Life on the Rez

There’s so much to say. So much I learned from 4 days on a Navajo reservation and only so long to keep a reader’s attention. I know I need to keep this at a sane length, but I’m tempted to not. This trip to Arizona (read why I went here) certainly made me aware of another kind of poverty within the United States and how fortunate I am to live where I live, but it also gave me tons of insight about a rich culture I knew nothing about. Here are a few bits that I walked away with.

Pinon is dry. It’s brown. And dusty green. And faded red. Everything is spread out, distanced by long dirt roads that stretch for miles and miles.

Cows and sheep hang out on the side of the road. One grocery store named Basha’s, a Subway and Pizza Edge fill the only strip mall. A Conoco receives business right next door. Some houses are round hogans without electricity and running water, while others are a bit more modern (depending on how traditional the family is). Dogs meander down the road and lay in the sun in front of Basha’s. They are rez dogs, and they have no home.

The unemployment rate in Pinon is 80%. It’s like a deadly cycle because the Navajos want to preserve their heritage, so they don’t allow many businesses to come on the reservation. So people don’t have anywhere to work. Alcoholism is a problem on the rez, even though it’s considered dry. People get drunk outside the reservation and come back home (which leads to domestic violence), or they mix water and hairspray to get drunk. Toxic. We learned the Navajo word for “drunk man,” and surprisingly enough, used it many times in conversation throughout the trip. I remember writing on my notepad that “it’s a quiet poverty, not one of police sirens and urbanism. Every building, every animal and every person looks in need of a little love.”

Yet in the midst of the poverty, there are brilliant students at Pinon High School. Students who are confident they have something to offer and know that their life has options. These students are thoughtful, kind, so endearing and wise beyond their years. We had the chance to talk to the juniors and seniors at a question and answer panel, where they asked us about everything college-related. They’re curious. And they’re faced with this internal struggle because they want to honor their families and their Navajo culture, but strive to dream outside the scope of the reservation. They’re torn between tradition and limitless possibility.

Some highlights…

We learned how to make fry bread.

We stopped at the Chinle Flea Market and EVERY jewelry stand we could find alongside the road.

We painted a water tank.

Witnessed Monument Valley.

Stood atop Cedar Mesa.

Saw a BEAUTIFUL sunrise.

And were downright inspired.

This trip got me outside of my comfort zone, which I’m confident is a great thing for my control freak personality :)  Feel free to click here for more of my photos on Facebook, or visit the ISU gallery here.

And thanks for reading. I sure do appreciate it.


  1. Beautiful summary of the trip. You conveyed the sweet spirit of a people living in a tough environment. An amazing experience!

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