Yá’át’ééh! Dííjį́ yéego hózhǫ́ dooleeł!

Hello! Do your best to make today great!

In Navajo, yá’át’ééh is a greeting, but before it became widespread, it was used to mean “it is good”. The full impact of the word comes from yá-, or the skyward direction.

Yéego (yégoh, yéígo) means “with much effort” or “with greater intensity”.

Dooleeł means “it will be” or “make it so” or “it will be made so”. Many times, speakers will use ‘doo’ (dohh) as a shorter way to say it. This can be confusing if the speaker uses a negation, like “doo yá’át’ééh da doo”.

Put it together, and you have “Hello! Have a great day!”, or as close as you can come to it in the literal sense. Culturally, it’s better to remind people that they have control in keeping a good balance in outlook – or hózhǫ́. ‘Wishing’ someone luck or goodness, in the way English intends to, doesn’t quite keep the same sentiment in Navajo since you’d be saying something like “If only you had luck/goodness.”

This is an example that demonstrates how Navajo can sound direct, and possibly offensive, when it is translated directly into English. Hopefully, you’ll have more questions about what Navajo words imply. Feel free to ask!

Shicheii

Shicheii is my mother’s father, or my grandfather (aka maternal grandfather).

In the Navajo way, shicheii is also my grandson by my daughter (a kind of nickname or recognition). In the clanship way, shicheii’s first clan is my “dashicheii” clan, which often is the third to be listed after my father’s clan (“báshíshchíín”).

The horned toad (or ‘horny toad’*) is also referred to as “shicheii”, and as young Navajo we are told not to kill or harm our grandfathers. In the same vein, we are told not to be afraid of them, either.

There are a few characteristics drawn from the horned toad that can dictate the interaction between a Navajo elder and his grandson. The tough and fierce exterior of the horned toad is intimidating and sometimes scary. But underneath he has a soft belly.

*As children this English pronunciation is easier and is semantically identical to ‘horned toad’ in this case.

Báshíshchíín

As part of the Navajo introduction and clanship system, this word references your father’s first clan. Since every Navajo is their mother’s clan (meaning her’s is the “first clan” or the one her children pass on to their children), their father’s clan is the one they would be “born for”.

For example: Hashk’aan hadzohí báshíshchíín (I am born for Yucca-fruit-strung-out-on-a-line)*.

This essentially means the second clan is the father’s mother’s (mother’s mother’s …) clan.

The Navajo figure Tó bájíshchíní, who was one of the mythical warrior twins that vanquished giant monsters, is named “Born for water”, or “child born of water”.

In the third person, this word becomes yáshchíín (he/she is born for). This way of recognizing oneself or another helps to structure relations among Navajo people, and can sometimes lead to scrutiny if partners are related by clanship. Strictly speaking, it is not totally disallowed for two clan relatives to be engaged if the elders are confident that there is no immediate or blood relation. This takes a convening of families and extensive comparison of their family trees.

Another word referencing the father is shitaa’ – but that is more referring to a spiritual father (father sky).

*Cultural note: hashk’aan is also a word for banana, so I could be given the nickname Banana Boy and teased (not harshly).

The Next 100 Years

What do we need to do now so that Diné Bizaad continues to be spoken in 100 years?

I posed this question to reflect on the passing of our Navajo Code Talkers. The past year has seen the original 29 leaving, and that leads to the reality that many of our elders wish to see their knowledge pass to the next generation. But beyond our generation, what role does Navajo have in our daily lives?

As young people, we have the energy and drive to do things right now. Let’s start talking.

Tsékooh Hatsoh

One of the Navajo names for the Grand Canyon in Arizona is Tsékooh Hatsoh.

Here, we have the word tsékooh, which refers to a canyon.

The second word describes a big space, making use of the ha- and -tsoh particles.

The Grand Canyon, today, is a park under the protection of the US Federal Government. In the past, the US permitted mining and natural resource development in many of its tributaries. Historically, tribes in the area obtained salt from the canyon before modern heavy mining technology developed.

Several tribes in the Southwest US have traditions and practices associated with different parts of the Grand Canyon. The Hopi Tribe, for example, have many stories of ancestors and earlier groups that are said to have emerged near the confluence of the Little Colorado and Colorado Rivers.

Development in the area has been a sensitive topic since it has been affected by the Bennett Freeze – an order by the US government against any development or repairs of any type across nearly 1.5 million acres. This action had its roots in the Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute, which itself involves the designation of traditional borders and use as determined by the Federal government.

In an effort to take advantage of tourism in the area, the Navajo Government has promoted job creation and the economic benefit of a project known as the “Escalade”, which is mainly a planned gondola that takes visitors on a ride into Tsékooh Hatsoh.

The Skywalk is another tribal project by the Hualapai Tribe that faced similar opposition, but now allows visitors a view of the canyon via an extended ‘u-shaped’ platform that juts out from the canyon ledge.

Some older Navajo also made visits to friends and relatives in and around the canyon, often making the trip on horseback to places like the Havasupai Village on older trails. The Grand Canyon was always a hub of activity that goes back to the many tribes inhabiting the area.