Home/Resources/Teachings from Home: My Journey in Home Visiting

Teachings from Home: My Journey in Home Visiting

Carri Chischilly reflects on how the family support she experienced growing up on the Navajo Nation Reservation inspired her journey to help other native families through home visiting services.

From My First Home to My Firstborn

Living on the Navajo Reservation shaped my identity and upbringing in significant ways. I have a deep respect and value for family, community, and my cultural heritage.

Growing up in a traditional Navajo hogan next to my maternal grandmother’s home , I have such fond memories of the support, resources, and guidance provided by my shimà and shimàsàní (mom and grandma). They played a crucial role in shaping my upbringing and instilling a strong sense of belonging and connection to my community.

Navajo culture follows a matriarchal system, where families live and raise their children in the mother’s community. I am privileged to have witnessed the strength and resilience of Navajo women firsthand, as this tradition helps ensure resilience and safety, particularly in situations like domestic violence or separation. 

Photo of Carri Chischilly's family
Carri’s Shimà (mother) (far left), Shimàsàní (maternal grandma) (third to the left) along with her grandma’s sisters.

Women were the heart and soul of our family, and in our small neighboring community, who nurtured and uplifted everyone around them.

One of the fondest and most treasured of my upbringing was the presence and involvement of both my parents. They were married for over 40 years and their relationship served as a strong foundation for our family. Their commitment and love for one another taught me the importance of unity, resilience, and the power of a supportive family.

A photo of Carri's parents at their Navajo wedding.
Carri’s parents at their traditional Navajo wedding opening gifts.

Living on the reservation had its challenges such as accessing healthcare, but having a strong support system within my family made a significant difference. Although the nearest hospital and town were quite far, through the help of my community, I was able to prioritize my prenatal appointments and access programs like WIC to ensure the well-being of myself and my baby. 

I experienced so much knowledge, support, and love while living with my parents and raising my first child on the reservation.

Reflecting on my career path now, I think it is experiences like my childhood and the protective environment of my family that ultimately led me to embrace my career path in home visiting. It was a way to extend the support I experienced to Indigenous families who lived outside of the reservation.

Carri's mother
Carri’s youngest son with his great grandma soaking in the warm sun.

My Home Visiting Journey

Leaving the reservation and moving to Mesa, AZ in 2006 was one of the biggest decisions for my small family of three.

Moving to Mesa, AZ in 2006 was one of the biggest decisions for my small family of three. At that time, I had just earned my Associates Degree at the local campus while living with my parents on the reservation and was looking to enroll in a university. And my husband got a job offer. We knew it was time to move into the city. 

In 2011, I was the first in my family to receive a Bachelor’s Degree. I graduated with a degree in social work from Arizona State University while I was also six months pregnant with my second son. For the first year of his life, I stayed home to take care of him before entering into the workforce. My first role was as a parent aide, then as a home visitor with a Tribal Home Visiting program in an urban setting. I did this for nearly a decade.

Throughout my career, I have always been driven by the desire to give back to my community and make a positive impact on the lives of others. This has been ingrained in me since I was young, as I was taught the importance of caring for and supporting one another.

Throughout my time as a home visitor, I gained valuable experience and knowledge in working with diverse populations.  Although I am Indigenous and grew up on the reservation, the families I have worked with helped me to learn and understand the cultural differences and to respect the unique traditions and values of each family.  The home visitor role is one of the most rewarding aspects of my job.  Witnessing the progress and success of the families I worked with has been rewarding.  I saw parents gain confidence in their parenting skills, children thrive and reach developmental milestones, and families overcome challenges and achieve goals they had set for themselves.  In a way, it was as if I was a part of their community, their family, which reminded me of my family and my community.  It was a fulfilling experience to be trusted by these families and to play a role in supporting their growth and development.

Carri with her husband and children.
Carri with her husband and two children, along with her nephew visiting.

Now, as a Technical Assistance Specialist for ZERO TO THREE’s Programmatic Assistance for Tribal Home Visiting (PATH) team, Carri continues her journey to increase accessibility to high-quality home visiting programs within tribal communities.

Looking Ahead

I am proud of the journey I have taken so far, from being a young mother on the reservation to having a career and family in an urban setting.

Each step has taught me valuable lessons and shaped me into the person and professional I am today. I am grateful for the opportunities I have had and the support I have received along the way. Despite the challenges and barriers, I have faced, I have been able to overcome them with the support of my loved ones, while also giving back and serving those who need it most.

My ultimate goal is to return to the Navajo reservation and build a permanent home for my family.  I want to be there for my community, my family, including my sister, who is now a first-time mom, and provide her with the same support and guidance that I received when I became a mother for the first time.

Overall, my upbringing has shaped me into the person I am today.  I am proud of my community, my culture, and the values instilled in me by my parents and the strong women in my life.

I would like to be able to support and help my sister, who is a first-time mom, the same way I was when I was a first-time mom.

Honor Native American Heritage Month with us.
Carri's father in their family's cornfield.
Carri’s father and youngest sister in their family’s cornfield.

Reflecting on her family traditions, Carri recalls making kneeldown bread (nitsidigo’i’ in the Navajo language), made through a tedious grinding of corn kernels to a paste and baking them in the earth. 

Her father maintained the family’s cornfield and one day, Carri hopes to carry on the tradition with her own family.

As part of our Programmatic Assistance for Tribal Home Visiting program, Carri and her colleagues are laying the foundation for a brighter future.

The PATH team supports grantees through a variety of technical assistance activities, including virtual and in-person individualized learning, facilitating peer sharing and group learning events and developing tools and resources to support grantee efforts.

Next Up
A Tribal Perspective: Steps Toward Cultural Sensitivity
Organizations need to understand tribal resiliency within a historical context when employing, or serving tribal populations. Research has shown that intergenerational and historical trauma continually impact tribal populations.