so hot can be full of so much earned beauty because everything, including the people, has survived such extreme conditions.

I moved here after graduating from high school. Arriving to attend Arizona State, I wasn’t shocked by city life or by how big my new school was – all of that excited me. The greatest challenge was taking care of myself. Not because I didn’t know how but because I was used to herding the Roessel clan. The oldest of four, I cooked and cleaned while my parents worked.

Though my sole responsibility was to go to class and do my homework it was a difficult adjustment. I worried about what wasn’t getting done back home and who was helping my mom. I’d think of family members and community happenings. I was homesick a lot but slowly the desert made it easier.

Reflecting on the nearly ten years I have lived here, I have come to love the land. Though winters are glorious here, I am quite fond of the summer. I love how the town feels as though it’s mine without the “snow birds” and long waits in restaurants. I love the comfort of the heat and illuminating sunshine – the power of place, home to the O’odham. I am grateful I have carved a space for myself.

Today after a very long day in the office I found my way to one of my favorite places. As I walked monsoon clouds moved in and the rumbling of thunder sounded. It sprinkled a soft gentle “female rain” on the dirt path. It’s been through my gratitude practice and prayers that I have been able to maintain my connection to home. But in the moments when the monsoons come I am closer to Diné Bikeyáh, the closest I can get being as far away as I am. As my incredibly insightful friend recently reflected wet dirt is “a smell that reminds us we are of this earth and connects us through our senses.”

Traveling recently in New Mexico, I was swept away in the feeling of being home. A grand grownup moment for this current phase of my life, I see being a modern adszaan Diné (Navajo woman), means my state of “being home” travels with me. Though I dream continuously of being able to do my work and “be home” one day, I embrace the blessing of finding home in new lands and wondrously, in people.

As I walked in the rain tonight, I listened to the rain fall and let it engulf me. I was reminded of my childhood, adventures in enchanted lands, how my mom talks of us “bunnies” being brought into this world on days that were filled with rain and as I breathed in the familiar scent I thought of Diné Bikeyáh. I learned in the desert how to connect not just to myself but most importantly to others. In a place so arid and foreign from the playground I grew up in, I was blessed with a life so rich and lush I could never have imagined…Ahé’hee’ (thank you).


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