top of page

Red Woman

© 2016 by Velma Hale

Ya’at’eeh, shi ‘ei bilagaana k’eejigo Red Woman yinishye. ‘Aadoo Honaaghaanii nishli, Todik’ozhi bashischiin. Dibe’ Lizhini da shicheii, ‘aadoo Kinyaa’aanii da shinali. In Diné, our clans are our “name(s)” because they represent our genetic blood lineage(s). Diné culture traces identity from the female through clan membership. In pre-time, the Diné (Navajo) Creation Story tells how Changing Woman created from her body the first four original Diné clans. I have three of the four original clans as my clan name. I am from the Honaaghaanii (One Who Walks-Around You People) clan, born for the Todik’ozhi (Salt Water People) clan. This means that I am born from my mother and born for my father.  It means that I am born from my mother’s body, and she birthed me for my father. In Diné, this sacred union is a ceremony in itself; the concept of two beings merging or dressing a child-to-be with human “life-essences.” 

     The maternal clan is always introduced first, then, the paternal clan is followed by the grandparents’ clan. My maternal grandfather’s clan is of the Dibe’ Lizhini People Clan (Black Sheep People) and my paternal grandfather’s clan is Kinyaa’aanii People clan (Towering House). This complex clan system prevents incest and establishes kinship ties that define appropriate behavior between relative and non-relatives. It is culturally believed that this kinship also keeps the blood-line clean and keeps people from creating deformed children. Scientifically, that is caused when the blood is mixed. It becomes metastasized or mutated into a disease. When chromosomes counter-magnetize, a dynamic anti-homeostasis occurs. Today, scientists believe that gene mutations have been identified as the cause of several disorders including sickle cell anemia, cystic fibrosis, Tay-Sachs disease, Huntington disease, hemophilia, and even some cancers. 

     There is spiritual movement or genetic transcription in the essence of what we call life. This is why the Diné believe the clan system was put in place by the Holy People or Deities, because history tells of the mistakes the Navajos have gone through. Thus, we are dressed with the genetic language of our ancestors, based on paired helical sugars of the DNA model or chromosomal maturation of our parents. In Western education, this is called biological science, whereas, in Diné it is called “ceremony.” 

     In the First World of the Creation Story, it is said that First Man and First Woman merged fires; marriage. First Man was the care-taker of the Crystal Fire, while First Woman held Turquoise Fire. In the First World, they merged fires and from that “life” evolved; the concept of marriage was born. This sacred union was the first ceremony called “Ayoo’ooni” (love), which was called marriage. 

     In Diné, we believe that the Western Language is the Male Language and Diné Language is Female. This is duality and enriches our life. 

     Changing Woman (White Shell Woman) is the principal mythological deity in the Diné Culture, commonly referred to as the first proto-human form of a sentient being turning into a physical being. In scientific terms, she is the DNA replicating Eukaryote cell. She gave birth to the Diné first clans and established the foundational guidelines of how the Diné should live their lives in the physical form. This principle or Diné Philosophy is called Sa;ah Naaghai Bik’eh Hozhoon, which is comprised of the four Schools of Thought:   Nits’ahak’ees (thinking), Nahat’a (Planning), Iina’ (Life), and Siihasin (Hope or Self Evaluation). At a later point, she was given the four colors of sound, which later became language. She birthed the Twin Warriors who later destroyed the monsters that were ravaging the people. During this time of history, the humans communicated by electromagnetic waves also known as telepathy. This was a time when humans had no facial form, but traveled by the positive and negative ionic charges of electrical principles in the air. It was understood that they used thought to communicate with divine beings or the Holy People; some people call them aliens or monsters. All of these processes happened/evolved when life thrived on photosynthesis or the Prokaryotic phase of progeny according to the Creation Story of the Navajo. 

     It was believed that during a time of chemical bonding, in Diné ontology of the First World, a ceremony was taking place; when the climates shifted and new species evolved, humans become adept to their environment and formed cultural values, mores, language, and religion. This is when humans became DNA replicating species in the Fourth World, called Glittering World. This was a time when the Blessing Way ontology was introduced to the progeny of life, often referred to as the Hozhoojigo Hodeeyah time period; we call this process a Blessing Way Process or ceremony. Science calls this a cataclysmic event or progeny. 

     I was raised from the traditional Diné grassroots level to the urbanized modern Navajo level.  In my mother’s and father’s talks, the Diné language was the underlying premise for my upbringing. 

      The title “mother” carries with it the numerous roles needed to meet the needs of her family and clan. It is generally understood within this context that she holds many responsibilities in being a mother. The work she does makes her role honorable. From an early age a girl is groomed to become a leader by being given responsibilities within the home so that she will be able to care for herself and her family. As she matures, her responsibilities increase in proportion to her age and abilities. However, a woman need not give birth to be called “aunt.” She might be an aunt and still be thought of as a mother. The English term, “aunt,” is translated as “little mother” in Diné. A non-relative may also address a woman as an aunt if she is near her/his mother’s age, thereby establishing kinship and appropriate behavior. Clan relationship serves to establish familial responsibility between strangers to prevent taking sexual advantage of the female.  

     I heard stories about my maternal Masani and Cheii, grandma and grandpa, but I never saw or knew them because they died when my mother was two-years old. This was the reason my mother was raised by her siblings and eventually an aunt, known as Red Woman, stepped-in to care for the children. 

     Relatives describe Red Woman as an independent woman. They’d say she saddled her horse and tied necessities for trade to her saddle. She rode alone through the red rocks, the cedar trees, and the places where the sagebrush scented the warm summer days. She had ridden through these canyons many times before.  

     Then, when my mom was about five years old, her aunt’s children and grandchildren were all suddenly killed in a car accident. They all died instantly and she was without children or grandkids. She adopted my mom and her siblings, raised them to age and she died at the age of 104.  Death has a different concept in Diné ontology, which is why Red Woman persevered. 
Her husband also had died years earlier, too, from a horse accident. His horse got spooked and his head hit a rock and he died instantly.

     Mom told me that after Red Woman came home from the trading post, she’d arrived home with multiple kinds of exchanges. Thus, she maintained her familial duties, as she remained largely independent of the outside world that was fast encroaching through the trading posts, railroads, and the small town called Na’ni’zhoozhi, or Gallup, New Mexico, as the white traders named it. 

     My mother talked of the many sheep her parents had owned and the lifestyles they lived on a day-to-day basis. Her father was a Traditional Practitioner well known by many people. He was Hastiin Hataali, (Man Who Heals with Homeopathic Songs) and specialized in the Protection Way Ceremony and the Beauty Way Ceremony. By Western standards he was an herbalist, psychologist, physicist, astronomer, biologist, artist, musician, sociolinguist, historian, storyteller, poet, etc., constantly busy in parts of the remote reservation, providing indigenous therapy to people oppressed by change. Mom would tell how great-grandmother survived; she did not expect to be taken care of and treated like a helpless individual. Having made sure that things would be taken care of at a home, she left the older ones in charge and told them she would be back when she completed her daily home responsibilities. 

     The term “saanii” is usually used to refer to women. However, the root of the word “sani” refers to elderly women and men, indicating old age, wisdom, and experience from having lived a long life. The women are responsible for most of the teaching and transmittal of culture. The term, therefore, implies teaching, which refers back to “saanii,” elder and wise one. Female and male elders are revered and honored for their experience and knowledge of culture in the traditional Diné world.

     In Dine’, every cue, guttural sound of the phonetics is considered holy or sacred, because in the Fourth World of the Creation Story, language was given to us as a way to appease ourselves when the gods left back to the Spirit World. Language was given with sets of rules and principles for living in this physical world. Language could be used to destruct or beautify; so therefore, it was considered a blessing. The breath of air when one is born into this physical world is the first language one is bequeathed from the Creator. The second language is when one cries at birth. The third language is any cue or guttural sound, phonetically possible that is associated with the first laughter, which was considered the Holy People’s language along with telepathy from the First to the Fourth World. The fourth language is what we call the human language based on prescribed cultural linguistic discourses, etc. There are always stages of four in any Native ontology or views of life. As you can see, many of these are mostly practiced on the reservation, but in border-town areas or urbanized areas, this is not prevalent. 

     Now, I sit here in Na’ni’zhoozhi, with vehicle horns honking, ambulance sirens wailing, and everybody either at work or in school. Our roles and daily chores have changed tremendously, as native people took on new technological changes. From the horse to the vehicle, to the buses, trains, airplanes, and ships, Diné life has evolved. Today, there are Diné shamans or healers with cell phones, websites, and multi-theistic embedded prayers that suffice for ceremony. Long ago, the shaman would use only the diurnal processes of nature to make spiritual connections for the patient, using the placement of the cosmos. 

     Much has changed.  Before my dad left to the Spirit World, he sat down with me at one of his radiation appointments at Mayo Clinic Hospital in Phoenix, Arizona. He told me that although he’d like to live, he was content with having lived a full-life, despite his age; 76. He told me, he could just as well be angry with God; Creator; Holy People, but that would bring nothing but grief for his death. He said, in Diné, death just means the physical body being replanted into the Earth in a sacred way, and the actual soul of the body moves to the “pool of energy” we call Heaven or the Place of Primordial life. In Diné, this is called Ya’alnii’ Neeyaani, Neyahneiyaan, Leiyahneiyaan, Nilchi Hooyaanii,Nilchi jooba’ii, Ya’alnii’ Neeyaani, Sa’ah Naaghai Bik’eh Hozhoon.

     This is how we always have parents, despite the passing of our physical, biological parents, in the Navajo sense. Currently, the popular cultural norms have changed the perceptions of how death is viewed by many of the Dine’ youth today. Many traditional Diné people believe that we are all biological, spiritual extensions of one another, therefore, we are not orphans. We are comprised of our conditioned memories of recorded events through what we’ve done in this lifetime. Therefore, we are all experiencing a spiritual event through this human event, called Sa’ah Naaghai Bik’eh Hozhoon. From a physicist’s perspective, this would be seen as a localized and non-localized communication or event. Our bodies are mere neurotransmitters from the spirit world, experiencing a human event.

Anna Lee Walters and Native American Literature 2024

bottom of page