The holiday season is a busy time for many on the Navajo Reservation. People are bustling around deciding what presents to give, and what dishes to make for their family dinner. Navajo artisans also depend on this time of year to sell their crafts, and for several weeks leading up to Christmas, bazaars happen every other day where you can find handmade pottery, paintings, jewelry, and more.
Despite the holiday festivities, there are always individuals in the community who do not have the financial resources to give and receive, or the mobility to join their family gatherings. Many of these individuals happen to be elders in the community. Elders who live mostly by themselves, while their children and grandchildren must live away from home where jobs and educational opportunities are better. This reality is painful for many Navajo, as Diné elders are keepers of traditional stories, fluent speakers of Navajo language, and the main source of cultural knowledge for younger Navajos. Even so, many individuals have recognized this need, and do their part to make the elders’ holiday season less lonesome.
Take for example, the Chinle Senior Citizen Center who hosts a Christmas Dinner for seniors in the community every year. This particular year at Canyon de Chelly, Park Ranger LaShanna Deschine organized two events to coincide with their meal—a Food Drive and Adopt a Grandparent. At the visitor center we set up boxes where we collected non-perishable food items to donate to the Senior Citizen Center for future meals. Second, we hung on our Christmas tree the names of 20 elders who most frequently spend time at the center, and encouraged people to adopt one elder to buy a present for. While we did have a few visitors adopt an elder, it was mostly other Park Rangers who happily plucked names off the tree. As such over the last few weeks we steadily received more food and more presents until soon we had several boxes of assorted non-perishable groceries, and all 20 holiday-wrapped gifts for the elders. It was now time to deliver both.
Yesterday, the Senior Citizen Center’s Christmas Dinner Day, I awoke to freezing rain and muddy dirt roads. Not ideal weather for traveling. Nevertheless, once at the visitor center I was excited to measure the rainfall from that night, and marveled at all the tiny icicles which had formed outside. So much so, I just had to do a mini photo session. With the chilly weather outside, and Christmas decorations inside, it felt as if the holiday aura was a bit more pronounced. It also helped that by 11:30 am our muddy government vehicle was packed full of canned food and glittery presents. Accompanied by Assistant Superintendent Wilson Hunter, and Administrative Support Assistant LaVerne Wagner, we volunteered our lunch hour and dove to the Senior Citizen Center. There our food went into the kitchen pantry, and the gifts were carried into the large dining room crowded with grandmas and grandpas listening to an elder recite a joke in Navajo. Their eyes followed us to the Christmas tree already harboring a variety of other presents, and the closest grandpa to us whispered thank-you (not to disrupt the one telling the joke). We returned to the kitchen, where we suited up in plastic aprons and gloves, ready to serve the seniors their Christmas meal. For the next 20 minutes we clutched trays of food and meandered through tables and folding chairs, trying not to knock over walking canes or cowboy hats. I wish I could’ve taken some photos, but sadly carrying two plates of food and snapping photos is not one of my talents. Once we were done serving all of the seniors we had to return to work, and sadly never got to see those 20 adopted elders open their gifts.
Even as I sit here writing this blog, I find the office a bit empty, now that presents are no longer over-crowding the corner where I work, and leaving glitter on my jacket and chair. For all of us who participated, it was a fun change to our normal work routine. And for me I thought it was a fitting way to begin the second half of my internship as the CVA of Canyon de Chelly National Monument. I’m here to help Canyon de Chelly recruit volunteers for the monument, but it felt right that we, as a park, also volunteered for our surrounding Navajo community.