Robert S. McPherson. Dineji Nanitin: Navajo Traditional Teachings and History.
McPhersons goal in this book, stated on page 3, is to share some of his insights gained during over thirty years of working with Navajos, especially elders and residents of southeast Utah, where he lives and teaches. The unifying theme "is the role of traditional Navajo thought in daily life, its pervasive interpretation, and incidents that fostered its change" (5). A corollary is "the impact the loss of these teachings is having in contemporary Navajo culture" (6). The emphasis is on the thoughts, practices, and beliefs of "traditional" people, those who reached early adulthood ca. 1930 and were raised in the first third of the twentieth century, when subsistence was based on livestock and agriculture. Thus, the work covers both history and change from diverse perspectives, but mainly Navajo ones.
Incorporating terms he has heard Navajos using, such as the fearing time, the palm of time, and the changeover, McPherson has organized his book around nine topics. Following acknowledgments and introduction, the first chapter focuses on various forms of divination; the second reviews the 1918-19 influenza pandemic; the third, witchcraft; and the fourth, the famous Baalilee from the Aneth area. Chapters 5-8 consider various aspects of Navajo thought and language. Chapter 5 examines metaphors and their use in teaching values. The sixth chapter reintroduces Fr. H. Baxter Liebler, Episcopal missionary in southeast Utah who was known through Boil My Heart for Me (Exposition Press, 1969, reprinted in 1994). Chapter 7 examines the saga of the Pectol shields and their 2003 repatriation to the Navajo Nation. The title of chapter 8, "Of Stars, Goats, and Wind," aligns with chapter 2, "Wind, Hand and Stars"; it revisits metaphors past and present, thereby being reminiscent of chapter 5. Chapter 9 shares some elders' diverse views about both gambling and the end of the world, or the "changeover." Endnotes follow each chapter; back matter includes a bibliography with helpful subheadings and an index.
Although there is no list of illustrations, the book includes photographs from the Milton Snow collection at the Navajo Nation Museum in Window Rock, the Utah State Historical Society, Kay Shumway, the Oshley family, the San Juan County Historical Commission, the National Archives in Washington dc, Baxter Benally, Neil Busk, Stan Byrd, the Ray Hunt family, and the author. A painting by Charles Yanito, reportedly a ceremonialist knowing ten ceremonies (214), used as the book's cover, also appears in chapter 1 as a photograph. The Yanito in the index is son Curtis, also an artist. The photo of Navajo Oshley on page 35 was used earlier as the cover of Oshley's book (McPherson, The Journey of Navajo Oshley: An Autobiography and Life History [Logan: Utah State University Press, 2000]). The one map should have been enlarged to improve readability and attributed to a source.
I have some criticisms. There are some errors in punctuation and word division (e.g., "worl-dview" ). There are some misspellings: Shumway (21); and [s/c] should appear after Hatral in the Wheelwright citations (4onn9,17 and 273 in the two 1958 citations); the word should be hatdal. Then, too, occasionally things don't make sense, for example: "The origin myth of hand trembling is different from star gazing and listening, while generally, women may render the former but not the latter" (15, lines 1-3). And in the last sentence on page 5 (continuing on page 6), does the author mean that nnhpd stores traditional knowledge collected by its fieldworkers someplace in Window Rock? And wouldn't identifying the Navajo cultural-historical specialists be appropriate here? Does note 40 on page 41 refer to a Navajo who requested anonymity or to Buck Navajo, and are the continued references on page 42, note 66, and page 43, note 80 to the same person? Clarification is also needed on page 135 for the reference to "curriculum demonstration projects on or near the reservation." Then, too, all sexist language (e.g., 14, 260m) should have been removed.
There are some errors of fact and/or usage. For example, Rose Mitchell was not a medicine woman (260). Franciscan fathers are addressed/referenced as Fr. followed by the first name, not Fr. followed by the last name; thus, page 55 should say Fr. Anselm. The reference in note 39 on page 41 should be to John Holiday, not Ada Black, according to the text (24). The description of chapter 2 (44-45) needs revision; the experiences of the three groups--Navajo, Anglo, and Ute-Paiute--are not given equal coverage. Finally, I personally would be more comfortable knowing that consultants approved the use of the jish photo (92), since at least earlier, this was viewed as inappropriate by many (see my own work, Navajo Medicine Bundles or Jish [University of New Mexico Press, 1987]).
Among this book's values is its presentation of Navajo voices and opinions. McPherson cites both his own efforts and those of others in making Navajo voices accessible (see the introduction and endnotes, 12nn11-15). Other examples include Della Toadlena's Our Story: Nihahane (Trafford Publishing, 2010), Joanne McCloskey's Living through the Generations (University of Arizona Press, 2007), Louise Lamphere (with Eva Price, Carole Cadman, and Valerie Darwin) in Weaving Womens Lives (University of New Mexico Press, 2007), and Cecilia Tsosie's Out of the Darkness: Into the Light (Westbow Press, 2012, published under Sophia C. Begay, a pseudonym). It is also important to remember that other Utah Navajo voices are available in Dinejt Nakee Naahane': A Utah Navajo History by Clyde Benally et al. (Monticello ut: San Juan School District, University of Utah Printing Service, 1982).
Some endnotes could have been expanded to document major or relevant new works for interested readers. For example, note 60 on page 130 should have included a reference to Stephen C. Jett and Virginia E Spencers seminal work Navajo Architecture (University of Arizona Press, 1981). Note 12 (on Fr. Liebler) on page 184 should have included my "Fr. Bernard Haile, OFM, Anthropologist and Franciscan Missionary," in Anthropology's Debt to Missionaries, ed. Leonard Plotnicov, Paula Brown, and Vinson Sutlive, Ethnology Monographs 20 (2007), 46-63; Chad Hamil's Songs of Power and Prayer in the Columbia Plateau (Oregon State University Press, 2012); and Ann Fienup-Riordan's Mission of Change in Southwest Alaska: Conversations with Father Rene Astruc and Paul Dixon on Their Work with Yup'ik People, 1950-1988 (University of Alaska Press, 2012). In the latter two cases, the priests are Jesuits. To McPhersons sources for witchcraft and Ba'alilee, I would add David Brugge's "The Navajo Witch Purge of 1878," Awanyu 5, no. 4 (1977): 1213; Martha Blue's The Witch Purge of 1878 (Navajo Community College Press, 1988); and Joanne Teller and Norman Blackwater's The Navajo Skinwalker, Witchcraft and Related Phenomena (Infinity Horn, 1997).
I suspect that the importance assigned to this volume will depend on how well acquainted readers are with McPherson's publications. After examining endnotes and reprints of his earlier works, I can say that this book was constructed by deftly weaving together data from numerous sources: McPherson's own interviews of Navajo elders (many from 1991) and those done by others and housed in specific archives, such as the Doris Duke and J. Lee Correll collections (including some from the 1960s such as Aubrey Williams), relevant published literature, newspapers, and government documents and then augmenting these with more recent information. Sources for the latter, all appropriately attributed, include elders' family members who helped by providing illustrations and doing some of the interviewing (such as son Wesley Oshley with Navajo Oshley); student papers; recent conversations with Paul Zolbrod, Harry Walters, and Don Mose; and individuals featured or cited in the Indian Trader, Navajo Times, and most frequently, Leading the Way.
However, the book also contains materials published previously without any mention of this fact; actually, about half of the chapters were published earlier as journal articles. Examples include "The 1918-1919 Influenza Epidemic," here chapter 2, earlier in Utah Historical Quarterly 58, no. 2 (1990): 183-200. "Too Much Noise in That Bunch across the River," here chapter 4, appeared with the same title in Utah Historical Quarterly 77, no. 1 (2009): 26-51. The text starting on page 134 in chapter 5 (after the sections lead-in) appeared as "Of Metaphors and Learning" in AIQ 22, no. 4 (1998): 457-68. The same is true of "He Stood for Us Strongly," here chapter 6, and also available in AICRJ 23, no. 2 (1999): 109-26. As stated, "Seeing Is Believing" (chapter 7 here) combines McPhersons earlier version in Utah Historical Quarterly 76, no. 4 (2008): 357-76 with data from Kreutzer's article of the same title that followed McPhersons on pages 377-84. Lee Kreutzer, the park archaeologist at Capitol Reef National Park from 1993 to 2003, was a major NPS person involved in the repatriation of the Pectol shields to the nation on August 1, 2003.
A comparison of versions shows that articles were not reprinted verbatim but sometimes with minimal changes of several words or one sentence. The different style guides for journals and books enabled use of headings, different paragraph breaks, and usually more photographs in the book chapters than in the journal versions. For example, in "He Stood for Us Strongly," the journal version has no photographs, while the book has four. Interestingly, these come not from Boil My Heart for Me but from a Liebler family member, Baxter Benally. However, in chapter 4, the reverse is true; the 2009 journal version included five photos and a decent-sized map instead of the books two photos and small map. In chapter 5 the relationship is slightly more complicated. A quote from a 2007 interview of Jim Dandy is spliced into the earlier version between the articles pages 460 and 461. Then, too, the book's version expands the earlier treatment of the wedding basket (462-63 in the journal), incorporating a larger variety of voices and interpretations (146-48 and including data from interviews in Leading the Way [2006, 2008]).
During email discussions on February 25, 2013, McPherson confirmed that about half the chapters had been published earlier and said that omitting this information was mainly an "oversight." He explained that chapters 1, 3, 8, and 9 are new; chapters 2 and 5 have been substantially revised; and chapters 4, 6, and 7 are essentially as previously published. About the latter, he said, "[Chapters] 2, 4, 6, 7 were published in the Utah Historical Quarterly [but see above] and so the thinking was that they would get a wider circulation/distribution on a national level where they will be new to most people."
Overall, I would say the book is worth owning. Here McPherson has augmented some of his earlier work on Navajo thought with new work, simultaneously expanding both coverage and voices. For those interested in nagpra and repatriation, having the entire Pectol shields story accessible with excellent documentation and explanation of the multi-layered processes used by both the Navajo Nation's Historic Preservation Department and the National Park Service in deciding the repatriation request is a real contribution. And of course, the importance of John Holiday's testimony in this decision underscores the power of oral history and Navajo culture and tradition.
Given the reawakened interest in relationships between missionaries and indigenous peoples, another important aspect, at least for me, is the author's statement that a reconsideration of Liebler is warranted because the literature on missionaries rarely uses a contemporary focus or includes Native perspectives on how the messages are received (161, 184nn12, 22). How unique is it that during his interviews and discussions of Liebler, McPherson "never heard about any real dissent concerning the man or his mission"? And if not unique, would the reasons others give be the same as those the author suggests (184-85n22)?
Another important feature is the author's presentation of Navajo opinions on culture change and continuing challenges to traditions and language. The literature on language loss, shifts, immersion schools, and the like is burgeoning, and the endnotes could have documented new resources. Hopefully the discussions ongoing at conferences among linguists, teachers, community leaders, parents, and others, as well as in the Navajo Times, Leading the Way, Byron Shorty's website featuring the Navajo Word of the Day, YouTube developments, and other resources will convince readers to become actively involved in these issues. I have no idea who else might be paying attention to newly emerging metaphors. But McPhersons examples and the interpretive challenge to readers on pages 231-33 (with an answer key on 233-34) are both fascinating and a powerful generator of new research questions.
In sum, while Utah elders have diverse ideas about doomsday, the final downward spiral, or the changeover, all agree on the consequences of ignoring one's culture and traditions--disaster with lightning speed! As they have been taught for generations, the people know what they need to do to avert the changeover: pay attention to the sacred; respect, practice, live by, and transmit their ceremonies; speak their language; uphold their beliefs and values; and respect their traditions and culture. It is said, jini jini.
Charlotte J. Frisbie, Southern Illinois University
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|Author:||Frisbie, Charlotte J.|
|Publication:||The American Indian Quarterly|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2014|
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