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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


August 24, 2002 - Issue 68


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Navajo Tale of Hope Inspires Young Men

by S.J. Wilson The Navajo-Hopi Observer
Verna ClintonVerna Clinton's father seemed to have known that his daughter would grow up to be a teacher and storyteller. And so he filled her life with stories, from early childhood on until his passing.

She never wrote anything he ever said, but she remembered it all.

"Ashkii's Journey" — Clinton's latest book —is a story of a post-Bosque Redondo youth, orphaned at an early age but trained by his grandparents into the life of a medicine man. Before he could come of age, Ashkii lost both grandparents as well and found himself facing very grown up problems.

Clinton describes the book as historical fiction, but it was written from many true stories that her father told her through the years. His stories were about experiences he'd had in life, which contained important lessons he wanted to pass on to his own children and grandchildren.

Although penned about a boy in the past, Clinton wrote and illustrated this moving story to assist Navajo boys with the contemporary problems they face, making their own symbolic journeys into manhood.

"I wrote this to help the youth as I see them today," she said. "Boys have no one to identify with. Grandparents today are still raising children."

Clinton said she wrote the book to especially speak to sixth graders, the grade she teaches at Chinle Boarding School. She sees this as a key time in a young man's development where he desperately needs to learn the survival skills that will allow him to succeed in junior high, high school and adulthood.

Some youth, she said, resemble those Navajo who left Bosque Redondo.

"The people came back either lost or angry," she said. "Most were weak and troubled."

Clinton is no stranger to this same situation, having faced all of those issues in her own life, living on the wrong side of the fence in the so-called Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute. She lumps all of these experiences into the same category.

Through her father's stories and her own experiences, Clinton recognized that education needs to teach children more than math and English.

"I want to instill enduring life skills into youth, to teach them critical thinking, yet I want them to have fun, too," she said.

Clinton and her mother embody these skills—like Ashkii, theirs is a story of hope and of overcoming adversity.

"My mother and I are raising our Churro sheep despite the uncertainty of our lives at Star Mountain," she said

The story is very personal to Clinton.

"I have a hard time reading the book, it hits very close to home to me," she said. "Recently, I translated the story to my mother and we just broke into tears.

"Ashkii was given these skills by his grandparents, who taught him a number of songs and prayers. He had to survive somehow, and he uses critical problem solving. Yet, he still has fun with his dog."

Clinton is excited about working at Chinle Elementary.

"At Chinle, everyone focuses totally on the child, and we teach every child as our own," she said. "We want to ensure that each child has the skills he or she needs to go on to the next grade."

Although "Ashkii's Journey" was written to provide a lesson of critical thinking to boys, Clinton said that the book could also help girls to understand what a boy can go through. Her next book will be about a girl, she said.

She began writing the story of Ashkii and brought the beginnings to Salina Bookshelf. There, she was encouraged to finish the story. The ending did not come to her immediately.

"One day, I was in a sweat my grandmother had set up," Clinton said. "When I came out, I saw a double rainbow.

"I saw that and knew that was the end of the story."

The message she wants to instill through Ashkii's Journey is one of hope.

"Wherever you go along the way, there will be hard times, but there will always be double rainbows too."

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