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Identity of Past and Present DinébyPriscilla Black
Young Diné people are at a unique point in our Diné history. As my daughter states, “confusing: balancing between cultures from what is right, wrong, and taboos.” Young natives like my daughter listen to their parents’ and grandparents’ oral history. Children of this generation listen to the oral history and are fortunate to read about oral history and stories of Diné identity at home and school. However, it is not easy to adapt and apply the teaching to today’s modern living of being successful. It is difficult to balance the culture of modern teaching and traditional teaching. As my daughter states, “being excluded from some ceremonies or activities is painful and make you feel that you are from a different culture.” My job in this unit is to merge old teaching and new teaching about identity at a deeper level. Yes, young Diné have heard the creation stories and oral history of the Diné. But young Diné missed the connection of oral history and creation stories to the idea of Diné Identity. Parents, aunts, uncles, grandmother, and grandfather did their part of passing along the importance of being Diné and self-identity. My generation shared the stories as our parents did before us. We even interpret them with simplicity, but the connection to self-identity was lost.
So why am I concerned to merge the old teaching and new teaching of identity again? While I was teaching sixth grade reading standards last semester, I noticed the children not connecting to the story of the Navajo Warrior Twin Hero that the author consistently referred to in a book called Under the Eagle: Samuel Holiday Navajo Code Talker by Samuel Holiday and Robert S. McPherson. The author was using the traditional oral story about the hero twins and philosophy of discipline. These ideas were integrated to being a Marine and the essence of being a strong code talker. The author tied brave acts of the Hero Twins to the courage that a code talker should have to endure dangers. Students in my room raised their hands and asked, how does the scene in the Hero Twin story and Mr. Holiday’s brave act relate to each other? And how does that comparison relate to the identity of being a Diné?
It is this scene that has brought my attention to the need to merge old teachings and new teachings and to stress that the foundation of being Diné is in creation stories and oral stories about Diné history. Our younger generation must know these teachings to continue to keep our identity.
To understand and teach identity at a middle school, I undertook interviews to draw a better knowledge of my people. I found that even within one family group, ideas about identity varied. I was able to interview two male siblings from the same family and three family members from the same nuclear family. The result brought about an interesting concept. The outcome showed that the passing of oral history within a family is still happening but not consistently to everybody.
“The one thing that is helping students with the conditioning of their young mind about self-identity as a Dine…… is to get in touch with traditional culture to define themselves through stories from the creation, twin monster slayer, clanship/kinship and story of what parent know so that they would not be inept with Dine tradition.”, S. Young.
In the entire process of self-identification, it is good to see that young Diné children begin to ask themselves, “Who am I?” As educators, we think young natives automatically begin to search by way of heritage. The six interviews I conducted show that family values are the foundation. It is reassuring that our young Navajos are aware of our cultural system and philosophy of self-worth. Yet, Jones and Galliher state what Diné parents have known for several years: that even when our young native children are fully immersed in Diné culture, they are not understanding the culture fully or even appreciating the tradition and attributes of their culture.1 Former generations know many cultural teachings of identity exist in our oral history, creation stories and oral stories told by medicine men and shaman. Gerald Hausman learned that the origin myth of the Diné does not only tell us where Diné come from but also explains why we as Diné on earth today need to balance our lives. Remembering as young Diné children, the stories and small teaching window by elders and knowledgeable family member inform us of the important learning points in each origin story. One point native children learn is that the deities that lived on earth before us had made some crucial mistake that imbalanced their lives. Therefore we the people cannot repeat the same mistake. Knowing that deep understanding, Hausman, in All is beautiful All Around Me: Navajo Ways and Ceremonial Stories, indicated that natives make the connection of stories and their application. Such teaching and cultural awareness help people understand their purpose and identity on earth. 2
I believe by developing a curriculum unit that defines identity from our great grandparents’ perception to today’s youth’s understanding of identity, the importance of self-determination will come back to our younger generation. Reading and discussing characters from creation stories like The Navajo Hero Twins by Don Mose Jr. will set an example of how the creation story sets the tone for identity through traditional stories. A unit using a book like this will explain and create activities that highlight and emphasize what identity means to each generation. It would be nice to explain and create activities of what identity means to each generation. The awakening from the young natives’ version of what identity means to them can close the gap instead of widening the identity gap. I believe by listening to our young natives, I can learn a lot from them. The learning will be a huge positive gain in saving our cultural identity within the community. I cannot wait to learn and utilize the learning to design daily collaboration with peers that teach at our school.
Opening with a text from another culture, such as Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese, will allow my students to observe how culture and identity function from an objective perspective. After this introduction to the idea of the importance of identity and culture, students will be better able to process the significance of the Dine’ creation tale, The Navajo Warrior Twin Heroes. Students will process this story on not only an intellectual level, but also culturally as they learn to develop pride in their identity as Dine’. One selection that would encompass the students’ sense of finding self would be the introduction of Joy Harjo. Although not a member of the Dine tribe, she is conveys how her journey of self-identity began. The path she travel was intriguing because of the different challenges that occurred in her life. This is one of the selected ligature that will mean a lot to students in sixth grade
Readers of this unit have to know that the Diné Reservation covers a huge piece of northern Arizona, some northwestern part of New Mexico, and a small section deep in southeastern Utah. Residing on a piece of land that is comparable to the size of West Virginia is mind blowing for an educator. The divisions of four main areas will show some differences in interpretation of creation stories. Learners in our classroom have heard of the creation stories. Students at Kayenta Unified school district have a basic knowledge of the clan system and how it came to be from listening to the creation story. Our Diné have diverse ethnic backgrounds. The eastern part of the Diné Nation district comprises the northwestern part of New Mexico. The central district is the middle of the allotted land that we call Navajo reservation: then we have the northern region that encompasses lower southeastern Utah and the northern state line of Arizona. The division on the western side of the reservation is the entrance to The Grand Canyon, Lake Powell, and Little Colorado River. These are some of the land marks that drape the edges of this region.
Why the extensive description of the land? The location of the reservation is important to this unit. As in many vast populations, perceptions and small differences will be present. Learners will begin to accept difference and not be so confined to one way of understanding Navajo culture and being Navajo as they gain a different perspective on identity.
Identity from the Past
When Dine’ teachers introduce the concept of who are we as a person or tribe, Diné immediately refer to the kinship and the word keˊ. Ké in in Diné culture is a subject that can be explained in retrospect of lineage. Lineage tells of a person’s history of each parents, traditional homestead, and any prestige recognition such as family coming from a chain of medicine men or traditional practitioners. This pattern of introduction is long and tedious for some Native people. However, many people take pride in it and interweave their existence with origin stories or even family history of moving from one homestead to the next homestead. It is amazing. Some Diné can find family connections of long lost lineage of two or one generation ago. As people visit and study the Diné on the reservation, you will hear these long elaborate introductions
In addition to recognizing self through origination of family, there is the well-known kinship or should I say expressing oneself through clans. Clans are tied back into the creation stories. Diné clans are grouped into four main memberships. Origination stories tell the Dine’ people that existence came from four main clans. Though drawing on different traditional beliefs and stories, author Gene Luen Yang designed his book American Born Chinese with characters who are creators and deities in his exploration of teaching the idea of identity. This graphic novel draws readers in to set the tone of telling stories of gods that portray human behavioral qualities. This representation of gods and deities existence is similar in Dine’ stories of clanship. It is this approach that makes the clanship meaningful.
Hausman’s sentences in his introduction are straightforward in telling about Navajos’ use of origination stories. He states, “Each ceremonial myth consists of hundreds of verses of songs with have been traditionally chanted by medicine men. (Hausman 2011) Since the Navajo did not have a written language, they recorded their mythology through a series of ritual songs which were connected to ceremonies”. (Hausman 2011) It is through these stories that educators and medicine men who can read and write the English language illustrated or explained clanship. It is difficult to separate the two concepts of creation stories and clanship. The interdisciplinary history and religious connection shared in the songs and creation stories are awesome. Diné scholars did a good job in separating them and making the ideas in to teachable concepts without putting a heavy emphasis on religion. The art of teaching clans is tricky but has been done for the past decades in schools and dormitories. The plan to involve every student in their own identity can be captured by comparing two culture’s identities through origin stories.
Identity in Present Time
People from every ethnicity have their cultural stories of what self-identity means to them. American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang illustrates that interesting approach. Today children have access to different types of books, media, and personal family oral history. In the past, oral history from families has been the only method of teaching children about their identity. The world is more diverse as we now know it. This leads me to the latest trend, graphic novels. Yang’s book does an interesting job of setting the stage for his readers who want to learn about cultural difference and cultural identity. In the beginning of his book the Gods, the Goddesses, the Demons and the Spirits in the heavens were gathering for a dinner party. (Yang 2006) This setting gives the reader a feel of the gods’ and deities’ human like behavior. These deities act and think like us.
By setting up his book this way, Yang helps the Diné teacher to introduce traditional stories to study identity from the Diné teachings of origination. The book’s mythological approach can be connected to the story of our Navajo Warrior Twin Hero stories. The Navajo Creation stories spark a motivation because it is a story that is told orally time and time again to young Diné children. Navajo Warrior Twin story holds a foundation of identity to many young Diné. Young Diné children can begin to connect the similarities of Chinese creation stories. Of course American Born Chinese is a graphic novel, but it will entice young readers to begin to understand the mythological approach. It was not surprising to connect and begin the correlation of the stories which showed the test and challenges of main characters.
The warrior twins’ stories are easy to read but inserting some background information can help students new to Diné origination stories understand the logic of identity. This background knowledge would be presented as questions that students explore by comparing identity ideas to Yang’s book. It is creation stories that have the bed time story effect that captures our young minds and begin to resonate their way of thinking. Who am I? Young minds begin to question, if the people before us and the Creator, Holy people, and other deities were to set and conquer such situations, how do we the Diné people of Earth function?
Method and Strategies
In this unit, the following strategies will be used to approach the topic, identity. Students will give their prior knowledge of the meaning of identity on the Diné Nation. Each identity will be posted on a learning wall for students to refer to.
Teacher and students will look at the past and present comparison of how identity was defined by using a graphic organizer, Venn diagram. Creating a map that shows the size and population. It can be used to help students appreciate their land and people. They will learn within the three to four weeks that the sacred mountain near the Diné land can teach them about their identity and how it is tied into identity.
KWL charts will be used to gauge students learning
"10-2' discussion, which allows students to discuss ideas for ten minutes followed by two minutes feedback from the teacher, will give students an opportunity to investigate their topic on identity. “Jig saw” reading is a strategy that allows students to read a long text fast by assigning paragraphs to groups and then sharing the main ideas of the text. Using these two strategies, “10-2” and “jig saw,” will organize text and lectures of Diné history and Diné leaders. There will be three reading materials that will be read in class among groups. Once we have covered the history of the Diné, activity one will be activated. The students will read informational text and a short story that shows how other ethnic groups show stories to tell about identity.
The graphic novel American Born Chinese will be the book to get students’ attention. This story will help students begin to see how the Chinese boy is treated at school because of his different ethnicity. Through group discussion, students will share their own experiences of how society treats them. By sharing their personal experience of being judged or mistaken for a different ethnicity, students can begin to see their own views of identity. The goal of finding self-identity will evolve freely through everyone’s experience.
Stories and poems of different tribal nations will be reviewed to compare how other tribes tell about self-identity. Students can use the story to design and present their understanding of self. The book How We Became Human by Joy Harjo can be a good resource for young readers in their journey towards self-awareness. Young leaners can take the path that I am taking to interview their own parents and grandparents. This will develop a discussion group that can help them with their working document on self-identity.
Another strategy that will play a key part in our unit is a picture input chart. This strategy will help students visualize the demographic and geological representation of the people who will be interviewed.
Mini Lessons/Class Activities
In my curriculum, the topic of identity and its interpretation from different generations will show how definition of self came to be. Did self-identity evolve from family cultural stories or life experience? Teacher and students will read a scenario that relates to identity through cultural story or through life experience. Scenario of each type of identity will help categorize students’ thinking. Once the two types are presented, students can differentiate and begin to categorize each family member’s source of identity. Students’ goal is collect the story of their family’s identity. Students interview one parent. As a class we will analyze the history of the student’s parent and then discuss the type of identity their family and themselves develop.
In addition, the curriculum will entail some interviews of community leaders, past leaders, grandparents, parents, and workers that travel the United States to earn a living all of which will show the connection of great-grandparents. It might be premature to think that our great-grandparents’ life and identity were simple but our studies of Navajo history and interviews of our parents’ insight might show us otherwise. I am excited to learn from students’ conclusion of how identity came about for them.
Timing of the Unit
Because the unit will be covered in only three to four weeks, these short lessons on Navajo history and philosophy will be mini lessons to set the tone. A poster of each idea will be presented as input or background information. Most of the posters will be referred back to when the reading activities are planned out. Students will have to keep in mind that most of the mini lessons are based on Aronlth’s practice and interpretation.
Selected literature to help understand cultural teaching
Literature from Joy Harjo, Sherman Alexis, Leslie Silko, and books with illustrators like Shonto Begay are leading the way for our young learners to appreciate self. Many Native American Indians / indigenous people have found their identity through life events and personal challenges. By reading short stories by the authors mentioned, students will see that modern and contemporary thinking is okay.
Teacher and students can select biographies of authors like Joy Harjo. Joy Harjo does an excellent job of summarizing her journey to being an author. I enjoyed reading her acknowledgments and introduction in her book, How We Became Humans. The fluency of her voice comforts you as a reader to connect to your own experience. Since many of the poems talks about the hardship and raw reflections of negative behaviors, I would be careful to share only three poems. The three poems would be Letter (with songline) to the Breathmaker, Naming, and Notes on It Is an Honor. The notes spell out a chant that is used for Navajo Night Chant song. This chant is called House Made of Dawn: Tsegihi.
The chant are verses that can be explained by using Wilson Aronilth Jr.’s book called Foundation of Navajo Culture. Wilson Aronilth Jr., is a well-known speaker and an instructor at Dine’ College. Aronilth explain how some Diné people clarify their identity using religious chants such as House Made of Dawn: Tsegihi. As a teacher, I will not be able to teach the chant but only use it to have students see how Navajo chants can parallel bits and pieces to how culture structures it’s teaching to self-identity.
How does Diné philosophy, culture, and creation stories cultivate many Navajo minds? Wilson Aronilth Jr.’s outline of the book Foundation of Navajo Culture explains the four directions of the Navajo Philosophy. He associates the symbolism of animals’ traits to how we humans should be, and he uses certain creation stories that entail good thinking and planning skills.
He shows how the sacred mountain of the four directions portrays a life cycle and expectation of life.
He weaves the Navajo clanship and kinship into his teaching. The clanship is used as a mechanism to show self and respect to others who are strangers at first. Many of these ideas or content are taught and iterated but not organized into a curriculum with literature. The focus of organizing and interweaving of the philosophy and cultural foundation will be a part of my lesson.
By using Aronilth’s outline of teaching culture, students can see how Joy Harjo designed her poems. I believe this will help our Diné students understand Diné teaching and culture of grandparents.
Interview Process and term
In the study that I conducted, I found that there are two types of identities. The study was conducted through interviews with two basic questions. It was interesting. Once I read the response I noticed there were two types of identity that I could refer to. Through this survey, the term “Identity” signified the characteristic of those individuals who were interviewed.
Identity can be defined through religion that entails some sort of blessing through religious or spiritual calling. In Diné language it is called bee bi’dool zίί’. This type of spiritual calling is very rare. It is told by medicine man that the gift of spiritual healer is bestowed onto an individual from the deities. The expression “the chosen one” fits the description.
The second type of identity was identity with the use of cultural teaching. This identity entails the discipline, conditioning, and knowledge of cultural emergent stories. This identity uses valuable traits that teach one to use stories to associate their understanding of life. In one of the interviews conducted, the candidate uses the logic of these stories and the individual is able to overcome negativity of life. One of the six survey participants connected his identity to his father’s teaching of the spirituality of a horse. He understood the symbolism of a horse. In addition, he drew out the four cardinal directions and their meaning to his identity. Diné are taught the symbolism of the four colors, four elements, four behavioral aspect, and four stages of planning. It is noticeable that Diné scholars who had access to books and in addition the cultural teaching that connected our culture stories and philosophy were able to be successful. In addition, two of the four individuals lived by Diné philosophy which was taught by their parents. This teaching is carried down from generation to generation in the belief that it is the way of life. The two individuals use their common daily life and teaching from minimal cultural identity that connected through family expectation.
Five of the six interviewees categorize their awareness of identity through life learned experiences rather than learning through intense cultural teaching and Diné philosophy. With these individuals some cultural foundational teachings were taught to each individual but did not use the cultural approach extensively. Instead real life experience helped tie their understanding of identity. Jones and Galliher stated that a young Diné person can live in a culture and at the same time the individual will not fully connect to the purpose of oral creation stories or culture foundation. I believe this holds true because I am able to witness this effect in our Diné students in our classroom. The Diné children live on the Diné Nation and live the culture and hear the oral stories from the grandparents but the children are not able to take the symbolism of the stories and culture to an understanding level. This is where I want to take a story and evaluate the meaning and symbolism. By doing so, I can parallel the ideas behind the stories with good character traits. It is these character traits that matures a young person into a disciplined individual. And hopefully the Dine symbolism from the stories will translate to Diné identity.
As stated I categorized how the interviewees understood and found their Identities. Using the two types of identity, it was clear that most of the interviewees clarify their identity through life events. I collected interviews from siblings from my hometown and another set of siblings from a place that was 50 miles away. These interviews had striking results. They indicate that identity was associated more with current parents’ teaching. However, at the same time identity learned weighted more on life’s experience. I interviewed two children of my hometown siblings. Although the siblings knew of the oral cultural stories and Diné philosophy, the children viewed their parent’s teaching and modeling assisted in their self-identity. It is also striking that the second set of siblings remembered their learning through their father’s traditional teaching. Although the father was a medicine man, the father taught his children through daily affirmations and daily chores. It is later in life, one person out of two siblings identified himself through the traditional ceremonial stories. This sibling had access to his father’s traditional prayers that had the deities’ names and ceremonial chants. The chants had the deities’ purpose of life and attributes. It is these attributes that he sang that made true connection of self-identities. One song illustrates the strength that our body is equipped with armor and one could overcome challenging situation or physical barriers. Our body is designed to survive anything bad because of the spiritual presence of deity. It is taught in our blessing ceremonies that a deity is asked to protect and lead us into a life of rightful living. The songs are sung in patterns to help us understand the chants beyond the rhythm. The rhythm resonated the meaning that all is possible by following your prayers and songs from the deities. This is where the oral stories of deities and their wrong doing can be explained. The deities once lived in a world before Earth and did some bad things. To make right and correct the troubles created by them, the deities had to call on the other deities and animals to make right through actual rituals that correct the bad things. Once the bad events were corrected, the balance of life came to be. It is through these types of stories that ceremonies and ritual were in place for humans to use. Today a few Diné use the ceremonies and rituals to balance their life. It is the few that teaching the use of cultural stories to teach wrong or right behaviors are helping us find self-identity. Some natives understand the rightful acts and practices can help us stay in balance and persevere in life. It is this teaching that the interviewees relate to and use it to teach their children. So, it is this strand of cultural teaching that our Diné children do not understand. Often we as parents ask ourselves why our children are not connecting the teaching of kinship. The explanation between the meaning and purpose are disconnected. The relevancy of clan stories to self-identity does not make sense to our children. The culture teachers at school and parents at home tell their children to memorize their clan for identity but we don’t give the symbolic meaning of the clan and its origins. If we illustrate and study the meaning of how the deities created the clans, the children would understand their parents’ oral stories of the clan and how it relates to identification of the family origin. Therefore, with this unit, I wish to capture many interesting moments in the oral stories and relate it to today’s understanding of self-identity. I may have to make an exception to our cultural rules of when to tell these stories. Typically these oral stories are told in the winter but mini stories can be told to help Dine children of why we, native teachers emphasize clan at the beginning of the school year or why we have to express our clan identity when we meet new people. The kinship teaching will help convey self-discipline, and the use of traditional creation stories can make someone humble and respectful.
Scanning the results of interviewees, it was interesting that some individuals selected their father’s side of the family’s teaching over their mother‘s side of the family. It is known that the Diné normally live and follow the mother side of the family. I say this because our native children have learned that identity can also be influenced by social media instead of cultural teaching and oral stories. Social media‘s influence is another reason that our children have deficiency in understanding the connection of creation story and how it ties into identity. Why do I say this? One of the interviewees was my niece. She shared that her self-realization began recently. She thought about her sibling’s good traits and interests. She had to make a statement for herself. In her interview she mentioned the coloring of her hair. Coloring her hair blue helped her make a statement that an individual can express themselves and not be afraid to be different. Yet she knows that her family is the foundation of her existence and identity. Through such interviews one can understand that young people are setting and reevaluating their identity through fashion and it is unique. Unique expression but they can still differentiate that style alone is not the defining factor of identity.
6.RL.6 By using narrative such as How We Became Human or American Born Chinese, students will begin to see the author’s point of view. In addition, some narrative and poems will shed light on the speaker’s choice of words and purpose. At the beginning of the lesson, students will be able to read short sections of How We Became Human’s introduction. As a teacher, I would be able to control super sensitive text by projecting only the passages that I want the students to analyze for the topic self-identity. As the lesson progresses, other cultural base book like Aronlth’s interpretation of Dine philosophy and Dine Culture will have to preselected because some content are too difficult to understand at the age of 11 or 12 years of age.
6RI.3 In this unit our students will be reading informational text like Reclaiming Dine History by Jennifer Nez Denetdale, Navajoland: Family and Settlement and Land Use by Klara B. Kelley and Peter M. Whitely and Under the Eagle: Samuel Holiday Navajo Code Talker by Samuel holiday and Robert S. McPherson. Information text y Denetdale, Kelley and Whitely will be used to understand the demographic of the Dine Nation. In addition, the informational text will be used to outline important identity topic such as clans, the names of the sacred mountain, and important historical events that took place.
6RL.9 The non-fiction books will also help students compare and contrast one author’s presentation of events with that of another. This reading standard will help students see the change of information facts from 1960’s to our new findings in 2017. By exploring the difference, students will begin to correlate the changes of understand and defining self-identity.
6W.5 By the second week of reading fiction and non-fiction, students will strengthen their writing process skill. Students will learn to use note and plan their family story of what self-identity means to him or her. In class, students will experience peer editing to finalize their writing.
6L.4c As the unit progress, students will have firsthand experience with this standard. The standard is requiring students to consult reference materials (e.g., dictionaries, glossaries, thesauruses), both print and digital, to find the pronunciation of a word or determine or clarify its precise meaning or its part of speech.
6L.4d Students will verify preliminary determination of the meaning of a word or phrase (e.g., by checking the inferred meaning in context or in a dictionary).
Black, Randall. Interview of Identity of Life’s events. June 2017.
Black Jr., Robert. Interview of Identity of life’s events. June 2017.
Black, Zonnie. Interview of Identity of Life’s events. June 2017
Farella, John R. The Main Stalk: A Synthesis of Navajo Philosophy. Tucson, University of Arizona Press. 1999.
Foundation of Navajo Culture, Wilson Aronith Jr.
Resource book published by Rough Rock Demonstration School. Rough Rock, Arizona
Iverson, Peter and Monty Roessel. Dine A History of the Navajos. Albuquerque University of New Mexico. 2002.
Harjo, Joy. How We Became Human: New and Selected Poems. New York. W. W. Norton Company. 2002
Kenney, Wanda. Interview of Identity of life’s event. July 2017.
Mock, Janet. Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More. New York. Atria Paperback. 2014.
Yang, Gene Luen. American Born Chinese. New York, Square Fish. 2006.
Young, Steven C. Interview of identity from paternalist’s perspective. July 2017
Young, Frank Jr. Interview of identity from Navajo Practitioner’s Son. May 2017
1 Jones, Matthew D. And Renee V. Galliher. Ethnic Identity and Psychosocial Functioning in Navajo Adolescents.17(4), 683-696. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 2007. Society for Research on adolescence.
2 Hausman, Gerald. All is beautiful All around me: Navajo Ways and Ceremonial Stories. 2011 Irie Books Bokeelia, Floriada.
Hausman, Gerald. 2011. All is Beautiful All Around Me: Navajo Ways and Ceremonial Stores. Bokeelia, Florida, June 01.
Iverson, Peter. 2002. Dine: A History of the Navajos. Albuquerue: University of New Mexico Press.
Yang, Gene Luen. 2006. American Born Chinese. New York City: Square Fish An Imprint of MacMillan.
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