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 fatherhood 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 Yanabah 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.