GALLUP, N.M. – A group of Navajo Nation elders is using traditional storytelling to try to pass down their native language to the next generation.
The Dine Council of Elders for Peace recently launched a campaign around storytelling events in Gallup, New Mexico, as a way to keep youths in New Mexico and Arizona engaged in the Navajo language, the Gallup Independent reports.
Organizers plan events around storytelling, games and star-gazing.
Dine Council of Elders for Peace member Mary Jane Harrison said the younger generation has lost much of the Navajo language. But, she says, telling stories is important because the stories also contain real-life lessons
Noreen Kelly, the group’s program coordinator, said members hope to expand the events and make them more convenient for younger tribal members to attend.
During a winter storytelling session, Harrison shared stories that have transcended generations of her family. A winter storm caused low attendance, but Kelly said organizers were still experimenting with times and locations to draw in more youths.
Kelly said Dine elders often gathered during the winter to tell stories to young people. Dine is the Navajo name meaning “the people.” Winter, according to Navajo culture, is when families pay respect to the snow around them by remaining reverent and still.
“We are entrusted as Natives to have oral history, and we’re given the challenge of remembering all these stories verbatim,” Kelly said. “That’s what was given to us.”
One of the stories that Harrison told was a story about the tribe’s sacred mountains.
“The way the mountains were set – in the underworld – as we (Navajos) were emerging, water was coming up, so people kept moving up and moving up, and when they came to a certain area, everybody sat in a circle,” Harrison said.
“That individual had a medicine bundle and brought the mountains back up,” she said. “This story teaches us that everywhere you go there’s a dilemma that sometimes we cannot overcome.”