Grownup Navajo

Native American culture & teachings through a modern lens

Tag: family

Injustice & K’é in the Borderlands

Growing up I heard many stories. Shared by my late Nalí’s (paternal grandparents), my masaní (maternal grandmother) and from my parents about our life as Diné (Navajo). Whether it is was the poetic story of my Nalí Hastiin seeing my Nalí asdzaan for the first time. Or the stories my masaní would share about her time at boarding school. These stories were reminders of love, trial and the strong family I came from. Many of these stories reminded me how this country’s history is a repetitious contradiction of what is just and humane.

As I have written here before, one of my ancestors was a survivor of the Navajo Long Walk. My late Nalí asdzaan would share her story with me throughout my life. My great-great-great grandmother escaped from Hweełdí (Place of Suffering aka Ft. Sumner or Bosque Redondo) to return to Diné Bikéyah using the medicine of her family to help her home.  She’s long been my motivation to live my life with compassion, empathy and in service of others.

In partnership with fellow co-producer Alix Blair, I have been assisting the creation of an audio documentary about the impact of the Navajo Long Walk 150 years since the signing of the Treaty of 1868. While, this self-funded project is outside of my work with Grownup Navajo, it is one that has fundamentally challenged my outlook about the culture, history and future of my people. In the year that Alix and I have been co-creating, this project has changed me. It is through this process I was able to access a part of the story I never allowed myself to feel and subsequently, it helped me process anger and grief, I didn’t know I was holding.

As Alix and I spoke with various Navajo community members about their families’ stories, I felt the pain of the separation from family and land. It was the first time in my life where the triumph of returning home after four years of imprisonment, did not mask the pain of knowing this occurred to people I knew. I grew up aware of this story, so I began this project without illusions, I knew thousands of people’s lives were lost, the treatment of my relatives was horrendous but again it was through working on this project I felt safe to grieve. To feel the loss of not only who did not return home but to understand parts of our life ways, sovereignty completely shifted as a result of this catastrophic event. In this place of grief I was also given a gift. Further insight into the power of K’é and the power of possessing compassion for others.

Source: Jorge Ramos Internet

Lately, this same grief and rage has boiled up in my chest, as I read and watch the horrible to news of the treatment of families fleeing their homelands. Families often seeking asylum from violence in Mexico and many Central American countries including Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador**; only to be stopped, deported and have their children ripped away from them and be imprisoned by the US government. I’ve cried over dinner at the haunting photos of children, the same age of my nephew, screaming for their parents. My heart aches at the lack of humanity with which this administration is treating these people. People.  Let us not forget, they are people.

This country is continuing the legacy of xenophobic practices used to “conquer” and subjugate Native people put in place decades ago. They have tested these tactics before at the border, in the south and in schools across the country. The omnipresent argument of manifest destiny serves as an eerie reminder of paths this government has walked before. But I see through the biblical justifications for placing babies in cages and leaving children to keep warm under mylar blankets in converted warehouses. I can’t not stomach it and yet, I can’t look away as I don’t want to ignore what is happening.

The Navajo concept K’é often is simplistically describe as “kinship”. But in the ways that I have studied and learned about the K’é from my elders and family it is not simply being related to each other. K’é is the recognition that in being in relationship/kinship to each other whether through our clan system or the simply connection as a Bilá ashladii or “five-fingered person” we are therefore responsible to each other.

I believe we, as Navajo, Indigenous people, those with liberal, conservative beliefs need to connect with our humanity and take action. The trauma that is being exerted over these families and children is corrupted power that will create deep generational trauma. How is it that I know this? Because this kind of trauma and deep reaching pain is one that is still being lived out in Native communities as a result of the systemic racist treatment seen throughout the continuum of federal Indian policy. To be clear, I am not comparing pain between communities, but simply saying these policies have been “tested” and proven to work. I refuse to be complacent in my actions to help these families today by giving to this cause both monetarily and by offering my voice in this reflection (and beyond) in the spirit of k’é. I pray these children and their families will not only find comfort, safety and justice but that they will be able to remain together regardless of which side of the border they make home.

Information on How to Support Families:

THE CUT: What You Can Do Right Now to Help Immigrant Families Separated at the Border

Refinery29: How To Help Migrant Parents & Children Who Are Separated At The Border

Organizations to Donate To:

The Florence Project – This Arizona-based organization offers free legal services to men, women, and unaccompanied children in immigration custody. (Disclosure: this is the organization I have supported.)

RAICES – This Texas-based organization offers free and low-cost legal services to immigrant children and families.

More on the Injustice:

Taking Migrant Children From Parents Is Illegal, U.N. Tells U.S.


**Correction: This post first appeared designating only Mexico as the only country of origin from which migrant families are traveling. This update aims to distinguish the rich cultures, nations and communities Latino families call home and claim as their heritage. As each family carries with them the rich history of their people, we want to participate in this dialogue as an ally who acknowledges and works to understand these intricacies in a way that does not erase experiences and identities but values where we all come from.


Náádąą Rising & Other Reminders from the Cornfield

When I started my new adventure, I had no idea how much “new” I would be surrounded by. From finding a new coffee shop to hang out in to searching for a favorite new eatery to get carry-out from, life has been full of “firsts”. I’ve have also been seeking the answer to a new question – what songs do I sing to help the roots I am planting in this community be the healthiest?

I remember planting with my late Nalí asdzaan (paternal grandmother) when I was little. I love this memory of ours. From the feel of placing the jewel-toned corn kernels in the moist earth to the heat of the summer day, our entire time together was incredibly fun. I have been thinking of her consistently since I started to build my life in New Mexico. This memory came to be me recently as I have been reflecting about the kind of life I have planted and am cultivating. I remember her sharing songs as we planted. Offerings to the corn we hoped would grow in our field.

In my new home, days have been filled with exploration. I’ve been searching for my place within this community while also pushing myself to being open to people who cross my path. Being open provokes vulnerability which can be daunting. But there is treasure to be found in yourself and your surroundings when you crack open to (or from) a new experience. I recently shared a wonderful dinner with new friends and I was struck with pure giddiness as I felt the promise of a place being carved out for me here in these new lands.

As I have been seeking opportunities for Grownup Navajo to grow, I’ve longed for the strong sister bonds calling to me from across the desert. Answering prayers, I have connected to other motivating female Native entrepreneurs who have showed me a new kind of sisterhood. One formed and tested in the fire of trailblazing. They’ve cheered me on and reassured me of the normalcy of the journey I’ve traveled so far in launching my business.

In the corn field, my Nalí adszaan would move with measured intention. Creating the holes in the earth for the seeds with deliberate care. We would move row by row, being conscious of our thoughts and energy as we offered the seeds to the earth. Thinking about this day and the current point on my journey, I feel there are songs I need to learn and ones I somehow already know the melody. These “songs” I carry with me are ones of love, compassion and gentleness. I forget too easily, two lessons of the cornfield: 1) if I want corn to grow I have to get my hands dirty and work the earth and 2) corn takes time to grow. Much like children we must offer our praise and gratitude for the path that has unfolded. It is necessary to be thankful, even for the uncertain path.

I am grateful for the way the answers to the questions my heart asks arrive in my heart simultaneously quelling the anxiousness in my mind. Whether in the form of encouraging words from a fierce entrepreneur or an inspiring conversation with new friends, we are provided connections to the tools we need to continue to flourish. My life – each of our lives – have been prayed into existence and nurtured with intention, just like the corn that has grown in our fields. Corn which has grown for generations, blessed with songs whose power whisper reminders of our purpose. Our destiny is to grow and learn like the sacred náádąą (corn) we use for our prayers in the morning and ceremonies throughout our lives. Let’s hold this truth close, so we never doubt the direction we are going because it is innate in us to grow, rising bravely, like stalks of náádąą in a beautiful field.

Enduring Love Through Loss

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I am blessed my first “real job” out of college was also my dream job. Starting it years ago, I had no idea I would be here this long and while every January work-anniversary is marked with, “has it really been this long?!” it is also a month in which I ache and miss my Granddad the most.

My Granddad was with me when I received my job offer. It was the two of us who decided it was a good fit for me and I would take it. I was staying with him and my late Nalí Asdzaan at the time as I had a temporary job in the community they lived. While she would go to work we would talk about life. This was already a difficult period as I was coping with the sudden loss of my soul sister Audrey who was killed suddenly in a car crash the month before.

Audrey and I had met the summer before in such a cinematic way in Washington D.C., I was assured we would be friends forever. Looking at it now, I suppose we are, just not in the way we planned. My Granddad helped me deal with her being gone. Little did I know by mid-February, they both would meet. It’s been nearly eight years since we lost him to cancer. While the battle was long and hard fought, my starting my job is always tangled with my losing him and me “growing up”.

The two events shaped me permanently. My Granddad and Audrey were both two people who lived life with such bravery and chutzpah. My Granddad taught me so many lessons but of everything, he instilled in me a sense of responsibility to my people, family and my heart. In the past year, I have renewed this commitment to myself by choosing my heart above all. Though the journey hasn’t been easy, I have decided to live my life the way he did with an allegiance to Ké’ and love. He is my north star just as my late Nalí Asdzaan is my east. They are my guide posts who assure me soul mates, kindred spirits exist.

I realize I am the best parts of the people around me. We are all made of light and brought together through a desire to create, to leave a mark. Of the many conversations we had prior to starting my job one thing rang through our conversations, my Granddad’s hope for me to have a life I loved. As I write this, to him, I hope he sees my zest for life and how much I am grateful for him. And I can honestly say, this life of mine, is better than we both dreamed possible. As my cousin Aaron assured me, our grandparents are as close as I want them to be. So I look ahead with the promise of a journey which will continue to challenge me to grow with both of them at my side.