PAGE – Her fans on Thursday waited anxiously to see her and to get their books signed at Adventurous Antelope Canyon Galleria.
When Evangeline Parsons Yazzie arrived shortly after 4 p.m., a gray-haired Diné woman embraced her and the people around them smiled and felt a calmness that engulfed them.
After a few moments, the woman left, and Yazzie went around the room to greet her fans, many who carried with them the four books in a series that features the story of Nínááníbaa’ who was forced to walk from her homeland in Arizona to eastern New Mexico, or Hwéeldi: The Long Walk to Bosque Redondo.
Mary Landahl, a retired educator in the Page Unified School District, from Marble Canyon, Arizona, bought books No. 2 through 4 of a quartet at the galleria but did not purchase book No. 1 because it was not available.
“I’ll be buying the first one,” said Landahl, who taught social studies at Page Middle School and did research on Hwéeldi, often traveling to Window Rock, Arizona, and to eastern New Mexico for her studies. “(Yazzie’s) work is very important. It’s a unique perspective because I’ve been studying the Long Walk for a long time. You can read military records, … history books, (and) you can get all the details, but you’ll never understand the impact unless you know how the (Diné) culture was stripped away.”
Landahl says non-Diné will never really understand the courage and resilience of the Diné people if one does not understand what the people had to rebuild when they came back to their homeland in 1868 and how the people still honor the Treaty of 1868.
“But it’s these emotional and cultural stories that so many people don’t know about,” Landahl said, “that really draws a picture of what happened. And as a history teacher and a historian, this is like gold. The volume of (Yazzie’s) writing, how much she’s poured into it because she’s not looking at this in this cold, analytical way.”
Yazzie, who has a doctorate in education with an emphasis on indigenous language maintenance and preservation, says she began writing about Nínááníbaa’ at a time – in the early 1990s – when she really needed strength. She wanted her stories published because she became so concerned about the Diné youth who do not know the truths of their history.
“And I knew … that many Navajo youth would never hear the stories from the elders because the Navajo elders never want to talk about the Long Walk,” Yazzie explained. “They’ll (ask in Navajo, or Diné Bizaad), ‘Why should the story be told?’ (and then say,) ‘It wasn’t a good story.’”
Yazzie says she wrote the four-book series as a romance novel because the Long Walk is a story of a dark, painful time in the Diné history and she wanted to lighten the account as a love story.
“I wrote the first novel – Her Land, Her Love – about a young Navajo woman named Nínááníbaa’, a woman warrior who came home again, and her husband named Hashké Yił Naabaah (one who goes to heir two daughters as well as their two sons. (The family) lives in the Black Mesa, Arizona, area … set in the 1950s.”
Her Land, Her Love blends history, romance, conflict, culture, and family in a finely crafted story with Diné values of love, relationships, and community.
The story begins at the start of the Long Walk in 1865. The two daughters of Nínááníbaa’ and Hashké are kidnapped and they set out on a journey in search of their missing children.
“My maternal grandmother and my father (the late Bruce Yazzie Sr.) were my first storytellers regarding the Long Walk,” said Evangeline Yazzie, who taught the Diné language at Northern Arizona University for more than two decades. “As I came to find out more about my people’s painful history, I realized my Navajo relatives’ stories matched my grandmother’s and father’s stories.”
Yazzie says as a child around 4 years old, both her grandmother and her father took turns telling her stories, often picking up where the other left off.
“And it was really amazing to know that oral history,” she said. “Navajo oral history is very much intact. And that’s a real exciting thing to me.”
The second in the quartet is “Her Enemy, Her Love,” which is about the eldest daughter of Nínááníbaa’.
The third is “Her Captive, Her Love,” which is about the youngest daughter who was sold to the Mexicans after she was kidnapped.
“Then from there, she was sold to another family and then kidnapped again, (ending) up among the Mescalero,” Yazzie explained. “The last and final book – Their Land, Their Love – talks about Hwéeldi.
“What I wanted to do, too, is not look into history books … that have been (written) and published by non-Navajos,” Yazzie added during her reading before a crowd at the Page Instructional Site Tuesday night. “(I) relied (completely) on my people’s stories. So, whenever I came across a story, I went to my relatives and asked them, and they would start telling the story. So, that was the way I conducted my research.”
Landahl added that Yazzie’s stories are emotional that most people cannot express.
“Not only is she expressing them, but also putting them into words and then she’s putting them in English when the meaning of culture and love and separation were given to her in Navajo,” Landahl said. “It’s a very generous thing for someone to do it.”
Adelaide Clizzie says Yazzie’s work is very strong and self-motivating, and to have a Diné author to visit Page-Lake Powell Country is inspiring and “big” for the community.
“We definitely saw a need for that kind of outreach to our outlying communities, including Page,” said Shantanna Billsie, who helped, along with Clizzie and Coconino Community College, make Yazzie’s visit happen after a month of planning and communication.
Billsie says the team is now working on bringing Diné poet and lecturer Luci Tapahonso to the community sometime in 2019.