Local author takes new look at the Navajo Long Walk
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - Dr. Evangeline Parsons Yazzie, Navajo professor at Northern Arizona University (NAU), is making history come alive with her newest novel, "Her Land, Her Love."
"Her Land, Her Love" tells the story of Ninaanibaa, a young Navajo woman who is on a search for her daughters and her heart. The novel, set in the mid 1800s, follows the coming of the American military to the southwest and the forced walk of over 11,000 Navajos over hundreds of miles to Fort Sumner, N.M., on what became known as the Navajo Long Walk.
"What I really wanted to do was to teach Navajo young people the truth of the Long Walk," said Yazzie. "The people who write about the walk are mostly non-Navajo people. It's from their perspectives, but it's the voice of the Navajo elders, the ones who told these stories, that I've always remembered and my father encouraging me to learn the truth of my history."
"Her Land, Her Love" is the first in a series of four novels Yazzie is writing that will follow the lives of her characters. She hopes to give them their own place in history.
"It is a story of strength, it is not one of being subdued and defeated. It is how the Navajo people survived because of the strength they had in their hearts," Yazzie said. "There were families who went looking for their relatives. Not because they went on the Long Walk, but because they were looking for relatives that had been lost or taken. They were looking for their children. That is what I wanted to impart, was the truth of the Navajo Long Walk."
Yazzie is an authority on Navajo culture, language and history. She has taught for 24 years at NAU. Originally from Hard Rock, Ariz., Yazzie is the daughter of a Baptist minister who wanted to plant churches across the Navajo Nation. She attended boarding school throughout her early life and into high school. Yazzie, encouraged by her father to pursue a higher education, earned her Bachelor of Science in home economics in 1977, her masters in bilingual-multicultural education in 1989, and a doctorate in educational leadership focusing on language preservation in 1994.
In addition to teaching Navajo classes at NAU, Yazzie co-wrote a textbook for teaching the Navajo language, "Diné Bizaad Bínáhoóaah" or "Rediscovering the Navajo Language," and is also the author of an award winning children's book, "Dzani Yazhi Naazbaa': Little Woman Warrior Who Came Home: A Story of the Navajo Long Walk."
The children's book focuses on the Navajo Long Walk and helped inspire Yazzie to write her latest novel.
"I had written journal articles, chapters in books, and scholarly work, but it was the children's book, my very first book that I had to share, I had this story that was just bubbling inside of me, that needed to get on paper," said Yazzie. "This story gave birth to my novel."
Yazzie teaches four Navajo classes at NAU. This is her last semester teaching. She plans to retire in May. While Yazzie said she has enjoyed her teaching career at NAU, she decided that her newest novel has opened exciting possibilities and is providing her an opportunity to continue her passion of educating people, allowing others to see the tremendous strength of the Navajo people and to inspire the next generation to continue taking pride in their ancestors, their heritage and their culture.
The Kindle version of "Her Land, Her Love" has been available since Jan. 1. The hard copy version became available for purchase April 1.