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Connection to Navajo Land Runs Deep

Yah’ah’teh! I grew up on the Navajo reservation with family showing and telling me my connection to the land. My grandmother was a sheep herder; she would follow her herd through miles and miles of beautiful land, and set up both summer and winter camps. This is how many Navajo families lived back then. They lived in a vast area; they did not claim a piece of land with paper or fences. They were fluid with the land, living with neighbors and relatives, all moving with the seasons, sharing the land they were given by the holy people, as well as the water, the vegetation, and the beautiful views and landscapes.

Backpacking with my family on Navajo land, Navajo Mountain, Utah

My grandma would welcome visitors to the area and set them on their way with full bellies and water. She herded her sheep and worked outside well into her old age—maybe because of her nature and the nature of how my ancestors roamed the land, is why I also do it. Their everyday livelihood is now my favorite pastime: hiking. Times are now different and land is now considered a possession, but it does not stop me from wanting to share it and move fluidly upon it.

Although I was outside during my childhood and teenage years, I did not know my deep connection to the land until after I left the Navajo Nation. I went away to college and explored the mountains of Utah, but no matter how much fun I had outside, I felt incomplete. I learned to ski, snowboard, and climb, but my outdoor heart was never whole until I drove home and saw the red sandstone and the vast desert that went on for miles. I didn’t need to be in my house, I just needed to be where the ground was red and the skies were blue. That’s when I knew land was part of my identity. In 1864, the Navajo people were removed from their homelands by the government. When they were able to return to their homelands, they cried when they saw their familiar mountains and canyons. Like my Navajo great grandparents, I rejoice every time I return to Dinetah, home of the Dine.

Leading a hike on Navajo Nation, White Mesa Arch

Because of this, I have never felt unwelcome in the outdoors. I have always felt the warm welcome from Mother Earth and Father Sky. I have always known I come from the Earth, and this is where I belong. The wonderful thing about the outdoors is there is so much to do. My grandparents’ livelihood was working the land as workers and farmers, and that tradition and love of being outdoors has become inherent. Now my family are hikers and backpackers; I teach my kids and family by taking them outdoors, and I also do this for others, leading hikes in my spare time.

During these hikes, I talk about my culture and the ancestral land we’re exploring. In doing this, I believe the hiker becomes connected to the land like they haven’t been before. I was told once by a white friend of mine that he did not have a homeland close by and therefore he did not have a connection to the land. He explained he did know Native Americans had a strong connection to the land, and because of many like me who share their connection, he can have one too with this land. This is a goal of mine: to connect those I hike and adventure with to the land we are on.

Header photo: By Angel Tadytin

Angel Tadytin is a Native American from the Navajo Tribe in Arizona. Born Many Goat for the Coyote Pass People, her maternal grandfather’s clan is Bitterwater, and her paternal grandfather’s clan is Towering House.

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