I weep when I dream about Sagebrush, a place known to my Navajo family as Tsaa Tah.
While the country fought about civil rights and the Vietnam War, my family, the Blackwood Streak and Bitter Water clans, lived in hogans made of stone, canvas tents and a house built by my father at Sagebrush. Our winter sheep camp in the arroyo cradled three flocks of sheep next to a corral made of limestone. Sage grew tall in the deep ravines. Shorter sage covered the mesas and rock outcroppings. Trees were nonexistent, except for a lone juniper every few miles.
My family held tight to their earth-based faith and strove to live in harmony with the land. But sometimes we had to fight the elements to keep our animals and ourselves alive.
Flock belonging to Navajo shepherds foraging in deep snow of severe winter. (Ralph Crane/Life magazine, 1967.)
In the winter of 1967, a giant snowstorm hit the Navajo Nation and buried Sagebrush and my family. Then-Navajo leader Raymond Nakai called it the “worst weather disaster in modern Navajo history.” While my relatives sat marooned at Sagebrush, I was a 9-year-old second grader stuck at Tuba City Boarding School, a military-style residential hall and elementary school. Continue reading →
We are the children, descendants of Navajo shepherds who grew up on the northeast rim of the Grand Canyon. To survive, we were physically stronger than the dark granite rock. We survived dust storms, snowstorms, hail, rain and heat.
About the only force we could not escape were government policies. They include the Navajo-Hopi land dispute and assimilation. The latter caused many of us to attend federally operated boarding schools during the 1940s through the 1980s.
Our jobs and opportunities took us away from our home but we never left the land we knew, not as Grand Canyon East, but as Bidaa, the Edge, or Tse Taa, among the fields of sagebrush.
We never moved to far away from the land. We continue to return to the land to restore our mind and soul.
Many of us belong to the earth-based faith. We journey to Bidaa, where we take our fine yellow corn pollen, sprinkle into the deep chasm of the rim that falls off into multi-tiered shadows. We pray to the Colorado River, the Little Colorado River, we know as a holy deities and ask for blessings.
The Navajo tradition of sheepherding, once a dawn-to-dusk operation practiced by most families in the tribe, is in decline. Henry Lane, 98, is among the last to herd sheep in the traditional Navajo way.
Henry Lane steers his battered Silverado truck along a rocky path on the western edge of the Navajo Reservation.
He is searching for some wayward animals that have wandered from his flock of 150 sheep, goats and cattle.
The 98-year-old has spent the better part of two hot days in July in his pickup, rolling over rock, dead greasewood and bone-jarring gullies in his quest to find the lost sheep. Lane’s small frame is jostled inside the dusty cab. He clutches the steering wheel with still-powerful hands. Continue reading →
The Confluence refers to the point where the Colorado River and the Little Colorado River meet in northern Arizona.
This point is about 13 miles north of the easternmost observation point on the South Rim, known as Hopi Point. Off Highway 89, it is a slow, rugged 2-hour drive over rock-strewn dirt roads. Along the route are numerous hogans made of rock by Navajos in the early 1800s, as well as a progression of traditional hogans built throughout the 20th century, including during the time of The Bennett Freeze. Below is an interactive map to explore the area. Continue reading →