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Transmitting K’é – Relations, Culture, Language, and Community

         Diné (People)
            Dinétah (Place)
               Doo Bikéyah (and Land)

By Denyce White and Kevin Harvey 

Hanííbáázji’ ałníí’ nábíiská (first quarter moon) and the west face of Bears Ears Buttes from Natural Bridges National Monument.

We drove along the highway, the snow dusted with vermilion-umber sand, seemingly the only form of water in the dry lands of the high desert in the winter. As we passed Wunu’qa / Tsé Biiʼ Nidzisgaii (Monument Valley), we admired the fog gently caressing the red rock mittens and buttes in the valley and along the southern Comb Ridge. Appreciating these moments, which felt grand, we talked about how lucky we are to have been raised here with these landscapes in southeastern Utah and northeastern Arizona. Just like us, the landscapes have their own identities and their own significance. We were lucky to have inherited knowledge from our family and communities that helped us weave diné cultural stories of the landscape and the Diyin Diné’e.  We also discussed that there is this interesting thing that happens when and if not feeling connected at first, a remembrance, a connection can still occur. 


      A remembrance that is internal,
            a collective unconsciousness,
                  deeply imbedded,
                        deeply inherited.

In this moment of reflection, I thought to myself ‘this is Dinétah.’ And I do not mean this is, the colonial name, “Navajo” land. I mean this is Indigenous Peoples’ lands and territories since time immemorial that imbues great wealth and wisdom of Traditional Knowledges of the Four Corners Region. I do believe that the collective Traditional Knowledges in this region supersedes and surpasses a Western history of expansion.

  A narrative that needs to be broken apart,
         dissected, examined, relooked at . . .a continuous
       path of acknowledgement, surviving, and reconciliation.

While driving UT-261 near Valley of the Gods, we passed the intersection to what is now known as Goosenecks State Park. Caught up in conversation, tangent-to-tangent, comparing the themes and concepts of the Star Wars franchise to Diné philosophies, like the correlation of The Force and Hózho in the Star Wars saga and the recent spin-off of The Mandalorian being birthed in what we felt are Indigenous Perspectives. Saying things like, “George Lucas holistically portrayed within the 

   Star Wars Saga

      this balance,
         this Hózho, this Force by telling the story of
             what balance and imbalance can be
               and is.”

Always food for thought on how all those concepts intertwine with Diné philosophies. 

This led to further discussion on healing – what is healing? What is the process–the act and concepts of healing? And why do we show up? It is something we—like many people—are continuously working on. For a single day we were on this adventure, to be out on the land actively participating in healing our minds, hearts, spirits, and ultimately ourselves. My brother and I described the land as being in complete solitude and awareness, not only to co-exist with our earth mother, but to also be born in k’é (in close clan relations) through Nát’oh dine’é Táchii’nii. If anything, we are nothing without the myriad ecology–which I would argue that everything is seen as living in Diné perspective–of nahasdzáán nihimá and yádiłhil shitaa’: the land, the water, the plants, the rocks, the sand, the buttes, the air, the wind, the sun, the moon–even the stubborn bullhead thorns–a never ending list of gratitude and truths since time immemorial.

As we approached Są́ Bitooh (San Juan River), I had an internal shift of thought, and began to mentally prepare myself for crossing and respecting the only carving and meandering large body of water in the deep canyon. I prayed and acknowledged Są́ Bitooh while driving over the renamed Jason R. Workman Memorial Bridge (US 163 crossing to Mexican Hat), which beneath flowed a sacred river. My late cheii (maternal grandfather) taught me this practice and I do my best to continue this practice of giving and gifting gratitude to the river, the very essence of life, tó (water). 

Panorama overlooking Valley of the Gods, the last switchback of Moki Dugway at the top of what is now known as Cedar Mesa

We continued our journey from Tó Dínéeshzheeʼ (Kayenta, AZ) ascending Moki Dugway, the curvy switchback road alongside what is now known as Cedar Mesa. We pulled over at the last switchback near the top where we could see faint protests graffitied on the cemented barricades, current political affairs associated with protection of sacred sites in the area. With a view of a foggy valley and the vast

upwarp monocline Tséyíkʼáán (Comb Ridge),

the red rock hoodoo Mexican Hat,
the spires, buttes, and hoodoos of Valley of the Gods,
Wunu’qa / Tsé Biiʼ Nidzisgaii (Monument Valley, UT),
Aghaałą́ (the volcanic plug El Capitan northeast of Kayenta, AZ),
in the distance Wisuv Káruv / Dził Naajiní
(Sleeping Ute Mountain, CO), Qöyahoqlö / Dziłíjiin (Black Mesa),
peaks of the mountains near Telluride, CO,
Dibé Nitsaa’ (Mt. Hesperus near Durango CO),
Dził Náhooziłii (Carrizo Mountain, AZ),
and Lukachukai (Chuska Mountains, AZ) also known by locals
as L.A.
Facing south, overlooking foggy Wunu’qa / Tsé Biiʼ Nidzisgaii (Monument Valley) from Moki Dugway lookout point.

We arrived at Muley’s Point, stepping out of a muddy Subaru Forester we walked a few feet and stood in awe. My brother, while gazing out into the view and completely mesmerized, pointed south towards Aghaałą́ peak, said aloud as if he was talking to the canyon,

“I’ve never been here, I didn’t really know this was here, being from Tó Dínéeshzheeʼ, right into the distance.” 

Panorama at Muley Point (Glen Canyon National Recreation Area) overlooking what is now known as Goosenecks of the Są́ bito’ (San Juan River).
Muley Point Overlook
Muley Point Overlook.

We continued again, driving on the snowed-packed dirt road meeting the asphalt pavement on Cedar Mesa. Following the UT-261 once again, driving through pinyon-juniper woodlands, in a distance we were in clear view of the Bears Ears buttes. Recognizing the image of how the mesa and buttes actually outline a bear’s ears, we shared our collective Indigenous traditional stories of this area and sacred sites, while keeping in-mind that we were really not that sure where we were going to hike.

Tséyi’(canyon) rim in Natural Bridges National Monument.
Tséyi’ rim of Sipapu Bridge Viewpoint.

We approached an intersection of UT-95, if we go west we head towards Hanksville, UT and if we go east we are on our way to Blanding, UT. Without hesitation we went west, my brother wanted to be closer to Bears Ears, this was his first time seeing the buttes. As we drove, we saw a saw sign for Natural Bridges National Monument–there was no sign for Bears Ears National Monument. At this point, we were actually going with the flow and found ourselves in Natural Bridges National Monument. 

      We journeyed, a spiritual calling

            Different landmarks, landscapes, obstacles,
            we were finding balance,
      Surrounded by energy that is neither created
      or destroyed, but transferred,
      Sacred sites, points, monuments, holding the factors
      and elements to healing,
            Revitalizing our energy that was distorted and
            built-up, it needed to be transcended to
            nahasdzáán nihimá.
      We choose our own path, destiny, in whatever way
      that may have been,
        it is up to us,
              T’áá hwó’ ají t’éego.

We trekked down the path in the canyon of Sipapu Bridge. There was a familiarity, we felt so welcome even though we did not see any other human being on site. A place of emergence, the loosely translated name of the arch into english from the Hopi language. We gave gratitude while hiking down, we wondered what it was like back then, and wanted to know more of the Indigenous histories of the area. We recognize that certain Knowledges need not be shared because of the spectrum of sacredness–often in times of sharing it is presented appropriately. We stood slightly beneath Sipapu Bridge, I had to remind myself and my brother that we should not cross under the bridge, this had been shared by elders when visiting arches.

Trekked through the snow and ice on the trail that leads to the bottom of the canyon, slightly beneath Sipapu Bridge. 
Slightly beneath the arch of Sipapu Bridge with a view of hanííbáázji’ ałníí’ nábíiská (first quarter moon).
Sipapu Bridge.

Reflecting on this, we were seeking a place to refuge, to hike, but then it turned into us visiting these diverse landscapes. At some point, I was not really looking into where we were going to hike, but being aware of the process of our travel. Set out on a path and we were not sure where we were going, but we knew that we were being guided in a way that allowed the processes of travel to unfold, we were open, it was up to us, we trusted our intuition and practical curiosity. 

Our experience was needed out on the land, balancing order from chaos, to heal. 

  We laughed,

    I cried,
      we counseled.
  We remembered what it is like to be Indigenous,
  Diné' bilá'ashdla'ii   to be human, to come back to the land
    to heal our grievances and celebrate our resilience,
      To come back to heal the past, present,
      and the future.
  Always continuous storytelling   a continuous healing
         not a myth.
      A story, a narrative.


Photos were taken in early January of 2020 by Denyce White and Kevin Harvey. 

If you would like to share the Indigenous Place Names, please feel free to share!

Additional readings: 

Moki Dugway Western History 

Star Wars, The Mandalorian, and Indigenous Peoples 

Indigenous Place Names 

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