[This article ran May 28, 1996 in the Arizona Republic newspaper, written by Bill Donovan.]
WINDOW ROCK - Thousands of Navajo pilgrims have traveled to the small outpost of Rocky Ridge in the past few weeks, drawn by what a 96-year-old woman and her daughter saw outside their hogan.
On the morning of May 3, Irene Yazzie, who had not spoken for several months because of a stroke, turned to her daughter and said someone was coming to their home near Big Mountain, north of Flagstaff. About noon, the two heard a loud noise outside, followed by a knocking. They opened the door to see two tall, elderly Navajo men.
One told them not to be afraid, that they were two of the more than 100 Navajo deities, who assist in all aspects of Navajo life. They had appeared before Yazzie and her daughter, Sarah Begay, to ask why the deities no longer are receiving prayers from the people.
They warned that if the Navajos continue to forsake tribal traditions, they face grave danger in the future, and Navajo deities would not be able to help. The men vanished seconds later, leaving only footprints and a sprinkling of corn pollen, which traditional Navajos scatter during prayer.
Since the story began circulating, the wind has swept away the pollen and nearly obliterated the footprints.
But thousands of Navajos have visited the Begay home each day, leaving corn pollen, saying prayers and wanting to see what traditionalists say is the third visit by Navajo deities to their people this century.
A former historian for the tribe said his research revealed that deities appeared in the 1930s and 1950s. In each case, the deity appeared to elderly Navajo women during a time of drought.
"We heard stories for several days about the visit," said Irene Atcitty, who was with a group of 20 Shiprock, N.M.-area residents who recently traveled the more than 200 miles to visit the site. "I felt my family needed to see firsthand what this was all about."
When her group arrived at the Begay family's cluster of hogans, Atcitty said, about 30 other Navajos were already there. Some had traveled from as far away as San Diego to bring sacred objects as tribute to the deities.
Begay could not be reached for comment. Yazzie has not spoken since the deities appeared.
"We were told that Sarah has told the story of the visits so many times that she lost her voice," Atcitty said.
Leaders of the community of Hard Rocks, which is the closest settlement of any notable size, have gotten so many inquiries about how to find the site that they have printed a map for Navajos.
Lorenzo Yazzie, vice president of the community and not related to Irene Yazzie, said that at the request of the family, some restrictions have been set, including a ban on cameras and video recorders. The family also has requested that non-Indians not be allowed at the site, he said.
A number of Navajo tribal leaders have visited the place, including President Albert Hale. In a memo, he urged the government's 5,000 Navajo employees to visit the site and gave them four hours off anytime last week to do so.
"This is a significant event to Navajo people everywhere," his memo said. Annette Brown, public-information officer for the Navajo Nation, said her office has received calls from off-reservation television stations and newspapers asking for more information. But at the request of the Begays, Hale will release nothing further.
The "Navajo Times," the tribe's weekly newspaper, is holding off printing a story about the visit of the deities until the Begay family approves its release and ceremonies are conducted at the home.
"That's where native publications differ from those in the mainstream," editor Tom Arviso said. "We are not going to print the story just because we want to sell a lot of newspapers."
Navajo officials said the Begay family and neighbors have expressed concern about security because of all the traffic into the area at all hours.
It is hard for the Navajos to provide security, however, because the Begay hogans are within lands partitioned to the Hopi Tribe in 1974 as part of an effort to resolve a century-old land dispute.
Ferrell Secakuku, chairman of the Hopis, visited the site and heard the story from members of Begay's family.
A tribal spokesman said Secakuku discussed providing security at the site, but family members indicated they wanted to wait until the ceremonies are conducted.
Ruth Roessel, who teaches Navajo culture on the reservation, said the story of the deities' visit may inspire more Navajos to observe traditions, which many Navajos have abandoned over the past 20 years.
"This may wake some people up," Roessel said.
Original file name: .CNI - Navajo Deities 5.30
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