On the Navajo Nation where tribal members sometimes hesitate to open up to outsiders, they embraced Tony Hillerman as an honest and genuine man who wanted to learn about their culture and get the details right.
Hillerman, who died Sunday in Albuquerque, N.M., of pulmonary failure at age 83, was author of the acclaimed Navajo Tribal Police mystery novels. His books in the Navajo series were characterized by vivid descriptions of Navajo rituals and of the vast reservation in the Four Corners region.
But Hillerman's relationship with the Navajo Nation stretched far beyond the pages of those books, which featured two of the unlikeliest of literary heroes -- Navajo police officers Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee. He shed light on Navajo culture, his books becoming a bridge to the reservation for tribal members who moved elsewhere, and encouraged Navajo youth to ask elders about traditions and ceremonies.