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In Navajo Country

Ottobre 2005
E’ uno dei panorami americani più noti Monument Valley, luogo di infinite battaglie cinematografiche tra cow-boy e indiani. La tribù più numerosa è quella dei Navajo, che pur parlando perfettamente l’inglese conserva gelosamente costumi, tradizioni e dialetti degli antenati.

di Kathleen Becker

File audio:

Monument Valley
Monument Valley

Speaker: Chuck Rolando

There can’t be many schools with a better view than Monument Valley High School on the Navajo Reservation in the American Southwest. Huge sandstone “monuments” rise above an arid plain: natural sculptures glow a warm red color in the sunshine, but quickly change to a menacing black in the shade. This is the breathtaking scenery of Hollywood westerns and Marlboro ads. It is the sacred land of the Navajos, the USA’s largest recognized Native American tribe. When they first settled in Monument Valley hundreds of years ago, the Navajos called it “a treeless area amid the rocks.”
The Navajos prefer to call themselves Diné – meaning “the people.” Navajoland, the largest of the Native American reservations, covers parts of the states of Arizona, Utah and New Mexico.
Lorissa Jackson teaches business studies at Monument Valley High School. She does not know her exact age – like many Navajos born at home, she has no birth certificate – but she knows exactly where she comes from:

Lorissa Jackson (American/Navajo accent):

(Says a few phrases in Navajo). I said, ‘yá ‘át’ ééh’, doesn’t actually mean “hello,” but we just say that. It actually means “all is well” or “all is beautiful,” it’s a greeting. And I said, “I am of the Redhouse Clan, born for, which is my father’s, born for the Reed Clan, and my maternal grandfathers are “under his cover,” they call it, or “Folded-Arms people.” And then my paternal grandfathers are the “Red-Streak-Running-into-Water clan.” That’s what I said.


The Navajo language is so complex that in World War II the American forces used it as military code. At the time, Navajo was only spoken, not written, and the Japanese were never able to break the code. This was to provide the subject matter of the movie Windtalkers, which was released in 2002. In actual fact the Navajo code talkers only received official recognition in 2001, at a time when just five of the original 29 men were still alive. Today, according to the official US census, there are nearly 180,000 Navajo speakers.
Lorissa Jackson grew up a short distance east of Monument Valley, where her mother’s family has lived for generations. Although most Navajos speak English today, Jackson’s native language was Navajo, and she was the first member of her family to go to college. As she explains, the extended family is very important in Navajo culture:

Lorissa Jackson:

Our family is much more than a nuclear family. Our clans make it so that we always have a mother and a father, grandmother, and each person has four clans. And you have your mother’s clan, your father’s clan, your mother’s father’s clan and your father’s father’s clan.


In Navajo culture, the elders are honored as the guardians of important values and family history. Lorissa Jackson still goes to her elders and asks them questions about the origins of the Red House clan and the Reed people that she is descended from. There are few written records, but Jackson knows her family history several generations back. One of her ancestors survived the “Long Walk” of the mid-19th century when thousands of Navajos were removed from their mineral-rich homelands by the US army. Men, women and children were forced to walk 300 miles (500 km – ed) to a reservation in New Mexico. The Navajos remained prisoners there and were forced to work under terrible conditions at the infamous Fort Sumner.
The survivors were finally allowed to go home in 1868, but, by then, 3,000 Navajos had died of hunger and disease. It wasn’t until 2004 that a proper memorial and museum commemorating these events was opened.

Social Problems

Modern life has brought its own problems to Monument Valley. Unemployment is high and many Navajos have to leave the valley to find work in towns and cities. Although alcohol is prohibited on the reservation, alcoholism and drug abuse are issues that won’t go away.
The Navajoland population is very young: about two-thirds of today’s 250,000 Navajos are under 21.
What are the most important things Lorissa Jackson teaches her pupils about the Navajo culture?

Lorissa Jackson:

Especially in the United States, we are one of the few people who have always called this home, our origin stories are from here. And this is home. I think that means a lot. And I think if you spend time away from the reservation, away from the people, you begin to have more questions about who you are, you begin to understand yourself more and you begin to appreciate who you are more.

For more information on Navajo culture and politics, visit: www.discovernavajo.com

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sandstone - arenaria.

breathtaking - da mozzafiato.

to settle - insediarsi.

Folded-Arms people - “la gente dalle braccia incrociate”.

Red-Streak-Running-into-Water - “torrente rosso che si butta in acqua”.

subject matter - argomento.

the elders - gli anziani.

ancestors - antenati.

infamous - famigerato.

unemployment - disoccupazione.

issues - problemi.