Listening Woman (1978)

Listening Woman (1978)

Chinle, Arizona

A community located a mile west of the mouth of Canyon de Chelly on the Navajo reservation in northeastern Arizona. In Navajo, the place is known as Ch’ínílį or “Water Outlet." A site of great spiritual significance, Canyon de Chelly is considered the heart of the Navajo people and was the site of their final resistance against demands from the U.S. government to relocate during the 19th century. Eventually succumbing to the privations and difficulties of what today would be understood as guerrilla warfare, it was at Chinle that the Navajo people finally surrendered to Kit Carson in 1864. After the forced march to and detainment at Bosque Redondo in southeastern New Mexico, the Navajo were permitted to return to their homelands, including Canyon de Chelly. Because of the fertile agricultural fields and prime grazing lands in Chinle Valley, Chinle became the hub of a trading network, and a trading post was established there in the 1880s. Chinle remains a vital cultural and economic center for the Navajo, as well as a popular tourist spot for visitors.

The People

In Navajo, Diné means "the People." Eminently adaptable, the Diné learn from their neighbors and have incorporated elements from Pueblo, Hispanic, and even Anglo cultures into their lifeways, developing a traditional way of life that is fluid and dynamic but also deeply affected by their respect for custom and tradition. This is intimately tied to their belief that the physical and spiritual worlds blend together and that everything on earth is alive and related. This is called hózhǫ́, the state in which all living things are ordered, in balance, and walking in beauty. The opposite of hózhǫ́ is hóchxǫ́ǫ́, which refers to disorder and chaos in one’s life.


In many traditional cultures, turquoise has been valued for its color, which evokes both the sky and water. Because of the significance of the sky, which facilitates the passage of the sun and the coming of rain, turquoise is often referred to as “the sky stone.” Turquoise is associated with life, health, fortune, and blessings. Turquoise can be found in medicine pouches, incorporated into Zuni fetishes, carved into beads, and set as larger stones in traditional Navajo and Pueblo silver work, although it wasn’t until the late 19th century that turquoise was associated with silver jewelry, when Atsidi Sani, a Navajo silversmith, began incorporating turquoise stones into the Spanish-style silversmithing he had learned as an apprentice. Silver and turquoise jewelry was popularized by the burgeoning tourist trade in the Southwest, and nearby Pueblo people, Hopi and Zuni, also began making turquoise jewelry.


In Navajo and Pueblo traditions, as well as many other Native American cultures, the underworld is thought of as the watery, dark realm of creation from which people emerged into the present world. The underworld represents the various levels of existence through which people journey before finally rising onto the surface of the Earth to exist in the world as we know it now. While the underworld is believed to be the place of human origin, it also represents the realm of spirits, gods, or the Holy People, and it is where the dead reside after passing away from this world..


Also spelled Hastiin, Hosteen is a term of respectful address in Navajo meaning man or husband. In Navajo, "First Man," from the Navajo Origin Story, is called Áłtsé Hastiin. Often, Hosteen is used before a last name, functioning in a way that is similar to the usage of Mister (Mr.) in English.

Navajo Tribal Council

Pressured to cooperate with the U.S. federal government in order retain at least some vestige of recognition as a sovereign nation, the Navajo Nation transitioned from traditional governance to a representative system in 1922. Under the paternalistic guidance of the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, the Navajo Business Council was created to negotiate mineral releases on tribal lands. In 1934 they disbanded after refusing to adopt the Indian Reorganization Act, only to reform under a new name, Navajo Nation Council, in 1937. The Navajo Tribal Council is presided over by a council-elected speaker and includes 24 elected members from 110 tribal chapters. The Navajo Tribal Council meets at Window Rock, Arizona at least four times a year, when they discuss new legislation for and issues on the Navajo Nation Reservation.


Also known as hatałii in Navajo, singers, like medicine men, perform traditional ceremonial healing cures targeted at body, mind, and spirit, and call on the patient, his kin, the singer himself, and divine people to restore an individual's harmony with the world. Before a singer, or medicine man (they are seldom women), is called, a hand trembler (ndilniihii), often a woman, will diagnose the source of illness. Through prayer, concentration, and sprinkling of sacred pollen, her hand will tremble and pinpoint the cause, which then determines the proper ceremonial cure. Then a singer who knows the proper ceremony is called and preparations for the sing are set in motion.

There are nearly 100 Navajo sings, or chants, of varying range and intricacy. Originating from the Navajo Creation Story, they are so nuanced and complex that a singer learns only one or two sings over many years of apprenticeship. Sings last anywhere from one to nine days and include chants, songs, prayers, lectures, dances, sweat baths, prayer sticks, and sand paintings. In order for a sing to be effective, everything must be done as prescribed in the legends.

Federal Bureau of Investigation

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is the United States’ national security and law enforcement agency, which conducts intelligence-driven investigations of terrorism, counterintelligence, public corruption, fraud, and large scale theft, violent crime, cybercrime, and organized crime. The agency belongs to the Unites States Department of Justice, and its headquarters is located in Washington D.C. There are also local FBI offices in different states. For example, the New Mexico division of the FBI is located in Albuquerque, giving agents access to the area’s various Native American reservations, to which the FBI has access under the Major Crimes. The New Mexico division is frequently referenced in Hillerman's fiction, often as a cause for tension between Navajo police, local state police, and FBI agents all involved in the process of solving a crime.


A social, cultural, and political category that refers to the "dominant" culture of the U.S., a category primarily understood as a racial construction that expresses the legacies of Western European hegemony. Many critiques of "whiteness" exist. General analysis suggests that whiteness has functioned since the early Enlightenment period in Europe (the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries) as an expression of increasingly dogmatic, or strict, white supremacist, patriarchal, heteronormative, and classed biases. Although since at least the 1960s critical racial and comparative ethnic frameworks, in addition to versions of feminist and queer theories, have challenged the privileges that have inhered in "whiteness," critical indigenous critiques comprise a burgeoning field of scholarship and activism that also challenge the colonial settler histories and contemporary practices associated with whiteness.

medicine bundle

People of various Native American tribes often carry with them a small pouch, usually made of deer skin, which contains a few items that have totemic, spiritual, and ceremonial value. This bundle is believed to provide protection and healing, and is carried under the person’s clothes, either on a string around the neck or under the waist belt. It may contain small, natural objects such as special rocks, animal parts, or carved amulets, and usually also includes sacred pollen, which is commonly used in a variety of prayers and rituals. The Navajo word for medicine pouch is jish, which applies to both the small bag and its contents.


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