Pseudo Culture
by T. Zoey Benally

Walk with my son, thirteen, Traipse across the bridge.
I retell tales of my day, Chapter House presentation, Navajo town hall.
Report in English, hold my breath, cross my fingers,
Hope the elders understand.

An older gentleman stands and says, "What have we done to our children?
We told them, go to school, learn & come back,
but now they don't know their language."

...for the first time, it was NOT MY FAULT.
My alleged arrogance, my supposed laziness – NOT RESPONSIBLE.

Lee chaii ei lizhin. Masi ei ligai.
Naa a hoohxai ei lichii.
Dine bizaad ei shil naantlah.

My daughter hears 30 minutes of Navajo words each day.
Nouns, adjective lists--even though
Navajo is verb driven--object lists, key phrases, are the core.

My son & I, both NM state public school bilingual program products
Decide to compare notes, play a game, carry on a conversation.
He can’t ask how my day was, can only tell me,
“The sky is blue.” “The car is black.”
I can only answer, “My name is Zoey.” “I am from Shiprock.”
“My eyes are brown.”

Shi deezhi tadiin do biann taa’ bi naa hxai.
To deel chxooshi t’aalai do bi aan naki yaal ba iili.
Abiinigo ashdla’ doo alnii oolkil ayoo shil ya’a t’eeh.
Dine bizaad do shil di’ in diin da.

Endangered language criteria defined by…
Total number of fluent speakers – 173,800. Mean age – 24.4.
Youngest generation acquiring language fluency –
50% of rez kids speak Navajo.
Aunts, brothers, grandmothers, fathers, sisters, uncles
Still HAVE the language, but there are only 2000 elders left,
And my friend laments that birthday parties, and family reunions
Are fast becoming the new Navajo ceremonies.

Iil whoosh! Sinida! Iiya! Noweh! Jaa’ii! Ma’ii!
Naa’ii! Bidii! Yaa di lah! Ge’sho!
Al k’I daa’ dii t’ei ya shil bee hoozin n’tee.

My mom & dad used Navajo as their secret language
To discuss going to town, the carnival, store.
My uncle made fun of the way I pronounced Navajo words,
said I spoke like the Catholic priest.
My mom REFUSED to teach me Navajo because she didn’t want me
To be punished in school, Did not want me to speak Navajo & suffer
--Knees on rice grains, beaten by rulers,
Afternoons smelling corners.
BIA boarding school matrons told MY mom
That Navajos were primitive,
Lower in the evolutionary chain, closer to monkeys.
Told MY mom she needed to give up her language, culture, identity
Take on white culture so she could progress.

Hat’ iish banina? Di kwiish beeso ne hoolo?
Haadee’ nanina? Dine bizaad bohoosha
Shika’ anilyeed.


Hadjare said...

Well done. I feel so much then same way as we struggle to regain and learn something so new and so old. We have less than 200 now, and I feel like our 4 hours am week aren't nearly enough and yet it is so much more than we have ever done before. Sometimes I wondernwhatngood it is...who will our kids have to talk with...but then I also hope that by doing this maybe there will be more one day.

Anyway, I am so glad you wrote this.

zoey said...

Thanks! :) I wrote this piece about 6 years ago. I just never posted it. I have a bunch of poems that I use for slam that are not posted on here.
I think it's FABULOUS that you & your family are learning HoChunk. Keep up the good work.

laoshu505000 said...


I finally got around to read this. I really did enjoy it. You should definitely post more. Ahééhee’


Jonrell said...

Nice one!

Latha vijayakumar said...

nice blog.