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Asdzáá Skoden: An Interview with the Rebelle Rally’s First All-Navajo Team

On October 8, a record number of rookie teams will take to the start line at the 2021 Rebelle Rally. One such team, made up of Shandiina Peters and Racquel Black, marks the first all-Navajo duo to enter the event. A recent addition to the team roster, Peters and Black will compete in a Jeep Rubicon as team Asdzáá Skoden. The name is fitting, and as they explain, Asdzáá is the Navajo word for woman, while Skoden is slang for the phrase “Let’s go then!”

Despite a whirlwind of rally preparation, the team made time to discuss their fast-track journey to this year’s Rebelle Rally, the similarities between the landscapes of the rally course and the Navajo Nation, and what they’re most looking forward to during the upcoming competition.

How did your journey to this year’s Rebelle Rally begin?

Shanii: It started with my dad; he is the CEO of Big Navajo Energy. He had me volunteer to do this rally. [The route] is a familiar area and similar to our landscapes here. My dad also told me we would be the first Navajo team, so I thought that was cool. We joined at the very last minute, so I didn’t meet Racquel until one of the weekends during training with Nena [Barlow]. Racquel and I [got to] know each other for a couple of weeks, just texting. Then we met each other and were like, “We’ll be fine! We get along pretty well.”

Racquel: The training that Shanii and I met at was required for all the rookies to make sure that everyone was mentally capable of taking on the challenge. I met Shanii through a mutual friend who happens to be from the Shonto area of the Navajo Nation. She was originally supposed to be in my place but had to back out due to her work schedule. After looking into it for a few days, reading about it, and having a couple of conferences with Shanii and her parents, I was convinced. It seemed like a lot of fun, and I haven’t done anything like this before.

Did either of you have experience with off-road driving or navigating before you signed up for the rally?

Racquel: Just the driving part. I have a lot of experience reading maps—but not to the extent of what the rally wants us to do—so a lot of that will be new for me.

I lived the majority of my life on the reservation, and I’m from the community of Shondo, Arizona, which is about an hour southeast of Page. A lot of the roads here are not regularly maintained, so we have a lot of similar road conditions to the OHV conditions that people find fun and treat as a hobby to drive around on.

We have state roads, US highway roads, and county roads. Then we also have our tribal roads; some are under the Navajo Nation, and then some are under the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). Many roads don’t get a big enough budget for our local government to maintain them, so [for] a lot of the community members here, it’s just part of their life, driving on the rocky, muddy, sandy washboard roads. It’s what they use to go to work, school, and run their errands every week.

I think for Shanii and me, growing up in that kind of environment, it is not something that we feel was preparing us for something like the Rebelle Rally, it was part of our life, and the Rebelle Rally just happens to be really similar to what we’re familiar with and our backgrounds here at home.

How has the preparation been going so far?

Shanii:The prepping for me has been a bit overwhelming since we’re pretty much newbies and have a very short timeline to get everything. Nena Barlow has been great, offering to lend us stuff because a lot of the things are really expensive, and with shipping, it’s going to take a long time. We’ve been raising money, and I’ve been using that money to get the necessary [items] because I’m not usually much of a camper. We needed to get a Jetboil, instant dinners, the expensive compass, the math rulers, and such.

As you prepare for the rally, what does this upcoming experience mean to you?

Racquel: For me, it has been really exciting meeting people who enjoy this, do it regularly, and have invested a lot of time and effort into this kind of activity. Especially Nena, as Shanii mentioned; she’s been such a great help. We’ve been graciously brought into this world. All the ladies who are competitors or those involved with the event have been so great. Whenever we had questions, they didn’t hesitate to help us out or give us a hand.

And for us being the first all-Navajo team, I think it’s us doing our part and broadening that platform for Native and indigenous women to be seen in the outdoor world. Because as much as we love representing and being present as indigenous women, there are other indigenous and Native women throughout our country that are already in the industry. They do a lot of work educating their communities and the outdoor communities from a Native woman’s perspective. It has been a really exciting thing, seeing everything from this point of view, because not many people, especially Native women, get this kind of opportunity.

Shanii:For me, this is way out of my comfort zone. I am not much of a racing type of person—I know it’s not a race, but it’s an endurance kind of thing—but I’m just happy to be here. If you put yourself out there, get the sponsors, and get all the stuff you need, you can do it. You don’t need a lot of training.

When we were doing the training back in September, we were off-roading in some volcanic gravel. Nena was just like, ‘Pretend you’re driving in snow.’ We get a lot of snow up here, and I’m used to my Jeep Cherokee, but I don’t know how to drive this with a Rubicon because a Rubicon can take on a lot more. It can take on a beating. So I got stuck, and Racquel was super great with supporting me. I got really stuck, and Nena said, ‘You know, most girls usually say, Hey, can you take over? You do this a lot more than I do.’ I didn’t know that was an option and thought I had to keep going. So my shyness has a little bit of an advantage. It’s like, “You’re such a badass,” and I’m like, “I’m just shy!”

You both mentioned that the landscapes featured during the Rebelle Rally are similar to those on the Navajo Nation. How do you think this will be advantageous during the rally?

Shanii:I think it will help us a lot. I spent a good amount of time down on the Navajo Reservation over the summers. I would help my dad put up solar panels for people who didn’t have electricity. We were out in the middle of nowhere, and it was a great experience. We didn’t have GPS. [The directions] were “Go down this road for about this long, and you’re going to see a house to the right.” We didn’t have maps; we just kind of navigated through landscapes.

Our ancestors looked up at the stars and constellations. It’s also an understanding of where the sun rises. My dad taught me that at a very young age, and hopefully, it will come back to me once I’m out there. I feel like it’s ingrained in us for thousands of years. Our ancestors navigated through everything. They didn’t have maps; they just looked at the land and understood it. They knew it like the back of their hand. I’m educating myself on the maps and properly using the compass, but I feel like it’s natural. It’s in our blood.

What are you most looking forward to about the rally?

Shanii: I’m excited to meet new people and see their views on the past rallies. We want to do it next year for sure, and even though we haven’t done it [yet], we’re already like, maybe we’ll have more time to prepare next year.

Racquel: I think for me, like Shanii said, I am looking forward to experiencing it and meeting everyone. They have all been so supportive. We said that if we didn’t raise enough money, there’s always next year. We have our fundraiser going on, and we had a good amount come from our fellow competitors because they said they want to see us there. It’s been really exciting that we’ve had this much support in such a short time because we’ve been working on this for less than a month. Now, we have the tools, and we have the information. We just have to go out there and do it.

Editor’s note: This year’s Rebelle Rally runs from October 7 to 16, 2021. Follow the event at rebellerally.com. To learn more about Shanii and Racquel, visit @asdzaa.skoken.rebelles.

Our No Compromise Clause: We carefully screen all contributors to make sure they are independent and impartial. We never have and never will accept advertorial, and we do not allow advertising to influence our product or destination reviews.

Ashley Giordano completed a 48,800-kilometer overland journey from Canada to Argentina with her husband, Richard, in their well-loved but antiquated Toyota pickup. On the zig-zag route south, she hiked craggy peaks in the Andes, discovered diverse cultures in 15 different countries, and filled her tummy with spicy ceviche, Baja fish tacos, and Argentinian Malbec. You can usually find Ashley buried in a pile of travel books, poring over maps, or researching wild medicinal plants. Ashley is a co-founder of Women Overlanding the World and crew member of Expedition Overland. You’ll find this Canadian-born couple exploring a different continent in 2021, and sharing their trip every step of the way at Desk to Glory.