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.


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

Ha’a’aahjigo dighádídeeshwoł.

I will run to the east

K’ad dahdiishyeed.

I am starting to run

Hasht’e’í’ dideeshnííł yę́ę.

I need to get ready

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.

Starting Your Day (Scenario #1)

For the past few weeks, I’ve been creating a 10 part course for anyone that wants to get a better grasp on the Navajo language. Some parts I made didn’t quite fit in under any of the specific topics. One tutorial section called “Starting Your Day” had ideas about waking up, making the bed, going for a run, showering up, and breakfast. This week, I thought I’d share a little of what didn’t quite make it into the course – mostly sets of phrases.

Here is the part that touches on the part of the morning routine where you wake up:

To open your eyes


My eyes are closed.

Dishghaał; or, shináá’ ąą’ áshłééh.

I am opening my eyes.

Shináá’ ąą’ át’é; or, díínísh’į́į́’.

My eyes are open.

To be laying down

Shitsásk’eh bikáa’gi sétį́.

I am laying down on my bed.

Áníídí ch’ééńdzid.

I just woke up.

To be awoken


“Get out of bed.”


“You wake up.”

Náshidiiłt’e’; or, ch’ééh sinńsid.

She woke me up.

Have some fun with these – go crazy! And if you need pronunciations, they’ll be thrown up on the Soundcloud page.

Tutorial sections like this are part of the focus on phrases in the upcoming course. Based on the feedback from all of NavajoWOTD readers, I’ve really tried to think of things you can pick up and use everyday. Please, feel free to give me feedback – it really does help!

The Course

It’s called Better Navajo in 10 Days – think “lesson a day” like “word of the day.” I’ve given it a release date of April 2 (there’s a presale discount if you’re interested). You can find out more by clicking on the link in the sidebar – or below this post (or at this link).

Tomorrow, I’ll share the next section: Make the Bed – movement, blankets, and more!



Awéé' - navajo word for baby

Following up on Valentine’s Day, today’s word is awéé’.

Awéé’ is the Navajo word for “baby”.

She’awéé’ means “my baby” and awéé’ yázhí means “little baby”. Although most Navajo babies are born like every other baby, they typically weren’t given names until they have their first laugh.

Names for babies describe the qualities parents want for their child, like strength, happiness, or beauty (as in sunshine). But why wait until they laugh?

Navajos are great observers, so when it came to newborns – and this is supported to modern data on infant mortality – the period between birth and the first laugh is most critical. Without prenatal care or modern monitoring technology, the first laugh was the best marker for Navajos to judge survival. When baby laughs, it’s a sign that she has found a very important lifeline – laughter itself.

Of course, when baby first laughs, a celebration – or ceremony – is held. The one to make baby laughs has the responsibility of making the event happen, because it is said that baby will inherit qualities of that person – and there’s no better trait than generosity.