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FISSURE: A Life Between Cultures




I whooped and whooped again––online and into the air, so my daughter asked, "What?"
"Deb Haaland is going to be nominated Secretary of the Interior!"
I had already decided this was the week for the word hózhó, but I had no idea what I would say. Until I read the news about Deb Haaland (Laguna).
Here is why I call her nomination hózhó. But first I have to tell you, which I usually save until the end of a WORDS FROM FRIENDS entry, that my Diné (Navajo) friend and former colleague, Kera Armstrong gave me this word. I felt utterly humbled and deeply moved that she would trust me to do any sort of justice to such a significant, core, Diné concept. Me, a bilagáana woman.
Hózhó encompasses "a complex wellness philosophy and belief system comprised of principles that guide one's thoughts, actions, behaviors, and speech," according to Michelle Kahn-John, a Diné nurse with a PhD, who has researched the value of traditional Navajo ceremony when integrated with western medical practices. Hózhó expresses such concepts as beauty, balance perfection, harmony, goodness, normality, success, wellbeing, and blessedness.
When things are amiss in the Diné world, the desire, the impulse, is to healing, to restoration of balance, to hózhó. Over the past four years, things in the US have been vastly amiss, until we have endured the worst of it in 2020. We have witnessed blatant disregard for life––in the form of encouragement of violent racial injustice and death at the hands of those entrusted to protect and at the hands of ordinary citizens, intentional destruction of the natural world, and so-called leaders turning their backs on death wrought by a raging pandemic. We have longed for hózhó.
My joy at the naming of Deb Haaland to head Interior comes with the belief that she is a healer, as much as a Navajo haataałi (singer and healer) is. As she has said, "The land is everything," and she has experience fighting the forces that are bent upon taking from the land whatever they want. She is a warrior woman determined to protect the Earth. Many of those lands are Native lands, and she is a fierce defender of Native rights. She will be an invaluable member of an administration committed to healing the devastation that has battered us. More than that, her appointment represents restorative justice, a righting of generational wrongs to Native people by the very department she will now head.
I feel so privileged to have cast a vote to bring Deb Haaland into the House of Representatives in 2018. I pray the Senate will do the right thing and confirm her––an indigenous woman in charge of America's land, water, and Native territories! Hózhónígó. Hózhónígó.

The word hózhó was brought to you by Kera Armstrong, who works on the frontline in the healthcare system at UNM Hospital, for which she deserves our intense gratitude. She remains an incredible source of hózhó to everyone she meets.


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