PAGE – Glen Canyon Conservancy’s lecture series on June 18 featured Jim Kristofic who talked about his new book “Medicine Women.”
It was a homecoming of sorts for Kristofic, who’s originally from Philadelphia but grew up in Ganado and in Page, Arizona, as well as in Church Wells, Utah.
Kristofic was born in Pennsylvania and when he was 6 years old, he found out his family was going to move across the country to Ganado where his mom, Deanna Thompson, was going to be working at Sage Memorial Hospital.
At first, his new home, so unlike what he had known, was a difficult adjustment. As a non-Native, or a Bilagáana (Toh Dine’é), boy in a predominately Navajo school, he was picked on and beat up at first and forced through a number of initiations. When he joined the football team as a seventh-grader and having a Navajo stepfather (Nolan Karras James from Piñon, Arizona), he found acceptance from his classmates and grew to love his new surroundings and the Diné people. He learned some Navajo (Diné Bizaad), starting with the cuss words, and has learned much more since then.
His family moved to Church Wells when he was a high school freshman and graduated Page High School in 2000. He felt uprooted and out of place here. He had not been in school with so many Anglo people before. He was surprised when he found out that few of his Anglo classmates had ever been past Kaibeto or Kayenta.
Having arrived mid-year, he avoided making friends, read a lot and enjoyed biology and English classes.
The following years, he participated in more school activities. Kristofic would go back to the “rez” as often as he could and help herd and butcher sheep with friends in Ganado. Sometimes he would spend all day walking and exploring the washes and the mesas reinforcing his deep love of nature.
After he got to know the area and settled into his new school, he grew to love Page and its surroundings. He later spent summers as a Colorado River guide. Kristofic this summer will be guiding Glen Canyon float trips.
Following advice from the late Richard (Rick) Vail, who was an advanced English teacher at Page High, he went to college in Pennsylvania.
While he had a number of schools he could have gone to, he decided on Grove City College which was near the land of his father’s and studied pre-law and English.
While in college, he initiated and designed an independent oral history project that allowed him to return to Ganado and document oral history of people he knew growing up.
Kristofic realized that he loved to write while working for the local media and also while working on his master’s at Penn State. He longed to return out West as he really didn’t feel at home on the East Coast. Knowing that making a living as a writer and author wasn’t likely, he decided that he would write for 10 years and if he didn’t publish a book by then, he could always become an attorney.
His writing journey started here. Later he would write for Arizona Highways, Native Peoples Magazine, Taos News, and High Country News, and a column or two for the Navajo Times. Writing articles prepared him to write his first book, “Navajos Wear Nikes,” a memoir chronicling growing up in Ganado and on the Navajo Nation. Writing Navajos Wear Nikes helped him with the homesickness he felt for northern Arizona, said Kristofic. His second two books are written for children. One is a retelling of the “Hero Twins” in Navajo and in English with the help of Nolan K. James, an artist.
In the second children’s book, he reunited with James to write “Black Sheep, White Crow,” a collection of Navajo folk tales.
His fourth book “Medicine Women: The Story of the First Native American Nursing School” has just been published. In this book, Kristofic traces the history of Ganado Presbyterian Mission and how several generations of medical nurses, from 20 tribes and several foreign countries, were trained at the school.
Clarence Grant Salsbury, a physician, founded the first nursing school in 1930, during which he oversaw the construction of Sage Memorial Hospital, where two of Kristofic’s younger siblings were born. The nursing program continued until 1951. The School and hospital attracted famous visitors including the late William Worrall Mayo, an American-British physician, of the Mayo Clinic Foundation.
While there is no longer a nursing school, Sage Memorial Hospital still serves the Ganado community today.
Kristofic now lives in Taos County, New Mexico, a place that reminds him of Ganado with similar vegetation and landscape. He said he misses the northern Arizona desert, the people, and the landscape.
He feels the presence of the ancestors in northern Arizona. When he returns, as he did in June, he remembers a quote he learned, which is true for him: “Home is where they have to take you in no matter what,” making it a pleasure to spend the summer in Page.
Other than books, he is working on a building design to apply to the Navajo Nation – a sustainable design that would be easy to build, heat, and to maintain. He considers Ganado to be the center of the world he loves, with the eastern edge of that world in Taos and the western edge in Page.