The Diné of Monument Valley in the 1950's

 

All of the photographs in this collection were taken in Monument Valley, sacred Navajo land that crosses the border of Arizona and Utah near the Four Corners of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.

The people of this land, the Diné ( "the people" as the Navajo call themselves), are weavers and shepherds, good horse people who grow corn and sing healing songs.

They believe that all the elements of nature are intelligent and hold special knowledge. These are people who trust Spirit to bring rain and make the corn grow.

In 1958, when these photos were taken, there were still mule teams and buckboards on the land. The Diné took time to enjoy the summer rain or watch the colors of the sunset.

They took time to share knowledge of the land and ceremony.

They are a proud people who honor the the land of their ancestors. These photos evoke memories of a time of innocence and spiritual simplicity.

For generations the Diné have farmed the fertile land of Monument Valley and the surrounding areas. They grew corn and beans and squash. They tended fruit trees, raised sheep and trained their horses well. They lived in "hogans"---eight sided structures with a door in the east---in the cold weather and shade houses protected them from the hot desert sun in the summer months.

The women were weavers who wove rugs and blankets from the wool of their sheep. They dyed the yarn with colors from the plants and minerals of the earth and wove designs that honored the spirit of life. Among the men were silversmiths who cast silver bracelets, buckles and bow guards in the sand. They made buttons from the white man's coins for their women to sew onto costumes and strung turquoise and coral into necklaces and jawclaws. They traded their weavings and jewelry for horses, saddles and blankets. The trading posts traded for coffee, tobacco, sugar and flour.

And in the 1920s and '30s Hollywood started making movies in Monument Valley. Harry Goulding and his wife Mike taught the Diné of Monument Valley how to benefit from the movie makers.

In many ways the Diné of Monument Valley became an important part of the Western epic movies featuring stars like John Wayne and John Ford. In fact more than 100 movies have been made in Monument Valley.

It was just about this time, in the 1950s and following the second world war, that the the Diné culture began to lose it's identity and began to assimilate the values of the society that surrounded it---what is known as Western Civilization.

For centuries the Diné culture had survived making war and peace with neighboring tribes, holding off the Spanish and withstanding suffering defeat at the hands of Kit Carson and the US Calvary. But nothing could save the Diné from two forces that have changed the entire world---uranium and the pick up truck!

It was the uranium mines in Utah that provided the wages that bought the pick up trucks. And once the first Diné man came back to the reservation with a pickup truck, the Diné became the Navajo and life changed fast---very fast. Young men left home and no longer wanted to be farmers and ranchers.

Food was store bought. Horses and mules were traded away and alcohol abuse eroded the family structure. Family farms that yielded acres and acres of corn, beans, and squash lay fallow. Fruit trees were left unattended. Even the water in the springs dried up as the coal mines used the pure water in the underground aquafers to send coal to California.

But the Beauty Way, the spirit path of the Dine', still guides The People. Today the Navajo live on the largest native american reserve in the US and count among their most prized possessions the sacred mountains and monuments that shelter the spirit and history of a people whose love of the land, their Dine'tah, has been momentarily captured in these photographs.

 


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