Navajos Wear Nikes: A Reservation Life by Jim Kristofic

Book Review By: Brittany Dutton-Leyda

I first read the book Navajos Wear Nikes: A Reservation Life by Jim Kristofic in undergrad for a sociology class. I have since re-read it a few times and shared it with my kids because of the captivating storytelling of Navajo culture coming from the perspective of a non-Native. The book is Kristofic’s memoir about his life growing up on the “Rez” in Ganado, Arizona on the Navajo Nation.

            Navajos wear Nikes: A Reservation Life is a beautiful compilation of childhood memories and stories Kristofic shares that gives powerful insight into the history, culture, and traditions on the Navajo Nation and what it means to be Diné. Kristofic, his younger brother, and his mother moved to Arizona from Pittsburgh when his mother got a job as a nurse at the hospital in Ganado.[1] His mother always had a fascination with Native American culture and was excited for the opportunity to work where she could serve in a community she admired.[2]  I enjoyed reading about how moving their family from Pennsylvania to the Navajo Reservation drastically changed the cultural influences in Kristofic’s life and provided him a profound appreciation and respect for Diné life.

Kristofic details the bullying he endured as the only white boy in his school growing up that eventually resulted in his earning the respect of his Navajo peers.[3] He had to prove to the Navajo boys that he could be a “tough noodle.”[4] In the chapter You Will Get Your Scar, Kristofic reminisces of the time he got a bad scar from falling off a donkey, and how the scar gained him credibility with the Navajo boys. “That night, I made sure to pick away the scab. . .It was now the whitest skin on my body. But for my new friends, it was the most Navajo.”[5]

What I found the most refreshing about the book was the candor Kristofic uses to express his difficulty as a white boy growing up and trying to fit in in a predominantly Native majority environment. I found this perspective refreshing because often it is the other way around with us, people of color (Natives, Latinx, Blacks), struggling to fit into varying environments. I also found it heartwarming that over the years, Kristofic essentially became Navajo by “spirit.”[6] In turn, he eventually finds the reservation (where he once struggled to fit in) to be home.[7] “I consider Diné Bikéyah – the Navajo Reservation – my true home.”[8] Because of his foundational assimilation into Navajo culture, he also shares his conflicting struggle with the ability to fully adapt back into Anglo culture after leaving the Navajo Nation.[9]

            Another insightful chapter is Shizhé’ Ash’íní from Piñon, Arizona, where Kristofic chronicles the expansion of his family when his mother marries his stepdad (a Navajo man) and gives birth to his baby sister. “Before the end of the fifth grade, I was starting to understand that Mom was not only interested in Navajo bracelets, earrings, rings, turquoise necklaces, concho belts, sandpaintings, and pottery. She was also interested in Navajo men.”[10] He shares with fondness the day his stepfather came into his life, and the birth of his baby sister who was named with a traditional Navajo name.[11]

            Finally, Kristofic recounts the identity struggles he faced when he moved out of the Navajo Nation with his family in high school, and the way he missed his home on the Rez, where his family often continued to visit.[12] In the end, Kristofic went back to Pennsylvania to attend college, but ultimately, it was his experiences growing up on the Rez that impacted his life and informed who he is.[13] “Anytime I turned to Anglo culture for answers, some deeper pattern seemed to pull me back to the Diné beliefs.” It was evident throughout the book that Kristofic was drawn to Diné culture, having been raised with those beliefs that made him into the man he is today.

            In the Epilogue: The Answer to the Question, Kristofic addresses the elephant in the room, something he gets asked all the time – “The Question: ‘Are you Indian?’”[14] Kristofic responds beautifully with, “I’m not Indian. But neither are the people who live on the Rez. They’re Navajo’s. They are Diné, The People. I don’t know if I have ever met an ‘Indian.’ But I’ve met Cherokee, Lakota, Hopi, Laguna, Zuni, and Utes.”[15] Since then, Kristofic has gone on to write “for The Navajo Times, Arizona Highways, Native Peoples Magazine, and High Country News. Navajos Wear Nikes: A Reservation Life was praised by the Arizona Daily Sun and by New Mexico Magazine. The book was named a 2011 Southwest Book of the Year.”[16] I think this book is a lovely recollection of Navajo culture. And for what it’s worth, I highly recommend Navajos Wear Nikes: A Reservation Life. It was a book that stirred my interest in learning more about Indigenous culture, and was the beginning of what has now become my great respect and appreciation for the Diné.

[1]  Jim Kristofic, Navajos Wear Nikes 1-2 (University of New Mexico Press, 2011).

[2] Id

[3] Id. at 8-19.

[4] Id. at 33.

[5] Id. at 52.

[6] Id. at 192.

[7] Jim Kristofic, The Blog for Author Jim Kristofic, About Jim Kristofic, (last visited March 31, 2022).

[8] Id.

[9] Kristofic, supra note 1 at 172.

[10] Id. at 91.

[11] Id. at 94-99.

[12] Id. at 127-138, 159-172.

[13] Id. at 161, 172.

[14] Id. at 192.

[15] Id.

[16] Kristofic, supra note 2.


By Tribal Law Journal Blog

The Tribal Law Journal was established in fall 1998 for the purpose of promoting indigenous self-determination by facilitating discussion of the internal law of the world’s indigenous nations. The internal law of indigenous nations encompasses traditional law, western law adopted by indigenous nations, and a blend of western and indigenous law. Underscoring this purpose is the recognition that traditional law is a source of law.

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