Navajos showed up on three television channels simultaneously the last Sunday in October, and the spurt of Navajo celebrity isn’t over yet. Billy Luther’s documentary
“Miss Navajo” aired Tuesday, Nov. 13, on PBS. And Elsa Johnson, a Navajo cultural consultant for the film and television
worked on an episode of Morgan Spurlock’s “30 Days” filmed on the
reservation, and said that show is set to run in January on FX.
While the Georgia Yazzie family of Piñon, Ariz., reacted to their new house
on ABC, Jacoby Ellsbury was helping the Boston Red Sox to a World Series
victory on Fox, and FSN was broadcasting an air race that took place in
Monument Valley this summer.
Navajo Nation Tourism Department Manager Thomas Boyd said Monday he expects
to get a few phone calls in response to the shows. “Every time the Navajo Nation is on TV, we get a little spike of interest,” he said.
Boyd himself was switching between “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” and the
World Series Sunday evening. He thinks the makeover show, which introduced
a close-knit Navajo family and showed some examples of Navajo dancing and
culture, will pique viewers’ curiosity about Diné Bikéyah.
But in the case of the World Series, the interest flowed the other
direction. “I know a lot of Navajos who were watching the World Series for the first
time, just to watch the Navajo kid (Ellsbury) play ball,” he said. “I made
a point of it.”
Navajo Times entertainment reporter Jan-Mikael Patterson, who dubbed Sunday
“Navajo night on TV,” thought it was “cool.”
Like Boyd, Patterson flipped back and forth between “Extreme Makeover” and
the Red Sox.
“The last time I can remember the reservation being on TV was when they did
the Piestewa home makeover (in 2005) and built that veterans’ center in
Tuba City,” Patterson said.
What about Oprah Winfrey’s visit to the rez last year?
“I’m not even going to count that,” sniffed Patterson. “She pops in here,
doesn’t even eat any mutton, and makes it look like we’re all impoverished
and living in shacks. There’s a lot of good stuff going on out here too,
and I think people saw that on the shows last night.”
Elsa Johnson, a Navajo cultural consultant for the film and television
industry, said she was “ecstatic” to see Navajos featured on three
channels, even though she’s sure “Extreme Makeover,” which she worked on,
lost some viewers to the World Series. (Even so, according to “Extreme
Makeover” senior producer Diane Korman, the Pi–on show had the highest
rating of any episode so far this season.)
“Who knew these two young Navajo men (Garrett Yazzie and Jacoby Ellsbury)
would dominate viewership on a single night?” Johnson said. “I’m sure the
word ‘Navajo’ came up in conversations all over the country.”
Johnson said she wasn’t aware the air show was being broadcast, but she was
glad to hear about that too.
“That (Monument Valley) is our landmark backdrop,” she said. “I’m happy
about all three situations. We’re really raising consciousness about the
Johnson said she can’t think of two more appropriate young Navajos to
showcase than Ellsbury and Yazzie, who inspired a Navajo Times reader to
request a home makeover for his family after he placed in a national
science competition two years ago.
“I hope all our young Navajo athletes were inspired by Jacoby Ellsbury,”
she said, “and the same for Garrett Yazzie in the academic area.
“The message to the youth, or anyone, is the same: If you remain dedicated
and persistent, you will excel and things you never might have imagined
will happen,” she said.
Miss Navajo Jonathea Tso said she doesn’t have TV at her Window Rock
apartment and had no idea about “Navajo night” until a Navajo Times
reporter called her for a comment.
But her first response was, “Cool buckets!”
“Our young people get so much pop culture and so much negativity from TV,
I’m really glad we’re getting some good publicity and some good role models
out there,” Tso said. “I’d like to say congratulations to Jacoby Ellsbury
and to the Yazzie family.”
Tso also pointed out the Navajo pageant winners who appeared on the shows.
“I believe Jocelyn (Billy, last year’s Miss Navajo) was on the ‘Extreme
Makeover’ (episode) and Miss Diné College sang the national anthem for the
air race, and they’re excellent role models too,” she said.