Navajo women’s lives reflect the numerous historical changes that have transformed “the Navajo way.” At the same time, in their behavior, beliefs, and values, women preserve the legacy of Navajo culture passed down through the generations. By comparing and contrasting three generations of Navajo women—grandmothers, mid-life mothers, and young mothers—similarities and differences emerge in patterns of education, work, family life, and childbearing. Women’s roles as mothers and grandmothers are central to their respected position in Navajo society. Mothers bestow membership in matrilineal clans at birth and follow the example of the beloved deity Changing Woman. As guardians of cultural traditions, grandmothers actively plan and participate in ceremonies such as the Kinaaldá, the puberty ceremony, for their granddaughters.
Drawing on ethnographic interviews with 77 women in Crownpoint, New Mexico, and surrounding chapters in the Eastern Navajo Agency, Joanne McCloskey examines the cultural traditions evident in Navajo women’s lives. Navajo women balance the demands of Western society with the desire to preserve Navajo culture for themselves and their families.