Chee's Daughter

by Juanita Platero

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In "Chee's Daughter," how does Chee reclaim his daughter?

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When Chee's wife dies, his wife's father (Old Man Fat) and his wife take Chee's daughter (Little One) to live with them, according to Navaho custom. Old Man Fat and his wife live at the Red Sands Trading Post, where they work for the man who owns it. They have abandoned the land; Old Man Fat is proud that he doesn't have to work as a farmer, but instead can make his living from the tourists who come to the trading post.

Chee tries to get Little One back, but Old Man Fat tells him to leave the trading post and never come back. When Chee learns that a new highway is being built near the trading post, he can imagine what is going to happen. Drivers will use the new highway that bypasses the trading post, and Old Man Fat's business will dry up. Knowing this, he makes a plan to get Little One back.

Chee works hard all summer planting extra crops and harvesting a great deal of food. When the summer ends, he takes the food to Old Man Fat, pretending that he wants to sell or trade it. Old Man Fat and his wife are now very poor. They have no money, and they have sold almost all they own. Chee suggests that he will trade food for the Little One. Old Man Fat is angered by this. He tells Chee to leave.

Chee starts to leave, then he returns and gives the food to Old Man Fat and his wife anyway, telling them he wouldn't want his daughter or them to starve during the winter. Old Man Fat and his wife look at all the food Chee lays out before them--such as corn, peppers, beef jerky, and dried peaches. There is enough to last Old Man Fat and his wife for the entire winter, but not enough for them if they keep the child. They give her to Chee. She has become "just another mouth to feed." Chee gets his daughter back by remaining true to his Navaho customs. He takes care of his land and his land takes care of him.

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What steps does Chee take to bring his daughter home?

Chee gets his daughter back by staying true to his Navaho heritage. Unlike Old Man Fat, he still retains his connection to the soil, which is such an important part of tribal custom. Although Old Man Fat's trading post may be doing a roaring trade at the present moment, its success won't last forever, especially after the new highway's been built.

And so it proves. Soon, Old Man Fat and his wife end up down on their luck. Naturally, Chee is concerned for the welfare of his daughter, Little One, who lives with his in-laws. Seeing that they're in such dire straits, Chee offers his father-in-law some of the bountiful harvest that is the fruit of his labors over the summer in return for giving Little One back to him.

Initially, Old Man Fat is furious at Chee's offer and orders him to leave the trading post. However, once he sees all the delicious food that his son-in-law's brought him, he realizes that there's more than enough there to see him and his wife through the winter, but not Little One. So Old Man Fat relents and gives Little One back to her father.

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