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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


June 28, 2003 - Issue 90


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Self-taught Writer in Navajo Language Keeps Daily Journal

by Sararesa Begay Navajo Times
credits: Times photos - Sararesa Begay

Tulie P. HurleyINSCRIPTION HOUSE, Ariz. - Everywhere Tulie P. Hurley goes he records what is happening around him in the Navajo language.

Hurley will write about a four-day ceremony, or n'dah, or an eighth grade fundraiser event for the local school.

In 1965, Hurley, 78, a native of Kaibeto, Ariz., started writing the Navajo language to help the Navajo people.

"Back in the old days, there's no record of anything," Hurley said as he produced a small notebook to read aloud what he did last week. "Everywhere I go, maybe there's a song going on, a prayer, a n'dah or a song and dance, I write it down in Navajo."

Hurley attended Kaibeto Day School, Tuba City Boarding School and was on the six-year program at the former Sherman Institute in Riverside, Calif.

However, he only attended one year of the six-year program because he had to return home to Kaibeto to care for his younger brothers and a younger sister after his mother had died.

Hurley belongs to the Tahneeszahi (Tangle Clan), and is born for the Tzilani (Manygoats Clan). His maternal grandfather is Taabaahaa (Water's Edge Clan) and his paternal grandfather is Todichiinii (Bitter Water Clan).

Hurley original last name was Singer. The Hurley family changed their last name because Tulie's older brother, Frank E. Hurley, saved an Australian general's life when he was serving in the 3rd Army Tank Division under Gen. George Patton during World War II.

"At the time I was maybe 14," Hurley said. "My brother said, 'Let's become Hurley,' so we did."

Hurley worked for the Bellemont Army Depot in Bellemont, Ariz.; Twowella Park in Utah and at an arsenal in Ogden, Utah.

He even worked in Anchorage, Alaska at an arsenal as an explosive operator for the 6th Army Division, and then worked on the railroad.

Tulie P. Hurley's writingsIt wasn't until the mid-1960s when he started writing Navajo when he lived in Richfield, Utah. He began to read the American dictionary as a way to educate himself.

"I got really interested in writing Navajo," Hurley said. "I didn't go to school for it."

Hurley said he would stay up until 11 p.m. writing and practicing Navajo.

"Before this, the Navajo language was being translated incorrectly until 1957," Hurley said as he flipped through pages of his notebook. "As I started learning, I started getting the vowels - I found out there's no such thing as "p's", "q's" and "r's."

Hurley, a retired Motor Vehicle Division license inspector, said his interest strengthened when he would help his non-Navajo colleagues translate Navajo.

A bishop with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he said he's mostly interested in traditional Navajo teachings, songs and the spiritual stories.

When he was a little boy he learned Navajo spiritual teachings, stories and songs from both his cheii and his nali grandfathers, and his mother who was also a healer.

"I learned from my grandpa about the progress of the Navajo people, and I started writing those down," Hurley said. "Those stories I wrote about the Holy People who lived under the earth, and how we, Diné people, came up here to the surface to the face of the earth."

Hurley said he retrieves these stories from his memory, and compares those old teachings to other Navajo stories told by today's Navajo storytellers.

Hurley said he wants to write it all down in Navajo to keep a record, and for his own memory.

"Everything I write in Navajo is confidential," Hurley said. "Sometimes the (medicine people) get after me, and say, 'Are you going to use this against me?'"

But Hurley said he keeps it for himself and his family and shares the stories with only those people who ask respectfully.

Hurley said writing in Navajo helps him to remember his Navajo teachings, and remember who he is as a Navajo.

"Right now I try to get my people to try to understand," Hurley said. "Some people give the stories of the Navajo culture, but they want to be paid. I just want to help my people."

Frequently, Hurley will read reports to curious community members who want to know where Hurley traveled or visited.

Hurley he would like the young Navajos to listen to their Navajo community leaders and leadership, and be proud of being a Diné.

"Hang on to your education," Hurley said. "Because education is our weapon. Back then the Navajo people fought with bows and arrows, today we fight with our education."

Hurley is married to Marjorie of Inscription House, Ariz. They have six children.

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