Introduction with Terms & Themes

Introduction to #DinéDoctorHistorySyllabus

This introduction to #DinéDoctorHistorySyllabus emphasizes the key purpose and message of this initiative. It also introduces the public to main terms and themes of the syllabus project.

Diné Doctor Ashkii Yázhí, art by Leah Tiare Smith

Because I care.

-Phillip L. Smith

Key Messages: 

Featured from Farina King’s Op-Ed Diné heroes facing monsters through generationsSalt Lake Tribune, May 2, 2020, and her essay, “Diné Doctor,” posted by “Art for Uncertain Times” thanks to a grant from the Center for Latter-day Saint Arts

Listen to King’s “Honoring The Ones Who Came Before and Slaying The Monster Covid-19 Coronavirus With Navajo Warriors,” on Deborah Reger’s Podcast, Moccasin Tracks, WGDR Community Radio, May 27, 2020; and King’s episode, “Diné Doctor Histories,” on the podcast Intervals from June 9, 2021. You can also listen to King’s “Diné Doctor: A Latter-day Saint Story of Healing” on Dialogue Out Loud, and read the piece in the Dialogue Summer 2021 special issue on Indigeneity. See “Diné Doctor: A Latter-day Saint Story of Healing,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 54, no. 2 (Summer 2021): 81-85.

Generations of Diné Healers Face Naayéé’ (2020)

“They say that they are like firemen. They know what they signed up for. They must fulfill their call for duty.” This is what Mom told me when I asked why Dad has to continue working in the clinic. We are Diné (Navajo). We come from the Kinyaa’áanii (Towering House) clan. My father is born for the Tsi’naajinii (Black Streak Wood People) clan. He is over seventy years old and has been practicing medicine since the late 1970s. He is a family and community medicine physician who retired from the Indian Health Service (IHS) and continued family medicine practice at Monument Valley in the Navajo Nation between 2012 and 2021. I used to joke that he would work until he died but I feared that every day because of COVID-19 or Dikos Nstaaígíí-19 as we call it in Diné bizaad (the Navajo language).

Read more.

Terms & Themes

Here are some key themes and terms of this syllabus project, including Diné bizaad terms:

American Indian Movement (AIM): “a Native American grassroots movement that was founded in July 1968 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. AIM was initially formed in urban areas to address systemic issues of poverty and police brutality against Native Americans.”

Asdzą́ą́ Nádleehé: Changing Woman, a revered Diné deity, the mother of all the clans who is also affiliated with White Shell Woman.

Atah honiighááh: the flu.

Azee’: Medicine.

Azee’ííł’íní: “the one that makes medicine” or doctor.

Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition: a historic consortium of sovereign tribal nations united in the effort to conserve the Bears Ears cultural landscape in southeastern Utah.

Bilagáanaa: Anglo-American, or what Navajos call whites.

Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA): “the primary federal agency charged with carrying out the United States’ trust responsibility to American Indian and Alaska Native people, maintaining the federal government-to-government relationship with the federally recognized Indian tribes, and promoting and supporting tribal self-determination.  The bureau implements federal laws and policies and administers programs established for American Indians and Alaska Natives under the trust responsibility and the government-to-government relationship.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): the leading national public health institute under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood (CIB): “an official U.S. document that certifies an individual possesses a specific degree of Native American blood of a federally recognized Indian tribe, band, nation, pueblo, village, or community”; also affiliated with “blood quantum.”

Chapter: the center of local Navajo government in communities on tribal land.

Ch’óol’í’í: Gobernador Knob, one of the sacred inner mountains on Navajo lands.

Church Rock Uranium Mill Spill: the largest spill of radioactive material in the United States, when United Nuclear Corporation’s tailings disposal pond at its uranium mill in Church Rock breached its dam on July 16, 1979, affecting the Diné communities especially in the New Mexico regions of Navajo lands.

Dibé Nitsaa: the sacred mountain of the North, Hesperus Peak in Colorado.

Dikos Nstaaígíí-Náhást’éíts’áadah: COVID-19, the coronavirus that disproportionately plagues Navajos and became a pandemic in 2020.

Diné: “The People,” what the Navajos call their nation and people.

Diné Bikéyah: Navajo lands, encircled by the four sacred mountains in the Four Corners region of the American Southwest.

Diné Bizaad: Navajo language.

Dinéjí na’nitin: traditional Navajo teachings and ways of life.

Diyin Diné: the “Holy People,” gods, deities, or supernatural beings.

Dook’o’oosłííd: the sacred mountain of the West, the San Francisco Peaks in northern Arizona.

Dził Ná’oodiłii: Huerfano Mountain, one of the sacred inner mountains.

Earth Memory Compass: a metaphor that Dr. Farina King applies for ancestral teachings embodied in the four directions and affiliated mountains that embed a self-understanding for Navajos to know themselves, their people, and their relationships with all things considered physical and metaphysical around them through Si’ąh Naagháí Bik’eh Hózhǫ́.

The Earth Memory Compass (2018)

Federal Indian Trust Responsibility: “a legal obligation under which the United States ‘has charged itself with moral obligations of the highest responsibility and trust’ toward Indian tribes (Seminole Nation v. United States, 1942). This obligation was first discussed by Chief Justice John Marshall in Cherokee Nation v. Georgia (1831). Over the years, the trust doctrine has been at the center of numerous other Supreme Court cases, thus making it one of the most important principles in federal Indian law.”

Federally Recognized Tribe: “an American Indian or Alaska Native tribal entity that is recognized as having a government-to-government relationship with the United States, with the responsibilities, powers, limitations, and obligations attached to that designation, and is eligible for funding and services from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.”

Forced Sterilization: compulsory or coerced sterilization that the Indian Health Service (IHS) and collaborating physicians pushed especially on Native American women between the 1960s and 1970s, oftentimes without the informed consent of the patients.

Gold King Mine Waste Water Spill: an environmental disaster that began at the Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colorado, when Environmental Protection Agency personnel, along with workers for Environmental Restoration LLC, caused the release of toxic waste water into the Animas River watershed and affected key water sources for Navajo communities downstream in 2015.

Hataałii: traditional Navajo healer, known as a medicine man or woman.

Hooghan: hogan, the traditional dwelling and home of Navajos.

Hózhǫ́: the Navajo ideal of society, a desirable state of being translated as beauty, harmony, and happiness.

Hózhǫ́ǫ́jí: Blessingway ceremony that maintains hózhǫ́ through blessings.

Hwééłdi: “The Land of Suffering,” the Bosque Redondo and Fort Sumner, located in eastern New Mexico, where the U.S. government interned the Navajos between 1864 and 1868.

Immunocompromised: having an impaired immune system.

Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA): a federal law of 1978 that governs jurisdiction over the removal of Native American children from their families in custody, foster care and adoption cases. It gives tribal governments exclusive jurisdiction over children who reside on, or are domiciled on a reservation.

Indian Health Service (IHS): an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is responsible for providing federal health services to American Indians and Alaska Natives.

Indian Reorganization Act (IRA): “Wheeler–Howard Act, (June 18, 1934), measure enacted by the U.S. Congress, aimed at decreasing federal control of American Indian affairs and increasing Indian self-government and responsibility” as a part of the “Indian New Deal.”

Indian Student Placement Program (ISPP): the program that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints organized, which placed Native American youth with Mormon families off the reservations to attend public schools in the late twentieth century.

Influenza Pandemic of 1918: also known as the 1918 flu pandemic and “Spanish flu,” was an unusually deadly influenza pandemic especially among Navajos that lasted from January 1918 to December 1920 and infected 500 million people – about a third of the world’s population at the time.

Jo’ Jini’: “that’s what I heard,” which often refers to oral traditions, stories, and histories.

Kinaaldá: the female puberty ceremony for young Navajo women who menstruated for the first time. See also Lena Carr’s film Kinaalda: Navajo Rite of Passage (2000).

K’é: kinship and clan system.

Livestock Reduction: also known as “The Navajo Livestock Reduction,” when the U.S. government enforced reductions of herds on the Navajo reservation during the Great Depression and New Deal of the 1930s, which Navajos remember as traumatic slaughters of their livestock and sources of livelihood.

Long Walk: the 1864 forced removal and march between 250 to 450 miles, mostly during the bitter winter, of about 10,000 Navajos by the United States federal government and military from Navajo homelands to Bosque Redondo, Fort Sumner, New Mexico.

MMIWG: the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls epidemic is an ongoing issue affecting Indigenous peoples in Canada and the United States, including the First Nations, Inuit, Métis (FNIM), and Native American and Alaska Native communities.

Naaltsoos Sání (Navajo Treaty of 1868): a treaty signed between Diné leaders and the United States federal government, on June 1, 1868, which included various terms including the end of Diné incarceration at Bosque Redondo and their return to parts of their ancestral homelands.

Naayéé’: monsters.

Nahaghá: Navajo rituals.

National Institutes of Health (NIH): a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the largest biomedical research agency in the world.

Native American Church (NAC): “also known as Peyotism and Peyote Religion, is a Native American religion that teaches a combination of traditional Native American beliefs and Christianity, with sacramental use of the entheogen peyote.”

Navajo Nation: the tribal government, organization, and citizenry of the Navajo people as well as the territory of Navajo citizens that consists of about 17,544,500 acres in the Four Corners region of what is now considered part of the southwestern United States.

Navajo Nation Human Research Review Board (NNHRRB): the review board of research that involves humans and the living on the Navajo Nation.

Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission: In 2006, the Navajo Nation Council established this commission to collect data regarding discriminatory acts against citizens of the Navajo Nation by private citizens, businesses, organizations and foreign governments within and outside the Navajo Nation.

Navajo Witch Purge: when about forty suspected Navajo witches were killed to restore harmony and balance among Diné communities in 1878.

Nayee’ijí: Protectionway ceremony that restores hózhǫ́ through protections.

NODAPL: “the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, also called by the hashtag #NoDAPL, were grassroots movements that began in early 2016 in reaction to the approved construction of Energy Transfer Partners’ Dakota Access Pipeline in the northern United States.”

Relocation: “The Indian Relocation Act of 1956 was a United States law intended to encourage American Indians to leave Indian reservations and their traditional lands, and to assimilate into the general population in urban areas.”

Reservation: “an area of land reserved for [an American Indian] tribe or tribes under treaty or other agreement with the United States, executive order, or federal statute or administrative action as permanent tribal homelands, and where the federal government holds title to the land in trust on behalf of the tribe.”

Self-Determination: “[U.S.] Congress has recognized the right of [American Indian] tribes to have a greater say over the development and implementation of federal programs and policies that directly impact on them and their tribal members.  It did so by enacting two major pieces of legislation that together embody the important concepts of tribal self-determination and self-governance:  The Indian Self-determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975, as amended (25 U.S.C. 450 et seq.) and the Tribal Self-Governance Act of 1994 (25 U.S.C. 458aa et seq.).  Through these laws, Congress accorded tribal governments the authority to administer themselves the programs and services usually administered by the BIA for their tribal members.  It also upheld the principle of tribal consultation, whereby the federal government consults with tribes on federal actions, policies, rules or regulations that will directly affect them.”

Settler Colonialism: “Settler colonialism is a distinct type of colonialism that functions through the replacement of indigenous populations with an invasive settler society that, over time, develops a distinctive identity and sovereignty.” Colonialism is “a practice of domination, which involves the subjugation of one people to another.”

Native American Land Loss from 1776 to 1930 (

Si’ąh Naagháí Bik’eh Hózhǫ́: the Navajo philosophy of “Walk in Beauty,” or “live to old age in beauty.”

Shits’ę́ę́’: the umbilical cord with the first-person possessive pronoun, considered sacred to Navajos because of its continual connection to its person of origin.

Sis Naajiní: the sacred mountain of the East, Blanca Peak in Colorado.

Special Navajo Program: a program that the Bureau of Indian Affairs established for Navajos in the postwar period to increase Navajo training in the English language and various vocations at off-reservation boarding schools.

Snyder Act: also known as the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924, was proposed by U.S. Representative Homer P. Snyder of New York and granted full U.S. citizenship to the indigenous peoples or “Indians.” But many Native Americans/American Indians continued to face infringements of their rights such as voting.

Survivance: Anishinaabe writer Gerald Vizenor’s concept that stresses how Indigenous cultures and peoples thrive rather than merely survive.

Sweat Lodge: (or Ta’ Chéé) also called as ‘sweat house,’a ceremonial sauna, sweat or purification.

Táádidíín: corn pollen, the powder from the top of corn stalks on the tassels, which is sacred to Navajos.

Termination: U.S. policy between the 1940s and 1960s to assimilate American Indians into mainstream American society by ending U.S. federal recognition of Indian tribes, trusteeship over Indian reservations, and exclusion of state law applicability to tribal members.

Tó Łitso: “The Water is Yellow” refers to the contaminated waters of the Gold King Mine Waste Water Spill of 2015 and the investigation of the exposure and risks of the spill on Diné communities.

Treaty Rights: “the United States’ relations with individual American Indian nations indigenous to what is now the U.S. were defined and conducted largely through the treaty-making process [from 1778 to 1871]. These ‘contracts among nations’ recognized and established unique sets of rights, benefits, and conditions for the treaty-making tribes who agreed to cede of millions of acres of their homelands to the United States and accept its protection.  Like other treaty obligations of the United States, Indian treaties are considered to be ‘the supreme law of the land,’ and they are the foundation upon which federal Indian law and the federal Indian trust relationship is based.”

Tribal Enrollment: a process and set of requirements that officials develop in an attempt to preserve the unique character and traditions of American Indian tribes/tribal nations. According to the U.S. Department of the Interior and federal tribal recognition, tribes/tribal nations “establish membership criteria based on shared customs, traditions, language and tribal blood.”

Tribal Sovereignty: “the concept of the inherent authority of indigenous tribes to govern themselves within the borders of the United States.”

Ts’ííh niidóóh: disease.

Tsoodził: the sacred mountain of the South, Mount Taylor in New Mexico.

U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS): a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under the oversight of the Assistant Secretary for Health concerned with public health, which contains eight out of the department’s eleven operating divisions.

Yéii’ bicheii: Navajo ceremonial dance performed only in winter after the first snowfall.