Life on Biggest Indian Reservation in America

Dec 18, 2022 1.2M Views 2.8K Comments

Larger than West Virginia and just smaller than South Carolina is the biggest Indian reservation in the United States–The Navajo Nation. Join me on this adventure with the locals to learn about this fascinating and mysterious part of America that very few people understand.

Nick and Amber’s production company:

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► Video edited by: Natalia Santenello
► Researched by: Kymberly Redmond

♪ melodic acoustic guitar ♪
-Good morning, guys.
If there’s anything I’ve learned over
the last few weeks shooting about Natives
is that they don’t so much
like to be called
Natives, Native American,
Indian, First Nation,
and are much more interested in
being called Lakota, Crow, Zuni,
their tribe,
which they consider their nation.
So today we have the great privilege
to meet up with a local
two hours south of here
in Shiprock, New Mexico.
Who grew up on the Navajo Nation.
Home of the Diné people
but moved out to Albuquerque.
Understands both worlds
through and through.
Told me he sometimes feels part of both.
Sometimes feels part of neither.
Wealth of knowledge and information.
He’s gonna give us a really good insight
to what it’s like being Native
both on the reservation
and off the reservation.
All right, guys, another adventure.
I’m excited for this one.
Let’s do it.
♪ melodic acoustic guitar ♪
[truck driving off-road]
All right, guys, this is where
the coordinates have left me…
We’re almost… Well we’re almost
off-roading at this point.
Maybe it’s that structure out there.
Who knows?
But it looks like we’re gonna get
the inside tour of the Navajo Nation
because I don’t think anyone’s
coming out here to these parts.
[truck driving on dirt road]
So here we are an hour and a half later.
The coordinates were off on Google
and Nick, the guy we’re meeting here,
we just met him and his wife
in the parking lot at the grocery store.
(He) said, “On the reservation
there are no real directions.”
as in addresses, as in Google
can’t pinpoint where somebody lives.
We’ll have to get more on that
but that’s the reason
I was off-roading in the middle of nowhere.
[door opens]
[door closes]
PETER: New house, Nick?
NICK: Yeah.
How’s it going?
-It’s good.
This is a bit different
than where I was off-roading.
Inside is more finished than the outside
and my mom has hosted
a couple of thanksgivings now.
-Okay, what did your mom just have you do?
Go to the supermarket
to get Starbucks, right?
-Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.
-First one on the rez?
-I believe it is first one on the rez.
Shiprock is a border town
and if you know the families there
they will all pile up into a truck, a car,
a van, whatever, and they would go to town.
Literally drive to town to get groceries.
Border town meaning it’s
on the reservation or off the reservation?
-It’s on the reservation
but at the very edge of the reservation
-Oh, okay.
-This is your little guy?
-Yeah, that’s our little one.
-Little Benjamin, this is my dad.
-How you doing, sir?
-George, how you doing?
-George, Peter.
Nice to meet you.
-Yeah, that’s my dad.
WOMAN: I’m the mom.
PETER: Mom, okay.
TINA: Yeah.
NICK: Here you go, mom.
TINA: Oh, thank you.
PETER: So son is building this for you?
-Yeah, he designed the house.
-Yeah, and there’s just two of us in here.
What were we thinking?
PETER: You were thinking
you want to live large.
It looks nice.
Is this your construction crew
right here?
[all chuckling]
Yeah, over there.
NICK: You want to look at this door again?
PETER: No I just… Oh, wow.
So Nick, I didn’t mention outside,
you’re a designer and a builder.
-Yes, correct.
-This is your art.
-Yes, this is one of those projects that
I tried to talk my parents out of doing.
-You tried to talk them out of it?
[Nick laughs]
NICK: So this area
is pretty much our whole family.
Right here was
my grandma’s late sister’s house.
-Now her son lives in there.
He’s my uncle.
-Here’s a question I’ve asked
on every reservation I’ve been on.
-Yeah, yeah.
-Someone from the outside,
that being me,
if I’m going to refer to, say, all tribes
I’m going to say,
“Native culture.” or “Natives.”
Is that the way I should say it?
Should I be saying Native American?
Should I be saying Indian?
Should I say First Nations?
What’s the right way to say it?
-It’s the same thing as you would
ask anybody who is American.
It’s an American choice of,
“What do you want to be called?”.
I think that’s the way I see it.
-So there’s no uniform way to say it?
-No, there’s not.
-Okay, yeah.
-I mean it’s carmel, caramel.
-The reason I bring this up is because
quite often from the…
I said, “Native Americans”, someone said,
“Don’t say that.”
Then I said, “Indian.”,
like, “Don’t say that, that’s offensive.”
These aren’t Natives saying this.
This is from the outside
saying this, right?
-So people from the outside trying to
say how you guys should be called.
What I’ve learned is people want to be
called Navajo, or Diné, or Lakota, or Crow.
They want to identify with their tribe
not as in, like, a monolith, right?
-Well that’s…
I mean I don’t know if you want
part of this in your video but it’s…
I identify that as
liberal discrimination, you know
It’s that part of,
“You guys need to be recognized…”
“…but let us recognize it for you
and let us help you do all this for you.”
But with us we’re like,
“We survived this long.”
“We dealt with so many atrocities,
we’re still here.”
“We still have the strength
to get through it.”
Just kind of let us figure it out.
You know what I mean?
-The best thing would be to, say,
call you Navajo or Diné, right?
-Or Diné.
-Sorry, Diné, my pronunciation’s bad…
-Yeah, it’s Diné, like, “The people.”
You can call me Navajo,
you can call me Diné.
You can call me Nick.
[all laughing]
You can call me friend.
If you are addressing me
in a respectful way
I’m not going to have a problem with it.
-So if someone said to you,
“Indian, Native, Native American,
First Nations.”
As long as they’re respectful
then you’re cool with it?
-Yeah, because it really depends on age.
You meet a 70 year old,
“Oh yeah, this Indian kid is…”
“He’s a good hard worker.”
I’m not gonna say anything
because that’s the era he grew up in.
-So yeah, the elders like to say Indian?
Well, most commonly, yes.
-And I understand
these are kindergarten questions
but that’s where most people
are at like myself.
So we gotta learn from the source.
-I think it’s just more of the stupidest
questions are the ones that aren’t asked.
It’s good that you’re asking these.
Out here with Navajos, I’ve seen
a lot of military signs, stuff like this.
So a lot of you guys join the military?
So back in 1924,
Navajos became official US citizens.
And it wasn’t shortly after that
that a lot of them signed up
to be in the military
to protect our homeland.
-And it was shortly after that
that World War II started
and the Japanese
were breaking all of our codes
and they realized,
“Hey, we got these Marines over here.”
“They’re talking in a language
we don’t understand.”
Approached them,
found out they were speaking Navajo.
Wheels started turning, they’re like,
“Hey, we’re gonna use the Navajo language.”
and now these guys
are now Navajo code-talkers,
and we’re sending them behind enemy lines
to communicate with other military groups
and coordinate strikes against Japan.
-So the Japanese
had no one that understood Navajo?
-They could figure out English
but not Navajo?
-That’s so cool.
-And Navajo the last time I checked was
the third hardest language in the world.
-Is there a division within
Navajo culture?
There’s some that
are really into the military?
I see you have flags up here
and others that are against all that or?
-No, I don’t think so.
TINA: They’re all in support because…
NICK: We’re protecting our land.
TINA: Yeah, so they have a lot of respect.
PETER: So this is grandma?
She’s okay with the camera?
We gave everybody a heads-up.
WOMAN: Hi Tina, we saw you guys outside.
[all laughing]
WOMAN: The house is not for sale.
[all chuckling]
PETER: You’re grandmother aged so well.
[all laughing]
It’s amazing.
NICK: Hey grandma, how are you?
I miss you, grandson.
PETER: You grew up here in Shiprock?
LENA: Yes, I was raised in Shiprock.
-Sheep herder.
-You were a sheep herder?
-With my late grandparents,
they had a flock of sheep.
They left up in the winter sometime,
then would come back over here.
-But one day…
What do you call that, lion?
What was it?
TINA: Mountain Lion.
LENA: Mountain lion.
We got on the horse and the donkey.
I sit in the bed…
We rode here then we ran with us.
He (stood up) with us as we fell off.
[all laughing]
Because, okay… [laughing]
That donkey got scared
of that mountain lion, we both fell off.
TINA: Oh, no.
-Then we start running on foot.
And God thanks for white people,
I guess they always go hunting for…
Looking for the wolves.
Here, they will come
and they’re really honking their car.
Then they had a rifle.
They shoot out there, out over.
-That’s why…
I guess that it wasn’t gonna follow us.
-Then they gave us a ride back.
And they were taking care
of the flock of sheep for us.
They said, “Don’t come down this way,
there’s a mountain lion here.”
So, there’s an action
story right there.
[all laughing]
NICK: A day from life
on the rez.
[all laughing]
-My father worked at Mesa Verde,
way out there, Mesa Verde.
-Oh, yeah.
-They put us in boarding school
enrolled us.
-In boarding school, where?
-Shiprock, right there.
-It was like English boarding school?
-Yeah, they had a boarding school
for boys and girls.
-He wanted you to go to school?
-How did you feel going to school
instead of sheep herding?
-Well, my mom, she understand English.
Then she can read us a book.
-Your mom said that?
You grew up speaking Navajo though, right?
-Yes, and English.
And you know what,
always singing church songs.
-Always sing church songs?
NICK: Yeah, she’s a church singer.
-You’re a very religious person?
-Ever since.
♪ Reach out and touch the Lord
as he goes by ♪
♪ He passes by this moment ♪
♪ to hear your heart’s supply ♪
Now say that…
♪ Reach out and touch the Lord ♪
♪ as he-he-he goes by ♪
Oh, so no birth certificate?
NICK: Yeah.
-Why is that?
-Back in the day
they weren’t born in hospitals.
They were born in Hogans.
But my mom was born in the old
Shiprock Hospital.
They’re records wouldn’t show it,
they were burnt in Texas.
-Oh they just like,
in a fire in a hospital?
-Yeah, so my mom has no records
so she cannot fly in an airplane.
-There’s nothing you can do?
-We tried. I tried.
We contacted Santa Fe.
We contacted people that knew her.
-So you can’t get
a driver’s license, an ID?
-She did. She did get a driver’s license
but when that new…
That Real New Mexico ID came up
and you need a bunch of proof
that you were actually a citizen,
and yet she’s an Indigenous citizen…
-How do we get granny a birth certificate?
-We want to fly her to Texas to see
my son that’s in the Army at Fort Hood.
We want to take her to Hawaii.
-Wow, so she wants to see your son
that’s in the Army, her grandson?
-Yeah, his picture’s up there.
He’s serving our country,
he’s a CBRNE specialist.
-Okay, so those who have the power
that are watching this video,
how do we get granny
legal documentation to fly?
Right? To see her grandson.
Who is fighting for us
in our military, yeah.
That is the craziest thing I’ve ever heard.
-It is, it is.
-…or if he had some land.
[all laughing]
-My Crow friends will like this.
[Cornelia squealing]
[all laughing]
We’re on the Navajo Nation and what
were you saying about the Crow men?
What are they known for?
-They’re very good-looking, very tall,
and very intelligent.
-We have some big Crow fans down here
in New Mexico.
So maybe write a comment if you, you know.
Are you married or no?
-I’m single.
[all laughing]
Ready to mingle.
[all laughing]
Show me some tingle.
[all laughing]
I’m just kidding, I like to rhyme.
PETER: On time.
-I used to be a kindergarten teacher.
PETER: Until you became a Crow preacher.
[all laughing]
-I’m just a reacher.
PETER: I’ll see you
up in Montana next year.
[all chuckling]
-It’s how God works.
Encouraging us to read the Bible.
A [unclear] and then Hebrew.
-Okay, thank you.
-It’s encouraging, okay?
-Read the Bible?
-Read the Bible.
-Thank you.
That was fun.
-Great singing.
-Yes, thank you.
PETER: So Nick, help me understand this.
With religion with the Navajos
from what I’ve gathered
it’s almost like half and half.
Some people are very religious.
-Others are further back spiritual.
-They’re more traditional.
-But is there a very strong line
between the two?
-No, there’s also a blend of tradition
and religion as well too.
-That you can pray to Jesus,
go to the revivals on the rez.
-Is there ever an issue with religion here
because it was brought in
obviously by the colonizer?
-I spent more time
in a church than I did traditional
and we didn’t have
any bad experiences there.
My grandma was talking about how her
boarding school experience was positive.
If you to talk to someone else who went
to boarding school, probably negative.
You know, because the whole theme of,
“Kill the savage, save the man.”
Which means get rid of your identity
by cutting your hair.
-No more talking in your Native language.
It’s only English and all that but others,
not all schools were
like that either too, you know?
PETER: Your granny there,
she was a cheerleader?
[all] Yeah.
PETER: I bet she was great.
TINA: She played volleyball
and then she was a track star.
NICK: Yeah.
PETER: So it’s really…
It depends who you’re talking to?
-Yes, correct.
I mean again,
Navajo reservation is like the US.
You’re gonna find pockets everywhere
of different beliefs,
different ways of looking at life,
different point of views on politics.
Just ’cause we’re Native doesn’t mean
everybody is a Democrat, you know?
It’s the exact same way on a reservation
like it is America.
NICK: This area here is the [Navajo].
I’m probably butchering the term
in Navajo but it’s a creek.
This is where I used to go
to play with my cousins.
Oh yeah, with cousins,
everybody is your cousin.
There is no first, second, or third cousin
but also I’m the only child.
So you’ll hear me a lot
say brother and sister.
-Brother and sister is all my cousins.
-So it feels like one big family in a way?
-Yep, exactly, exactly.
And that’s, you know, my wife is white.
[all chuckling]
And she had kind of a hard time
understanding that ’til she…
AMBER: It took me like six months
to figure out that you were an only child.
[all laughing]
PETER: So how has it been for you
coming into this?
-I first met Nick because we were
working at this Navajo-owned firm.
Like it was just diving
head-first into the culture.
‘Cause I didn’t grow up here.
-You know, like I moved here
from Northern California.
-So I had zero knowledge of anything.
-Do you feel like you’ve been
accepted into the community let’s say?
-Well, by his family, absolutely.
-My first-born son is not with Nick
but they treat him as their own.
-What about when you’re on your own?
You go into town here shopping or whatever.
People’re very accepting or…
-I’ve never gone on my own
’cause I’ll get lost.
-Okay, okay.
-You can relate.
-It’s like my wife.
[all laughing]
-No, I…
You know, I think it’s one of those things
where for the most part I have felt
super warmly accepted…
-…by immediate family
and even some of the less immediate family.
And then there’s definitely been moments
when I have not felt very welcome.
-So I think it’s like you go anywhere
and some people are very friendly
and other people are not.
-Some people kind of give me the stink eye.
-A lot of people don’t and they don’t care.
-Yeah, even with our oldest.
He’s as white as can be, you know?
And he’s very, very tall for his age.
So he stands out among his Native brothers,
and sisters, and cousins, and that.
And he’ll be out there
while the family’s cooking fried bread
and he’s running around
with them getting dusty
and find whatever to play with
just like a little rez kid would.
TINA: Grandpa used to plug it up.
My grandpa, during the winter
there was water throughout the years.
NICK: So this is
a little natural spring coming out
that was formed into a concrete
by my great-grandfather.
This was our water source
that we used to fill with water buckets
before we had running water
at my grandma’s house.
So they would fill this up,
and also the house that you saw here.
-That wasn’t there.
-When was that, how many years ago?
So the ’70s and early ’80s,
you were doing bucket water out of here?
So things have come a long way here.
Good water?
NICK: I think so, yeah.
[Peter sips water]
PETER: Tastes like
a lot of minerals but good.
When I was young we’d play out
in the hot sun and all that with my dogs
and my cousins, and when it gets hot
pull that little wood plug out,
just put your mouth on it,
suck it down, plug it back up and…
Make that streak of sand across your face
and go play again.
PETER: You were saying, Nick,
that none of these homes have addresses.
-No, they don’t.
They don’t have addresses, they got…
It was known as lanes, only by the locals.
-It wasn’t ’til recently, if we drive
by one you’ll see that there’s actually
just a plywood that’s painted
with the lane number on there.
Someone, a good citizen did that.
-So what about UPS, FedEx?
[sighs] No, that’s impossible.
-You can’t get packages out here?
-They need a physical address.
-Why not put addresses to relieve that
problem or it’s just not in the mindset?
-It’s not in the agenda.
That’s just kind of how it goes out here.
This is farm lanes, one of
the more popular older roads in Shiprock
and out over these trees over here
is where they had those hemp farms going on
that was causing problems
in the community as well too.
-Hemp farms,
why were they causing problems?
-It was illegal.
-And they were hiring
undocumented immigrants
from China and other countries.
and they were paying people
a quarter of what’s been required
per I would say OSHA or even decent wages.
-They set that up, bypassed everything
to just get operations up and going
with foreign investors during the pandemic.
Since everything was locked down
hardly anybody was coming out.
So less resistance until finally
things started opening up.
They caught enough attention
that one morning or one afternoon
about 90 law enforcement vehicles
showed up and shut down
the entire operation.
Now Shiprock has an influx
of homeless Chinese immigrants.
It’s baffling.
-Yeah, that’s insane.
-It’s baffling that one of our…
Multiple members of our own tribe
are willing to do that to our own community
for their own profits.
That’s the part that always irks me
about government in general.
It’s not a Navajo Nation problem,
it’s just a government problem.
People lining their pockets.
-Yep, exactly, self-interest.
-So you have a big problem
with that on Navajo Nation?
As far as I know, not anymore
because like I said…
-No, but I mean corruption in government.
-Yes, yeah, yeah.
I mean…
-It’s just like any government or…
-It’s human nature.
-It’s human nature to get power, and get
greedy, and selfish once you gain power.
-And we don’t know that because
does anybody want to gain that much power
and get into that?
And you can see here on the lights here
that there’s no street signs
or identification.
-Oh, yeah, right.
No street signs, and that’s why
I was way out in the desert off-roading.
[all chuckling]
That’s why you were far South not North..
We’re on the North side of…
Now going into Shiprock I mean.
We have the hospital to the left.
-So two questions
I get a lot from my audience.
Healthcare, and how is it?
Is healthcare, if your Native,
is it free healthcare?
-You have to pay something or…
-If you need a surgery,
you’re covered or…
-You are covered
if the facility can perform it.
And then what about housing?
Does everyone get a free house?
Does it depend who you are?
How does that work?
-Well, it’s definitely improved
’cause these apartment complexes here
are brand new.
-Having been here 20 years ago.
Apartment complexes
were few and far between
The closest they got were probably
duplexes or very small single homes.
And that was provided by,
you know, the government.
They’re also putting more money
into housing provided by
that you can get accepted to
through an application process.
-And it’s free.
If not, there’s a very low monthly payment.
Just like leasing land if you’re
a tribal member it’s a very low…
-It’s not, you know, land’s not free.
That’s a misinterpretation as well too,
it’s leased.
Like the land that we’re on,
we are still leasing it.
-So all these homes people have, they’re
leasing that land or they own that land?
-It comes out to what era you got it.
-When you got it, okay.
-And when you say you’re leasing, is that
leasing from the federal government?
-Yes, correct, from our own
Navajo Nation federal government.
And then the last question
I get all the time is,
“Does everyone get a monthly stipend
or how does that work?”.
You get monthly payments
if you are an elderly.
If you need assistance,
like let’s say through ADA guidelines,
in a wheelchair, unable to work,
and stuff like that.
-Mentally disabled.
But we… [sighs]
Unless it changed recently, the last time
I checked is we don’t get casino money.
That’s more of a small tribe deal.
-So we’re going to a flea market.
Is that correct, flea market?
-Yeah, this is the flea market,
the main hub in Shiprock’s intersection.
-I think it was up in Crow I was told
every reservation is different.
They’re either total anarchy
or authoritarian.
-What would Navajo Nation be like?
Or there’s a spectrum obviously?
-There’s definitely a spectrum
but I feel like it’s pretty authoritarian
in the more bigger towns like Shiprock,
Window Rock, St. Michael’s,
Kayenta, Tuba City.
-Like strong government control?
Well I wouldn’t say
strong government control.
Just more of a stabilized infrastructure.
-But then you go into more deep res that
you have elders living in
shacks and cardboards.
And then you have
no running water, electricity.
-Paved roads going there.
Then they live off of their checks
but also they’re bullied by maybe like
a spoiled, selfish grandson
who’s taking their monthly checks.
-Oh, okay.
-Or saying, “I’ll drive you over there
but I’m gonna take 75% of it.”
-And there’s no oversight, right?
-Nobody’s seeing that happen?
-Navajo Nation is so large that
it’s like the US.
You have sectors of the the US
that it’s just like,
“Those crazy hillbillies.” you know?
Guys, I think it’s really hard
to really capture this on the camera
but the geography out here…
I mean that’s Shiprock.
I was on the other side of that
which was an hour and a half away
and this is just one part of Navajo Nation.
Which is absolutely massive.
So you have these towns
but the rural areas are very, very rural.
You’re from Montezuma Creek in Utah?
-What are you doing down here?
-Well I live in Farmington.
-Okay, is this your daughter?
This is my daughter, this is my boyfriend.
I’ve known this guy
since like three years old I think.
We were still in diapers.
-You’re not still in diapers are you?
-It depends which night.
[all chuckling]
We grew up as artists
but he’s the one that continued on
working a lot in art and selling it.
-This is your line of clothes?
Work with this guy, Benjamin Ledim.
So we started the clothing line,
Crazy Dogs.
-Crazy dogs?
And you sell these all over?
-Yeah, wherever I travel,
wherever I pop up.
NICK: You guys have any Navajo tacos?
AMBER: Nope, you guys are getting burgers.
NICK: All right,
we’re getting burgers then.
We’re getting Navajo burgers,
just as good.
PETER: What’s different about a rez burger?
What’s it got, extra cheese or something?
Oh, yeah.
PETER: This is your famous
smash burger, right?
NICK: Here you go, mama.
All right, next, my wife will present it.
PETER: The res burger might eat you.
It’s massive.
AMBER: Got beef, we got green chile,
we got lettuce, tomato, onions.
MAN: Heavy, ha?
NICK: Yeah, it is.
Got some girth to it. [chuckles]
PETER: Aw, thank you.
-You’re welcome.
PETER: That’s two pounds at least.
-At least.
The fry bread, it’s good.
NICK: Have you had a fry bread before?
-A little bit the other day, yeah.
So you have a nice green chile in here.
Is that what makes
the rez burger a rez burger?
-Green chile it’s a New Mexican touch.
Where are you at
with your rez burger right now?
-The end.
The end. [chuckles]
I can’t do this.
I ate about half of it.
-Yeah, does anybody
clear a full rez burger?
-I used to.
[all laughing]
♪ melodic acoustic guitar ♪
NICK: A few years ago a little girl
and her brother were kidnapped
along this wall here.
The little brother escaped
and she was beaten, raped, and murdered
and the system that failed during that time
that could have possibly stopped it
was the AMBER system.
Navajo Nation, I believe they purchased it
but never kept up with it or even learned
to share the data with anybody else.
So that alert system never went up.
Since then, that was a big like,
“What happened here?”
We could have stopped this,
we could have had authorities instantly
when her and the little brother
were kidnapped hours before
but there was no alert system up for it.
This case was kind of the turning point
of the Navajo Nation
opening our eyes of
we’re failing our community
by not keeping our alert system
like this up to standard.
-What’s the story with missing women here?
I see it in some of the gas stations.
-Yeah, missing women is very common,
doesn’t get the attention
that it desperately needs.
It’s almost unaccounted for
and agencies off the reservation as well
nor is it ever followed up as well too.
That’s the big issue with that
and you can add onto that if you want.
-It’s under-reported.
People will let the authorities know
that they’ve got a loved one who’s missing
and they either don’t do anything with it
or there’s so much confusion
over who has jurisdiction, you know?
-Right, because the sheriff
can operate differently out here
than the Navajo police and…
-Yeah, it’s like,
“Who’s actually gonna do it?”.
And it’s the same thing
going back to the AMBER alert system.
It’s like, you know, well…
Who’s job is it to start the search?
One agency will be waiting for
the other agency to do something.
So there’s a lot of time wasted.
-But with the missing Indigenous women,
it’s like…
There’s a huge number of it
and there’s a particularly high number,
when there’s workers who are non-Native
that work nearby.
They’re off the reservation, coming
to the reservation, taking the girls?
-Yeah, like they’ll, you know…
Maybe they’re meeting
at some place at like a bar.
They’re hanging out.
-You know, and then they’re going missing.
-Does it ever happen Native on Native?
-Yeah, and that’s the case here
with the little girl who passed was…
AMBER: The little girl, yeah.
He was developmentally disabled.
-What’s the root of this problem?
Why is this happening
at such high volume do you think?
If it’s Native on Native, it mostly
comes down to transgenearational trauma.
I know that word’s overused
but you have families
that are still dealing with alcoholism,
domestic violence, sexual violence
that’s never resolved properly
through a psychiatrist
’cause there’s non available.
Recently, they are available now
but not as they were then.
So that type of behavior just went ongoing
and for you to bring it up like,
“Hey, your uncle touched you,
you’re aunt touched you.”
Shiprock is far more developed
than a lot of other reservations
but that doesn’t mean that
people are still carrying around traumas
that happened before
anything on reservation was developed.
Just like the way my grandma was talking.
Shiprock used to be very scarce, flat.
But that also included very, very small
number of law enforcement
I think even up to now they’re…
One officer can cover
up to 600 square miles of the reservation.
-Do you think Diné people want
more law enforcement in general or less?
-The ones who I spoke to,
most of them are family,
they do want more law enforcement.
My aunt, who does
a lot of work with health services.
She goes out to
very remote areas visiting elders
and they have no protection out there.
There’s no infrastructure.
There’s roads like we’re
driving on right now to get to their places
except it’s less-traveled
because they don’t live
next to a national monument, you know?
-There needs to be
increase in funding for law enforcement.
I know the Navajo Nation has been
doing good with that as best they could
with the money they have because
we’re finally seeing in the past 10 years,
justice centers going up
on the reservation, like in Crown Point.
Before then, you would have
facilities off the reservation.
Where someone
got arrested on a reservation,
the officer would have to drive them
an hour an a half, two hours
to drop them off at a jail.
PETER: It’s absolutely massive, wow.
So is there a big spiritual significance
to this place?
NICK: Yes, there’s a bird that came in
and flew Diné onto this land
and pretty much embedded.
I mean laymen’s terms,
bedded into the ground
but other stories will point out
that there was two birds
that were terrorizing the people here
at their own nest up above
and we had the hero twins,
and I think it was a spider woman.
Spent days to a plan an attack
and once those two birds came down
they killed them
and the two twins became monster slayers
and they had
the little offsprings up on top.
Who were pretty much
begging not to be killed.
So they let them go in return
to use their feathers,
and beaks, and all parts of their bodies
for future use for our people.
That’s where hawks, eagles, owls,
all come from as well.
And then the blood, by the story,
is on the other side of this mountain.
So if you were to go around
you would see dark properties of the land
and they call that…
That’s the blood there.
-How do you feel when you come up here?
-If you sit here for 10 minutes
and hear nothing you’re at home.
You’re at peace.
You don’t see tall buildings.
You don’t see roads everywhere.
You don’t see power lines
going around this area.
You don’t see airports.
It’s one of those times that you look at it
and you appreciate how much beauty
comes off of our land
and especially the peak here as well.
PETER: All right, guys,
let’s try that for a few seconds.
Going quiet here.
PETER: How do you feel
about Indian casinos?
‘Cause it’s sort of the antithesis
of spirituality you might say
but it obviously brings in revenue.
So what are the thoughts on that?
-The way I look at it is like a vehicle.
-But our people ride horses and wagons,
“Why you want to bring a vehicle in?”.
“They bring pollution and smoke.”
Yes, but we also got to
stay up with technology.
And I feel like casinos
are the same thing.
Not all businesses can live off…
Brick and mortar businesses…
Like restaurants, gas stations…
I think it’s fair to build a casino
as long as it benefits
to the tribe and the community.
-Does it work that way here?
-I haven’t seen a single dime so I mean…
[all laughing]
-It’s in the mail without your address.
[all laughing]
-Post-dated 2026.
PETER: Whoops.
AMBER: Oh, wow.
NICK: So… [all laughing]
On that note.
So some stories are saying there’s
protectors up there, spiritual protectors
and if you were to go up there
to climb the rock
or do anything to our sacred grounds,
rocks would be flying down at you.
AMBER: So watch yourself.
[all laughing]
NICK: Well, no the rock will…
I mean it’s just like…
I was hoping my grandma would talk
about the whole riding on the wagon
through the mesas towards
the mountains when she was little.
-They were on horseback and wagons
and she remembers that there was
boulders being thrown at them.
Off of the mesa, and said there was,
like, little cave man-looking guys
throwing rocks at them.
-The little men?
There’s dark magic out there.
There’s plenty of stories
that you run into being Navajo.
So the highway here
that goes from Shiprock to Gallup
used to be route 666, Highway 666.
-And it wasn’t ’til I think the ’90s,
they changed it to Highway 491.
But you know,
just talk to anybody along the way.
Like, “Hey, when you travel at night,
have you seen anything?”.
-I drove down it the other night.
I saw a rocket, but that was Elon Musk.
[all chuckling]
But you could imagine
some weird stuff happening.
-Yeah, I’ve heard everything.
Something running beside your vehicle
as you’re driving
even through you’re on a highway.
Dark images hopping on top of your truck,
sitting on the back of your hood, you know?
Stuff like that.
-You call yourself a modern Native?
What does that mean?
-It’s just we live in a modern world
so we adapt.
-Like if you weren’t a modern Native,
you wouldn’t marry a White woman.
Is this correct?
-Yeah, I would more than likely
be with a Navajo.
Here and I would get married through
a medicine man in a traditional wedding.
-So what percentage do you think here…
I mean you wouldn’t know for sure exactly
but guys like you, modern Natives
versus old school traditional?
You’re more common or less common?
-Modern Natives are very common
except they will hold on
to certain traditional values.
One big traditional value
I hold onto is clans.
You know, there’s
a clan system of making sure
that you don’t date anybody
who’s in the same clan.
Which means…
It doesn’t mean it’s incest
but to the elders, and to our history,
it’s looked at almost as incest
and insult to where you’re from.
-Well that makes sense, right?
If you’re in small towns
with few people coming and going.
You have to be careful
with who you marry, right?
-Yeah, like my clan is
Táchii’nii, Tabahaa’.
Todochiinii, Kinyaa’ aanii.
I have Water Edge Clan, Tower House Clan,
Red Running into Water Clan,
and Bitter Water Clan.
-So a clan, for those that don’t know,
is sort of like an extended family,
but it’s not…
-Biological or…
-It’s not biological, it’s more of like…
I guess trying to keep it
in a broad scheme of things
the Navajo Nation is the state,
the clan are the counties.
If all my clans were Táchii’nii,
Táchii’nii, Táchii’nii, Táchii’nii.
The elders would be like, “Whoa…”
“Your parents screwed up ’cause they
got together when they shouldn’t have.”
-So the elders are watching over
everyone in the clans with this?
-Well, through traditional means,
every time you meet someone,
you do introduce yourself.
Nicholas [says Navajo clan names].
-That’s how you
introduce yourself every time?
-Not every time, no.
I only do it for special occasions.
Like the last time I did it was when
I presented my film up in Hollywood.
-‘Cause it was actually
an exclusive Native event.
So there’s multiple tribes there
from around the country.
-It was great to see other Native talent
but also everybody celebrated the fact
that I actually introduced myself
through my clan system
in my own language and it was great.
‘Cause it’s most times…
Again, I know for a fact someone’s
gonna hear me say that and be like,
[chuckling] “That guy.”
-Modern Native?
-“He said it wrong.”
“He sounds white trying to sound Native.”
You know, trying to be Native.
[all chuckling]
So yeah, again, that’s why
I feel like I don’t…
My balance is more centered.
-[Peter whispers] Gotcha.
♪ melodic acoustic guitar ♪
[music fades]
NICK: Up here you have a sign here
that says, “Ya at eeh”.
Which means greetings, hello.
-So this is a big deal here you’re saying?
-Yes, Starbucks is a big deal because
reservation had never had one until now.
-And it’s the only one
on all of Navajo Nation?
-I believe so but we can also
ask them as well to verify.
So this is the last major Navajo town
to receive a Starbucks.
They have it in Window Rock,
Kayenta, Tuba City.
-Oh, so Starbucks are all over
Navajo Nation in the towns?
PETER: I’m gonna have to
fire you as a tour guide.
-I know, right? Seriously.
-He said it was the only one.
[woman laughing]
So pretty much standard supermarket
Everything you’d see anywhere else.
Okay, is that a big thing here, SPAM?
-I started laughing
and then I felt incredibly rude.
‘Cause I realized he wasn’t joking.
‘Cause when I grew up, SPAM
was not something that people ate.
-Yeah, it was something
from our parent’s generation.
-Yeah, yeah,
like I didn’t know anybody ate it.
-I mean there’s’ all types,
jalapeno, turkey SPAM.
AMBER: Yeah.
NICK: Blue Bird is very big.
PETER: You have to use Blue Bird?
NICK: Yep.
It’s pretty much giving you
ingredients for making the…
-You go vegetable oil, Blue Bird.
NICK: Flower, water…
PETER: And then a Smash Burger.
PETER: So like any world or community
that you start tapping into,
it gets more fragmented, more complex.
-So when people were saying,
“Oh, all reservations are food deserts.”
I’m like, “That’s what I thought.”
Some are, some aren’t.
-Some depending on where you are, right?
-Yes, yes, correct.
Yes, that’s absolutely correct.
[doors open and closes]
PETER: Radioactive signs?
NICK: Yep.
-What are you doing to me?
-I am gonna convert you into a Navajo,
that’s what I’m doing.
So we’re over here at this closed off
old uranium mine
that was shut down back in the early ’90s.
It was opened up during the atomic age.
So a lot of this kind of went
to research and development
for atom bombs and all that stuff
and there’s a lot of Navajos
that actually worked in this mine
including my grandfather…
And a lot of exposure happened.
So families got a settlement
but not that much.
I have not seen a check
but I remember when I was young,
I think it was only in
the five digits of reimbursements
for those who got cancer from working
in this mine and living here too.
-A lot of cancer out here?
-Is it pretty well capped off now?
-‘Cause there are people
living over there obviously.
[all laughing]
[all laughing]
AMBER: You’ll see, like in Farmington,
there’s all these billboards
for treatment centers for uranium.
-Like you just… You don’t…
That’s not normal.
-Uranium treatment centers?
-So it’s almost a curse sometimes to have
resources on your reservation, right?
-It’s a blessing and a curse?
AMBER: No oil.
NICK: Well it’s… I wouldn’t say a curse.
It’s ironic that our people…
Reservations are a place
reserved for a group of people.
Which the whole term
reservation comes from.
-And with the reservation itself,
we were thrown supposedly
some of the harshest land
and the worst for people.
-We happened just to be set
on the top of land
that was very resourceful
to the rest of the country.
-Because of that, now we have a coal plant.
Two of them currently in this area
that produce power for multiple states.
-Does the reservation
make a lot of money from that?
-They should, yes.
No one’s holding a gun
to our face to do it.
It’s by choice like any other risk
we take in our trades.
Like I’m a superintendent of construction,
and I’ve seen quite a few accidents.
-And in construction in general
in the past 20 years on it
but it’s just part of what path
you decide to choose.
Do you want to be someone
who minds work because you’re in…
Your economic situation in Shiprock
four decades ago
was very few and far between.
-So a job opens up.
You’re gonna mine uranium.
Any person with common sense
would hop on it
to get steady money in.
NICK: My mom, when film industry
started picking up early
in New Mexico in the 2000’s,
she kept seeing all these casting calls
for Native Americans on whatever to
play someone on a horse and all that stuff.
And I grew up on Aliens,
Red Dawn, Terminator.
-I was like, “I”m not gonna be
one of those Natives…”
…running around in a loin cloth
on a Hollywood screen.”
If anything I want to be
a Native on camera with a gun.
[both chuckling]
So I was a designer for
a development company at the time.
A guy came in and said, “Hey, I’m
helping this guy cast some characters.”
-“We’re looking for
Tribal officers or DEA agents.”
I’m like,
“All right, does this guy carry a gun?”
He said, “Yeah.”
“Sure, I’ll do it.”, you know?
And he’s like, “Yeah, it’s for
this new show called Breaking Bad.”
I was like, “If they’re carrying a gun,
cool, I can do that.”
We were guys robbing chicken trucks.
-Okay, I remember that.
-So then we gas out a guy.
-We gas him out as we eat his lunch.
How awesome was that?
-It was fun.
It’s always fun, Breaking Bad was
probably the best production I worked on.
When we were filming in Tohajiilee,
we were just hanging out.
There was myself and
a couple other Natives on the side
and I saw an AED Department guy
walking by with a balloon
and all of us were looking at him.
We were like,
“What’s going on with that balloon?”
They were like, “Oh, we’re gonna have
a shot where this little girl’s…”
…running through the rez
with a balloon.”
and all of us chuckled.
He’s like, “What?”.
I said, “No kids run through the rez
with a balloon.”
“Why is that?”
“It’s gonna pop.”
Kids don’t do that.
Do you have a basketball, football,
soccer ball, something?
They’re like, “Yeah.”
“Well grab that, deflate it…”
“…half of the weight
then have them running through the rez…”
“…kicking that deflated ball.”
The guy looked at me, he’s like, “Really?”
I was like, “Yeah.”
And I said, “Ask them.” and the other
Natives were like, “Oh, yeah.”
-That’s how you do it?
-That’s a rez kid there.
And when I started watching the show,
saw that little girl
running through the desert
kicking that deflated ball.
I was like…
-You made it real, Nick?
-Yeah, I really hope so.
PETER: “Spagoshi”?
Sounds like a new type of spaghetti.
[all laughing]
Some Italian flair?
-Yeah, a little with a sprinkle of Navajo
and laced with some film making.
Nice, film making?
Tell me. What is it?
So Spagoshi is a video production company.
We’ve been keeping it going together
as partners for the past five years now.
-Right? Six? I don’t know.
But I started it about 10 years ago
and we do film making, video production,
white board animation.
Now we’re doing design, build
studio lighting grids as well too and…
-Marketing, consulting…
-Do we have a link I can put down below? link’s down below, guys.
-That was awesome, thank you…
…for bringing us in, Amber, Nick.
That was very cool.
All right, guys, thanks for coming along.
Another look into Native culture.
This time Navajo, Diné people.
And I just want to mention
there are guys like Nick.
Who you know, have a successful job
and have done so many things in their life.
Have lived off the reservation.
More modern type of Navajo person
and then there are
sheep herders out in the desert.
Who have never seen a Starbucks,
heard of a Starbucks,
used the internet, and are completely
removed from modern society.
So there’s no one label you can put
on Navajo Nation.
It’s massive.
Size, I believe it’s the size
of West Virginia.
And I really do want to get those stories,
and I will in time
but they’re, as you might imagine,
much harder access.
All right, guys, part of
a larger Native series.
Starting up at the Flathead, Lakota,
Crow, now Navajo.
Got one or two of these videos left.
Thanks for coming along
and also join my mailing list.
We’d love to have you there.
More behind the scenes stuff
and info about upcoming videos and events.
So thanks for coming along.
Until the next one.
♪ melodic acoustic guitar ♪
[music fades]

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