Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Last night, Navajo author and teacher Blackhorse Mitchell treated the audience in the Scheurer room to an intimate introduction to his music and writing. Ernestine Chaco ’07, a member of the Native American Student Association (NASA) which sponsored the event, introduced Mitchell as a talented artist who practices sand-painting, a musician who experiments with different forms of Navajo blues, and a writer best known for his autobiographical novel Miracle Hill. Mitchell went on to welcome the audience by speaking about the power an audience has to pass on energy and “make me grow a little taller.”
Mitchell spent the rest of the night sharing songs, poems, personal stories, and the beginning of a screenplay. He explained how he “fell in love with English” as a young boy listening to his grandmother say hello to a cowboy. “Ever since, I wanted to know that word ‘Hello’ was,” he said, and spoke of his attempts to remember it by singing it. Speaking of his travels to Austria, he related, “They don’t say ‘Hello’ like they do in America. They say ‘Hallo?'” Recognizing in the Austrian pronunciation his early attempts to say it, he jokingly said, “Maybe I’m part Austrian.” He sang several songs in Navajo, explaining their stories first, including “Sheep Herder’s Blues,” “American Bar,” and “Jambalaya.”
The audience was put to the test a few times as Mitchell asked them to join him in a song and even a dance. Six audience members were paired and instructed to dance both a love dance and a two-step social dance and Mitchell sang, pausing now and then to correct their swaying. “It takes a lot of training,” he explained.
After the stories, songs, and dancing, Mitchell answered a few questions which allowed him to elaborate a bit on his achievements. He has a Masters degree from the University of New Mexico and explained his studies involving “Americanism” saying, I want to know what you are if you want me to be like you.”
Blackhorse Mitchell teaches at Shiprock High School in New Mexico and said of his future plans that he might pursue a doctorate degree in the future, but is currently just “enjoying his Masters.” His book, Miracle Hill, is available through Tripod.