Page 1

ferent. You don’t go through a lot of (Navajo) chapter house meetings and all that. You just go to the city and have a meeting with the councilors who are very understanding. It takes a long time on the Navajo Nation side.” It’s been a long road to success for both Kenneth and Emily and they are happy. “The dream goes on and on,” Emily said. “It’s very exciting. We’re very fortunate to be part of this whole business and it helps us learn in a lot of ways that keeps us on our toes––and going. I’m always thinking – and I talk with our daughters (who run Ken’s Tours) what we’re going to do next, which project is going to be completed. It really excites us. And we’re really thankful for all that and for all the opportunities that we have with all of the businesses (in the region).” Kenneth and Emily have employees, a majority of who are cowboys, from across the country, including PBR bull rider Justin Granger and an Ohio native in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. “But I don’t move around like I used to,” said Kenneth, 67. “Those bulls ran over me one time. I used to help my (late son Kenny Young). The bulls ran over me and injured my thumb. From that day on, my son said, ‘You don’t need to be over here, dad. Stay on that side.’” Kenneth still rides his horse, and practices heeling for team-roping rodeo events, even though. “No blood––nothing,” Kenneth said. “It just burned (my thumb) off.” “But we’re still young,” Emily added. Ken’s Arena is home to more than 60 bulls––animal athletes, the superstar bucking bulls that cowboys aim to stay on for eight seconds 8

In the Diné culture, Tsébii’ Hazdeestas is the home of Diné deities, including Haashch’éshzhiní (Black God), Zaha’doolzhaaí (Fringe Mouth od , Tééhoołts dii ater onster , a ong others. That is wh one ust prepare themselves when they are at or in the canyon. In fact, one may injure themselves physically or spiritually if visits aren’t kept holy. “So, to go inside, you have to be in the right frame of mind … that you’re going to see this sacred place,” Young added. This is why Young and her husband, Kenneth, close their business for at least two weeks – and to give it a rest – during the wintertime every year. Kenneth is Tsi’naa ínii and born for aasht’ézhí Tábąąhá. is aternal grandfathers are shįįhí and his paternal grandfathers are Tł’izíłání. e is originally from this area. His parents are the late Charlie Young Sr. and Sally oung. e speaks iné izaad fluentl . Kenneth and Emily started Ken’s Tours 27 years ago, in 1992, during which business started with only a folding table and a chair. “After we were done, we folded it up, put it in the truck and took it home,” Kenneth said. “It was like that for quite a while. I had to go to the ureau of Indian ffairs office because the closed that area up b putting a fence (up) when a highway (was being installed) and they told everybody to leave.”

SO, TO GO INSIDE, YOU HAVE TO BE IN THE RIGHT FRAME OF MIND … THAT YOU’RE GOING TO SEE THIS SACRED PLACE. Kenneth continued, “There used to be a man camp (housing complex used by Navajo Generating Station workers). So, when they were building that road tate oute , the told ever bod to ove out and the put a fence alongside the highway. When (that happened), I asked for (our site) to be opened back up for business. That’s how we got back in and restarted.” Kenneth said business started again under a chaha’oh (kiosk) where he and il built a s all office for paperwork. hen the wind blew, the papers scattered and flew across the land unble ished. “That’s how we started,” Kenneth said. “But in 1997, that’s when that accident happened.” In this lab rinthine underworld though, Kenneth sa s, a flash flood can be fatal. That’s what happened 22 years ago, on Aug. 12. A group of hikers in Tsébii’ azdeestas were unluck . flash flood fro a cloudburst over the Kaibito Plateau, 15 miles away, that evening sent so much water pounding through the sandstone can on that it swirled feet up the walls. The hikers, all of who were Toh Dine’é (Anglos) tourists, stopped in the narrows of its normally dry gravel bed to pose for photos. Francisco uintana, their ear old guide fro os ngeles, heard the roar of the onco ing flood and wedged hi self, along with two others, into a cliff face. When the muddy torrent arrived, it shot Quintana through the canyon in just seconds. He was the only survivor. Then Coconino County Sheriff Lt. Ron Anderson said at the time, 18

The power of the flood blew his clothes off. e was badl beaten up b rocks and he had so much slit in his eyelids he couldn’t open them. When we got to him, he collapsed, muttering incoherently.” Tsébii’ Hazdeestas is a tributary of the Colorado River (Bits’íís Ninéézi), which is male in Diné culture because of its force. The Little Colorado iver is identified as fe ale because of its gentle blue color and s ooth flow. oth rivers are hol rivers and the both have specific functions in the Diné ceremony, and they are both protectors of the Diné people and the Diné lands. nd that is wh offerings are often ade with ntł’iz, precious stones . If this isn’t done, it is said that people will disband. “The story behind all those canyons, they are holy people (that) live in there,” Kenneth said. “You don’t want to distract them. You call them ‘Tsé áłti’’ and Tsé aa iin.’ Those are the hol people in there. o, when ou holler––yell, your voice goes in the distance. It’ll echo and it’ll take your voice and things like that. So, just have respect for it when you’re around it. Say a little prayer for yourself and then go in.” After the 1997 incident, Kenneth says, Ken’s Tours closed its doors, but people started climbing over the fence from the highway. Navajo rangers had to escort people off the premise. “The (Lake Powell Navajo Tribal Park) had to spend a lot of money on rangers to get them out,” Kenneth explained. “But they still went in. Then finall , one da , the put a note on door reading , an ou run it again ’ That was after all the flash flood happened. Kenneth said the slot canyon was closed until the following year in , when it opened back up and Ken’s Tours resu ed after he reco ended that stairs be installed inside the canyon. When Kenneth and Emily obtained their business site lease, that’s when real business began. They hired employees and worked on building a facility in which they could handle transactions, operate a café and a small souvenir shop, and establish a waiting room with panoramic views. Today, Kenneth and Emily have more than 100 employees working for Ken’s Tours. A majority of the employees are tour guides and they are Diné, said Emily. “The guides are doing such a wonderful job,” Emily said about the guides who enlighten visitors about Diné lands – the plants, minerals, and the animals, the sacred living beings inseparable from the landscape. “In general, it’s just the Navajo way of living and our language is always one of the topics because people from all over (the world) have different languages,” Emily said. “We do speak ours too. Maybe greet them in ‘Yá’át’ééh’ and then ‘Hágoónee.’ Things like that they learn.” Yá’át’ééh in Diné Bizaad means, “Hello.” And Hágoónee is “goodbye” or “see you later.” The “exchange” in cultural exchange suggests one gives something in return for having taken something. In this case, Emily says, it’s the language. “With the people around––all over the world coming here, they talk their own language,” Kenneth said. “We don’t understand them, and we have a hard time (communicating with visitors). But we use signs, moving our hands and oving our lips like, léidi.’ igns like that we co unicate with, even though we don’t understand each other. But somehow, they under21

stand it. It’s kind of hard, that language barrier.” léidi eans over there. Some Diné don’t usually point with their inde finger. Instead, so e use their lips as a polite alternative to conventional hand gestures. But one of the goals, Emily says, was to build a nice facility with air-conditioning for their visitors, just like the ones people see at national parks and tourists’ destinations. “We were hoping that it’d get bigger, so we service all (visitors) and low and behold, it has,” Emily added. “We have a building there with air-conditioning and other departments where we sell souvenirs. It has come true in time. And employees––we wanted to employ more people. Now, we have jobs for everybody there. So, I’m very happy with that. It has grown tremendously in every which way. We even have a coffee shop.”

22 K E N ’ S T OU R S

While in the canyon, I try my best to impress course). As a tour guide, we get a sign that reads, “G1,” everyone with the beauties of the canyon. I give some “G2,” “G3”, and so on. We line up with our sign and information about the canyon before I start with the wait patiently as the coordinator opens the waiting room photography skills I have. For iPhone users, I teach them doors. That’s when the visitors come outside and meet how to use favorite filter, dra atic cool b the black with their tour guides,depending on the given “group and white filters . or the a sung and uawei phones, number” found at the bottom of their receipt. Each tour I play with the white balance. I’ve never taken a photogguide has is assigned ten people per group. After greetraphy class, but I ing them and can still work my going over EVERY DAY AT WORK, I TAKE PEOPLE – WHO HAD COME FROM magic. the rules of ALL AROUND THE WORLD – IN AND OUT OF THE CANYON. The tourthe canyon, ist see this magic we take a WATCHING THEIR FACES LIGHT UP WHEN I TAKE AMAZING PHOand they love it. I five inute TOS FOR THEM MAKES ME FEEL GREAT INSIDE. always hear them walk to the entrance of the telling me how I should be a photographer. The best tour groups are the canyon. On our way to the canyon, I ask simple questions ones where my group interacts with one another, even if they don’t know each other. such as, ow was the trip here or hat hobbies do I can’t really explain the great vibe I feel when I ou have and here are ou going after the tour have these groups. It’s just a super good time with these This helps me get a better understanding of my groups’ interests. As we head down the stairs into the canyon they people. We’re constantly laughing and talking with each other and there’s never a dull moment nor an awkward usually notice our railings have white duct tape. I like moment. Every time I take their phones for a photo, they to joke around and say, “Don’t peel the tape because it’s are astonished and impressed. the only thing holding the stairs together.” Most peoAt the end of the tour, I take a group photo with ple laugh, while some look at me with a surprised face. them to remember the vibe. Then, of course, the big tips Those are the best reactions, but of course the tape is they give you for being a great guide. However, it’s not there to protect our hands from the burning metal.


always as fun and exciting in some group tours. Some days you would get the unimpressed or the grumpy group. These people often choose to not listen to you and ask for more photos than you’re allowed to take, holding up other groups in the day by trying to record the canyon, and even choose to use the bathroom in the canyon! With the visitors, you win some and lose some. You remember the good ones and forget the bad ones, but most are unforgettable. One time, I took down a group of acrobatics from “The O” (one of the best shows in Las Vegas). At one point in the tour, one of the guys stood in the middle of the chamber and another guy climbed on him and did a handstand on his head with one hand. I was mind-blown at what I had just witnessed. Sadly, I didn’t get a picture of it for myself. Another great tour was when I took my mom and sister down the canyon. They’ve never been down there until that day. I have to be honest, that special tour, I was being

super extra just to show off in front of my mom. I spent a little more time on my photos of the canyon and group shots. Every time I took a photo, I had to show my mom before I handed back the person’s phone or camera. At the same time, I took my sister’s promotion photos because at the ti e, she was pro oted fro th grade. At the end of the tour, my mom hugged me and told me how beautiful that was. Then she bought me a cheesecake from the cafe inside. For me, the best part about being a tour guide at Ken’s isn’t the big tips I take home every day or how I got to spend time hiking through one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. It’s the fact that I am a part of other people’s vacations. I think about the fact that in 10 or 20 years from now, they will look back at their amazing photos and say, o ou re e ber our tour guide, ae This is the life of a tour guide, and I love it! K E N ’ S T O U R S 31

Navajo te a c h i ngs in t h e wo r kp l ace BY MARIAH CALAMITY


á’át’ééh, shi éí Mariah Calamity yinishyé. Lók’aa’dine’é nishłį́. Kinłichii’nii bashishchiin, Tódich’íi’nii dashicheii doo Naasht’ézhí Tábąąhá dashinalí. Hello, my name is Mariah Calamity. I am of the Reed People Clan (maternal) and born for the Red House Clan (paternal). My maternal grandfathers are the Bitter Water Clan and my paternal grandfathers are the Zuni Edgewater Clan. This is how I identify and introduce myself as a Navajo woman. Growing up with my mother, my grandparents taught me Navajo traditions, including how to live sustainably. We hauled our own water and made sure we had supplies to light up the house at night. My grandparents didn’t only teach me how to live without amenities, they

34 K E N ’ S T OU R S

also taught me how to work hard, get an education, and how to be independent. My family and I are very lucky to have running water and electricity. This happened when I was 16 years old. I’m 21 years old now. Some of us Diné are still living on the Nation with no amenities because some of us choose not to have them. My younger siblings, along with many of the younger generation, don’t know what it takes to flip a light switch at night or to turn on the faucet for water. When I was in high school, I started working for our community chapter house to pay for school supplies and things I needed. When I graduated, I received a scholarship for college and then I moved closer to school and started classes. During my time away I got homesick, so I decided to move home and take classes closer to home. I’ve had a few jobs since then. I had to give up school to focus on work because I needed money to support myself and help my family. My mother commuted from home to work and to school every day. Unfortunately, she was killed by a drunk driver on her way home from school. I felt alone when this happened. But I had to remind myself of my mother’s teachings: when losing a loved one that we don’t sit and cry about how they are gone. We need to keep moving with life here on earth. After that dark cloud passed, I got back to my normal routine and started working again to support my

siblings. During the fall and winter season, however, it gets difficult finding work. I applied to various jobs, but Ken’s Tours was the only company that offered me work for the winter season. I am very grateful Ken’s hired – and trained me – in all their departments. I have been employed with Ken’s Tours for almost four years. Throughout the years with Ken’s, I’ve been given many opportunities and they allowed me to grow and to learn with the company. Ken’s is a company that is constantly growing and I’m learning every day. Being employed with Ken’s, I am able to meet new people, work as a manager, learn more about management, and still go to school part time. I have also met relatives by clan. The Navajo culture is in the workplace, from identifying your coworkers as your relative to applying Navajo traditions to everyday tasks. Working at Ken’s over the years, I was able to learn the business and was offered the opportunity to be their guest services manager to help with the front of house operations and run the day-to-day business with two other managers. Living and working on the Navajo Nation allows me to apply my Navajo teachings from my mother and grandparents to everyday life at home and work. Being employed with Ken’s Tours has allowed me to use my hard work teachings from home, expand my knowledge on managing a business and has given me many opportunities for my future.

Profile for Fox Print and Publishing

Kens Tours  

Kens Tours