Cast & Crew
John A. Haeseler
Around 50,000 Navajo, the largest tribe in the United States, live on 25,000 square miles near Monument Valley on the Utah-Arizona border and make their living as herdsmen. One young Navajo, Ziki, is apprenticed to a silversmith, with whom he studies the art of making the silver and turquoise jewelry that has spiritual significance for his people. The Navajo especially prize blue turquoise because it is the color of the sky that is home to the friendly gods. In hopes of placating the gods and ending a long drought that threatens the sheep on which the Navajo depend for their livelihood, Ziki's sister wears a blue blouse and all the family jewelry. Ziki's oldest sister spins wool in the traditional way, which was taught to her by Spider Woman. She sells the blankets that she weaves at a nearby trading post. Jimmie, the trader's son, is Ziki's best friend. When Ziki remembers that his grandfather knew about a pasture far away in the mountains, the two boys seek his guidance. Ziki's grandfather, who is waiting to participate in a healing ceremony, tells the boys the following story that happened to him years earlier: He travels with two friends in search of a rich land above red cliffs, which can only be reached through a rainbow of stone. They find a cache of sacred turquoise near the home of the "mystic people," an ancient tribe of cliff dwellers. Because they know that the spirits of the dead, or chindi, haunt the stones, they leave them behind. After grandfather's two friends fall to their death, he leaves without discovering the mountain pasture. His story finished, grandfather advises the boys that they should make the journey in reverence, being careful not to disturb the spirits of the dead. He then gives them an eagle feather to guide their journey. Following grandfather's instructions, Ziki and Jimmie pass Winged Rock, which in ancient times was the home of the bird monsters. When the monsters were killed by the Twin Warriors, one monster was turned into an eagle and now provides feathers for warriors. As they travel, the boys see a coyote, the mischief maker, which can mean either good or bad luck. They pass a blue bird, which indicates good luck. They ride by stones and rock formations that embody Navajo history. After crossing the river, Jimmie and Ziki arrive at Canyon de Chelly, where many Navajo took refuge from Indian hunter Kit Carson. On the canyon walls they see petroglyphs drawn by an ancient people. They continue to follow grandfather's directions to the red cliffs where the mystic people lived. Watched by owls, who sometimes carry the spirits of the dead, Ziki and Jimmie discover the pot of turquoise which grandfather described and, remembering that the spell of the chindi can only be removed by a special ceremony, they leave most of it behind. With great effort, they continue up the cliffs. One night while they sleep, the evil raven steals the eagle feather from Ziki's headband. Because grandfather warned them that they would lose their way without a feather, the boys must replace it. The feather must be taken from a live bird because a found feather might be chindi. With the help of the new feather, the boys find a rainbow-shaped rock. On the other side, they discover a wonderful pasture with lakes, grass and flowers. Ziki and Jimmie return home and lead the sheep and the tribe to the new pastures. A special ceremony is held to banish the chindi from the turquoise, and Ziki is able to use it to make new jewelry.
The film's working title was The Spell of Chindi. A cutting continuity contained in Copyright Records gives a copyright date of 1946, however, the film itself was not registered with the Copyright Office until 1948. According to a Daily Variety news item, M-G-M acquired the film in August 1948, but Loew's filed a cutting continuity with the NYSA that is dated April 17, 1947. Opening credits state that the film is "A story of the American Indians with every element and detail based on the authentic lore and legends of the Navajo Indians." The film begins with the following written foreword: "This story of youth and adventure comes from a land hidden between America's West and its Southwest-Indian land, where the Navajo still live the tribal life, still worship their tribal gods. It is the story of two boys and of the legends and sacred chants that led them on a great quest through this land of turquoise skies, this land of Eagle and Owl, of Raven and Coyote."
The Navajo are linguistically and culturally related to the Apache. Many still farm and raise livestock and live in hogans, houses built of earth and stone which are designed to resemble the Navajo sacred mountain. In 1863, Kit Carson led an expedition against the Navajos, killing hundreds and destroying their homes and livestock. The Navajos were then forced to march to Fort Sumner, NM. The government plan to turn the Navajo into farmers failed, and after four years, they were allowed to return to their old territory in Utah, Northern Arizona and New Mexico. The march to and from Fort Sumner is referred to as The Long Walk by the Navajos. On the reservation, sheepherding, weaving and silversmithing became the major livelihoods. In 1975, the Navajos numbered about 160,000, making them the largest single group of Native Americans.
The Twin Warriors are Navajo culture heroes, who helped stabilize the earth and taught the Indians many features of their culture. The cliff dwellings of the "mystic people" that "Jimmie" and "Ziki" visit in the film are probably those built by the Anasazi, which means "ancient ones" in the Navajo language. The Anasazi lived in the Southwest centuries before the Navajo and shared many traits with later Southwestern Indian cultures.
According to the Daily Variety review, with the exception of Jimmie Palmer, the cast consisted of Navajos living on the reservation. The reviewer also commented that the film had been made to "cash in on the plight of the Navajo a few years ago" but added that the film was no longer timely. Although it is not clear to which specific problems the reviewer referred, during the 1930s and 1940s the U.S. government had required the Navajos to reduce their livestock by ten percent, a program that was strongly resisted by many Navajos. By 1947, the Navajos were suffering from disease and poverty and much of their grazing land was heavily eroded. In the winter of 1947-1948, a severe blizzard worsened the situation and generated national publicity about the Navajo condition. In response, the Indian Service developed a controversial plan to relocate some groups of Navajos.