Resources for Navajo views on animals and nature
July 25, 2012 1:04 PM   Subscribe

Sources for Navajo views on animals and nature?

I'd like to lead a discussion on what Navajos believe about how humans should treat non-human animals.

I'm having trouble finding any article or book which characterizes the Navajo viewpoint on eating meat, hunting, etc.

Such views on animals might be part of larger views on how The Navajo relate to nature in general, but I haven't found a good resource on such larger issues either.

What' I've done so far is plug in the following searches into Google Scholar:

Navajo animal morality
Navajo animal ethics
Navajo hunting ethics
Navajo environmental ethics
Navajo philosophy nature

Any recommendations on specific articles/books or different research strategies would be greatly appreciated!
posted by airing nerdy laundry to Society & Culture (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'd look for some Navajo cookbooks, how people prepare their food should provide insight into their food culture.

There are many books about the Navajo, check out a few of them to study up on the subject. John Adair was an anthropologist who lived with the Navajo for decades. He's worked on books and film about the Navajo.

You can always go to the reservation up in Window Rock, AZ. Or check out some stuff at the Heard Museum in Phoenix (a place I visited annually during my schooling.)

My fear is that you might have some romantic ideas about Navajo's and their relationship to their food. You say you want to lead a discussion, but you don't seem to have a basis of knowledge for this.

I think that you might have some preconceptions that will cloud your research.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:32 PM on July 25, 2012

This Navajo radio station website has links to other resources, like newspapers, television, etc. I might start there. I am guessing this might be the Navajo radio station that a Navajo man introduced me to when I was in New Mexico earlier this year where people were speaking in Navajo on the air. So, as a mostly German-Irish white person with a dash of Cherokee, it is the most "authentic" Navajo source I would personally know of as a place to start looking for valid information on Navajo culture. Hopefully you will soon get some far more in-the-know replies.
posted by Michele in California at 1:47 PM on July 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is considered a key text on Navajo/Dineh philosophy.

In terms of Navajo/Dineh national and group statements about foodways, this Navajo Nation page is interesting.

Lots of resources in the bibliography here on both hunting and herding.

This document from the Navajo Nation Courts might give you some leads--some key concepts of Navajo/Dineh philosophy are discussed.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:48 PM on July 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

Some relevant interviews archived here.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:53 PM on July 25, 2012

Many thanks for the suggestions, folks! Sidhevil I've ordered up the John Adair book you linked to from my local library.

Ruthless Bunny thanks for the reminder to have as few preconceptions as possible. However, I don't see why I need to be reminded that I don't know enough to lead a discussion when I'm in the information-gathering stage.
posted by airing nerdy laundry at 2:26 PM on July 25, 2012


I am traditional Diné/Navajo person who actively hunts with a compound bow. You're asking for a lifetime's worth of knowledge and teachings which may be superficially absorbed through various tiny snippets recorded in books or websites. My question to you is what do you plan to do with this knowledge, what is your goal?
posted by nataaniinez at 3:31 PM on July 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Hi Nataaniinez -

I'm teaching an Intro. Ethics course at a University which begins in a couple of months. The idea is to survey different approaches to ethical topics.

No topic in an intro. course is going to be covered much depth, but my challenge is to provide what depth I can w/out misleading students into believing they have expertise.

If possible, I'd like to do 1 or 2 class sessions devoted to how The Navajo believe animals should be treated.

Suggested stories, teachings, articles, book chapters, etc. are welcomed.

I don't have a background in this. But I think/hope it's better for a teacher to branch out than to stick to the culture with which she's most familiar.
posted by airing nerdy laundry at 3:48 PM on July 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Excellent, thank you for responding.

To Navajos who follow the tadadiinji/corn-pollen way, animals (known as four-legged beings to us) are intimately involved with our creation stories, our philosophy and our ceremonies. Since it's an intro course, it may help to narrow your scope or focus to a single example of what is still actively performed to this day that embodies some or most of these teachings. I'm reluctant to recommend this (due to my own personal opinions), but maybe research the Miss Navajo Nation pageant, which has contestants, in full traditional attire, butcher a sheep in front of the judges and an assembled crowd. We Diné are a matrilineal society and the Miss Navajo Nation contestants must embody most of our ideals and philosophy.
posted by nataaniinez at 4:09 PM on July 25, 2012 [8 favorites]

PBS Independent Lens showed a very interesting documentary about the Miss Navajo Nation contest.
posted by agatha_magatha at 4:21 PM on July 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

agatha_magatha - I'm thinking of ordering the Independent Lens documentary. Thanks for the rec!

Do you happen to remember whether it explained the sheep butchering ceremony in any way that would shed light on how Diné view animals and nature?
posted by airing nerdy laundry at 6:46 PM on July 25, 2012

My recollection is that there certainly were elements of that. It was very much about the young women becoming better informed about their culture.
posted by agatha_magatha at 9:26 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I haven't seen the film myself (I really should) but there is a ceremony that is done before the sheep is butchered. During this ceremony, we remember our journey to Dinétah (Navajo Land), the struggles we faced and overcame with the help of various four-legged people, winged-people and insect-people. I am far more familiar with the deer-hunting ceremonies and vaguely recall the sheep butchering ceremony as I am usually away from Dinétah since I've gotten older and am home less often. Every butchering I've witnessed was not a violent act, as odd as it sounds. I've seen my shimásáni (grandmother) gently pet and caress the sheep until the butchering began. I've never seen a sheep struggle or react wildly, which tells me the ceremony or the psychological process required for the butcher and butchered was successfully accomplished.

There is a story associated with how we Diné adapted sheep into our lifestyle and culture, of which I will need to gather further information on if this is still the route you would like to go. To provide context, we view sheep as part of our lives. If a Diné child is born to a family that still herds sheep and follows a traditionalist lifestyle, the umbilical chord is buried in the sheep corral, which symbolizes the child's commitment to the sheep and the sheep's commitment to the child. We are told if we take of our sheep well, they will take care of us. They are not to be abused because what we do to the sheep we do to ourselves. This is a central theme in Diné philosophy: What we do to others, we do to ourselves. Others includes Nahasdzáán Shimá (mother earth), Yádixlhixl Shitaa' (father sky), animals, insects, everything. With colonization and attempts of forced assimilation into the settler societies, not many of us follow this but it's still taught and I am extremely grateful for it.

Sorry if this seems short, I have to make sure I am allowed to share further info. Our culture, as with many indigenous/aboriginal cultures, has been appropriated without providing proper context for so long that I may displease some people if I continue on.
posted by nataaniinez at 9:58 PM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

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