Hagoóne, trees!

(Special to the Times - Donovan Quintero)

Students from Tséhootsoo' Diné Bi'—lta' sing a Christmas song Nov. 19 at the fairgrounds in Window Rock during a gathering to mark the passage of a 65-foot spruce and 17 pinon trees from the Navajo Nation that are on their way to Washington, D.C. (Special to the Times - Donovan Quintero)

Diné brave chilly weather to send off Capitol Christmas Tree and friends

By Cindy Yurth
Tséyi' Bureau

WINDOW ROCK, Nov. 25, 2009

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(Special to the Times - Donovan Quintero)

Miss Navajo Nation Tashina Nelson, who sang a traveling song at the Window Rock fairgrounds for the 65-foot spruce, climbs a ladder to sign her name. "It is such an honor to have this tree from the state of Arizona. We are making history," she said.

Mae Wallace was born among the pines at the top of the Defiance Plateau. She feels connected to them.

"I've been living with pine trees ever since I was a baby," said the septuagenarian from St. Michaels, Ariz. "I don't even like to cut them."

So when she heard 17 piñon pines from the Navajo Nation were being sent to Washington, D.C., to decorate the U.S. Department of the Interior, she rushed to Window Rock last Thursday evening to help send them off.

Wallace didn't think there were many Navajos who cared about trees as much as she did, but she was wrong. About 250 people braved below-freezing temperatures to say farewell to the Navajo trees and get a glimpse of the 65-foot blue spruce lying in its semi-trailer that will be set up in front of the U.S. Capitol Nov. 30.

The fallen giant comes from the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest near Alpine, but the Diné took pride in it nonetheless.

"It is such an honor to have this tree from the state of Arizona," said Miss Navajo Tashina Nelson, who sang the tree on its way with a traditional traveling song. "We are making history!"

It is, in fact, the first time Arizona has been chosen to supply the national Christmas tree - and the first time trees from the Navajo Nation will be displayed in Washington. Seventy-five "companion trees" from almost every tribal and national forest in the state are accompanying the Capitol tree on its tour through the U.S. and eventually will be set up in government offices.

All the decorations - some 10,000 of them - were handmade by Arizona schoolchildren, including about 50 from Hopi and Navajo.

Window Rock was the last stop on the tree's 10-day tour on its way out of Arizona. It had been to 28 towns and cities, and been blessed by Apaches, Navajos, and, earlier that day as it stopped in Keams Canyon, Hopis who tied eagle feathers into its topmost boughs.

"They had a really moving ceremony," said Albert Peña, who normally runs a bulldozer for the U.S. Forest Service but is presently tasked with being one of the tree's guardians as it crosses the United States and is the object of yet more celebrations.

"Every stop is unique," said Peña. "Around here, people are pretty used to blue spruce, but down in places like Douglas, where they don't see them, people were just awestruck. Even the scary-looking teenage boys were just standing there with their mouths hanging open."

The Navajo celebration included speeches by Navajo Nation and Forest Service dignitaries, and entertainment by the Navajo Nation Band, students of Tséhootsooí Diné Bi'ólta', the Callin' Eagle Singers, and a troop of Apache dancers who happened to be in the area.

Rick Davalos, who headed up the Capitol Christmas Tree project for the Forest Service, complimented the Navajo Nation on its enthusiastic support of the project.

"They've been a great part of what's happening, supplying nearly 20 percent of the companion trees," he said, adding that the piñon trees harvested around Milk Water, Ariz., are "very unique."

Most of the Arizona forests supplied spruce and fir for the effort, but the Navajo Nation Forestry Department decided on piñons after the Diné Hataalii Association put the kibosh on cutting sacred blue spruce during Yé'ii Bi Chei season.

In addition to showing the country "what kind of trees we have here on the Navajo Nation," Vice President Ben Shelly said he hopes the trees, blessed with corn pollen, will "carry our wishes and our hopes" to Washington.

"When they get to the Hill, everything's going to open up," he predicted.

Today, Nov. 25, the trees are in Roanoke, Va. They'll take Thanksgiving Day off, then stay in Chevy Chase, Md., until being presented at the U.S. Capitol Monday.

For more information, including how to track the trees in real time and a regularly updated blog, go to http://capitolchristmastree2009.org.

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