The Navajo Nation. From an outsider’s viewpoint, it seems to me that the Navajo people exist in several worlds at once, perhaps uneasily. I’ve traveled to the Chinle, Arizona, area many times now and have made good friends there. On several occasions I have been taken to areas to photograph petroglyphs and pictographs that aren’t generally accessible. I’m delighted by this as I have a deep interest in the history and cultures of the Southwest, but I am also puzzled as I know the Navajo have an incredibly strong taboo or set of behaviors around death and dying. Many of the sites I have seen incorporate death or the depiction of death/dying/suffering…but I am left with the feeling that these depictions and sites are reaching forward in time to reveal commonalities in the human experience.
There are modern scenes there as well that offer insights and ask more pressing questions. An American flag woven onto a fenceline signals fierce patriotism against the backdrop of appalling abuse and neglect from the U. S. Government and citizens. Rodeos are centers of cultural activity and practice goes on year ’round in preparation for the big events in Window Rock….yet the horse and the cowboy way of life are relatively recent additions to the Dine’. Coal and minerals mining provide jobs that are desperately needed, but these industries have pernicious effects. The water table is dropping creating crop failure and many springs and wells are poisoned, which causes Dine’ families to drive 40, 50, even 60 miles for water for their sheep and other livestock. Grandmothers survive in hogans miles from anyone….sometimes dependent on help from various groups… while braving cold winters with little warmth and no electricity.
I’m humbled by the generosity of spirit shown to me by my friends in Chinle. With their assistance, beginning this spring, I’ll be visiting the area to launch a photographic project that has two phases. I’ll create a personal body of work that I hope to have published in order to create awareness for the second part: I would like to create an ongoing project that involves the children of Chinle and other communities. With the help of a couple of photographic “stars” my goal is to launch a program that the communities will then take over that encourages children ages 10 t0 16 to look into their lives, their culture, and express the difficulty, triumph, love, sadness, hope, and myriad challenges the Nation faces. I’ll keep you informed of my progress. Projects live and die by funding. If you have contacts or ideas, please email me. I’m on my way, but additional help is welcome.