June 19, 2012

Navajos Wear Nikes

An outsider grows to embrace the culture on a Navajo reservation

By Gwen ShriftKristofic, who is 30, landed on the reservation at 7, when his divorced mother, a nurse, got a job in a reservation hospital and moved him and his younger brother from Pittsburgh to Ganado, Ariz.

As soon as he started second grade, the Navajo kids began calling the blue-eyed, brown-haired Kristofic Bilagáana bilasáana, or “white apple,” among other less-printable nicknames. It was the beginning of years of taunting and sometimes physical abuse.

In a chronological series of essays, Kristofic spares no detail about the way he was treated, but also holds no grudges.
And:He began writing his reminiscences as a way of sharing the experiences and emotions of his childhood with her. The project grew into “Navajos Wear Nikes,” which is published by the University of New Mexico Press.

“I would hate this to fall into the ‘eagle feather’ school—‘Always talk with the Great Spirit.’ So hokey,” he says. “I had no idea how the book would turn out.”

The answer to that is, “very successfully.”

Kristofic vividly gives his readers the bright and dark magic of the reservation, his scarred and deprived classmates and their pride in Navajo heritage, and, poignantly, for emigrants anywhere, his own sense of loss when the family moved to Page.

“Navajos Wear Nikes,” Kristofic’s first book, was a finalist in 2011 for prizes awarded by the Western Writers of America and the New Mexico Book Co-op and was chosen by the Pima County Library in Tucson for its “Best Reading 2011” list.
Comment:  For more on books about reservation life, see Rez Life Avoid Poverty Porn and The New Powwow Highway.

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