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Kalle Benallie
Indian Country Today 

A grueling off-road competition that asks competitors to hand calculate longitude and latitude coordinates to find checkpoints. That’s what two Navajo women are up against.

The rez has prepared them for this. Shandiina Peters said growing up she did a lot of off-roading when she would go with her dad to install solar panels for those without electricity on the Navajo Nation.

“The landscape I was told is really similar with the Juniper trees and the sandstone and the different rock terrains that we have here on the reservation.” Her teammate Racquel Black said, “I think that’s what will give us kind of an edge.”

Peters and Black are the first all-Native female team to compete at the Rebelle Rally, an eight-day, off-road navigation race that starts Thursday and goes to Oct. 16. Team Asdzáá Skoden will compete against more than 50 teams and drive an estimated 2,500 kilometers or 1,550 miles across Nevada, California and Arizona.

Peters will operate as the driver while Black will be the navigator, but are allowed to switch roles if they want to. They will be given longitude and latitude coordinates to arrive at certain checkpoints. The job is to map out the course using the coordinates. And each time they think they’ve arrived, they will signal their location using a mobile tracking device and be given a score depending on how close they are to the exact target.

For the past couple of weeks, Black has been practicing her navigation and plotting duties by watching YouTube video tutorials, reading books and looking over the material that Rebelle Rally provided on their website.

“I’ve mostly been trying to make sure I have my head wrapped around all the mathematical parts of tracking and plotting the different coordinates and applying it to a physical map,” Black said. She will have to do the calculations herself.

Both women are new to the competition.

They first met over the phone through a mutual friend in early September. Then they met in person in Flagstaff, Arizona at a work training and hit it off. It was at the training they were able to meet past Rebelle competitors who gave them tips and training techniques.

Their friends and family have also commented about how similar the race will be for them given the geographic landscape of the Navajo Nation.

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“This is completely out of my comfort zone, but I was given this opportunity and I was like, ‘ok, yeah I guess I can do this,’” Peters said.

The opportunity was so opportune that Peters registered to compete the day after her 21st birthday, which is the minimum age requirement for the competition.

Their team name is Asdzáá Skoden and was inspired by the television show “Reservation Dogs.” Skoden is a popular phrase for Native people meaning “let’s go.” Asdzáá means women in Navajo.

She added it’s particularly important for her to be part of the competition because being White and Navajo can feel hard to feel represented.

Black said that it’s critical for people of color to take up spaces that they aren’t traditionally part of. Especially since it’s the reality for a lot of Native people, who’ve lived the experience of driving difficult roads — as opposed to many competitors who do it as a hobby.

She said it’s been great to meet and make friends with the other competitors and educate them on social media about their background and story.

“It’s important for non-Navajos and non-Natives to see us, to take up space in that kind of environment,” she said.

Black said other Native women have reached out to them and told them they’re happy to see an all-Native team in the race.

“This will help at least the other ones who are doing the real hard work, making themselves seen. I’m really glad that we can be part of that, to help them and broaden that platform,” she said.

Peters said they’re currently trying to raise money for the $15,000 entry fee, while they have been able to pay some required equipment costs through donations.

There will be a live webcast of the race and viewers are able to track the teams during the race. 

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