Navajoland–Still in our Hearts

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This blog has become an archived record of the three years that our family lived and worked in an off-rez-corner of Navajoland. We haven’t lived there since 2012, but we still keep contact with some of our friends via fb and occasional phone calls.

There were tragedies and there were celebrations–many chronicled in the stories of this blog. If you want to learn more about the challenges and adjustments of cross-cultural living, poke through the archives. Enjoy!



Navajo Language and Bilingual Education (Guest Post)

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This is the 4th post in a series of weekly guest posts by Jianping (Corey) Yang. You can read his introduction about these posts HERE.

I have been trying to figure out the characteristics of the Navajo language whenever I get a chance to learn a piece of it. Two broad questions have motivated me to explore the Navajo language: first, since Navajo ancestors theoretically originated from Asia, what evidence, if any, can we find in their languages to prove their relationship?  Second, because language and culture are interrelated, what can we infer about the status quo of Navajo culture from the current language use of the Navajo? From the sources I read and my conversation with Navajo speakers, I know that Navajo is a complicated language. From my personal view, its rich consonants and vowels make it a beautiful language.

I have found some evidence showing that Navajo has some similarities with the Ural-Altaic language group, which includes Mongolian, Turkish and Japanese. One similarity is that the SOV (Subject Object Verb) sentence structure of Navajo is consistent with the Ural-Altaic language group. The other similarity is that affixes play an essential role in Navajo, as in the Ural-Altaic languages. When I talked to a Navajo language teacher about these similarities, she mentioned that once a Japanese person she knew found that Navajo shared some similarities with Japanese. I myself know some Turkic languages, and I also found the same similarities between Navajo and Turkic languages. So, can we therefore suggest that this similarity is a strong indicator that the Navajo people originated from Asia?

The Navajo language is taught at school. However, from my observation, I found that knowledge of the language is very basic even for seventh graders. The teacher told me that few of the students are fluent. Many different times when I asked the elementary students about some Navajo words, they indicated they didn’t know. Once I asked an eighth grader about a basic Navajo expression. Instead of answering directly as I expected, she asked her friends that were nearby, “who is fluent in Navajo?” Statistics also indicate the status quo of Navajo language use: Batchelder’s study (2000) shows that according to the National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education (1999), there are 148,530 speakers of Navajo in a Nation of 250,000 to 275,000 people (Haskan 2007). Because language and culture are interrelated, bilingualism is necessary for Navajo students. Without the language, the culture likely will not continue.

Reference: 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.
Photo Credit: photos taken by Jianping Yang

Lybrook School (Guest Post)

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This is another guest post by Jianping (Corey) Yang, an anthropology student from Texas A&M who spent time in the Lybrook area this summer. You can read the introduction to these weekly guest posts HERE.


The school is very small, in terms of both its land area and student population. It is probably less than 180 by 180 feet, and judging from its number of students in each grade, it’s approximate number of students is about 120-150. [actually just over 100 students, grades K-8] Despite its remote location and small scale, the facilities are very good.

The school has a nice library. All the computers in the library are big-screen Apples. The classrooms are equipped with large-screen TVs and projectors. The copy machine is one of the best I have ever seen. There is a nice gym inside, which doubles as the cafeteria. One of things I like about this school is that there are pieces of these kids’ works of art decorating the hallways. To me, they represent the traditions of the native Indians and the innocence of these kids. One of the themes is the eagle, which seems to be an important element in the culture.

With the exception of the high dropout rate of high school students, I have little knowledge of the education of Navajo people. What I have found so far about Navajo education is the following statistics of the Office of Economic Development: “In 1990, there were 41,759 youth enrolled in public schools; 16,442 over 25 had concluded their education with a high school diploma; 41.3% were high school graduates with some additional education; and 3% had at least an undergraduate degree” (White 1998). The school days run Monday through Thursday. Another characteristic about this school is its bilingual education, which reflects the emphasis on the preservation of Navajo culture.

From my communication with the students and teachers, I am convinced that students in this school are as capable as any others in terms of schoolwork. But their future of course is determined by factors more than education itself, such as school location, family, and their interaction with the outside world. My impression, based on both statistics and on conversation with people here, is that it will require an improvement in education in order for the students to have a better future.


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

First Impressions of Lybrook Community: Nature and People (Guest Post)


This is the first in a series of guest posts written by Jianping (Corey) Yang — a visitor at LCM this summer, studying anthropology at Texas A&M. You can read his introduction HERE. Each new post in this series will be published on Mondays following today with regular blog posts written by Jill published on Fridays.

The Lybrook community is a remote area in northwestern New Mexico. As a newcomer, everything intrigues me – its natural environment and cultural phenomena. Before I came here, I had limited knowledge of American Indian culture. I kept asking myself, “what are people’s lifestyles? How do they consider their traditions?” Having been in a university for so long, the real world is exciting, but challenging to me.

The weather is pretty dry; water resources are limited. In other words, it’s an arid environment. Because of water supply limitations, many Navajo people come to the LCM property for water, which is drawn from a long way underground. Often, the vehicles I see coming have tanks of varying sizes. Their arrival breaks the silence of the neighborhood, which makes me feel as if this is an area that is not too remote. In some parts of the world where water resource is limited, water supply can be an important social, economic and political issue. As water is a scarce resource here, I am sure water relates to other issues here in Navajoland as well.

It is apparent that Navajo and Asian people look alike. I am sure if they were in China, Thailand or Vietnam, few people would think they were from somewhere else. However, they look slightly different from Northern Chinese, Korean or Japanese people. The difference is that Navajo people have deeper-set eyes and darker skin. However, I noticed that Navajo babies and small children are not as dark as adults, so it is reasonable to assume that the adults darker skin probably results from the accumulated exposure to sunlight. This similarity constantly reminds me of the theory that Native Americans originally migrated from Asia through the Bering Strait during the recent ice age. If we accept this theory, then what connection can we find between Navajo and Asian people?

A Busy Summer…


It has been a busy summer for our family here in Navajoland. I’m a bit horrified to realize no blog posts were published for over two months. That certainly doesn’t mean a lack of activity!

Here is a summary of the past few months:

We had a guest staying with us for a few months, a friend of our oldest daughter from her days as an anthropology student at Texas A&M. Starting Monday, we will be publishing a series of guest blog posts written by Jianping, reflecting on life here in Navajoland.

To celebrate my 50th birthday at the end of May, I was able to take a two week trip to England to visit with my sister at the end of June. I so much appreciate family and friends who gave special Christmas and Birthday gifts so we could afford for me to do this…and an extra thank-you to my sister who paid for many wonderful “extras” while I was visiting!

Anna spent a week at Bible Camp near Gallup NM with a friend from school. Both of them had a great time and hope to go back again next year.

Jakob so much enjoyed his week at Bible Camp that he paid the fees to go back for a second week later in the summer. He earned money working long days at Mustang Camp from April to mid-August, helping to tame wild mustangs so they can be adopted. We are all glad to have him back home again.

Randy squeezed in a trip back to Ohio in July to spend time with family. He also left our beat-up ancient PT Cruiser with our older son who is transitioning from a career back to grad school a year from now.

There were two weddings this summer at the Navajo church we attend. As a gift to each couple, Jill did the photography for both weddings. (There will definitely be a blog post about this in the future…)

Lybrook School, the local K-8th school, started the new school year on July 16th. It is a year-round school which holds classes on Mon-Thurs. This year Randy’s schedule is lighter: teaching 2 math classes in the mornings with no contract to do tech-work. Jill has significantly upped her hours and responsibilities: now doing Reading intervention full time on Tuesdays and Thursdays, plus significant prep time to deal with 7 small groups ranging from 1st to 8th grade!

In addition to the visitor from Texas A&M, we had a number of short-term visitors this summer, including a dad & daughter from Maryland, a few supporters of LCM, my sister and her family, and our oldest daughter (home for a week from Kazakhstan where she lives and work). It is always fun to share this starkly beautiful place with visitors, often including a trip back to Chaco Culture National Historic Park.

We also hosted a fellow for a few weeks who got stranded while traveling the country by horseback. He is currently back east, driving a truck to earn enough money to come back and retrieve his three horses. In the mean time, he is paying feed costs for us to pretend we are horse-owners (and for Anna to get a chance to learn to ride).

Now that all of the area schools are back in session, we have a number of students to check in with occasionally at their various locations. 3 of last year’s 8th graders are living in a dorm and attending highschool in Bloomfield (45 miles away); 1 is in the dorms and attending Navajo Preparatory School. At least 2 are attending Cuba Highschool (45 miles the other direction), including one fellow who has stuck with the challenges of practices so far and is on the football team. 1 student has already dropped out of highschool (after only 2 days) and we are uncertain where the remaining students are.

In addition, we made significant efforts to help 3 young men from church apply for and attend colleges this fall. Jeremy is attending the Master’s [Bible] College in Southern California, Kevin is living in our RV in Farmington and attending San Juan Community College, and Koby is living with his Grandma in Albuquerque and attending Central New Mexico Community College. We are continuing to keep contact with all 3 fellows (and with their folks) as they make this difficult transition to living away from their family in this area.

I will write more detailed posts about these students in the future, including photos, so you can keep them in your thoughts and prayers, and can possibly encourage them…

This gives you a general idea of what we have been up to this summer. Now that I know there are actually people who regularly read this blog (and miss it when I don’t write new posts) and now that I’ve somewhat settled into my expanded role at the local school, this blog should go back to posting new stories each Monday and Friday.

See you then!

Introduction to Guest Posts


Ya’at’eeh (Hello)! My name is Corey. I have worked with Randy and Jill here at Lybrook Community Ministries since May. The blog entries I have written are my reflections on my life in rural New Mexico and my understanding of Navajo culture. Some of the topics may already have been mentioned in one way or another by Randy and Jill. However, I try to provide my own perspectives, and I will hopefully provide unique views in understanding American Indian society.

My writings are mostly descriptive. The aim is to provide a first-hand experience with Navajo people and provoke interest in understanding Navajo culture in particular and American Indian culture in general. As a person who is new to Navajo society, my writings are largely from both a layman and an outsider’s perspectives. Much of the description will be in a non-scholarly style, from a newcomer’s angle. I am an outsider not only in the sense that I am not Navajo, but also because I have Asian origins.

I will focus on facts, although I will look at some issues more critically. The topics will center on school, society, and culture, and I will try to provide descriptions of Navajo education, society, and culture as I saw them. Occasionally, I will also use a comparative viewpoint, as I believe it is useful for understanding the  Navajo culture.

Congratulations, Graduate!

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I’ve mentioned Coby Salazar on this blog before. He is a self-taught musician who leads worship in English at the Navajo-led church we attend. He has a heart for God and a talent for music.

koby senior pic

In a world where high school graduation is the exception rather than the norm, we are quite proud of Coby for persevering and getting his high school diploma.

koby grad

For the summer, Coby has moved to Albuquerque and is living with his grandma and his auntie. He is currently looking for a job so he can save money for when he attends community college in the fall. His goal is to finish two years at that school with solid grades. Then he hopes to transfer to a bible college in Colorado to finish a bachelors degree in leading worship music.

Please keep this young man in your prayers as he walks toward the plans God has for him.




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I’m joining The Gypsy Mama and others again this week for FIVE MINUTE FRIDAY. This week’s word is “ache.” If you want to join the fun or if you want to read more posts on this theme by other authors, check out the original post HERE:

I saw the fear-filled facebook posts from friends in Northeast Ohio on Monday morning, then found news feeds to learn more. There was another school shooting, this time in that area of the country.

MY HEART ACHES for the students who were traumatized, for the families of those who died, for the EMS and police crews who responded to the tragedy, and for the shooter and his family.

I watched my husband’s jaw clench and shoulders tighten up as he read the stories. Yet another student who was picked on for years, feeling that no one else would or could stop the abuse, deciding to take matters into his own hands and do what he could to stop the pain. Yet again my husband identifies with that student’s feelings and with his decisions and with his actions.

MY HEART ACHES for those who deal with years of being picked on, being ostracized; for the life-long wounds that brings; for the feelings of never being good-enough.

On Tuesday, friends posted a link on facebook to a music video which had been put together by the Christian radio station in Northeast Ohio. It used images from Chardon Highschool during and after the shooting along with a wonderful, difficult song. The video was designed to be played on Leap Day (Wednesday) to challenge students to look around them for those who are in pain, who are picked on and who feel that no one stands up for them. It challenged students to LEAP—Love, Encourage, Accept & Pray for those hurting ones.

MY HEART ACHES for the weeping ones in the video. I broke down and cried at the image of the EMS/Police officers who were crying together. I know it was difficult when even they broke down in public…

On Wednesday, since I was subbing for the 7th & 8th grade class at our local school, I took time to play the video for our Navajo students. After it was over, I kept the lights off and asked students to take time to think who in their lives is hurting and who they might be able to encourage.

MY HEART ACHES for some of those students who were “glassy-eyed” by the time I turned the lights back on; the ones who are raising their younger siblings since every adult in their “camp” is always drunk; the ones who are ostracized and picked on themselves; the one whose mother died just last month. Who will reach out and encourage them?

Finally, I talked to one of my kids that night. And I heard more details of times when that child was ostracized, and picked on, and bullied when in a school setting. This young adult is just now seeing the damage that caused, and just now better understanding how to trust others and build good friendships.

MY HEART ACHES at all the times and all the ways I failed to see when my children were hurting, the times I failed to help them process woundings, the times I contributed to such woundings myself.

It is always hard to see evil in the world. But it is even worse when such evil is done to young ones. Sometimes I ask “Where is God?” But even more often I ask myself, “Where are the adults? Where are WE when such harm is being done?”

MY HEART ACHES at the pain endured by our children and young adults.

God, please come and bring healing to broken hearts…

Wood Stove Warmth

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Many of our Navajo friends heat their homes and churches with wood stoves. I’ve talked before about the process of cutting enough wood to last the winter. Today, I want to share a little more about this form of heating.

wood stove heatingWe have had a number of frigid Sundays. Just walking from our truck into church, my toes begin to ache, my figures freeze, and my nose starts dripping from the cold. By arriving a few minutes early, there is time to stand by the stove, basking in the warmth. Once or twice we sat in one of the pews close to the stove. It was lovely to begin with…but by part way through the service it felt more like a sweat bath than a church! Now we sit a few pews back from the stove—not too cold, not too hot, but just right.

Unfortunately, there is a darker side to using a big metal woodstove for winter heating. One of the little guys from our church family was chasing a ball across his living room. Ty tripped and fell against the stove, seriously burning most of his upper arm. At first it looked bad enough that the doctors were considering surgery. Fortunately, it is healing well.

tough guy tyBefore Christmas, I was involved in on-going treatment for an older girl at the school who had an unexplained deep burn on her forearm, somehow received from the wood-stove at home. “Della” stoically stood stiffly still while I pulled off the bandages, reapplied antibiotic ointment, and re-bandaged the nasty wound. Apparently the ointment and bandaging helped lessen the pain, very different than the Vicks Vaporub her mother smeared on the burn for the first few days!

The next time you enjoy the warmth and peacefulness of a wooden stove or a fireplace on a cold winter’s night, take a moment to remember our Navajo friends who use this as their only form of heat. Remember the work it takes to bring in enough wood for an entire winter of heating. And, don’t forget the Navajo young ones who get hurt by this source of comfort for us. Say a prayer for their protection and safety…

Community Christmas Outreach

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special christmas service

Celebrating Christ at Christmas...

This past Sunday Pine Hill Church partnered with little Day Mesa Church for a Community Christmas Outreach. The revival tent was set up in the snow (and mud), food was cooked by both churches to be served to all those who came, and gifts were quietly donated by a partner church in Louisiana.

The pastor of Day Mesa Church has been discouraged. The congregation is tiny. The church recently had most of its windows broken out. Pastor Darlene was questioning why she continues to lead this group and she questions where God is. She was feeling alone…

And then, Pine Hill Church joined with her little church to reach out to the local community to show God’s love. Plus, she got a phone call from a family in Dulce New Mexico (an hour and a half away). They have a tradition of providing gift baskets for needy families at Christmas. This year they couldn’t get Day Mesa Church out of their mind. So…they joined us for the service and brought candy and baskets of supplies to be given out.

During the service, Pastor Darlene gave testimony to God’s faithfulness, and expressed gratitude for others standing with her. She no longer feels so alone…

To us, as Anglos, the most exciting thing about this service was that it was Navajo Christians reaching out to their neighbors. The church in Louisiana was graceful enough to allow the gifts to be given in the name of Pine Hill church. In this place where Anglos are expected to be the givers and Navajo are seen as the receivers, this service showed a different model. Navajo CAN be the givers…and can do so joyfully!

(To see a full photo album from the event, click here.)

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