TOLANI LAKE, Ariz.
The smell of fry bread wafted from the chapter house as Alyson Shirley greeted the people of her community she calls family.Wearing a standout, periwinkle traditional outfit that her grandmother, Lorraine Nebitsi Chee, recently made and wearing some of the jewelry she had on the night she was crowned the 69th Naabeehó Bich’eeki’, Shirley served hominy stew and Navajo tacos to those who came to her Easter egg hunt event, now in its second year.
The 21-year-old no longer wears the crown, but she showed over the weekend that she does not need a title to make an extraordinary impact on others and her community.
“It really means giving back to the community, where I came from, and to the people,” said Shirley, who is studying political science at Arizona State University. “In my free time, I come back and help out here in my community.”
Shirley says this community is small but people here put on plenty of functions.
“We’re really promoting health and putting on walking events,” Shirley explained. “Which help ensure the health of everyone.”Shirley is grateful to she is from the community of Tolani Lake, nearly 60 miles northeast of Flagstaff, where the Diné bizaad is far from disappearing and where the language has a wealth of knowledge about history, culture, the natural environment, among others.
“We hold our culture tight,” Shirley said. “We still have the language. It’s really strong within the community where everyone knows one another.”
Shirley knew everyone at her event on Sunday.
“I learned something from each and everyone of these people here,” she said. “Whether it was just watching them or just listening to them. And I learned a lot from the elders who go to traditional ceremonies.”