Navajo Nation Teenagers not so Different from Tri-City Prep Students

By Anna Flurry

A fifteen-minute drive on the Navajo Reservation will give you a fairly accurate idea of what it’s like to visit a developing nation. Run-down shacks, stray dogs, and the occasional Hogan lined the highway. I couldn’t help but wonder if Many Farms High School and its students would seem as destitute.

As the car pulled up and we rushed to unpack my parents’ music equipment for their residency, I was pleasantly surprised to find a cheery red building trimmed with large, green and white triangles. “Many Farms High School,” it announced, “Home of the Lobos.” Still, I wasn’t sure whether to expect traditional Navajo-style dress or Abercrombie & Fitch.

First period began with a teacher introducing me to her Navajo language class. Seventeen faces glanced at me with mild interest, muttered hello. Typical new-girl stuff – except that I was the sole white kid in a school of 500 Navajos.

With that, the lesson continued, and I attempted to pronounce the 53 Diné – Navajo – consonants and vowels, which was not an easy task. However, I was surprised that the class was only at this stage of learning their own language. I would find out later that this is essentially the first generation to be allowed to speak Navajo in school since the Long Walk.

Throughout the rest of the day, I attended art, geometry, and computers. Without fail, every time a native Navajo speaker was the teacher, about a quarter to a half of the class was taught in the Diné language.

It seems that language is not the only cultural aspect that Navajo high school kids have lost. Clothes and styles are much more modern, as are household appliances, like cell phones and computers.

“I’m on YouTube half the time,” said Camille Crosby, a junior at Many Farms. Her friend, Cyriah Yazzie, a senior, added that Facebook was also a popular pastime.

For the most part, the lives of kids on “the Rez,” as it’s sometimes called, don’t seem too different on the surface. When asked about what a typical day would be like, Crosby summed it up in one word: “Normal.”

Only a few characteristics came out in the interviews that differed from those of non-Navajo kids. One example was the ceremonies performed.

“Our culture has all sorts of ceremonies for all different things,” said Crosby.

The “Enemy Way” ceremony was the favorite of another upperclassman, Leon Woody. This is essentially a healing ceremony for soldiers who return from war. It is used to keep them from being haunted by their memories.

“If you go to war, and you kill a lot of men, then you have to pay the medicine man to do the ceremony for the patient and give him money and livestock,” said Woody, explaining how the ceremony works. The “Enemy Way” lasts three days, and at the end, the soldier should be free of his or her “ghosts.”

Other than the ceremonies, there are other ways that Navajo teenagers spend their weekends. Crosby and Yazzie described one of their favorite activities: having a cookout.

“I have a cookout with my family every weekend,” said Yazzie. “We get together and play games, talk, and dance.”

Kids hang out around school during breaks. (Photo by: Anna Flurry)

When asked if they invited their friends to these events, Crosby and Yazzie said they didn’t.

“I just invite my nieces and nephews,” Crosby said.

The Navajo Reservation seemed remote, with nothing to do besides work and go to school. However, the students interviewed didn’t seem to think so.

“It’s actually pretty good,” said Yazzie. “In my spare time, I have more things to do. The city’s just too crowded.” She also noted, “It’s nice and calm [here], and you get to see stars.”

That doesn’t mean that high school kids aren’t willing to branch out. Crosby says she hopes to go to Japan some day, and Yazzie also hopes to travel, but they both agree that they will eventually return to the Navajo Nation.

I learned much from this trip. Despite its surface image as a poverty-stricken area, the kids who live on the Rez live similar lives to those of us on the outside. At the same time, though, they are very involved in their culture and families, and they are proud of their heritage.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first arrived, but now I know that the Diné high school students I met are a unique blend of cultures. As a mainstream American, I found myself envying their heritage. They are fully immersed in the trends of the world while maintaining strong connections to their culture and family.

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