El Navajo (1945)

Scenes of Navajo life include: sheepherding and animal husbandry; rug weaving; moccasin making; preparing food; visiting the trading post; farming; a marriage, silversmithing; conducting a sweat; performing a men’s Shooting Way Chant and sandpainting.
Cultural Narrative: 

Narrated by Cindy and Perry Slivers in 2019. Facilitated by Rhiannon Sorrell, Instructor and librarian at Diné College.

Language of narration primarily Diné Bizaad.


Opens on a painted illustration of the United States, a hand with a pointer and narrator points out Navajo Indian Reservation and the area (Santa Fe Railway) train routes, including a direct route to Chicago; Navajo and Hopi reservations and Gallup, NM, on the map, the pointer demonstrating; wide and closer views of Red Rock State Park’s Pyramid Rock (Tséchîîhí) and possibly Church Rock (Kinłitsosinil); carved stone sign for Window Rock (the town) “Window Rock, Headquarters of the Navajo Service, Office of Indian Affairs, Department of the Interior, Harold L. Ickes Secretary of Interior, John Collier Commissioner Indian Affairs, E.R. Fryer General Superintendent”; Window Rock monument behind, administrative buildings behind; Window Rock from behind/above, town visible through the opening; St. Michael Mission; an Indian Day School building, children and adults walking past; a horse and buggy outside Ganado Mission, people walking around the courtyard; of people and horses outside Hubbell’s Trading Post in Ganado, AZ, two men are unloading a wagon with a large bag of perhaps sheep’s wool (dibé bighaaʼ); sheep (dibé) grazing in an open field, big sky behind, five Navajo men on horseback ride past and away from camera towards sheep, a small boy walks behind and then the front; sheep walking towards camera; from behind of two women and a little boy on foot, and a man on horseback herding sheep; a man lifting wooden branches into place at a sheep corral gate; lambs and sheep from inside the corral; a boy on a latter holding a lamb; a lamb suckling from a sheep; a man tying a ball of wool into one end of a large sack with twine; the man climbing over a fence onto a tall wooden frame that holds the sack by hooks; same, the main kneeling atop the frame; a sheep running from a corral shoot, a man chases after it and catches it by a leg, places it on its rump a mat, and begins to cut off its wool with large scissors/shears, another man does the same next to him; one man pulling a shorn sheep onto its feet while another shears behind; then the finished man gathers up the wool and carries it over and places it in the hanging sack; men and women in the large sheep corral shearing and gathering; a man branding a shorn sheep with an “S” in black paint; the sheep and brand; man standing in the wool sack tamping it down with his feet, others are bent over sheep; a woman gathering up wool and packing into smaller bags; field and flatlands, with man in foreground digging up an amole or yucca (táláwosh/tálághosh) plant with a shovel; man holding up the roots; grassy riverside embankment where a group is seated, a woman is pounding the roots on a stone, bridge in the distance; woman’s hands pounding; rubbing the pounded root between her hands in a buried bucket water to create soapy suds, she then grabs wool pelts and washes them in the bucket, she then rings out  the wool pieces and places it on the grass; another woman seated under a sun shelter (Chaha’oh), opening burlap sack, and pulling out raw wool and begins to card it, followed by carding and spinning; dipping and pulling a large skein of wool into a metal bucket of red dye with a stick on the open fire pit, a small boy walks by and stares into the camera; a group of sun shelters, one woman seated in the foreground at a loom (dah iistłʼǫ́) and the woman spinning wool; behind of the younger woman weaving a red-toned rug or blanket; her hands working, and through the weft of her face; a toddler girl playing with a string and weaving fork at the loom, looking at the camera; the woman weaving from behind; two women holding up a finished diamond pattern rug next to a hogan, alternating each woman showing two other rugs, then holding another, different diamond pattern rug; Navajo men on horseback herding cattle, cliffs in the background, same; a man butchering (ná’á’ah = a butchering) a cow, another taking a side of beef, others standing behind watching; women at an outdoor table, and on a blanket on the ground, carving pieces of raw beef, then one stokes an open fire pit and places raw meat on a small metal grate made of bailing fire; three men working on a skinned cow hide stretched on the ground, surrounded by juniper trees, a horse looks on; same; a woman skinning a sheep hanging from a hogan roof, boy and wagon in background; and then a man to help the woman skinning pull the hide from the carcass, two other women walk up and help, the man holds it up; a bas relief carving of an Indian man in profile above the door frame of the Ganado, AZ, Post Office at Hubbell Trading Post; a horse and wagon with family and goods aboard pulling up alongside the entrance, two men and a woman stand outside, red gas pump in the driveway; they unload wool and other goods from the wagon; two women, a boy and a toddler girl, and two men carry goods into the building; interior shot of them hoisting bags onto the trading post’s counter next to a large scale, the white male trader, smoking a cigarette, examines the goods and writes into a ledger; pulling fruit and other foodstuffs from the shelf, the toddler seated on the counter chewing on an orange skin; one of the woman pointing at something and talking, toddler and man on either side; back to the trader grabbing goods, including a horse bridle from the shelves; the three Navajo laughing and the man inspecting the bridle; the group, in silhouette, leaving through the door carrying their goods; boxes containing their groceries on the wagon and then the family on the wagon as it pulls away from the camera, the older woman keeping the groceries from toppling out; a family grouping standing and sitting outside of the hogan, horse tied up in background; man picking up one of a pile of animal pelts, then place it on a rectangular pile of loose dirt, then covering the pelt with dirt; the man pounding a hardened pelt with a stone as a woman watches, they are laughing; his hands pounding; two men sitting on the ground outside a hogan with small pieces of buckskin hide; dipping pieces in dirt, cutting and punching holes on wooden block; close-ups of one man’s hands carving a smooth edge, another of a man sharpening an awl on a sandstone rock, and then sewing the leather pieces with sinew thread; the other man wetting the outer edge of a shoe base with his mouth; same man fitting a moccasin (kélchí/kéłchí) onto the foot of a small boy seated on the ground next to him; two people standing in a field, fence in foreground, one begins to hoe; the man hoeing and walking behind carrying a bowl, putting seeds in holes and covering with dirt; corn kernels in a woven flat basket, a hand grabs some; a woman’s hands, with turquoise bracelets, grinding corn (naadą́ą́ʼ) with a mano and metate (tsédaashchʼíní/tsédaashjééʼ) on a hide, corn basket alongside; she gathers up ground corn and places it in another flat basket, then lifts it up and runs her hands through it, looking at the camera; a woman grabbing balls of corn meal dough and rolling it, patting it into tortilla shape; outdoor kitchen prep area and fire pit, women and children around her; putting dough in a skillet with oil on the fire pit, then pulls up the fried bread (dah díníilghaazh/bááh dah díníilghaazh); two women sitting side-by-side kneading large bowls of dough, then balling cuts of dough; another woman as she places a cloth on the ground before them where she puts the finished balls; woman chopping wood; a man and woman building a fire in an outdoor oven, a toddler boy watches; the oven, flame can be seen through the opening; the woman shoveling out coals after the fires has gone out; two women carrying in a plank full of rolled dough balls and a third sits next to oven and she uses a wooden paddle to place dough into oven floor, other women help; woman pokes into top of the oven with a stick as others watch; woman taking a loaf from the stove, wagon and trees in background; dusting off the loaf with fabric; two women bundling up a large sheet full of baked bread and carrying it off; a man (a silversmith/béésh łigaii ííłʼíní) seated on the ground next to shelter over a wagon, a man rides up on and dismounts a horse, walks over and shakes the silversmith’s hand; seated on the ground as the smith shows him a concho belt, then the man gathers up his riding rope and walks off; the smith blowing air onto a small fire with a bellow, and him placing coal or raw metal onto the fire with metal tongs; the man’s hands, tools, silver decorations and an anvil; the man takes out tools  and grabs metal from the fire, pounds it with a hammer on the anvil; hammering a pointed tool into silver to make a poncho shell design; his hands polishing the shells and string it onto the belt, then showing a perfume bottle, silver beads, and a bow guard; five people seated on blankets before a teepee-type structure made of wooden branches, a man (identified as a groom’s father) rides up and dismounts his horse and joins them with concho belts and other jewelry; a woman, then man, inspecting the items; group shot where a young woman (identified as a bride) covers her face with a blanket; from behind the father bearing gifts, then he gets up and mounts his horse; a man on horseback herding a few horses into a corral through a fence; then the group of adults and children inspect the horses; small, flowering barrel cacti, men in loin cloths, one is shoveling stones from an open fire to the inside of a sweat lodge, while another throws stones onto it; a man arriving, ties his horse to a tree, and joins the other men and disrobes as they start to enter the lodge; one man covering the doorway with a blanket; two men inside, then back to man pulling back the blanket to let them out; the exiting men sitting in a sand pit where they put it on themselves, sheep running past in background; getting dressed back by the lodge; children seated along the outside wall of a hogan, a woman walks out and sits down on a blanket; placing the baby on a cradleboard and wraps it in a blanket, straps it in; her breast-feeding the baby, back to her standing up the cradleboard; a woman brushing the bride’s hair with a hair broom (be’ezo/bé’ézhóó’) and tying it into a hair knot (tsiiyéél/'atsii yeeł); the bride as she turns and smiles at the camera, adjusting her bun; interior shot of group seated, the bride and groom in front, the medicine man alongside hands her a gourd vessel and she pours out some water into a cup made of a gourd, pours it over the groom’s hands as he rubs them together, and he does the same for her; the medical man sprinkling corn in a flat basket of same, he then pushes it over to the pair and points out they should pick up pinches of meal and eat them; faces of people sitting behind them; the others gathering around the basket to each pinches of meal, smiles all around; the medicine man shaking the groom’s and bride’s hands and smiling at the camera; sun shelter where women are cooking and people milling about, then of the wedding attendees and party seated on a blanket eating; what’s identified as a medicine man’s hogan, a person seated outside; standing next to an alter on the ground, sprinkling corn meal over it, another man seated against the wall behind; the alter; then back to him going into the hogan; another man carrying in a large bundle of sand to add to a pile in the middle of the floor, men seated along the perimeter; three men squatting and sweeping and smoothing the sand flat with sticks; the medicine man (the same from last scene?) standing next to another and gesturing down at something then bending over and doing same; similar view of one man carving a spiral design of the sand painting into the dirt; back to the standing man gesturing, and then again down to other men working on the outline for a coiled serpent sand painting; another man grinding different dyes with a mano and metate and mixing with the sand, then his hands working and then the colored sands; the medicine man gesturing to the unpainted surface and then the groups working on the painting; a hand creating the snake’s head, others working along other parts of the white spiral of a coiled snake design; smoothing the area around the finished spiral, then outline more spirals in four corners; men filling the smaller spirals with black sand outlined in white, yellow and brown; the medicine man seated on a blanket, unwrapping prayer sticks, with eagle feathers, from a buckskin bundle and placing them in a flat basket; placing the prayer sticks around the painting, sprinkles corn meal, and speaks; the ill man wrapped in a blanket gets up and joins him sprinkling corn meal; a man reaching in from outside to place hot coals in a small pile near the painting, the medicine man then picks up a prayer bundle of feathers from the painting and dips it in an abalone shell filled with herbs and water, and sprinkles it over and around the painting; the unwell man, now in a loin cloth, sits in the middle of the large spiral, and then the room’s walls against which men are seated and performing the Shooting Way Chant and shaking rattles; more of the chanters and the patient; the medicine man picking up a cup of liquid and feeding it to the patient, then a man picks up hot coals and places them in front of the patient, and then the medicine man drops incense on top, and the patient touches the coals, touches his head and stands up and walks off; the medicine man who looks at the others and then bends over to wipe away the painting with a stick; Canyon de Chelly, three men on horseback ride past the camera on cliff overlooking; they ride past the camera, in silhouette, into the sunset.