Storytelling with String Games: Navajo Teen Shares Ritual at High School

The Arizona Republic (Phoenix, AZ), March 8, 2006


Crafting a bird’s nest using 2 feet of string is difficult for Alhambra High School student Isaiah Nelson.

The Navajo teenager helped bring the winter storytelling and string games last month to his campus in the Phoenix Union High School District. The student-sponsored event was designed to highlight and honor the school’s diverse backgrounds.

For Nelson, president of Alhambra’s Native Student Youth Council, it means finding and scheduling a meaningful activity that best explains a tiny part of who he is as a Diné, or Navajo. He found a seasonal ritual called Na’atl’o’, a teaching activity used by Navajo parents for children offered by the Phoenix Indian Center (PIC).

According to Navajo oral traditions, a deity named Na’ashjé’ii Asdzéé, Spider Woman, gave the people the game. Much of the motion tied to the game is similar to a spider weaving its web.

“Spider Woman introduced string games so that our children will learn how to control their thoughts,” Freddie Johnson, Navajo cultural specialist at PIC, said.

“It teaches our children patience and discipline. It also teaches our parents to be patient with their children because string games requires focus, a lot of repetitive motion with the fingers to design stars, two coyotes racing in opposing direction, or a bird’s nest.”

Subjects Covered: diversity training, education

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