Wanda Nez Orr, asset protection specialist in the Smith’s division, is a proud member of the Navajo tribe, and she’s sharing her culture and heritage with us in celebration of Native American Heritage Month. We’re so thankful to have associates like her across our Kroger Family who help us create an inclusive culture where everyone can be their authentic selves.



I am a Native American. I belong to the Dine’ (The People) Navajo tribe.


I grew up on the Navajo Reservation in Tohatchi, New Mexico. My parents are Frank and Rose Nez. Nez is the Navajo word for “tall”—my grandfather was very tall. I have four sisters and one brother. My husband, Colin, and I have three sons and two daughters.


I am a descendant of Chief Manuelito and his wife Juanita. Juanita was the first Native American Woman to address Congress. My home on the reservation is the same land that Juanita lived on.


Navajos do not have nieces and nephews; we have sons and daughters. We do not have uncles and aunts; we have Little Fathers and Little Mothers. We treat all our children the same as if they are our very own. Our culture teaches our children and young people to respect our elders and address them as Grandma and Grandpa. As we age, we have teenagers and young adults who will call us Grandma when they address us, even if we have never met. Once, my mom and sister were at the mall when a young lady came over and wrapped a native print blanket around my mom and said, “Here Grandma, I bought this for you because I don’t want you to be cold.”


Navajos still live in or own a Hogan. It is a traditional home that is a sacred place where we hold our ceremonies to keep ourselves balanced. The Hogan is one room with a dirt floor. About every 10 years, the dirt floor is renewed by digging up about three inches and replacing it with fresh clean dirt. Like getting new carpet. The Hogan entrance always faces the east to greet the sun as we begin our day.


The Navajo is a matriarchal society. Land and possessions are handed down from mother to daughter. The woman makes the decisions concerning the land. The man comes into the marriage with only his horse and saddle.


Here are a few traditions we still celebrate and some fun facts:


Baby’s first laugh. In the Navajo tradition, we believe that newborns first reside in the world of the Holy People before they join their earthly family. When a child is born, we believe the child lives among the Holy People until his or her first laugh. The first laugh is a sign that the child is transitioning from the Spirit World and is ready to join his family on earth. Whoever makes the baby laugh first has the honor of hosting the Baby’s First Laugh Ceremony, which consists of food and gifts to all who attend. This is the first lesson in being generous.


The Kinalda is a four-day ceremony for the coming of age of young women. It begins at dawn when the Kinalda is blessed and dressed in her Navajo traditional dress and will run each day at sunrise, noon and sunset. As she runs, she gains endurance and with each run, she will go farther, just like in life. A 4-foot by 1-foot hole will also be dug where a fire will burn 24 hours a day for the four days. It represents the light of the young Kinalda, and it must never go out during the four days. The fire is watched 24 hours a day.


During the four days, the Kinalda will learn how to run a home and be a generous hostess. On the third day, the party begins with the making of a corn cake batter that is baked in the 4×1 hole. We sew corn husks together for the baking dish. The Kinalda blesses the cake, and then it is covered and the fire placed on top of it. The cake bakes throughout the night.


That same night, the medicine man will come and the Kinalda will sit up all night. She will be blessed with prayers and songs. In the morning, there will be a great feast and the Kinalda will give all the gifts she has received away to her guests.



Navajo Code Talkers. My dad’s brother, Freeland Nez, was a Navajo Code Talker. My dad was so very proud of him. The Navajo Code Talkers created a unique code within a code and served our country during World War II.


Here are a few examples of the code:

English Word Navajo Word Meaning
Battleship Lo-tso Whale
Aircraft Carrier Tsidi-ney-ye-hi Bird Carrier
Submarine Besh-lo Iron Fish



My dad was a medicine man. When one medicine man couldn’t figure out what ailed a patient, they would send the patient to my dad. He was amazing. Our yard was always full of cars with patients waiting their turn with the medicine man.



It has been a long road for us Navajos. During the “Scorched Earth Campaign” of 1864, our livestock, homes, orchards and gardens were burned because there was a belief that the mountains on Indian land held silver. My ancestors walked to Fort Sumner and lived without sufficient shelter and food. When silver was not found, they were allowed to return home.


Thank you for this opportunity, not just from me but from your Native American associates.


Wanda Nez Orr



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