As you drive into the Navajo Nation (also known as Diné), you first see the stark beauty of the landscape, yet at the same time you also see the desolation of it all. It’s almost like another planet. There are no agricultural lands and not a lot of water, just the arid and scorched ground. Yet, among this seeming scarcity and repression, their culture remains rich and celebrated. As we were driving through Dine land today we could see Hogans scattered among the distant houses. Hogans are the traditional shelter of the Navajo people. They are round buildings with doors that face towards the east. Hogans are now commonly used by the Navajo people for ceremonies and gatherings, preserving the culture of this great nation.
While on the reservation, we were able to see Shiprock or Tsé Bit’ a’í, meaning “winged rock” in Diné. Shiprock is a massive, multi-spired, rock formation that stands around 1500 feet tall. For the Navajo people it is a sacred place, one that is filled with different folklore and legends about their creation. One of the main stories is that of the Great Bird that came from the earth and brought them down from northern Canada to Tsé Bit’ a’í. To them, the Shiprock is where they belong, their Dinétah.
The sacredness of this site is preserved through the lore and stories that have been told about it for generations among the Diné, as well as the protection it receives from the people who cherish it. Both of these examples showed us how the Navajo people have preserved their culture, despite attempts to destroy it. The paucity of natural resources and otherworldliness of this landscape leads one to believe that’s all there is. When really, this landscape is holding a culture thick with pride and tradition.