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This Diné storyteller shared a Navajo creation story on Environmental Day with a timely lesson

By Gabriel Pietrorazio
Published: Friday, January 26, 2024 - 3:03pm
Updated: Friday, January 26, 2024 - 5:52pm

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Coverage of tribal natural resources is supported in part by Catena Foundation

Gabriel Pietrorazio/KJZZ
Diné storyteller Kyle Mitchell shared a creation story on Jan. 25, 2024, at Wesley Bolin Plaza in Phoenix.

“Save Water, Save Life,” was this year’s theme for the annual Environmental Day on Thursday at the Arizona Capitol, where hundreds of activists from nearly 50 organizations and state lawmakers met to discuss water policies and legislation. A Diné storyteller in attendance shared a tale with a timely lesson.

Kyle Mitchell told a Diné story of First Man and First Woman, emerging from a giant hole in the ground, filled with water.

“Every time they got close to the water, and they tried to drink it,” said Mitchell, “it was very sour.” 

So, First Man asked the animals for help. “He says, ‘We need somebody to go down, down, down to the bottom and get fresh water and bring it back up.’”

None of the big or strong animals could hold their breaths, until, “There was a little volunteer,” said Mitchell. “It was tiny, had a hard shell, two little antennas sticking up and it kind of just sludged along. That was the snail.” 

It slugged at snail speed. 

“One day past, he's still not back. Two days past, he's still not back. Three days, he's still not back,” Mitchell continued. Finally, on the fourth day, First Man and First Woman saw bubbles rising to the surface of the water. “He made his way up through the sand, and behind him was flowing water that was leaking out of his shell, and that water became the first aquifer and the first river that we have within Diné Bikéyah.”

Mitchell shared this Navajo creation story with a crowd out in front of the Capitol on Environmental Day for a reason. 

“We're all gathered here today is because we care about our environment. We care about our resources,” said Mitchell. “We can either be little snails, we can be giant mammals, we can be anything, but change starts with the initiative.”