Canyon de Chelly: Beauty in the Navajo Nation

Posted by Categories: Arizona, New Mexico
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Beauty before me, with it I wander.
Beauty behind me, with it I wander.
Beauty below me, with it I wander.
Beauty above me, with it I wander.
Beauty all around me, with it I wander.
On the beautiful trail I am.
– 1906 translation of Navajo song by Washington Matthews
We are surrounded by beauty all the time, but sometimes it seems out of reach. Sometimes the ugliness that we make blinds us to what lies before, behind, below, above and beyond. Sometimes the ugliness is just so big we can’t seem to find our way around it. Sometimes it’s only a distracting dot on the camera lens or a bug on the windshield.  I keep trying my best to see the beauty.
The Navajo Nation embraces hundreds of miles of beauty and it’s share of ugliness too. The juxtaposition is sometimes puzzling, but not so different from everywhere else. Do we somehow expect the Native Peoples of this country to always demonstrate the values that their songs and poems espouse?  Do we want them to embody something that the rest of us somehow can’t manage? Is this an idealization of a people just as human and diverse as we all are?
Yesterday we drove the backroads of northeastern Arizona to get to Canyon de Chelly. The journey took us through some beautiful backcountry and the Navajo communities of Oak Springs, St. Michaels, Ganado, Navajo, Tsaile, Window Rock and Fort Defiance. These aren’t tourist destinations, and so we had the chance to see living communities that support their own people, not the visitors.  We were impressed with the new large schools and hospitals throughout the area. We also saw hundreds of typical homesteads and small farms with small prefabricated houses often paired with traditional hogans on the same property.