Are you an Indian?

  • Rez dog at the Tsaile store on the Navajo Reservation.

    Santee Frazier
 

Navajos Wear Nikes: A Reservation Life
Jim Kristofic
256 pages, hardcover: $26.95.

University of New Mexico Press, 2011. Despite his light-brown curls and pale face, Jim Kristofic gets asked this question all the time, even though he no longer lives on the Navajo Reservation. Now 29 and back in his native Pennsylvania, he teaches and tells stories about reservation life. In the summer before Kristofic started second grade, his Indian-obsessed mother moved across the country to work as a nurse at the tribal hospital in Ganado, Ariz.

Navajos Wear Nikes, Kristofic's memoir, explores his answer to the question: Who is an Indian? The 7-year-old Caucasian boy and his younger brother don't look Indian. Yet they live a Navajo (Diné) life in a reservation town. Other whites are scarce, though the hospital staff is mixed, and Kristofic's school is almost entirely Navajo.

A white girl starting school under the same circumstances would no doubt face hazing, initiation and other challenges, but nothing to compare with what Kristofic endures in this specifically male coming-of-age tale. To fit in, Kristofic must beat up other kids and be beaten up by them, demonstrating his toughness. When a boy tears his drawing, Jim responds: "I kicked him quick in the stomach. When he hunched over his knees, bowing for breath, I kicked him in the face and then in the butt as he ran" to the teacher.

In third grade, Jim adopts the first of many "rez-dogs." The small black Lab-mix bears dreadful scars, the marks of sustained torture. When he asks who would do such a thing, his mother tells him, "Open your eyes and take a look at the world, Jimmy. Could have been anybody that did this."

The adult Kristofic, a journalist, cites statistics: "In the year I graduated high school, 83 percent of crimes on Indian reservations investigated by the FBI were either violent crimes or involved child, physical, or sexual abuse."  Kristofic depicts the violence of rez life matter-of-factly, without judgment, even when it overwhelms everything else. Is it really more violent than life in the non-Indian world? he asks. "I had only to look at the hump at the bridge of Mom's angular nose that was an in-house souvenir from a late-night fight with my (white) dad that she'd never reported to police."

This boy's life on the rez shares characteristics with other contemporary American boys' lives elsewhere. However, the smell of sheep roasting at a festival, the generous helping of Diné language spread throughout the text, and the constant acknowledgment of Navajo pride set Kristofic's story apart. When asked if they are Indian, his friends on the rez say "No, we're Diné." Similarly, Kristofic can claim this particular heritage as his own.

High Country News Classifieds
  • DYNAMIC EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    VARD is seeking an Executive Director to lead a small legal & planning staff dedicated to the health and sustainability of Teton Valley Idaho and...
  • WATER PROJECT MANAGER, UPPER SAN PEDRO (ARIZONA)
    Based in Tucson or Sierra Vista, AZ., the Upper San Pedro Project Manager develops, manages, and advances freshwater conservation programs, plans, and methods focusing on...
  • CAMPAIGNS DIRECTOR
    Southeast Alaska Conservation is hiring. Visit https://www.seacc.org/about/hiring for info. 907-586-6942 [email protected]
  • FINANCE & GRANTS MANAGER
    The Blackfoot Challenge, located in Ovando, MT, seeks a self-motivated, detail-oriented individual to conduct bookkeeping, financial analysis and reporting, and grant oversight and management. Competitive...
  • WADE LAKE CABINS, CAMERON MT
    A once in a lifetime opportunity to live and run a business on the shore of one of the most beautiful lakes in SW Montana....
  • CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, BOOKS, CULTURE AND COMMENTARY (PART-TIME, CONTRACT)
    High Country News is seeking a Contributing Editor for Books, Culture and Commentary to assign and edit inquisitive, inspiring, and thought-provoking content for HCN in...
  • STATEWIDE COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    ABOUT US Better Wyoming is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization that educates, organizes, and mobilizes Wyoming residents on behalf of statewide change. Learn more at...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    TwispWorks is a 501(c)3 that promotes economic and cultural vitality in the mountainous Methow Valley, the eastern gateway to North Cascades National Park in Washington...
  • CLEAN ENERGY ADVOCATE OR DIRECTOR
    Location: Helena, Montana Type: Permanent, full time after 1-year probationary period. Reports to: Director of Policy and Legislative Affairs. Travel: Some overnight travel, both in-state...
  • PROFESSIONAL GIS SERVICES
    Custom Geospatial Solutions is available for all of your GIS needs. Affordable, flexible and accurate data visualization and analysis for any sized project.
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Restore Hetch Hetchy, a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization, seeks experienced development professional to identify and engage individuals and institutions who are inspired to help underwrite...
  • PUBLIC LANDS COUNSEL
    The successful candidate will be the organization's lead counsel on public lands issues, including reviewing federal administrative actions and proposed policy and helping to shape...
  • HUMAN RESOURCES DIRECTOR
    Solar Energy International (SEI) is a 501(c)3 non-profit education organization with a mission to provide industry-leading technical training and expertise in renewable energy to empower...
  • TRAINING MANAGER
    This is a full-time position based out of our Paonia office. This position is responsible for organizing all of Solar Energy International's renewable energy trainings....
  • GUIDE TO WESTERN NATIONAL MONUMENTS
    NEW BOOK showcases 70 national monuments across the western United States. Use "Guide10" for 10% off at cmcpress.org
  • RARE CHIRICAHUA RIPARIAN LAND FOR SALE
    40 acres: 110 miles from Tucson: native trees, grasses: birder's heaven::dark sky/ borders state lease & National forest/5100 ft/13-16 per annum rain
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!
  • LUNATEC ODOR-FREE DISHCLOTHS
    are a must try. They stay odor-free, dry fast, are durable and don't require machine washing. Try today.
  • 10 ACRES OF NEW MEXICO HIGH DESERT
    10 Acres of undeveloped high desert land in central NM, about 45 minutes from downtown Albuquerque. Mixed cedar and piñon pine cover. Some dirt roadways...
  • OPERATIONS DIRECTOR
    We are a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic, and social health through education, innovation, and collaboration....