Navajo Wedding

It’s been years since I’ve posted anything to my social media or website (6 years since I’ve posted to Instagram as I write this…) so I thought what better way to get back into it, than by getting back to my roots of journalism. 

The town Of Leupp, Arizona located in the Navajo Nation, about 45 miles northeast of Flagstaff.

The town Of Leupp, Arizona located in the Navajo Nation, about 45 miles northeast of Flagstaff.

At the beginning of July 2021, the Navajo Nation reports 31,017 infections of COVID-19 across the reservation.

At the beginning of July 2021, the Navajo Nation reports 31,017 infections of COVID-19 across the reservation.

I traveled to Northern Arizona to document a Navajo couple’s wedding. But as I arrived in the small town of Leupp on the Navajo Nation, I couldn’t help but feel like there was more story to be told. 

The Navajo Nation has been hit especially hard over the last year during the worldwide pandemic. At one point, the per capita infection rate across the reservation was higher than any state in the U.S.. Compound these staggering infection rates with poor access to healthcare and the fact that about one third of the population on the reservation doesn’t have direct access to clean water, COVID-19 was particularly deadly for the Diné people. 

Although many households (approximately one third) of the Navajo Nation do not have access to running water, the town of Leupp does.

Although many households (approximately one third) of the Navajo Nation do not have access to running water, the town of Leupp does.

A Diné woman uses fresh water at her home several miles east of Leupp, AZ on the Navajo Reservation.

A Diné woman uses fresh water at her home several miles east of Leupp, AZ on the Navajo Reservation.

A Diné man drops off a trailer with a fresh water tank at his home several miles east of Leupp, AZ on the Navajo Reservation. This is the only way this family can access drinking water at their home in Northern Arizona.

A Diné man drops off a trailer with a fresh water tank at his home several miles east of Leupp, AZ on the Navajo Reservation. This is the only way this family can access drinking water at their home in Northern Arizona.

Job listings and missing posters highlight some of the issues facing the Dine living in the town of Leupp, AZ. The unemployment rate across the Navajo Nation is about 48.5 percent, with an average household income of $8,240.

Job listings and missing posters highlight some of the issues facing the Dine living in the town of Leupp, AZ. The unemployment rate across the Navajo Nation is about 48.5 percent, with an average household income of $8,240.

But pain and suffering are hardly anything new to the inhabitants of the Navajo Nation. 

It is estimated that when Europeans initially made contact with Native Americans in the 1500’s, approximately 70 per cent of many Native American populations succumbed to various illnesses brought across the Atlantic. 

In 1864, the United States government forced the Navajo people to walk over 300 miles into the Bosque Redondo Reservation where hundreds of Navajo died along the way. When they arrived, they found that they had been relegated to a corner of the earth where they couldn’t grow their traditional staples of vegetables. To prevent further starvation and loss of life, the U.S. government gave them processed flours and lards- and soon the Navajo fry bread as we know it today was born.

In 1918, the Navajo communities were ravaged by the Influenza, and estimates range that between 10 to 18 percent of the Navajo population was killed by it. 

Now, one year after experiencing one of the deadliest COVID-19 outbreaks in the nation, many of the Diné who live on the 27,000 square mile reservation have continued to follow mask mandates and curfews, even as the rest of the United States has mostly returned to pre-pandemic “normal.”

A family member cooks fry bread outside her home east of Leupp, AZ before a traditional Navajo Wedding. Navajo fry bread originated 159 years ago, when the United States government forced the Navajo peoples to relocate during the “Long Walk of Navajo” to lands where they couldn’t grow their traditional staples of vegetables and beans. To prevent more of the indigenous peopls from starving, the government gave them processed foods like flour and lard- the makings of frybread as we know it today.

Family members prepare food outside their home east of Leupp, AZ before a traditional Navajo Wedding.

Family members prepare food outside their home east of Leupp, AZ before a traditional Navajo Wedding.

Family members prepare food outside their home east of Leupp, AZ before a traditional Navajo Wedding.

Sophia, a Diné woman from the Navajo Nation hangs blankets in her family’s hogan, a traditional Navajo dwelling usually not equipped with running water or power. Sophia was married to her husband inside the hogan with a traditional ceremony later that day.

Sophia, a Diné woman from the Navajo Nation prepares her family's hogan, a traditional Navajo dwelling usually not equipped with running water or power.

Sophia, a Diné woman from the Navajo Nation prepares her family’s hogan, a traditional Navajo dwelling usually not equipped with running water or power.

Even with such a grim history, traditional Navajo people have chosen not to speak of the sicknesses more than necessary, because they believe to mention them would invite them back. More importanly, the Diné are a resilient people, and to quote Robert Frost who so plainly summed up life: “it goes on.” 

Despite such a grim background to this wedding, I found it to be a joyful and happy occasion. Family and friends came from miles away and I got to witness a traditional Navajo ceremony inside of the family’s hogan.

Sophia Boldwarrior of Leupp, AZ enters her family's hogan at the beginng of her traditional Navajo marriage ceremony.

Sophia Boldwarrior of Leupp, AZ enters her family’s hogan at the beginng of her traditional Navajo marriage ceremony.

Sophia Boldwarrior of Leupp, AZ and her husband, Brandt partake in a traditional Navajo marriage ceremony inside a Navajo hogan.

Sophia Boldwarrior of Leupp, AZ and her husband, Brandt partake in a traditional Navajo marriage ceremony inside a Navajo hogan.

Sophia Boldwarrior of Leupp, AZ and her husband, Brandt partake in a traditional Navajo marriage ceremony inside a Navajo hogan.

Sophia Boldwarrior of Leupp, AZ and her husband, Brandt partake in a traditional Navajo marriage ceremony inside a Navajo hogan.

Sophia Boldwarrior of Leupp, AZ and her husband, Brandt exit the Navajo hogan after being married with a traditional Navajo ceremony.

Sophia Boldwarrior of Leupp, AZ and her husband, Brandt exit the Navajo hogan after being married with a traditional Navajo ceremony.

Finally, this trip led me to reflect on my own life and how a people who have gone through so much  hardship can still be happy and peaceful. I think we can all learn something from the Navajo way of life. 

Sophia Boldwarrior of Leupp, AZ and her husband, Brandt.

Sophia Boldwarrior of Leupp, AZ and her husband, Brandt.

Families mingle and eat after the wedding outside of Leupp, AZ. One year after experiencing one of the deadliest COVID-19 outbreaks in the nation, many Diné who live on the 27,000 square mile reservation have continued to follow mask mandates and curfews,

Families mingle and eat after the wedding outside of Leupp, AZ. One year after experiencing one of the deadliest COVID-19 outbreaks in the nation, many Diné who live on the 27,000 square mile reservation have continued to follow mask mandates and curfews, even as the rest of the United States has mostly returned to pre-pandemic “normal.”

Sophia Boldwarrior of Leupp, AZ and her husband, Brandt.

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Blue Skies and Happy Cowboys

Here I am blogging again. Even though I said I wouldn’t. OK, I’m not really blogging. More like showing off some photos, because I suck at this writing part. So here are some photos.

I think when I’m in a good mood I make cheery, happy photos. Or maybe just less crappy photos. Either way, I’ve been in a good place lately, mostly due to a certain someone. You know who you are. Enjoy.

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