Miss Navajo makes holiday rounds deep in the rez

By Cindy Yurth
Tséyi' Bureau

JEDDITO, Ariz., November 29, 2012

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(Special to the Times – Donovan Quintero)

TOP: Miss Navajo Nation Leandra Thomas, right, gives Joe Wilson Yazzie boxes of food and toys for his grandchildren and great-grandchildren Tuesday just north of Toyei, Ariz. Miss Navajo surprised local residents bearing gifts and boxes of food.

SECOND FROM TOP: Miss Navajo Nation Leandra Thomas, left, places a box of food by Clarise Sam, middle, as her son Kee Sam looks on Tuesday in Shonto Springs, just north of Toyei, Ariz.

THIRD FROM TOP: Miss Navajo Nation Leandra Thomas looks sorts through toys and decides which to give on Tuesday during a two-day gift giving trip north of Toyei, Ariz.

F or folks out in the hinterlands, it was as much a thrill to meet Miss Navajo as it was to get the boxes of canned food and toys she was delivering.

"My husband came in the house and said, 'Miss Navajo is here with a box of food!'" said Betty John of Jeddito. "I thought he was joking."

"Miss Navajo, way out here?" asked Clarise Kee of Shonto Springs in Navajo. "Nizhóní, nizhóní, nizhóní! I never met Miss Navajo before!"

However, when Leandra "Abby" Thomas told them her clans (Nakaii Diné'e, Tsin'ajinii, Kinyaa'aanii and Honaghaanii) and who her parents are (Anderson and Bernice Thomas) she became more familiar.

Thomas is from nearby Steamboat, Ariz. and after venturing to remote Forest Lake Chapter on Monday with her chaperone, Dinah Wauneka, and nearly getting stuck in a ravine, she stuck closer to home on Tuesday.

Thomas said she had been collecting donations of food and toys for months, and wanted to deliver them before the holidays — and before the roads get bad. Being a rural person herself, she knows how it is.

"For some of these families, it's miles and miles to the grocery store," she said.

"About an hour for us," said John. "All the way to Window Rock. That's when the roads are good."

Two years ago, John and her husband Larry Yazzie had snowdrifts four feet deep around their home, and were stranded for days.

"We just stayed in and ate canned food," she said. "So this food, it will really help us."

She also appreciated the toys for her children.

Clarise's son Kee Sam and his wife Ernestine were visiting Clarise, and got in on the haul for their six children as well.

But Kee, a railroad worker who lives in Rock Point, Ariz. said he really appreciated Thomas coming all the way out to visit his mother and bring her food.

Added Ernestine, "We try to get her to come and stay with us or one of her other kids for the winter, but she just wants to be up here. This is home to her. So we and her other kids take turns visiting."

Thomas, whom the elders call "Diné bi ch'ee ké'" ("The Navajo People's Daughter"), is now an honorary daughter as well.

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