Yá’át’ééh!  Shí ‘éí Devon Gorman yinishyé.  Bilagaanaa nishłį́ dóó Tséníjíkiní báshíshchíín.  Naakai dashicheii dóó Tábąąhí dashinálí. Ch’ínílį́di tséyi yii’ National Park Service yá naashnish. Centennial Volunteer Ambassador nishłį́.

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Hello! I am Devon Gorman, and I am serving as the Centennial Volunteer Ambassador at Canyon de Chelly National Monument. I am Diné, or what most people know as Navajo. Out of respect I told you my four clans, which are a fundamental part of my identity as a Navajo woman. I am my mother’s clan, White American, and born for my father’s clan, Cliff Dwellers People. My maternal grandfather is Hispanic, and my paternal grandfather is Water’s Edge people.

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Inside Canyon de Chelly near the mouth

I was born and raised in the Navajo community of Chinle, Arizona only a ten-minute drive from Canyon de Chelly, or Tseyi as we call it. Growing up I played in the waters of the canyon’s seasonal wash, ran up its trails for cross-country training, and gazed at its ancient ruins wondering who the people were that came before us. I enjoyed visiting the canyon, but before the CVA program, had never entertained the idea of working for the National Park Service at Canyon de Chelly. When the opportunity arrived through the Student Conservation Association, I was simply excited to be able to stay home and serve at a place with strong ties to my childhood and my heritage.

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First Ruin

I have now been here for 5 weeks, and I can say for certain that my love for Canyon de Chelly has only grown more. The canyon is no longer just a place for recreation, but a spiritual center where I can learn about and protect my people’s culture and that of other Native peoples in the Southwest. Just this morning on a hike with Ranger Deschine, a high school volunteer, and 3 visitors, I felt so grateful to serve here. I stood on the muddy canyon floor, still damp from the previous day’s monsoon rain, breathing in the sweet aroma of the desert and staring up at First Ruin (an Ancient Puebloan dwelling). A little way off there was another group of visitors taking a jeep tour. Their guide, a Navajo resident of the canyon, described to them in his thick reservation accent the ceremonial purpose of kivas. It struck me then, how unique and meaningful it was that indigenous people, not anyone else, were sharing the stories of indigenous people. So often, our perspectives on ourselves are lost or explained by others, even at other national parks, where there are tensions between the park and the native tribe who historically occupied that area.

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Panel of Hopi Petroglyphs in the canyon

All this said, I am excited to for the future of my service as the CVA of Canyon de Chelly. I have seen in other volunteers and visitors the same realization I had about Tseyi’s cultural significance, and a growth in their determination to conserve and preserve its resources. It only seems natural for me to share and cultivate in others that same love and commitment, in my specific case through volunteerism. With another eleven months to go, I am looking forward to further promoting and expanding Canyon de Chelly’s volunteer program.