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DC Libraries Blog

Book Review: A Diné History of Navajoland

by Rhiannon Sorrell on 2021-10-27T08:37:00-07:00 in Diné Studies | Comments

There is no replacement for oral transference of Navajo history between generations. Daily and seasonal activities like cooking, butchering, shearing, wood hauling, or even waiting for sings to start are often accompanied by stories that provide us with rich history of our family, of our clans, of our Navajo people. But sometimes we need a scaffold or a point of departure for those conversations to take place and this book does just that. 

Written By Dr. Christine Ami, School of Business and Social Science, Originally published in Tribal College Journal

A Diné History of Navajoland compiles 30 years of data collection and reworked publications by anthropologist Klara Kelley and Harris Francis (Diné). The authors focus on “empowering stories,” which they describe as histories of survivance instead of interpretations of victimry. Utilizing a broad array of sources, readers are presented with Diné voices stemming from Navajo ethnographies, cultural resource management documents, Navajo Land Commission oral histories, consultations with Diné medicine people, and interviews with Diné storytellers. There are five themes unifying the 11 chapters of this text: archeological refutation (Chapters 1-4), colonial conflicts (Chapter 5), checkerboard area complications (Chapter 6-7), trading postera transitions (Chapters 8-9), and natural resource depletions (Chapters 10-11).

The first of these themes is the most profound in re-writing Diné history. Challenging archeological assumptions and stereotypes via Diné oral history lenses, the authors present evidence that highlights (1) the likelihood of Diné ancestors thriving in the backcountry of the pre-1300 Anasazi great houses; (2) the implications of the Buffalo-Bead Corridor as a major thoroughfare for trade; (3) the power of the telling and the traveling of Diné verbal maps; (4) the relationship of Diné clans to the Anasazi; and (5) the suggested moments of ethnogenesis that resulted in the culturally sovereign entity known today as the Diné.

The following chapters transition from an emphasis on Diné verbal maps to government maps. Despite the resulting fissures of the land-people connection from said transition, the authors reveal empowering stories assigning agency to Diné individuals who were knowledgeable of allotment and homestead systems and those who were able to benefit from beef contracts that were emerging during the period. The authors also highlight the nuances of individual families who were forced to rebuild because of land relinquishments. Kelley and Harris’s last theme explores the current disconnects between the land and the Diné. The most astute Diné claim is the cause and effect position taken by the authors and the Diné storytellers: “Climate change is the result of all this [stock reduction, wage labor, increased Westernized education, disrespect to land and the animals, lack of dependency on prayer to the Holy People], they say, not the cause.”

The introductory chapters require a basic understanding of archeological data analysis. Additionally, there is little mention of the impact institutionalized religion has had on disconnecting the Diné from the land. Nonetheless, the text provokes discussions of ceremonial histories, clan origins, and family oral histories. While this book is not a replacement for the histories learned through ceremonial settings, while shearing, during planting and hunting seasons, or as part of our cultural arts practices, it is a worthy companion.


Christine M. Ami, PhD (Navajo) is the Native American Studies Minor Advisor and an associate professor of Native American studies at Diné College.

A Diné History of Navajoland is available for checkout at all three Diné College Libraries. The call number is E99.N3 K3345 2019. Click here for checkout status and availability. 



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