On this Father’s Day weekend, we share with you a brief look at Yanabah’s father, Silao Nez (Prounced Sil like window sill and Ow like owl, Sil-Ow). We don’t have a great amount of history about Silao Nez and what we do know has been passed down through oral stories. But the limited information we know paints a picture of great and kind man who exemplified what Navajo fatherhoodSilao Nez with sister should be.

His history begins with the Long Walk, one of the pivotal historical events in Navajo culture. According to family stories, Silao was born during the return from the long walk which saw the Navajo people rounded up and taken to Fort Sumner in New Mexico. It was an arduous trek on foot. A treaty in 1868 ended the Navajo captivity and they were allowed to return to their ancestral land in an equally long and difficult trek. It was during this return that Silao was born.

We don’t know much about his subsequent childhood years but we know he later became one of the first Navajo police officers, on horseback of course. In fact, his name reflects his profession. Silao means Police officer and Nez means tall. So he was known as Tall Police Officer. Navajo names were often descriptive. He labored in the territory south of Fort Wingate, New Mexico, which is also where he was buried after his death in 1947. His police legacy continues to this day through one of his great-grandsons who is a Sergeant and 30 year veteran with the Navajo Police Department.

Most of what we do know about Silao concerns his character as related by things silao_nez_2Yanabah used to say about him. She always spoke in such reverence for him and
reiterated how wise he was and how he continually taught his children right from wrong. He would warn against things that could start out as small but grow to larger issues in our lives, advice that clearly withstands the test of time. Much of this counsel probably came out of his other role in life which was that of Medicine Man. As a Medicine Man, he knew all of the traditional ways and was a spiritual person. During Yanabah’s life, she became known for her knowledge about the traditional ceremonial uses for many species of plants. She was often sought out by Medicine Men in search of certain plants for various ceremonies. Her knowledge of these things came from Silao who taught her about the varied uses for plants within the Navajo spiritual traditions. He was a stately man and a handsome man. Yanabah’s mother died young which meant that Yanabah was largely raised by Silao. Perhaps that is the source of her adoration and praise for her father.

Though the overall body of specific stories about Silao Nez is relatively small, we do know a lot about his daughter, Yanabah, through first hand experience. And what we know about her speaks to the man who raised her. Surely the infinitely caring, kind, and good nature of Yanabah was taught and handed down from her father, Silao Nez.

Happy Father’s Day to all.

Yellow Bird

Yanabah has many grandchildren each of whom carry their own personal set of experiences with and memories of her. Yet, common to us all are memories about the mystery and allure of Yanabah’s treasure chest. There were a couple chests in which she kept important things packed away. Whenever grandchildren were visiting, one of those chests always seemed to offer up endless sugar filled treasures.

Evening time would prompt the use of kerosene lamps to light her home. These kerosene lamps are relics of an era almost

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Yanabah’s Home

completely forgotten as even the most remote parts of the reservation now often have access to electricity. But hand held kerosene lamps with cloth wicks will forever remind me of Yanabah’s home. Light from these lamps was warm and yellow in color in contrast to the much brighter modern light bulbs. An already warm and inviting environment seemed so much more so in the soft glow of those kerosene lamps.

In this setting, Yanabah would open the chest to bring out soda and pastries. Sometimes it was Pepsi, sometimes Coke, other times it was Shasta. But without fail there were donuts and jellyrolls which had been supplied to the reservation from by bakery in Gallup, New Mexico. Glazed donuts were a staple but were often accompanied by the more exotic variety pack of powder sugar coated, chocolate frosted, and coconut covered donuts. Jellyrolls were essentially cake and jelly rolled together. Could life get any better for a kid?

Yanabah's GranddaughterTo watch Yanabah must have been like witnessing the most effortless bonding between generations. She was a natural. It’s hard to say exactly why this was. Perhaps it was because she was so genuine in her love, so devoid of judgment, completely without agenda, or a combination of all of the above. Whatever it was, it was her gift and it persisted through the years. With treats in
hand, we would visit and laugh. At some point, clothespins became toys since I remember many evenings of playing with them. Sometimes Yanabah would bring out a deck of cards and we would sit close to the kerosene lamp and play cards together. As a child, Yanabah’s treasure chest seemed like magic to me because it was always stocked and seemed never-ending. Such simple times, yet such meaningful memories.

I’ve wished that I had a picture of that chest and those kerosene lamps. If any of the family who read this happen have any photos, send them to us and we’ll post them here for all to see.

Here’s to all of the Yanabahs who have likewise inspired such memorable moments from such ordinary circumstances.

Yellow Bird

It is an interesting paradox that so often those who have so little are the ones who exhibit the most gratitude. Yanabah was no exception. She had very little of monetary value. Yet, through the course of my life, I have yet to meet someone who more completely exuded a spirit of thanksgiving than her. I spent a significant part of my childhood with her. Her home was small. Two rooms; a kitchen and a living/sleeping room. Each had a wood-burning stove for heat and, in the kitchen, for cooking.

Water was hauled in and stored in large drums outside. Indoor plumbing didn’t exist and still doesn’t across much of the reservation. Electricity came during the last few years of her life, but throughout all of my childhood and well into my adult years, kerosene lamps provided the light at night. Today it would be considered third world. To us then, and to Yanabah in particular, it was everything we needed.dog_in_doorway

I watched nearly everything she did. She was the epitome of what you would imagine a Navajo grandmother to be. Soft spoken, exceedingly kind, wise, and capable. I noticed, on many occasions, one particular practice which I did not understand. Often while cooking a meal, she would take a small bit of food and throw it in the fire of the wood-burning stove while saying a quiet prayer. One day I asked why she did this. In her quiet and humble manner, she explained that we are supposed to give back to mother-earth to show our thankfulness. That moment has remained with me.

I was part of many of her evening prayers while growing up. Unfailingly they were front-loaded with expressions of gratitude before asking for any blessings. She was always up before dawn to greet the sunrise and say her morning prayers. It was simply part of who she was. Humility incarnate. Later in life as she grew older, I would bring her to our home for extended stays with my family and I. She was so detail oriented in her expressions of thanks. “Thank you for having me.” “Thank you for the time with my grand children.” “Thank you for super.” (All in Navajo, of course, since she didn’t speak English.) She was never withholding of gratitude.

Simple things endear her to me. Perhaps most of all was this spirit of gratitude. The grandeur of her humility must surely have stemmed from her thankful disposition. I too am thankful for the blessing of having known and been influenced by her.

Happy Thanksgiving to each of you. Please feel free to share your stories about your own “Yanabah” in the comments above and have a wonderful holiday weekend.

Yellow Bird

We’ve often questioned the wisdom of building a company around Navajo Tea. It’s completely unknown outside the Four Corners area of the US, and even within that small area it’s really only Navajo, Hopi, Zuni, and Pueblo people who are familiar with it. Forget the fact that nobody had ever cultivated it. And look past the minor detail that you can’t just order 50-pound bags of Navajo Tea seeds to begin doing so on a commercial scale. In the end, we knew we could compensate with a large marketing budget and years of experience in the tea industry…except we didn’t have those things either. Well, at least we were skilled farmers (insert laughter here)! Yet this much was and still is clear; Navajo Tea is so good that it should be enjoyed far beyond its geographic obscurity. So here we are.

Though the product is an herbal tea, the story is that of an entire people. A bold statement perhaps, yet it’s not very often that a single drink is so expressive of the people for whom it’s named. In many ways, we see Navajo Tea as more than a delicious and healthy drink; it’s Anthropology in a Cup.

We will, of course, tell the story of Navajo Tea and everything that makes it so unique and desirable. But that’s only a fraction of what we hope to accomplish with this blog. There’s much more at play here. We named our company after an amazing woman, our grandmother, Yanabah. You’ll learn why she so perfectly emulated everything good about Navajo culture and tradition. We’ll tell the stories of other Navajo people who are making a difference in their communities. We’ll showcase the beauty and mystery of the reservation. We’ll talk food, art, film, photography, society, and everything in between. And our commitment is to do all that through compelling content that is visually appealing and substantively worthwhile.

packages_of_teaLastly, we want to share our journey as a Navajo start-up company trying to grow. We’re passionate about entrepreneurship and feel it will improve the quality of life for Native Americans if we engage in it on a broad level. We hope that sharing our story, complete with struggles and triumphs, will invite other Navajo entrepreneurs-in-waiting to jump in and pursue their dream.
So keep in touch and be a part of our community by commenting and following this wonderful conversation. We’ll keep the content coming and if you have suggestions about things you would like this blog to cover, we’d certainly love to hear from you!

Yellow Bird,

Owner, Yanabah Tea