Tsé Bit’a’í

In Navajo, tsé is the word for “rock” and bit’a’í refers to a wing.

You may remember that one word for wing is at’a’. With the stem -‘í in bit’a’í, feathers are being referenced in such a way that their position can be described as extending in some “thin” fashion. Overall, this contributes to the idea of a wing.

Taken together, we’re saying something along the lines of “rock that has wings.” In English, the name of this place is Shiprock in New Mexico.

Tsé Bit’a’í is home to many Navajo leaders, and is one of the Navajo Nation’s most voter-active chapters. Shiprock High School has graduated generations of Navajo families, which has led to the distinctive motto, “Once a Chieftain, always a Chieftain.”

Judge Judy Sheindlin recently revealed that she would be addressing the Class of 2015 as the keynote speaker. The decision was made as part of an essay contest in which a Shiprock High School student participated.

Shiprock and the surrounding communities continue to advocate for positive change in their communities. Like many other Navajo Nation communities, it has faced many challenges in balancing a rich culture with the changes of urban life.

Places in Navajo

Using -di and -gi with places

When you need to talk about a place in Navajo, you’ll use the word fragment -di (dih) and its more specific form -gi (gih). You’ll attach them to the end of the place name, like this:

  • New Mexico, Albuquerque: Yootó Hahoodzodi Be’eldííldahsinilgi

There are a few things to note about the example. When you have a place within a more general area, you’ll use -di first with the bigger area (the state in the example). Then you’ll follow that with the more specific location using -gi (the city of Albuquerque).

If you only have one place to name, use -di. You can practice the concept by thinking about different locations, and attaching -di and -gi to get a hang of it. Like this:

  • Tuba City-di, Yellowman Park-gi
  • University of New Mexico-di, Zimmerman Library-gi
  • Grand Canyon-di, Bright Angel Trail-gi


The Navajo word kéyah means “land” in English.

In an earlier post, I described the Four Corners area of the Southwest U.S. The Navajo and Hopi Nations are described in Navajo using the word bikéyah.

Today, Navajoland is considered the largest tribal nation in the U.S., in terms of land base. It is 17,046,112.51 acres in total, and the deeds are held in trust by the U.S. government. The People make use of the land through different leases and permits for homesites, land use, grazing, and more.

Following the Treaty of Bosque Redondo, the Navajo Reservation slowly grew through a series of expansions. These were necessary because, traditionally, Navajo considered Diné Bikéyah to be bounded by the Four Sacred Mountains. It wasn’t until late in the 1900s that the Navajo Tribal Council chose to change “Navajo Reservation” to “Navajo Nation.”

Diné Bizaad, or the Navajo language, is considered to be closely tied to the land. When it comes to nature, balance is important. If you’ve followed NavajoWOTD, you should recognize that language is not just words, but ideas and culture. Learning the language helps you view the land in a more personal way.


Starting out

  • I will run to the east: Ha’a’aahjigo dighádídeeshwoł.
  • I am starting to run: K’ad dahdiishyeed.
  • I need to get ready: Hasht’e’í’ dideeshnííł yę́ę.

A Bit of Cultural Perspective

It’s early. The eastern horizon still has a few twinkling stars hanging low. A faint brightening of the sky tells you it’s time to get up. And even in the deep winter, the birds will sing.

Chances are, your parents are already awake. You lay in your bed, cautiously aware of how quickly the sun seems to rise. If the sun is anywhere near breaking the horizon, you’re already too late; dad will drag you out of bed or mom will splash water in your face. Either way, you’re sure to make your bed before you’re out the door.

The horses have been let out, and your only instruction is to run behind them towards the east. You could be stark naked but at that moment you’re reacting to the fact that dad will be joining you on your run today, and he’s fast, and he won’t be having you lag behind. After a few moments of running, the only thing going through your mind is what the day will bring.

Over a few weeks, and in the following months, this routine becomes second-nature. Not only that, but missing the opportunity to run just seems wrong in some small way. After you finish your run back at the starting point, your mother has cooked breakfast and she makes sure you’re fed. It’s almost as if you’ve earned breakfast. In any case, you’re grateful.

There are a few things we know from Western medicine about health and survival. For one, pre-dawn is one of the coldest parts of the day – increasing the risk of freezing. Another is that running can cause your body to release chemicals called endorphins, which are helpful in managing stress (you go through a lot of mental stress in the act of running). And in Navajo world-views, stress can create a lasting imbalance, causing excessive worrying, anxiety, and more.

This is why both traditional and non-traditional Navajos still get up early and run – it’s practical.

Waking Up

Here are some ideas and phrases about getting up in the morning – some things you might hear at the very beginning of the day.

Opening your eyes

  • My eyes are closed: Níínshch’il.
  • I am opening my eyes: Dishghaał; or, shináá’ ąą’ áshłééh.
  • My eyes are open: Shináá’ ąą’ át’é; or, díínísh’į́į́’.

Laying down

  • I am laying down on my bed: Shitsásk’eh bikáa’gi sétį́.
  • I just woke up: Áníídí ch’ééńdzid.

Waking up

  • “Get out of bed”: Nídiidááh.
  • “You wake up”: T’éénzííd.
  • She woke me up: Náshidiiłt’e’; or, ch’ééh sinńsid.

Some of these phrases are intended to demonstrate how some ideas can be expressed in one word of Navajo.

It’s common practice, traditionally, to wake up and to put away bedding before the first light of dawn. The house or room should be neat, and if you’re running then you’re out the door to greet the sunrise.