OK, here goes:
This thesis will examine how attention to media, use of language and belief in mythology consort to keep the Dinè in a mythic culture.
NOTE: In this era of political correctness, American society struggles with the question of what to call those native peoples who inhabited this continent prior to the arrival of European settlers. Many groups shun the blanket terms "American Indian" and "Native American" in favor of their traditional tribal names. This practice is especially true of the group we have traditionally termed Navajo. These people prefer the name Dinè (pronounced as Dineh) which in their language means, "the people". They call the land where they live Dinètah or the land of the people. Dinè is the name by which I will refer to them for the remainder of this thesis. In political matters, they refer to themselves and their governing body as the Navajo Nation which is the legal name by virtue of their treaty with the US government.
While so many other Native groups have reluctantly been integrated into American society, the Dinè have struggled to remain a traditional mythic people. Apprehensive about fully accepting the ways and values of their conquerors, they have clung to their language, customs, and beliefs in an effort to maintain the integrity of their culture.
Changing Woman a female deity and major icon in Dinè mythology taught their forefathers that a Dinè is nothing if not adaptable. In response, the modern Dinè have cautiously accepted only some of the trappings of American society, ever careful to remember their beginnings and their place in the landscape they have chosen as their homeland. In spite of innovations such as the automobile, television, and telephones, the traditional Dinè individual of today is not much different in mind set from the Dinè of 300 years ago. A Dinè individual maintains a sense that the past as well as destiny has been shaped by mythic elements which still have great relevance in present day life and surroundings.
The focus for the traditional Dinè is to operate so as to stay in harmony or hozho (a term meaning balance in everything) with nature and surrounding environment. This includes living in Dinètah within the borders of the four sacred mountains. These are Tsisnaasjini' (Dawn or White Shell Mountain), Mount Blanca (in South Central Colorado) in the East; Tsoodzil (Blue Bead or Turquoise Mountain), Mount Taylor (near Laguna, New Mexico) in the South; Doko'oosliid (Abalone Shell Mountain), The San Francisco Peaks (near Flagstaff, Arizona) in the West; and Dibé Nitsaa (Obsidian Mountain) Mount Hesperus (in the La Plata Mountains of Colorado) to the North. Dinè mothers still bury the placenta and umbilical cords of their newborns in the soil of Dinètah to tie the child’s life to the land. A Dinè who returns to life on the reservation after being away from Dinètah for a time may choose to participate in one of the many rituals of the Blessingway ceremony in order to wipe away the stain of the outside culture and return him to hozho, or balance in all things.
The Dinè do not feel helpless living in the shadow of a greater American society which has sought over time and by various methods to enslave, impoverish, belittle, and exterminate them. On the contrary, they take a proactive stance to most problems confronting their traditional lifestyle. It was common practice from the early to the mid-1900’s for Dinè children to be taken from their homes and placed in boarding schools where they were taught English language and "American values" rather than their traditional language and culture. This resulted in a significant population of parents for whom English was the primary language and who held the belief that English was the language of success. To counter this the Navajo Nation in 1984 mandated that instruction in Navajo (Note- the word Navajo was used here because that was how the law was written at the time) language and culture be added to the elementary and secondary school curricula on the reservation. This was done in an effort to help give the people back their traditional ways. Larry DiLuccio related that on this issue, Dinè are "very polarized. People are not stupid. They can figure out if they lose the language all else goes too and they become another vanilla culture out of television land. Others reflect a different philosophy. They generally know little about traditions and take the attitude that the tribe should move into the 21st century, forgetting the past, completely missing the point that it is the traditions and teachings that make us a people."
This thesis will examine the various ways the Dinè have used the available media, their language, and their belief in their own mythology to maintain a mythic culture and keep themselves from being fully integrated into the larger American society.
One of the things that helps the Dinè is isolation. They are isolated not only by their geographical location, but also by the vastness of the reservation (approximately 25,000 square miles), the language they speak, and their observance of customs which are so different from not only American culture but also the other tribal cultures around them.
To demonstrate how the Dinè have maintained their mythic culture, a variety of media will be used. I will show that the Dinè have maintained a mythic culture and the ways they have accomplished this. I will examine the available literature on Dinè mythology and culture. This will include materials produced by both Dinè and Non-native sources. I will also review resources in cultural anthropology and phenomenology as well as looking into relevant mass media and conducting personal interviews with Native and Non-native sources who have experience with the modern Dinè. During the research, I will pay particular attention to the ways in which communication contributes to a culture. I will also challenge any arguments I might find in the research.
I will demonstrate how the bulk of the data supports my claim and finally discuss problems with the research.
There are some key challenges inherent to research of this nature. The first is the unwillingness of the Dinè to discuss with anyone outside the culture the more intricate details of their beliefs and customs. This severely limits the amount of tangible literature produced by those within the culture. However, there are some very good sources written by native authors recognized by Dinè and outside influences as well. Clifford Geertz, in his book Local Knowledge pp. 55-58, writes that there are two types of research when dealing with native peoples. These are experience-near, or first-hand observation by people within the culture and experience-distant, or that which is related by people who observe from without the culture. There is a danger in experience-distant research in that the details and nuances get lost with each retelling by non-native sources. Much of the research on the Dinè has been experience-distant, relying on the observations of non-native sources.
Another issue is the tendency on the part of both native and non-native sources as well to simply fabricate details where they may be missing or unknown or seem unnecessary to the researcher. For example, a 19th century researcher named Washington Matthews - recognized as one of the foremost authorities in the early study of the Dinè mythology - found the constant reference to sexual activities in the Dinè emergence mythology to be obscene and unnecessary and consequently deleted any reference to sexuality in his early rendering of this essential piece of Dinè literature. This omission was not discovered and corrected until the mid 1940’s, resulting in several years of incomplete research in this area since it was sexual aberrance of some of the first people that was said to have given birth to the monsters and evils which are a key to Dinè mythology.
I feel there is a real need in discovering how a people goes about controlling the rate at which it is pulled into ever evolving states of culture. We are always musing about how certain things from our past are becoming a lost art or how "they just don’t make them like they used to!" Observing the ways in which another culture manages to control it’s rate of evolution might provide a key to the way we, as an American culture, might hold on to some of the more desirable elements of our own culture as we advance along the evolutionary scale.