The Song Within Thinking Outwardly: Navajo Thought and Poetry


(gentle acoustic music) – (speaking Navajo) Greetings. My name is Sherwin Bitsui, and I’m of the Bitter Water people, who are my mother’s clan,
and her mother’s clan, and her grandmother’s clan, and her great-grandmother’s clan. And that clan system goes all the way back to the beginning of time. And that lineage is
passed through the woman, because we are a matrilineal
society and culture. I’m born from my father’s
clan, and, like me, he is of his mother’s clan, and her clan, and her mother’s clan, and
her grandmother’s clan, and so on. And he is of the Many Goats people. And my maternal grandparents
are the Kiyaa’aanii people. And again, those are my grandparents, so anybody who has that clan, I refer to them as my grandparents,
my maternal grandparents. And that particular clan is one that I could probably
say is a Puebloan clan. I don’t know the whole
story, but when I think of the clan as an image,
it is a towering house, and it is a people who
lived in a towering house. And if anybody’s been to the southwest, one might notice that there
are old Puebloan buildings, ancestral Puebloan buildings
there that are tall and also towering houses. My paternal grandparents
are the Coyote Pass people, and that’s my nálí’s clan. And he was a medicine man, and I’ll talk a little bit
about him in this talk. They are the clan I can probably locate in recent memory and recent time. They are originally from
the Jemez Pueblo people, and somehow we absorbed
them into our culture. We adopted a couple of women, and they eventually had children, and they were of the Coyote Pass people. And the period that that
adoption takes place is probably in maybe, say,
1600s, after the Pueblo revolt. I’m originally from the Navajo reservation in the Four Corners area. It’s the high desert, and I grew up in a traditional Navajo family. I was a shepherd when I was growing up, and I feel like that still
informs a lot of my work. And when I say I grew up
in a traditional family, I’m actually saying that my
family followed a tradition and a way of life that was
connected to deep ancestral… I mean, it was just connected to the place and time and the ancestors of our people. So that’s where I’m from. And I also want to acknowledge
the ancestors of this land, the Massachusetts and Wampanoag people, and their connection and
their stories that live on in this place. They’ve named this place. A lot of your rivers here
are probably named by them. If you just pay attention to the words, you can follow them and
each of them is a story, each of them is a history. I was able to do that
recently in Marfa, Texas. I had a residency there last month, and there’s a mountain range
in this particular area in south Texas, and the mountain
range is called Chinati. There’s a really famous, fancy foundation called the Chinati Foundation. They also have offices in New York. But for some reason I was
driving through the landscape, and I actually placed my
language on top of that word, with all the accents and stuff, and then suddenly that word transformed. And suddenly that word was not “chinati”, the Anglicized version. It was an Athabaskan word, an Apache word, and we share a common sort
of language with them. Eh, it’s not too similar, but they vary and they’re a little bit different. But the word itself, as
I put diacritics on it, became “ch’íná’itíh, ch’íná’itíh.” And in Navajo that means
a place of exiting, a place of moving out. (gentle acoustic music)

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