Sunnie R. Clahchischiligi

Eugenia Charles-Newton, a Navajo Nation Council delegate, at home in Shiprock with her donkey, Brandy.

This story was reported by Searchlight New Mexico, a non-partisan, nonprofit news organization dedicated to investigative reporting in New Mexico, and shared with USA TODAY.

SHIPROCK, N.M. — Sitting in the passenger seat of her husband’s pickup truck just before dusk, Eugenia Charles-Newton watched a young Navajo girl, her niece, during a traditional kinaaldá ceremony in Shiprock. 

The coming-of-age ceremony was unlike any other kinaaldá she’d ever seen. Scores of family members were missing and there was only a small cake, just enough to feed the immediate family. That morning, the girl’s female relatives hadn’t gathered to sing and tell stories as they mixed the cake batter. When the girl ran toward the east before the sun rose, she didn’t have throngs of relatives running behind her to fill the dawn air with happy screams and shouts, celebrating her transition into womanhood. Only the young woman’s brothers ran after her.

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