Naa t’ anii: Becoming a Leader According to Navajo Ways

The words leader or leadership is often associated with individuals who have certain governmental and decision making authorities such as the current Navajo Nation President. The truth is, leaders make decisions whether we agree or disagree with their decision(s).

The Navajo word for leader(s)/leadership is, Naa t' anii, a word that implies the "movement of the head,"1 by an individual who is addressing an audience. According to Navajo Ways, the concept and exercise of Naa t' anii is taught which include certain Navajo rituals and ceremonies that prepares and enables one to become a Naa t' anii. The rituals and ceremonies are, T'ah Cheeh (Sweathouse Ceremony), Hoxchonju (Misfortune Way), Hozhoojii (Beauty Way), Zoo nas t'az (Put Into The Mouth and Retrieved), and Nayeejii A'cha Soodizin (Enemy/Dangerous Way Protection Prayer).

Accordingly, T'ah Cheeh, physically, mentally, and spiritually cleanses an individual(s) who is/are participating in the ceremony. T'ah Cheeh is also a culturally appropriate place for learning and teaching Navajo cultural values and traditional practices such as the concept and exercise of Naa t' anii and the rituals and ceremonies mentioned above. Significantly, one's journey towards becoming a Naa t' anii begins with the T'ah Cheeh.2

The second step toward one's leadership is that the individual should have a Hoxchonin Ceremony, a ceremony that removes anything that may interfere with one's exercise of Naa t' anii. The ceremony is followed with a Hozhoojii Ceremony, a ceremony that attracts/invites the principles of pursuing and having an ideal life and a relationship with the universal environment. The ceremony allows and enhances one's ability to focus on his/her leadership. Zaa nas t'az is the fourth ceremonial stage of becoming a Naa t' anii. At this stage, one accepts the role and responsibility of leadership; a leader is no longer an individual because he/she is now relying on the powers, strengths, and assistance from the natural and supernatural worlds. Zaa nas t'az also establishes a receptacle and mutual relationship with the natural and supernatural. The final ceremony is Nayeejii A'cha Soodizin, a prayer that protects and reinforces the sets of values and standards for leadership.

In interviews with Navajo Elders, connections are made between the five major ceremonies of T'ah Cheeh, Hoxchonjn, Hozhoojii, Zaa nas t'az, and Nayeejii A'cha Soodizin. These ceremonies are intricately intertwined with Navajo creation and other stories, which transmit and consist of Navajo history, language, life lessons, creations/origins, art, music, endurance, reverence, and relationship to self and land. Some of what is told by the Elders has already been told, but has never been applied to leadership published form. By publishing these findings and interpreting them based upon Navajo Ways, Navajo leadership can be strengthened and new paths opened for the future.

Personal contact: Elder #1 and Elder #3 (02/06/2004). 2 Personal contact: Elder #3 (02/06/2004). 6


Roger Willie


Manley Begay





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