I got this book a year ago and didn’t read it because I thought I wouldn’t enjoy it. Shows how wrong I can be!
The U. S. Cavalry are once again stationed at Fort Defiance. They seem to think that it is their job to make the Navajo tribe behave – they’re even trying to make them migrate south to an unfertile land where no one in their right mind would want to live. But Kee’s father, Strong Man will have nothing to do with the soldiers. Neither will most of the Navajo. They will simply move into the canyon and wait out the soldiers, who usually move on when they realize they can’t have their way.
But this time, the soldiers refuse to leave. Instead, they begin raiding the Navajo village, destroying the crops and livestock. Kee’s family is enraged – Strong Man leaves his family to warn friends of the danger and never returns. Finally, the Navajo can no longer hold out. They surrender.
Will Kee survive the long and grueling trip to Bosque Redondo? Will he and his family ever be allowed to return to their desert mountains, or must they live out the rest of their lives amongst this ugly prairie?
After Kee’s father is separated from the family, Kee pours himself into providing for and protecting his family. He takes counsel from both his mother and grandmother, and behaves maturely throughout their entire captivity.
What I thought was most interesting about this story was the inefficiency and waste of the U. S. government. The struggle between the Navajos and U.S. troops began in 1863 – while the War Between the States was being fought. When the Navajo finally surrendered, they were herded several hundred miles away to a tiny plot of reservation land. Many people and animals died along the way. Once they arrived at the reservation, it was too small for all of the people to live and farm, so the U.S. had to pay to feed the Navajos for four years until finally, the U.S. and Navajo signed a treaty saying that the Navajos would not raid farmers anymore, and then they were sent back to their native homeland! Does that sound like a whole lot of hoopla to anyone else, or is it just me?
On several occasions, Kee thinks that he agrees with his father and wants to work revenge on the American soldiers. One can hardly blame him, considering that they have destroyed his family life and livelihood.
The Navajo religion is mentioned five times. The first mention is made when Kee’s family is being forced to migrate.
“When camp was made within sight of snow-capped Mount Taylor, Wise One became very upset. Looking at the mountain’s long slope she said, “That mountain is the southern sacred mountain. The sacred mountains were placed by the Holy People as boundaries for the Dine. Surely we will not be forced to live beyond them!”
Kee watched as Gentle Woman took Wise One into her arms and tried to comfort her, saying, “Little Mother, this is a dark night for the Dine. But morning will come and we will return to our homes. I know the spirits are not pleased when we travel farther. But it is not our fault; we are being forced to disobey them.”
“The Navajo spirits have abandoned us, I think,” Kee said. [pg. 46]
Later, when Kee is depressed he thinks,
“Here in this alien land beyond the sacred mountains, the spirits had deserted them. There was no use in holding ceremonies for the sick. Besides, who could provide food for the great feasts to follow each day’s ceremony? Here no one had enough to eat, so how could anyone invite friends or relatives to share with them? He could almost hear the voices of the singers chanting, chanting, chanting. He could hear drums. He could see dancers and smell good food cooking on campfires. [pgs. 78-79]
When the Navajo are struggling through crop failure,
“I think the spirits of this land do not want us here,” Kee said. “Perhaps when we get back to Navajoland, our own medicine men and spirits will protect us again.” [pg. 84]
When the Navajo return to their land and game becomes more plenty, Wise One says that the spirits remember them. I did not find that these religious references dominated the story in the least. They were more like hat tips to an accurate portrayal of Navajo culture.
Conclusion. An interesting account of a relatively unknown portion of America’s history.
Review © 2013 Laura Verret