Thursday, April 15, 2010

Navajo Children

Today marks my last full day in Tuba City, Arizona, completing my stay at 5 Amizade sites. I still have so much to show and say about the Navajo Nation and the surrounding landscape. Perhaps I should end this adventure with some really significant post, but instead, being in some denial, I want this to feel like a normal day, as if there will be another tomorrow here. I think that I will be back soon, but I have had that feeling at all the incredible places I've visited.

I have often posted photos of men and women from the various countries I have visited. In some countries it was easy to snap pictures and in others, people showed great reluctance. It often required some combination of stealth, luck or money to get a good shot. However, nothing is more rewarding, fun and easy than taking pictures of children. They love the camera and are forever amazed and excited, when seeing themselves captured in the moment.

The top photo of Navajo children taken at the Tuba City Boarding School could be a school scene anywhere, except these youngsters are in a unique struggle. They are not from immigrant families that have come to America from a different culture to learn English as second language and a new way of living. They seem aware as natives of their unique place in this land's history and have to make sense of it. Even at a less conscious age, there is already an internal pull between respecting, learning, and following traditional ways and the seductive lure of the anti-cultural, "modern" world.

The second photo of my host's daughter Talisha and her friend show me smiling faces . Both children understand Navajo, don't speak it fluently yet, but are being taught. Each also have learned dances and have beautiful traditional dresses which they wear at festive occasions. They will probably, as they grow older, leave the reservation. The question remains if and whether they will ever come back.

The boy in the third photo helps his father at a jewelry stand by an obscure local attraction which featured genuine dinosaur footprints preserved in rock. This youngster gave me a tour of his turf and was quite the expert in explaining various markings. He told me he lived nearby and claimed that he didn't go to school. What will become of this young Navajo? I'm told, Arizona is last in America in teacher-student ratio, in standarized testing scores, money spent on education and first in the nation in people below the poverty line. I'm not sure this is all accurate, but clearly, if it is even in part true, what are the chances this young fellow will become an archeologist? Many of my successful friends laud themselves about how hard they worked to succeed financially and often point out that opportunities are available for the disadvantaged as well. It is said that there is no excuse for poverty.

Take a moment to look at the desolate landscape in the background. I mean this figuratively and literally. What do you think?


  1. Another marvelous and moving post, Lee. As for the successful friends we all have who feel if they have succeeded then anyone can, well, I suspect none of them came from an environment like this one or even some of the poorer black communities. There may be no excuse for poverty, but it does exist in more places than many of us would even want to admit. And climbing out of it -- particularly these days is not easy, our educational system is floundering and prejudice towards minorities continues in many cases. Talk is cheap, action is not.

    Thanks for all the beauty you have shared with us over the past months.


  2. I'm finding this one hard to comment on, so I just want to say, I think it's another fine post. I love the photos of the kids.

  3. I love this landscape, but it is hard to imagine how it can sustain people, independently. The photos of the childern are wonderful.

    I've seen the dinosaur tracks (and have some old photos of them too). By Canyon De Chelly, I met a fairly young man selling jewelry his wife made who had lived in Torrance (of all places) for a couple of years, and trained as an upholsterer's apprentice, and chose to go back. During an earlier trip (in the early '80s), I travelled that corner and saw all the amazing National Parks. The more popular tourist locations (Monument Valley & Canyon De Chelly) were doing well economically, but the people around Chaco Canyon were extremely poor. I hope their situation has improved.
    I know there are organizations that campaign against boarding schoools for Native American childern. The best solution is to have the schools close to where the families are, but in practice it must be hard to do. I am so glad that the Navajo language and traditions are taught at the school.

  4. Re "Take a moment to look at the desolate landscape in the background. I mean this figuratively and literally. What do you think?"

    I think it's a good thing you ended your post this way, because by the time I got to the end of it, I was getting all wound up and ready to tell your successful friends a thing or three about poverty, without even knowing who they are--although it really doesn't matter. I hear that kind of thing ALL the time, and so does everyone.

    Synchronistically, it ties in with something I read a few days ago on an e-mail list I belong to. I was impressed with the main article (enough to save it), but it was a follow-up comment a few days later that really grabbed me. It was quite similar to the way you ended this post.

    It must be a strange experience for the Navajo children to learn their ancestral language as a foreign language. But for some of us, it isn't all THAT strange. I haven't yet abandoned all hope of learning mine!

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  6. Wow Lee you have been so some very diverse cultures. The land and way of life may vary but it seems people are about the same no matter where you are.
    It is so desolate where you are but also so beautiful. A contradiction I know but but still........


  7. Dear Lee,

    Along with your other readers on this journey, I've enjoyed very much your ongoing posts as you've visited with Amizade partner communities around the world. I just wanted to be sure to say thank you here - in addition to saying thank you elsewhere - as you now complete the travel portion of your experience.

    I'm sure you will continue to have interesting thoughts on all of the issues and experiences that emerge through service and learning across cultures, and I hope you'll continue to post them here from time to time.

    Additionally, I want to be sure your readers know that they too can do (probably shorter-term, single-site :)) volunteer vacation experiences with Amizade: (email: volunteer"at" Also, anyone who supports what we're doing should please become an Amizade Facebook fan -!/pages/Amizade-Global-Service-Learning-and-Volunteer-Programs/58708933153?ref=ts - it really helps spread the word and the good energy!

    Once again, thank you Lee, and I look forward to talking as soon as you've had a moment to rest.

    Eric Hartman
    (For those who don't know: Executive Director, Amizade Global Service-Learning)

  8. What I think? Let's get some coffee for you and something else for me. Just remember to ask me when we meet.

  9. As I recall, the U.S. government made over 150 treaties with the Indian nations and broke every single one of them.

    There's much to say about all of this, but you know it already!

    What a great adventures you've had. But, I'm sure you will be glad to get home, too!

  10. Come on over, it's sunny and quite warm.

  11. I've hear what you described, but I choose to think the little guy in the black t-shirt with the dinosaur tracks will walk out of there one day, become a paleontologist, and maybe come back there or to a similar place and teach what he's learned. I'm reading that into his determined look and stance.