Through a striking landscape of stark mesas and stunning canyons, in a land dotted with trailers and hogans, horses and sheep, Coach Raul Mendoza and his Chinle High School basketball team travel in a quest for glory. In the bus are Navajo boys quick of feet and small in stature, boys who at once dream of leaving the reservation yet also yearn to stay. These are boys who play passionately on the court but know that their basketball dreams will end in high school.
In Canyon Dreams, journalist Michael Powell immerses himself in the unique challenges of rez basketball and reservation life as he follows the team over the course of one season. There is poverty and rampant alcoholism, and boys who live with grandmothers and aunties and cousins and rarely see their parents. There are boys who follow Traditional ways and wear corn pollen pouches during games and refuse to touch an opponent’s hand lest they be hexed. Then there is the Navajo community itself, wonderfully steadfast in support of their boys but openly hostile and outspoken against Coach Mendoza.
There is plenty of basketball here to satisfy sports fans, and of course the quest for the state playoffs drives the narrative. Yet Canyon Dreams is so much more than a basketball story. Powell beautifully captures Navajo Nation, the landscape and the people, and the pull of the old traditional ways.