While interning for the Gallup Independent, I met a group of teenagers dedicated to the preservation of their cultural identity. Royalty, as they are called, are young women who compete in pageants across the Navajo Nation. The pageants require traditional dress and talent as well as demonstration of the Navajo language.
Since the establishment of "English only" boarding schools for Navajo children, the Diné language has bee n in severe decline. By 2030, linguists predict the percentage of Navajo people that speak the language will be down to 10% as many children are no longer taught the language.
During pageant season—in school gymnasiums, in fairground tents, in old movie theaters—the Diné language flows like honey from the tongues of royals as their family members watch with pride. Year-round, there are hours spent reciting syllables with mentors or grandmothers in community centers and living room floors. There are elective language courses and countless pans of practice fry bread.
My documents the royals of the Navajo Nation, with a purpose to join their collective celebration of a culture historically restricted and still withstanding.