WILLIE GRAYEYES WAS BORN IN 1946 in San Juan County, Utah, in a small, isolated community not far from the base of Navajo Mountain. A striking dome of igneous rock rising 10,348 feet above sea level, Navajo Mountain is the highest point within the Navajo Nation, which sprawls across parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah and, at some 27,000 square miles, is roughly the size of Ireland. In Navajo, the mountain is called Naatsis’áán (head of the earth), a reference to the sacred female, and it plays an important role in the culture and history of the Diné, as we Navajo refer to ourselves. In our creation stories, the mountain is home to the exploits of the Monster Slayer, who helped make the world safe for people. In the 1860s, the mountain’s rugged flanks served as a hideout for the resistance warrior Chief Hoskininni after several thousand Navajos were incarcerated at Bosque Redondo. The mountain is also an important site in the personal lore of Willie Grayeyes: It’s where his umbilical cord is buried, beneath a collapsed wooden stockade that once served as his family’s sheep corral. “This is the place where I was born,” Grayeyes told me in a conversation years ago. “So I have ties with the earth there.”
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