The National Parks


National Park Experience | Canyon Song

A Navajo family balances modern life with the traditional "Navajo Way," teaching their children their language, culture, and ceremony within the sacred walls of Canyon de Chelly National Monument. This short film from National Park Experience is part of a series highlighting the powerful and diverse stories of people who are forging incredible relationships with the National Parks.

AIRED: June 27, 2012 | 0:13:31

(wind whistling)

(singing in foreign language) (wind whistling)

♪ I read your status last night

♪ You posted that someone else

♪ was holding you tight

(singing in foreign language)

- [Both] One, two, three.


- [Girl] We yell because it makes the spirits hear us

that we're here in the canyon.

- [Girl] The spirits in the ruins should know people

are going into the canyon.

We want them to know we are there

because they protect us.

- [Girl] Some of my grandmas died in there

and my dad wants them to hear his kids that were born.

That's how they get to know us.

That's how it feels in the canyon when they go in there.


(fire crackling)

(speaking in foreign language)

- [Girl] When we are in the canyon,

we start getting excited.

- [Girl] We get to explore things

that we haven't seen before.

- [Girl] We'll start talking to each other

for a long time, about all these stories in the canyon.

- There's some stories on the walls

from a long time ago.

It's about clans, and what you're related to.

(water bubbling) (speaking foreign language)

(soft music)

- [Girl] In Navajo culture, when it comes to

a person that doesn't know their clans,

they call him or her an abandoned Indian.

An abandoned Indian usually meant

that their parents don't teach them

about their culture, what they have to care about,

and what their clans are.

(bell ringing)

- My name is Daniel Draper,

I live in Canyon de Chelly. (bell ringing)

At first, I was really negative about

Navajo tradition, because I grew up in the church.

My paternal grandfather was a preacher.

But my maternal grandfather said to me,

"Us natives have the DNA of a tree".

I started learning myself,

how we do have a Navajo tradition,

that's why I try to teach my kids.

From the Anasazi time, corn was planted in the canyon.

The way the Navajo people used to give lands

to each other, a long time ago,

was generation to generation to the oldest daughter,

and I want them to keep the tradition going.

- [Girl] I love that my dad is teaching me

these things, because I get to learn more

about my Navajo tradition, my Navajo culture,

and my Navajo language.

(soft music)

(dramatic music)

(dramatic music)

(wind blowing)

(soft piano music)

- Tonisha is my second grand daughter,

she even have my name day, people call her Della

because she's doin' what I'm doing, and how I'm acting.

(soft music)


How to sing, and how to dress up,

and how to introduce yourself in Navajo,

and what her clan is, and all that stuff,

she learn it from me.


- [Tonisha] I am 2014 2015 Miss Central Navajo Preteen.

To be in the pageant, my grandmother

taught me the Navajo language,

and she's the person who taught me all the songs I know.

(singing in foreign language)

I'd like to keep going through all these pageants

and be Miss Navajo Nation.

- [Announcer] These young ladies they're really unique,

you guys all look beautiful.


- [Tonisha] To be in that pageant you have to

butcher a sheep and name all the parts in Navajo,

and you have to make tortillas

and fry bread for the judges.

For the contestant, I would like to say,

"Good luck to you all.

"If you lose you're still a winner inside".

I feel kind of happy and sad at the same time.

The happy part is, about the things I did

in my community, the sad part is,

I gave up my crown to a young little girl.

I hope she would do the same as I did.



(soft orchestra music) (screaming)

(engines revving)

- I seen a lot of different natives

that are not keeping their tradition alive.

(girls cheering)

They're losing their heritage and their language.

(bells ringing) (chanting)

I wasn't really here for my kids when I was a young guy,

I didn't really teach them anything,

because I was working on the road most of the time,

as an electrician.

Last year my wife tried to tell me

to go back on the road, but I couldn't do that.

I wanted to stay around my kids

and teach them more and more of the Navajo tradition.

That's what, for me, I cherish the most.

(soft music)

(wind blowing)

(drumming) (singing in foreign language)

- [Girl] You just put your hand in there

and then it'll come off.

(drumming) (singing in foreign language)

- We had to do some kind of prayer

before we eat the corn, to see if it's good or not.

I hope in 100 years, that my grandkids

will learn from their dads about all these stories

in the canyon, that my dad told me.

(drumming) (singing in foreign language)

- When we're leaving the canyon,

we usually get leaves off the trees and we say goodbye.

We drop the leaves into the water,

it's our special way to say goodbye

to all the fun we've been having.

When we leave, all those feelings stay in the canyon.

♪ When our dance is over

♪ I will take you home

(singing in foreign language)

♪ Young one I will take you home

(singing in foreign language)

(wind blowing)

♪ I read your status last night

♪ You posted that someone else

♪ Was holding you tight

♪ You shout it for all of our friends to see

♪ I don't wanna go through this Facebook drama

♪ So I press delete

(singing in foreign language)