Navajo Night Dances

Production Date: 
Walter P. Lewisohn, “In cooperation with the National Council of American Indians”
Unnamed male narrator, presumably Navajo
Run Time: 

Establishing shot: Extreme long shot of the Navajo landscape. Mountains and canyons can be seen in the background while a stump of a tree can be seen in the middle ground of the frame. A desert tree can be seen behind the stump on screen right.
Named locations: In this film, mythical place names from the Mountain Chant Way are presented as actual locations. Mentioned are “Beautiful in the Mountains,” “Circle of Red Stones,” and “Wind Around a Rock.”
This film was shot on location at Monument Valley (In Navajo: Tsé Biiʼ Ndzisgaii or, Valley of the Rocks), which the narrator describes as “Beautiful in the Mountains.” Likewise, as the camera pans over a wide shot of the West and East Mitten Buttes, the narrator describes this location to be the “Circle of Red Stones.” The narrator also describes a wide shot of Merrick Butte to be “Wind Around a Rock.”

Major themes covered: The significant role of ceremony and ritual gatherings for the Navajo community
Native activities shown: A group of Navajos gather and set up camp to observe the nine-day “Mountain Way Chant.” Footage includes scenes of women preparing fry-bread (called “slap-again” by the narrator; cedar ash mentioned as an optional ingredient) and lots of recorded laughter as the meal is enjoyed. Also depicted are the “Dance of Great Feathered Arrow” (scenes of men singing, dancing and “swallowing” arrows), the “Feather Dance” (spectacular scenes of eagle feathers dancing on a blanket, seemingly on their own), and the “Sacred Fire Dance” (performed by the “Men of the Fire Society;” scenes of men dressed in loincloths and painted with white clay, dancing around a bonfire).

Individuals Named: No named individuals
Native language spoken: Yes, Navajo is sung throughout the film; Some Navajo conversation can be heard in background of overlapping narration;
Audible: Good quality. Songs sung in Navajo throughout the film; some recorded conversation in Navajo
Noteworthy elements: The dances in this film are part of the nine-day Mountain Chant Ritual; Feather Dance Ritual; Sacred Fire Dance.

Other notes: The National Congress of American Indians was established in 1944 to collectively protect the treaty and sovereign rights of American Indian tribes. This organization continues to articulate and advance the goals of Native communities. For more See:

Supporting Information: For a detailed outsider’s description of the Mountain Way Chant see Washington Matthews’ 1887 work The Mountain Chant: A Navajo Ceremony. Matthews details the nine-day ritual with careful fidelity and respect that seem untypical for his day. This text is in the public domain, and can be found easily online.

The University of Utah Press has also reissued a print copy:
Matthews, W.  The Mountain Chant, a Navaho Ceremony. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1995.

In Matthews’ chapter titled, “Myth of the Origin of Dsilyídje Qaçàl” he describes in detail the sacred story behind the Mountain Chant Way. In this narrative, “Beautiful in the Mountains” (Dsilyi`-qojòni) is mentioned in paragraph 38; “Wind Circles Around a Rock”  (Tse’binayol) is mentioned in paragraph 43; and “Circle of Red Stones” (Tsenástci) is mentioned in paragraph 40.
This detailed and informative work has entered the public domain, and can be easily found online; follows is a full citation for the physical book: Matthews, W. (1995). The mountain chant, a Navaho ceremony. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press.

For information on Monument Valley, including panoramic shots of the East and West Mitten Buttes and Merrick Butte see:

Coronet Instructional Films produced educational and “social guidance” films from 1946 to the early 1970s. These films, largely directed at teenage audience, covered topics ranging from conformity to social mores, appropriate dating behaviors, and personal hygiene, to inculcating American civic and capitalist values.
For more information on Coronet see:
This webpage highlights the role of social control that Coronet played in the lives of American youth.
Wikipedia offers a general description of Coronet, with a large, if incomplete filmography.
The Internet Archive has a large collection of Coronet Instructional Films streaming online:
Also by Coronet Films:
The Navajo Indian (1945)
OCLC Number: 4450259
Navajo Indian Life (1966)
OCLC Number: 7983745
The Navajo Indian (1975)
OCLC Number: 29590792
Navajo Family Adventure: The Runaway Horse (2000)
OCLC Number: 46639901
Boy of the Navajos (1975)
OCLC Number: 12543000
Girl of the Navajos (1977)
OCLC Number: 13640023
Southwest Indian Families (n.d.)
OCLC Number: 12401580
The Navajo Indian (1945)
OCLC Number: 3995749
Navajo Indian (1943)
OCLC Number: 220170467
Southwest Indian Arts and Crafts (n.d.)
OCLC Number: 5547644
Coronet films with Walter Lewisohn
Navajo Indian Life (1966)
OCLC Number 7983745
Northwest Indian Art (1966)
OCLC Number: 8867012
Walter Lewishon (without Coronet)
Prophet of Taos (n.d.)
(Hopi, Jemez and Santa Clara Indians)
OCLC Number: 78653689
Dancers in the Sky (n.d.)
(Acoma and Zuni pueblos)
OCLC Number: 84094952
The Blue People (n.d.)
(Santa Ana Pueblo)
OCLC Number: 80077150

--Mikel Stone, 2012