Notes from Nettie — Guest Post

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Our middle daughter, Janetta Emmelhainz, is currently in China, helping to teach English to 4-6th grade students. She made the following observations in a recent email:

I had an interesting conversation with one of the internationals that’s been here for more than a decade about Native American connections to China.  Apparently there is a specific cultural group of Tibetans (I don’t know which one) that have some very close cultural similarities to the Hopi in the US.  So close that there is actually a matching set of prophecies between the two groups.  In general there are a lot of similarities between Native Americans and native people here, possibly just due to the fact that indigenous people often have similarities in outlook, etc.  There are also theories that the connections come from the migration of native people from Asia to the Americas over the Bering Land Bridge however many centuries ago.  I was amused at how comfortable it was to have so many native looking people around me as I walked down the street.  The Tibetans, especially the more elderly ones, look very similar to the Navajo and other groups that I saw a lot around New Mexico and Arizona in the last few years.  I haven’t spent nearly as much time with the Navajo as my parents have but I have still apparently grown used to being surrounded by more than just white people!

"Cousin-Brothers" -- Kevin (on the left) is fully part of the Salazar Family, but not by birth

“Cousin-Brothers” — Kevin (on the left) is fully part of the Salazar Family, but not by birth

The other random thing that connected the Navajo to the Chinese was the idea of Cousin-brothers!  For the Navajo cousin-brothers comes mostly out of the matrilineal structure to their families–cousins on the mother’s side are connected because of the matriarch and matter more because of it.  Often cousins are even raised together.  The Navajo don’t differentiate between first and second cousins, or even cousins and brothers, because the distance really doesn’t matter as long as you are still considered in the same family group.  The reasoning is different in China, but here cousins are called brothers as well.  Because of the one-child rule there have been very few siblings in Han Chinese families in the last 50 years.  Therefore cousins were often as close as siblings.  So, they’re cousin-brothers.

Some Navajo Cultural Elements (Guest Post #21)

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This is the final guest post written by a visiting anthropology student. You can read more about the author and his goals HERE. As a side-note from Jill–the topics in this post are definitely still part of the heritage of the Navajo people. A few families in the Lybrook area still follow traditional ways, including using the Navajo language in the home and teaching these traditional values to their children. However, the great majority of students at Lybrook School (approx. 100 students) no longer hold these values and learn about these topics through Bilingual class at the public school rather than from their parents.

Mountains. One of the attractions in Northwest New Mexico is big mountains and mesas. Mountains, because of their higher elevation, are greener than the surrounding areas. As I have more knowledge of Navajo people, I find that mountains are an important element in Navajo culture. Four sacred mountains in Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona are the boundaries of Navajoland: Blanca Peak (east), Mount Taylor (south), San Francisco Peaks (west) and Hesperus Mountain (north). According to Kahn-John (2010), “Din’e  relationship with geography is vital because this relationship provides a sense of stability, safety, confidence, and connection to Mother Earth and the sacred lands of the Din’e” (see note).

(map from the Navajo Nation)

(map from the Navajo Nation)

Clan. A Navajo man told me that the clan was important in Navajo society, and that people tended to identify themselves based on their clan wherever they went. His words reminded me of the Eurasian nomads, among which the clan is also a basic concept organizing social relations. The difference is that Navajo clan is matrilineal. Individually, Navajo people identify themselves based on the four clans they belong to, in the order of mother’s, father’s, maternal grandfather’s and paternal grandfather’s clan. There were four original clans, and then some disappeared and some others were created (Csordas 1999). The new ones show the fact that non-Navajo peoples became a member of Navajo society (Csordas 1999).

Harmony. Harmony is an important concept for Navajo people. According to Haskan (2007), “They have a strong belief in harmony and balance mentally, physically, socially, spiritually.” In introducing traditional Navajo culture, Quintero (1997) states that “Traditional values center around living a balanced, harmonious life in a world that is at once natural, social, and supernatural.” The concept of harmony corresponds to scholars’ view that Native people tend toward understanding the world from a holistic perspective (White 1998).

Note: Din’e means “people” in Navajo language, and is what Navajo people call themselves.

 

References:

Csordas, Thomas. 1999. Ritual Healing and the Politics of Identity in Contemporary Navajo Society. American Ethnologist 26 (1): 3-23

Haskan, Melanie Lee. 2007. How the No Child Left Behind Act Impacted Bilingual Education in a Rural School with Navajo Students. Ph.D Dissertation, The Pennsylvania State University.

Kahn-John, Michelle. 2010. Concept Analysis of Din´e H´ozh´o: A Din´e Wellness Philosophy. Advances in Nursing Science 33 (2): 113–125

Quintero, Gilbert. 1997. The Discourse on Drinking in Navajo Society. Ph.D Dissertation, University of Arizona.

White, Kalvin G. 1998. Navajo Adolescent Cultural Identity and Depression. Ph.D Dissertation, The University of Utah.

Drinking Among Navajo People (Guest Post #20)

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This is post number 20 in a series of guest posts written by a visiting anthropology student. You can read more about the author and these posts HERE.

Drinking is one of the first things I got to know about Navajo people right after I came to Navajo land. Randy and Jill have talked a lot about the consequences of drinking, generally car accidents. We touched upon the topics such as the genetic influence, cultural traditions and Navajo people’s world views. Much of what we have discussed is sporadic and lacks depth. I felt so especially after I read a scholarly research on Navajo drinking.

Quintero’s study (1997), conducted in the mid-1990s, provides a comprehensive analysis on Navajo drinking from local people’s perspective. By focusing on the narratives of Navajo people about their experience with or without drinking, this study investigates issues such as how and when Navajo people began drinking, how drinking behavior changed during one’s lifetime, what Navajo people’s attitudes to drinking are, and what the alcohol abuse treatment’s effects are, etc.

The author reveals that most people started drinking as an adolescent, as a result of socialization and growing up. Family is an important factor for the start of drinking behavior. The author emphasizes that drinking behavior changes during one’s lifetime due to various reasons such as consideration for children and family, health, religion. This study illustrates that there was a trend that problems associated with drinking happen at an earlier age among younger generations. According to the author, Navajo people consider drinking to have contributed to the decline of ethics. This study also investigates the cultural factors that affected the abandonment of alcohol use when people were older.

As to treatment programs, the author argues that the effects are not clear since people tend to change their drinking behavior while they are getting old, and that the label of sickness associated with drinking suggested in the treatment programs may negatively affect people’s psychology. In critiquing the theories that consider Navajo drinking as problematic for social change, this study emphasizes the social and cultural mechanisms that help control drinking.

Reference:

Quintero, Gilbert. 1997. The Discourse on Drinking in Navajo Society. Ph.D Dissertation, University of Arizona.

(Note from Jill–although I haven’t read the referenced dissertation, I disagree with his conclusions as portrayed in this post in two respects. From what we have heard from “elderlies” in the community, there USED to be more effective social and cultural mechanisms that helped to control drinking. Today most family members throw their hands up helplessly and bemoan the deaths and violence caused by alcohol but state very clearly that nothing can be done about it. Second, we experienced first hand that often the older people who talked with pride about “being on the sobriety road” were actually drunk on numerous days per week. Navajo are very good at giving the expected answer in conversation. I know that we heard occasional joking among Navajo friends who had given nonsense information to outsiders who then believed that erroneous information. The Navajo saw this as a joke, not as something to be concerned about or something to be corrected. It seems to me that this might well have happened to the researcher who wrote the dissertation.)

(I have written a number of posts about our observations of drinking among local Navajo. You can see two of these posts HERE and HERE.)

Demographics of Navajo People (Guest Post #19)

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This is number 19 in a series of Guest Posts by a visiting anthropology student. You can read more about these posts HERE. This post is a little more scholarly than most of these posts have been. On Friday, I will put up my very non-scholarly musings on what we observed of Navajo families. You can see that post HERE.

From my communication with Navajo people here, I conclude that currently, in this area, a typical household has more than two children, and probably much more than that. I want to know how Navajo population has been changing in relation to the overall population of the United States. The assumption is that if the Navajo population has been increasing at a faster pace than that of the United States, its influence on American society should be increasing.

My method is to compare the Navajo population to the US population at three time points: 1990, 2000 and 2010, in order to know the relative change in Navajo population versus the US. My data is both from secondary sources of scholarly study and US Census Bureau. The data are slightly different from each other. It should be noted that there are two sets of statistical data. One is about the total Navajo population in the US, and the other the population of Navajo Nation which geographically includes part of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

The following data is from scholarly studies. According to US Census 1990 (Quintero 1997), the Navajo population was above 225,000. White’s study (1998) shows that the population of Navajo Nation in 1990 was 151,105 according to the US Census. National Center for Educational Statistics 2000 data show that the Navajo Nation population was 181,270 (Haskan 2007). Washington and Hover’s study (2011) shows that the Navajo population in the whole country was 298,215 based on the 2000 Census. According to the Navajo tribe’s census office, the population of Navajo Nation was 300,048 in 2010 (Donovan 2011).

My own search of US Census Bureau website yield slightly different data. The total Navajo population is 225,298 in 1990, 298,197 in 2000 and 332,129 in 2010. The total US population is 248,709,873 in 1990, 281,421,906 in 2000 and 308,745,538 in 2010. Even though there is difference between the above figures, it does not affect the ratio of Navajo population to the US population substantially. We get the ratio of Navajo population to the total US population. It is 0.091% in 1990, 0.11% in 2000 and 0.11% in 2010. For the ratio of Navajo Nation population to the US population, it is 0.061% in 1990, 0.064% in 2000 and 0.097% in 2010.

The trend is that both the Navajo population and Navajo Nation population have been increasing relative to the US population from 1990 to 2010. In recent years, however, the increase rate of Navajo population to the US population seems to have slowed down. For Navajo Nation, the increase rate has been accelerated. Further research is needed to understand the causes of total Navajo population and Navajo Nation population changes, so is the complications of the changes for Navajo and the US society.

References:

Donovan, Bill. 2011. Census: Navajo Enrollment Tops 300,000. Navajo Times. http://navajotimes.com/news/2011/0711/070711census.php

Haskan, Melanie Lee. 2007. How the No Child Left Behind Act Impacted Bilingual Education in a Rural School with Navajo Students. Ph.D Dissertation, The Pennsylvania State University.

Quintero, Gilbert. 1997. The Discourse on Drinking in Navajo Society. Ph.D Dissertation, University of Arizona.

US Census Bureau. http://www.census.gov/

Washington, Elizabeth and Stephanie Hover. 2011. Diné Bikéya: Teaching about Navajo Citizenship and Sovereignty. The Social Studies 102(2): 80-87.

White, Kalvin G. 1998. Navajo Adolescent Cultural Identity and Depression. Ph.D Dissertation, The University of Utah.

A Variety of Social Aspects of Navajo People (Guest Post #18)

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This is the 18th guest post written by Jianping (Corey). You can read the introduction to this author and to these posts HERE. Some posts have been illustrated with photos taken by the author. Photos in this post were taken by Jill Emmelhainz.

The other day, I was asked by a Navajo if I knew any famous Navajo people. I tried to think, but couldn’t think of anyone. He mentioned someone who was a golfer. I did not think I had ever heard of the person. But anyway, it is interesting that he asked such a question which provoked me into thinking about the importance of role models. Simply put, role models help to shape the society and people. They provide inspirations for people and examples for them to follow. The earlier question was a direct link to the issues of role models. I wonder what other famous Navajo or American Indian people the locals know about and how they think of them.

"Culture Day" is good...but not the same as having role models

“Culture Day” is good…but not the same as having role models

Randy and I once saw hitchhikers on the highway. The weather was hot. It would not be a pleasant thing walking along the road. Also, their destination must be far away considering the remoteness of this area. I was wondering how they would manage to reach the destination. Another time, I was in Randy’s vehicle on a dirt road. Randy stopped near someone who was walking. Randy asked if he needed a ride. It sounded like the guy didn’t make it clear where he wanted to go. So, we left without picking him up.  As can be imagined, without a vehicle in this rural area, life can be hard.

Hitchhiking is a common form of transportation...along the highway and along dirt roads

Hitchhiking is a common form of transportation…along the highway and along dirt roads

From my observations at Lybrook Elementary/Middle School, I assume there are some families of Navajo mixed with other people, particularly Hispanics. According to Randy, some of the non-Navajo school teachers have a Navajo spouse. So there is ethnic diversity here to some extent. But obviously the mixed families are the minority. It is not surprising that there are mixed families as there is no restriction preventing Navajo marrying people of a different ethnic group. It would be interesting to know how the children of the mixed families think of themselves in terms of their identity.

Some students have mixed heritage...

Some students have mixed heritage…

Traditional Architecture and Change (Guest Post #17)

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This is #17 in a series of guest posts written by Jianping (Corey) Yang. You can read an introduction to these posts and to the author HERE. Jianping provided many of the photos for these guest posts. However, the photos for this entry were taken by Jill Emmelhainz.

From the LCM buildings to the houses along Highway 550, all are “modern” styles of buildings. It is not easy to see the more traditional style of building. In towns like Cuba and Farmington, there are some buildings with adobe characteristics. However, I suppose many of those buildings are new and public, and the adobe features are stressed in order to show local cultural heritage, while the adobe homes are no longer popular. The buildings around Farmington, such as some of the hotels and Farmington Public Library, preserve some features of adobe buildings such as the exterior terracotta color and the rounded rooms similar to hogans.

Farmington Library

Farmington Library

I had the opportunity to visit an adobe house. I was very impressed by the layout and coziness of it. It was a two-story building, if not three-stories. The circular living room has large windows that give good views of nature. It was an interesting contrast between its simple outside appearance and the modern living conditions inside.

However, this traditional type of building as a residential house, I suppose, is not common in this area. I guess it would be easier to obtain and use modern construction materials to build a new house nowadays. When did the adobe house lose its popularity? Was the change more the result of an economic or social factor? Recently, I read an article about social change. Basically, it suggests that the elite in the society play an important role in bringing about social changes. In other words, social change starts from the elite, and then spreads to ordinary people. I was thinking, was the replacement of adobe the result of the Navajo people who may be regarded as elites? And to extend the question, how was the architectural change related to other changes of the society?

a typical Navajo "family camp"

a typical Navajo “family camp”

[Note from Jill Emmelhainz: much of the modern style of housing was the result of planned housing built by the Navajo government a number of years ago in such communities as Nageezi and Dzilth-na-o-dith-hle. In addition, for local families with consistent income, modern mobile homes are a status symbol desired by many.]

Navajo Personalities (Guest Post 16)

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This is the 16th guest post written by Jianping (Corey). You can read the introduction to this author and to these posts HERE. Some posts have been illustrated with photos taken by the author. Photos in this post were taken by Jill Emmelhainz.

It is difficult to generalize the personality of an ethnic group, especially considering the diversity within a society and the small sample of local people. However, it cannot be denied that there is something in common in terms of people’s personalities. By looking at people’s way of thinking and acting at the society level, we can understand both the similarities and differences of personality within a society.

Most Navajo people usually do not talk loud and looked like they preferred keeping to themselves. Some of the students I met did tend to keep silent or try to avoid me. My impression was that most of them were curious about me, but few of them asked questions or initiated a conversation. However, I met other people who seemed to be more outgoing. So, I have no idea how to place Navajo people’s personality along the continuum between introvert and extrovert.

Lybrook students: sometimes quite...

Lybrook students: sometimes quiet…

I did meet some students who tried to approach me. When I was at the school, one small child came to me and gave me a strawberry. He and a couple of other small kids showed curiosity about me. Another time, an eighth grader approached me and initiated a conversation with me, and we talked about his plan for the future. It turned out to be a quality conversation.

Church mealtime was also conversation time. Here I want to mention talks with two families. The first time, I sat randomly close to a family. The husband talked to me and asked me a lot of questions, such as how I liked New Mexico. He talked about his family and children, and his wife talked about education with me. The conversation was interactive and informative. The couple did not talk loud, but they were open-minded. The other time, I talked to a woman about Navajo food. Her parents were also there. Her father played jokes with me. The conversation with them ended up being quite lighthearted.

Lybrook students: sometimes full of fun!

Lybrook students: sometimes full of fun!

At school or church, I often met a woman who works at the school. She always said hello to me loudly, which made me feel that I was not so strange to the community. If I remember correctly, I talked to her first when I met her for the first time. Maybe it is just an issue of familiarity? Also, it seems to me that the younger people are easier to talk to.

So I think in every society, there are various types of personalities. Here many Navajo people look reserved, but there are many other people who actively engage in communication with me as well. I noticed that the older people’s English was not as fluent as young people. Maybe this is one reason why they seem quiet? The ways people communicate with each other may be complicated and situational. However, I consider the diversity of personality to be universal.

Mobility of Navajo People (Guest Post #15)

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This is #15 in a series of guest posts written by Jianping (Corey) Yang. You can read an introduction to these posts and to the author HERE.

By mobility, I mean in either a geographic or social sense, as in many circumstances they were interrelated. From what I have communicated with Navajo people, I believe many of them have the chance to move beyond the place in which they are raised. I once asked a naive question about where Navajo people lived in the country. The answer was that Navajo people were everywhere.

At one party in a Navajo house, I met a guy who had the experience of living in New York state. His experience was quite interesting and unique. The reason why he went to New York was that he ran away from home when he was a teenager. I regret not to have asked why he ran away. He ended up going to high school there. He told me that he once drove from New York to the south with his friends. I do not know what kind of work he does now. His case, however, shows that there can be different reasons to leave their familiar places and people.

Another person used to have a job in Albuquerque. He had the training and the certificate for the job. He received high school education, but probably did not go to college. He had held that job for a long time. Only this year did he lose his job, probably because of the general economic downturn. I did not have a chance to ask how important that job was to him. Anyway, there are more opportunities in Albuquerque than in the Lybrook area.

I talked with a woman who was a teacher in a nearby town. She received both undergraduate and graduate education. Her case is not common in that most people do not have higher education. The school where she works is not far from her home. From what we communicated, I suppose she did not want to be away from her home. I have no idea how strong Navajo people attach to their home place in the wider culture. The people I have talked to, however, seem to show strong connection with their homes.

Another kind of mobility is related to marriage. According to Jill and from my communication with Navajo people, Navajo marriage is exogamous, by which I mean they accept a person from a different ethnic and cultural background. So when this happens, relocation might follow. However, this might lead to the change or loss of traditional culture.  [Note from Jill: in our experience, marriage by Navajo with “outsiders” almost always means the couple remains near family in Navajoland rather than the couple moving elsewhere.]

It is interesting to know people have some opportunities of moving in this relatively isolated land. I would like to raise this general question: what factors affect people’s decision-making when facing a choice of moving? Economic issues must be a factor, but I would like to stress the  social and cultural ones; although to have a more in-depth understanding would need further exploration.

Navajo Arts (Guest Post #14)

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This is #14 in a series of guest posts written by Jianping (Corey) Yang. You can read an introduction to these posts and the author HERE.

First of all, the following description and reflection on the Navajo arts is not professional as I do not have formal education in either arts or Navajo society. However, I cannot help but  talk about the Navajo arts since it is an significant aspect of Navajo society.

The Navajo art forms that I have seen include drawing, weaving, Jewelry, figurines in traditional costume, etc., although there must be far more than these in reality. In Lybrook Elementry/Middle School, I found a lot of beautiful drawings by students. One of the drawing themes is eagles. Although the meaning of the eagle in Navajo culture needs exploration, obviously it is an important component in Navajo culture.  Randy said that the students did better in arts than in other subjects. Responding to his comment, I said that it might be because other subjects such as math were more foreign to them than art which had been part of life from generation to generation.

In the Lybrook Community Ministries office building, there are some items showing Navajo weaving. One is a delicately made figurine representing a woman using a loom. Jill said it was made by a Navajo friend. There is a chart illustrating the sources of different dying color for cloths. These sources are from natural plants. It can be imagined that it is a complicated and demanding task to create a beautiful textile product. Navajo weaving is reminiscent of Eurasian nomads. It would be interesting to compare weaving, in the areas such as color and technique, of Navajo and Eurasian societies. This might provide some insights on the link between Navajo and Asian people.

Jewelry is another form of art products. As a Navajo student said, the beads were bought somewhere, and weaved into things like necklaces by Navajo households. I had the opportunity to see many kinds of necklaces that were made with stones in different colors. I was more interested in the symbolic meanings of each “theme” than what kind of stones they were made from. Although all the products are obviously talismans, the Navajo people who showed me the jewelry were not sure of exact symbolic meanings. Farmington, the largest town nearby, has stores to sell these folk products, as a Navajo student told me.

Another art form worth mentioning is the figurines in traditional costumes. I found them in Farmington Public Library, but I assume there are similar works of arts in the Lybrook community area. They appear to be religious or ceremonious figures as each of them seems to be responsible for a certain kind of performance. These figurines show that a feather has a significant symbolic meaning in Navajo culture.

Navajo art is colorful and delicate. It is probably not coincidental that Santa Fe and Taos became a well-known art center. Here in Lybrook I know a Navajo person who was previously an artist who sold paintings in Santa Fe galleries. But not all people can make a living by making art. Hopefully Navajo traditional arts can be preserved, and at the same time Navajo people can benefit from the development of tourism.

Northwestern New Mexico Plateau–A Sketch of the Natural Environment (Guest Post #13)

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This is #13 in a series of guest posts by Jianping (Corey) Yang. You can read more about these posts and about the author HERE.

Here I am attempting to describe the weather in May, June and July in northwestern New Mexico. My description is from a layman’s experience rather than a geologist’s professional study. Therefore it might be inaccurate. However, a description will paint a more vivid picture than numbers and thus complement the statistical data.

Northwestern New Mexico Plateau
(photo taken by the author)

The climate is quite dry in this area, the elevation of which is above 6500 feet. According to my record, it rained a bit on June 4. During the night on June 26 and the day of June 27, it rained again, but not very heavily. There was a temperature increase from May to June, but it seems that the difference is more tangible at night than during the day. It is often windy, both during the day and at night. Most of the time, however, the wind is not obvious. Most of May and June were sunny days with blue sky. I believe that monsoon season started July 6, because it rained several times during the following week.

The typical scene is the sagebrush on plain areas and the mountains. Irrigated crop fields can occasionally be seen along the highway. The vast green agricultural land is a sharp contrast to the rest of the immediate area, where sagebrush thrives. The terrain is generally flat without sharp slopes. Small cacti are everywhere. Poplar trees can be seen sporadically. It is interesting to see that in Cuba, a town not very far away, the environment is much greener. I noticed that there was more rainfall around mountainous areas.

When we were on the road, I often wondered when the rock pieces fell and formed the current landscape. It was interesting to see the fallen rocks in a distance. However, if they are close to the road, it might make drivers or passengers feel threatened, as there are many huge rock pieces scattered near the road. I have no idea how fast the rock pieces can break and fall onto the road. I believe the probability of seeing it happen is low. It would be a better idea not to worry about it.

Few kinds of animals are seen here very often. It would be reasonable to assume that there are fewer animal species here than in greener areas. However, we can see eagles flying. I saw rabbit once or twice. Coyotes are also in this area. We can see horses and cattle roaming near the roads. It is rare to see accidents of unfortunate animals on the highway. I talked with Navajo people about animals here, and according to them there are more species than I have described. It is just not easy for a newcomer to see them.

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