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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Sacred Ground: Rainbow bridge

Air Date: Week of

Reporter Jane Fritz brings us the voices of Navajo elders and high school students talking about Rainbow Bridge, in southern Utah. The National Monument is the world’s largest sandstone arch, rising 275 feet from a side canyon of Lake Powell at the foot of Navajo Mountain, and is a sacred place to many Navajos.


CURWOOD: In southeastern Utah, there's a massive arc of Navajo sandstone almost 300 feet high. It's called Rainbow Bridge, and it's a sacred place for native dwellers. Many Navajos also took refuge there from the U.S. cavalry's 1864 relocation campaign, known as the Long Walk. Recently producer Jane Fritz and a group of Navajo high school students from Cayente, Arizona, produced this reflection on Rainbow Bridge. It's part of our occasional series on special places.

(A woman sings: "Way ya, hay ya, hay yo...")

MAN 1: Almost 8,000 years ago, Rainbow Bridge was first seen by the ancestors of the Navajo. Navajo oral history says Rainbow Bridge is a gift from their deities, the Yay, or holy people. It is a place that Navajos pray for rain, food, and protection.

MAN 2: There's rainbows in the sand paintings, rainbows in a lot of the Navajo mythologies. It was cast in stone there.

(Singing continues)

MAN 3: Navajo Mountain, Notsesan, means The Head of Mother Earth. A man, he had a vision. He said one of the deities lived right near Navajo Mountain, taking care of the Mother Earth, right near Rainbow Bridge.

(Singing continues)

MAN 4: Navajo people and other tribes believe it is taboo to walk underneath the great stone arch.

MAN 5: There's not a lot us there because we fear deities. That's where deities live.

(Singing continues; fade to piano music and a running stream and bird song)

WOMAN 1: Words cannot express the feelings I had when I first saw the big sandstone arch known as Rainbow Bridge. It's like an oasis. The canyon walls streaked with desert varnish. Green plants surrounding the monument as though they could hide the rainbow arch. Birds sing and the water flows quietly. The sandstone, red and orange, symbolizes the power of this sacred place. I stand here wondering if anyone else sees this link, the connection we have with this almighty being. Over a century ago our ancestors were hidden by these canyon walls and this sacred arch. And here we are today, free, free to be a bridge to the Navajo past.

(Music, water, and bird song continue)

MAN 6: The coyote cries with a howl and fish swim silently. Rainbow Bridge stands strong, so tourists see a uniqueness. A pair of ravens soar together while hummingbirds laugh. Navajo Mountain touches the cloudy sky, and canyon walls loom tall around us.

(Music, water, and bird song continue)

WOMAN 2: Walking along the Navajo Mountain trail, the sound of canyon wrens echo throughout the canyon walls. I imagine our ancestors hiding among these caves and canyons from the cavalry soldiers. The winter was a hard time for them because they had little food. Some of my ancestors died of starvation. Some died from disease. They hid away for years. To this day we say prayers and leave offerings to show our respect for our ancestors, those who had the courage to escape here and to survive.

(Music, water, and bird song continue)

WOMAN 3: Just standing close to it, I feel like falling to my knees and crying. The thought of how terrible it was for our ancestors to hide from soldiers so they wouldn't have to be slaves of the white men. Just being there is a wonderful feeling you have in your heart and soul. Just being in the same place as our ancestors were long ago.

(Music, water, and bird song continue)

CURWOOD: Reflections on Rainbow Bridge from Navajo Sheldon Yellowhair, Russ Small Canyon, Jolene Biguet, Theon Interpreter, Brenda Boone, and Suzanne Tohani of the Monument Valley High School Class of '99.



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