From A Service Project to a Love Project
Tuesday, August 23, 2016 at 09:01PM
Cheryl Crotty


Kayenta, Navajo of the most wonderful people.  It was a privileged to get to know them. When one walks away from a service project feeling like they got more than they gave, that is when you know that a spirit walks with all who are involved.  That's what has happened for me both times I visited with my now Kayenta friends.  It started out as a service project and ended as a love project, because of the people we worked with and for. 

We had a schedule for our work projects but when something exciting comes up, our Native American friends call and say "change of plans"  before work, we will go to a Pow Wow..  The photo above was taken at the local pow wow and all the people were so welcoming and the music and drumming so haunting and lovely. The costumes are all hand made with such beautiful beading and art work.  Feathers were stunning and everyone from young children to senior adults dances.  It is called the Jingle dance.  They have bells on their ankles and as they dance to the music and hear the beat, the jingle bells make music also.  It is quite interesting to watch and learn.  Prizes are awarded in each category...Several children won bikes.  That is a big deal for them.  There were also craft tables with local crafts at very reasonable prices. To be invited to this Pow Wow on our first day was a wonderful way for us to start our week. A big thank you to Lita for taking us...I would like to introduce to you the people that played a major roll in helping us accomplish all the work that we did while there.  Not only did they direct the projects and help where they could, they taught us so much about a culture that few non-Native Americans get to experience.  A history lesson of those we came before us and preserved their culture. It is not an easy thing to do.


Dr. James Nez, my friend and our contact on the reservation. He has worked with us both times we have visited.  He is smart and wise, a lawyer, a medicine man, a teller of great Navajo stories and history, an avid reader.  More than that though and most importantly, he is dedicated to his family and his land.  I have had many conversations with James over the years and for a young man he is so full of wisdom and spirit.  He believes in the land and practices what he preaches.  Family is most important and he takes care of them all brillantly.  Each person on this trip had their own personal conversations with James and I think it would be fair to say they all walked away with a better understanding of  themselves and the reason that they were there serving his people..all of his Navajo people, not just his family.  He welcomed us to his land and opened his door to each and everyone of us.  He is progressive in his persuits but still carries on the traditions of his heritage.  A fine balancing act for sure.

Ah Gary, James's brother.  Chief cook and bottle washer.  What would we have done without his expertise at the grill and fry pan..well of course, there was him Mother Lita, but Gary never missed a beat feeding us the most delicious food in every kind of weather...None of us will forget his barbarque chicken, bacon and pancakes, with Lita's help...beautiful and fresh salads...and lots and lots of gatorade...yuk.  He cooked and carried and mixed and even helped clean up although that was mostly my job.  The one big gift from Gary though was that he taught me it's o.k. to be myself.  I'm a hugger for sure and yes, I do like to kiss someone to show my affection for them.  Now my friend James was not so keen on that 10 years ago..oh, I got a few hugs out of him and we had some discussions about that but I never got a kiss.  It's not really something that the Navajo people were comfortable with.  I understood that and respected it back then.  I got a Navajo name 10 years ago..the name is somewhat of a representation of who you are.  James will correct me on this if I'm wrong.  My Navajo name was "She stands to close"...hmmm.  So this year along comes Gary.  So of course when we arrived I gave James a big hug..along with his Mom and Grandma's.  I gave Gary a hug and I was telling Gary that James doesn't like to be kissed..and James said "but Gary does"...and so I gave Gary a kiss. That's when I knew we were solid...LOL  As the week went along, from that one kiss for grew until, yes, James was getting kisses also...major breakthrough...I had also expressed to James and Gary that I wasn't crazy about my Navajo name...but I was happy to have one.  Long story short, at the end of the week James told me he was changing my Navajo name...he said Gary came up with a new one for me...and you know what, I love my new Navajo name..Hugs and Kisses...that is such a gift to bring home with me...these boys are unique in their love of people and I'm hoping that now that I'm not there they are still hugging and kissing, especially their Mom's and Grandma's...

The Grandma's.  Really the head of the family.  Woman are very well respected in Navajo Nation...and in the family.  They have a say in everything,  and the men listen.  Meet Grandma Anita and Grandma Florence, they are sisters. They both own their own hogan's and worked their land.  Florence still drives a truck up and down the winding, dusting, bumpy road.  I met Grandma Florence ten years ago and we became close friends.  Her Hogan was the one we painted sky blue on our last visit. This year she was getting it painted again. With the sun beating on it the way it does out in the desert, the paint doesn't last very long.  She is a power house and watches what is happening all the time.  She has been know to help clean out the paint trays with some of the girls when it got stuck from the heat.  She is also a great teacher of all things Navajo. Grandma Anita lives on one side of James a bit further away and Grandma Florence lives on the other side of James.  This was my first time getting to know Grandma Anita.  She is somewhat of a gentle soul but does speak her mind.  I took them both shopping to get the color of paint that they wanted. Iove talking with Grandma Anita as she told me the history of how her Hogan was built by her husband and now he is gone and she still maintains its.  Grandma Anita also told us the story of how she was born on the Mesa and would travel into town by foot to work. It took her many hours of walking back and forth and sometimes, lots of times, she was walking in the dark, with no fear. They are smart, brave and beautiful, with lots of stories to tell.  They also give hugs freely and don't mind a kiss. either.


This is my friend Lita. She cooked all the meals along with Gary.  She was the official food, menu person. She did a great job.  I worked with her for the week in the kitchen, cooking and cleaning, laughing and sharing. We are both Mothers, both James and Gary are her sons,  and that gave us plenty of fodder for the week.  I meet Lita 10 years ago when she also cooked and bagged lunches for us.  She is a dinamo in action. She never seems to get tired and she also does a lot for her Navajo community..just recently I saw that she was running for some office.  Even though I'm back home now, I voted for her.  I'd vote her in for anything because she would get the job done.  If I had stayed longer I'm sure I would have learned how to make that delicious Navajo fry bread, corn pudding and a few other of her specialties.  When it came time to leave I felt like I was leaving a best friend behind. I hope someday to see her again, there was a special bonding for us this time around, and yes, she loves hugs. Grandma Anita is Lita's mother.  The elders are treated with the upmost respect of the Reservation. Every night they came and had dinner with us.  Lita always took her Mother and sometimes Grandma Florence with her when she was going somewhere.  On the same hand, each night after dinner both Grandma's always thanked James for having them to dinner.  So much respect for each other...It was lovely to witness...



This lovely man is Roland Dixon.  He was our tour guide to Monument Valley...husband of Lita Dixon.  He is a sweet, soft spoken man who is now retired.  He used to be a tour guide at Monument Valley but now he only does it on special occassions. James arranged for us to have this trip and it was really special.  Because of the heat and our work projects, we met Roland at 6 am to head to the Valley.  It's a good thing we did because by the time we left, a bit after noon, it was really heating up. The heat just radiates off that red rock and dirt.  He told us of all the mesa's and the Butte's names on our trip.  He also did something so special that I had remembered from my last trip with him.  We all hiked out to Artist Point, which is a sweeping landscape of the Valley and we found spots to sit or lean, then Roland start beating on his drum and singing in Navajo to was so moving.  You could feel the Spirit and the beauty of the land entering your mind and body. A peace just came over you. At the end, we walked back down, baking in the heat, like cake dough. We all got water and then Roland told us about giving back to Mother Earth whenever she gives to you. Mother Earth had given us a great show today with all the Natural beauty this is Monument Valley. He showed us how to pour some of our water into the ground so that Mother Earth received the gift also...and always remember you pour your water clockwise...

So there you have it. These are the people we served and these are the people we now love.  We helped them to paint houses, plant gardens, feed sheep and cows and got a few wild kittens to trust us. We made a dam for them to finally get some water back in the ground so that they can make things grow again.  It is a model dam for others to learn about and hopefully do for their areas on the reservation...and we made friends.

We have been to Kayenta twice now...the first time we were all testing the waters for trust and sincerity. We were getting to know each other and also learning each others customs.  We are bound now by 10 years of talking, sharing and now returning to a most beautiful land.  We returned to  hard working and proud people who have not had a fair shake from our goverment. We, on such a small scale are trying to make a difference.  This time I sensed we really did.  For me and Jim it was like going home to relatives we had not seen in a very long time.  For those on their first trip here, it was a very new experience but a very rewarding and fullfilling one also...When we got into the vans to leave there were big waves, lots of hugs, a few kisses and many tears flowing...God is good.  Never be afraid to reach out to someone in might be surprised when it turns your life around and gives you a whole new cluster of friends and a greater appreciation for the important things in life...people.

A Navajo Prayer

Today may I walk out in beauty.

With beauty may I walk.

With beauty before me, may I walk.

With beauty behind me, may I walk.

With beauty above me, may I walk.

With beauty below me, may I walk.

With beauty around me, may I walk.

It is finished in beauty.

It is finished in beauty.

A Navajo (Dine) Chant

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