NAC youth learn to use prayer in their lives

By Alastair Lee Bitsoi
Navajo Times

BUFFALO PASS, Ariz., August 8, 2013

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(Times photo – Donovan Quintero)

TOP: Summer stars glimmer above a fire-lit tipi and the ponderosa trees surrounding it on Saturday night during a Native American Church ceremony for youth from the Cove/Red Valley communities.

SECOND FROM TOP: Alton Lizer from Cornfields, Ariz., rekindles the fire before the start of a Native American Church ceremony for all youth from the Cove/Red Valley communities on Saturday east of Lukachukai.

THIRD FROM TOP: People attending a Native American Church ceremony make their way to one of two tipis set up on Saturday evening.

U nder the canopy of the ponderosa pines, Kaitlynn Joe waited patiently for the prayer service of a Native American Church peyote ceremony to begin for youth from the Cove/Red Valley communities last Saturday night.

Dressed in a skirt with turquoise beads and her hair tied into a Navajo bun, she entered the altar of the Cheyenne NAC fireplace, when the roadman and his crew of cedar man, fire chief, the drummer and water woman and other participants gathered into the tipi to begin the all-night service at about 9:30 p.m.

The 10-year-old was among a slew of youth to participate in the all-night prayer ceremony in which she said she would pray and ask the Creator for positive well being and education.

"Sometimes people say I can't do anything, but in my mind, I can be successful," she said of how the NAC ceremony would help her.

Joe, who will be a sixth-grader at Tse' Bit'Ai Middle School in Shiprock this fall, also attended the ceremony so that she could "pray for school and get a good education" this school year and into the future.

In addition to the prayer service held in honor of the youth here, organizers from Native American Church of North America of Cove and Red Valley, Inc., also sponsored a horse trail ride from Red Valley to the base of Roof Butte in the Lukachukai Mountains, and seminars on the importance of education and drug and alcohol abuse.

Youth like Keala Smith, 8, also heard from traditional storytellers and educators about the Navajo horse story, the principle of Hozho, and how a personal self-image is effective to living a positive lifestyle.

One of Smith's favorite activities was learning about how to set up a tipi from Stanley Foster, and its use as part of the Native American Church prayer service.

"I learned about the tipi," she said, explaining in her words what she saw in the demonstration. "You have to build it with these long sticks, and you put it together with a big blanket and wrap it all the way around, and you put the door together."

From there, she said, the next steps include getting "these small poles, it has this circle on the tipi, and then you put nails into the ground."

The knowledge the youth acquired from being at the three-day celebration is an encouraging way to start the school year, said Melanie Young, an eighth-grade teacher at Red Rock Day School.

From her experience from living according to the teachings of the Native American Church and Navajo principle of Hozho, Young knows how significant a role those teachings have had in her life as well as her achievement in becoming a teacher in her community.

Last year, Young approached the local NAC chapter to host a prayer service in honor of the youth. And this year with two tipis, she said there was a better turnout especially with the four-hour horse trail ride.

As for the ceremony for the youth, Young hopes the youth who attended learn how to pray, speak and express gratitude about their lives.

"We're showing and modeling in front of them K'e," Young said, adding that it's important for Navajo youth to acknowledge kinship ties.

Young added, "I heard my mom and dad praying, and they taught me how to pray. Based on what I was raised with, I brought the idea here."

For Jordan Conn, 8, of Window Rock, the events at the NAC Youth Day taught him how to be patient and listen.

"I'm glad they set up these tipis," said Conn, who will be a third-grader at Tsehootsooi Primary Learning Center or Navajo Elementary. "I've been patient with the food. I've listened."

Like Young, Jonathan Reid, a roadman who ran one of the prayer services last Saturday, said the prayers for the youth would help "them on to the next level of education of where they want to be."

Contact Alastair L. Bitsoi at 928-871-1141 or email at