A Personal Journey Through The Navajo Nation

Evan James Atwood is a Native American photographer and filmmaker based in Portland, Oregon. Whilst filming a short personal documentary during a two-week cultural trip through the Navajo Reservation, Atwood captured the awe-inspiring beauty of the landscape on camera. Below, he shares a few reflections on the experience of the different stages of his journey back to the land of his ancestors.

“From intense winds, to sudden snowstorms, sunrises to sunsets, this is my experience in the Navajo Reservation.”“While the reservation gets stereotyped for the current condition it is in and the stereotypes that surround my culture (i.e. Native Americans are alcoholics, lazy, privileged from the government, uncivilized, etc.), my intentions were to experience as much about my own culture and capture it. I spent two weeks traveling around as much of the reservation as I could fit in and focused my energy on finding the cultural significance of the land and capturing the unadorned beauty as well as visiting my grandmother’s home.

I learned more about my own language (not to mention almost impossible to pronounce for non-native speakers) and new traditional stories of the land. Apart from language, I felt connected into a different aspect of the land, which comes from my ancestors. These photos encapsulate frozen moments in the Navajo Reservation. From intense winds, to sudden snowstorms, sunrises to sunsets, this is my experience in the Navajo Reservation.”

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“I traveled to Red Valley (known in Navajo as Tse’ lichii da az kani’) and explored the barren land with Larry King. It was in Red Valley I learned how the Navajo horses (known as łįį’) have a long history with Navajo culture – with slightly different features than the regular horses that didn’t adapt to the harsh desert.”

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“On the next day, we got caught in an unanticipated snowstorm traveling to Canyon de Chelly (known as Tseyi’), which turned into an almost ethereal landscape as we stood on the white washed cliff edges. Beneath those cliffs were ancient dwellings and Spider Rock, an over 800-foot high rock structure in the canyon. Spider Rock is significantly known to be the home of Spider Woman, who is known for her creativity (she taught the art of weaving) and for the folklore told to children. A tale that if the Navajo children didn’t behave well, that Spider Woman would come out to consume them.”

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“Then Monument Valley (known in Navajo as Tsé Biiʼ Ndzisgaii) at sunrise and stayed for hours watching the sunrise being entranced by the beauty. While Monument Valley may be known as the backdrop for John Wayne films, the cultural story explains how the huge stone monuments are actually monsters frozen in time in the valley.”

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“On the last few days I explored around my grandmother’s home in Sanostee, New Mexico. The photos display those moments. I will return to the reservation as soon as possible and keep my mind wide open as I continue to learn more about my own cultural history.”

"I will keep my mind wide open as I continue to learn more about my own cultural history."

All images © Evan James Atwood

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