Grownup Navajo

the Kinaalda through a modern lens

In the Desert a Mountain Rises

When I am looking for strength, I picture my strongholds, the places where I have found respite, calm and clarity. Each place I visualize, often in the middle of an anxious bout, are places grounded by mountains. From Black Mesa, the Lukachukai Mountains to the San Francisco Peaks, the Sandias in New Mexico and Piestewa Peak here in Phoenix. All are places where I have seen the sun rise and set on their crests. It is that dependable cyclical force – knowing the sun will rise and fall over their majestic forms, that soothes me.

I find refuge in land, both in mine homeland and those of others. The power of place is a guiding principle of my faith and one I was reminded of this week. I attended an event where an elder Akimel O’otham man shared a traditional song. The beautiful melody was sung to the rhythm of a hand rattle made from a gourd. It was called “in the desert a mountain rises” and as I do not speak O’otham, I can only expand on the meaning of the song to me as a Navajo woman with a fondness for mountains. Every feeling I had while listening to the song was a feeling of reconnection. The peace that comes from returning to yourself and harnessing the power of your being. It is in the mountains where I have discovered, found and regained peace in my heart countless times. Each time I feel this homecoming I understand I am the mountain and the mountain is me.

Listening to the song reminded of my late Nalí hastiin (paternal grandfather) and one of his favorite psalms that I carry with me. “I life up mine eyes unto the hills. From whence cometh my help?” (Psalm 121:1).  I don’t remember where he shared this with me first. Today I visualize our conversation taking place in his “Oasis” in Round Rock as we looked east toward the Lukachukai Mountains, in a moment, I am sure, where my heart was filled with uncertainty.

I love that together the psalm and this beautiful song create a dichotomy. On the one hand, to be filled with doubt and wondering in the middle of a trial where and when help will come and on the other having the delivery of faith so forceful that it rises with audacity in the desert. My people believe in the power of mountains. We find protection in them spiritually and so I love the translation of the O’odham song – “in the desert a mountain rises”. I think about this phrase as a great reminder to not only respect the land but to recognize we are the land. We are the mountains.

I am far away from my beautiful mountains tonight but I can feel their pull. I can close my eyes and see multiple sunrises illuminate the sky with glorious light and their warmth filling my soul. I am thankful for a new connection to the desert through this O’otham song. In a city that identifies with a bird who rises from the ashes, I love that I can now visualize myself rising up in the desert not as a bird but a mountain. It is this image that I will carry with me while I am away from my mountains. This realization brings me peace. As I lift up my eyes unto the mountains, I understand that by the grace of the Holy People, I am my own help and no matter my placement, I can harness mountains of strength from wherever I stand and choose to rise.

Earthen Powers

The leaves are changing. From the high country in Mescalero Apacheland to the gorgeous towering crests of the Sandias in New Mexico to the belt of aspens around the San Francisco Peaks the colors of Aa’kęę (fall) are washing over the mountain ranges in the southwest.

In the past month, we marked the autumnal equinox, a Super Blood Moon, lunar eclipse, new moon and full moon alike. I recently commented to a friend how I can feel the power of the earth, moon and stars move in me. This omnipresent force is guiding me lately to turn inward thinking about the ways to cultivate more practices of self-love.

It is in this reverence I find myself tonight. Having spent the afternoon with a group of empowering women reflecting on ways we can cultivate more practices of self care. A critical conversation as waiting and sitting are extraordinarily difficult for this asdzaan Diné (Navajo woman) with a hummingbird spirit. I am forever on the go and rarely make time to be still.

I recently learned that a common practice of Diné prior to ceremonies would involve the person having a prayer or ceremony spend the four days before a ceremony preparing for the practice. They then would take the time to have the ceremony and then spend the four days after being reverent, observing taboos and keeping close in prayer.

Corresponding to this palpable presence of earthen energy, my life has been full of changes. In this period of flux, I am thinking of the power of preparing to take action. Thinking of the heavenly bodies moving outside and around me, the changing temperatures of the Navajo New Year (the month of October), a natural time used by my people to set intentions for the cold weather coming in the winter months. Amidst all of this, I am urged by a whisper to be still and wait in active preparation.

We falsely assume grand revelations to be scarce as “the waiting” occurs. In actuality, we need to remind ourselves to prepare with an open heart. It is with this grace of heart that revolutions of greater self-acceptance, grand self-realizations, and monumental moments of healing can commence. I believe this is why we take time to prepare in ceremony for our ceremonies. One cannot act brashly hoping to heal but must act thoughtfully knowing greater healing can come from waiting in thoughtful motion. To be still in action and “run with patience” understanding more blessings can be received if we not only set intentions but prepare for healing and blessings with an open, humble heart. So this is where I rest tonight, thinking of the many changes in my life, not fully understanding them but also knowing in my waiting, I am at the epicenter of many earthen powers which will guide my heart as it continues its radical venture.

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.


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