By Leo W. Banks, of High Country News | March 7, 2011
Grand Falls, Arizona
Radmilla Cody knows the way home. It’s not an easy journey. The dirt roads are canoe-shaped and gouged by rain. They curl around hills and plunge into deep draws, finally bringing us to the family homestead near Grand Falls, on the Navajo Reservation.
Cody grew up on these lonesome sage flats. Her Navajo mother, Margaret, took off to Georgia shortly after giving birth to Cody at age 18. Her father, Troy Davis, was a 43-year-old black man who worked as a driver for a Ford dealer in Flagstaff. Her grandmother, Dorothy, raised her the Navajo way.
Out here, without running water or electricity, Cody learned rug-weaving and sheepherding, and began to sing – first to the sheep in the corrals, then, at the age of 7, in her grandmother’s Christian church. In junior high, at Leupp Boarding School, she decided to make a career of it, influenced by her Uncle Herman, a musician, and her grandfather, Archie Cody, a medicine man.
She needed all her Navajo skills to win the title of Miss Navajo in 1997, at age 22 – the reservation’s first bi-racial beauty queen. Then her life took a sharp downward turn. She became entangled in an abusive relationship with a drug dealer and ended up in federal prison.