Grownup Navajo

the Kinaalda through a modern lens

I Come from Strong Women: A Tribute

DSC_0482“It is through my mother I entered this world.” Everything I have come to understand and even question about my role as a young asdzaan Diné was first nurtured by my mother. She and the women in my life have continuously taught me the lessons I need to know and most important have shown me how to carry myself as an asdzaan Diné. It was my mom who prepared me and my sister prior to us having our Kinaalda (puberty ceremony). She instilled in us such excitement for this change in our bodies, I could not wait to “grow up” and join the club. I think my mom thinks I don’t need her so much today but I feel what she created in me is such an innate sense of self as a woman that I feel assured, most of the time, of what I am suppose to be doing. I am everything because of her and she is my everything.

“I come from strong women.” This is one of my mantras I repeat daily as it encourages me to continue to push forward and live with integrity. I grew up hearing the story of my great-great-great Nalí Asdzaan who was captured and taken to Ft. Sumner during the period of the Long Walk when my people were imprisoned hundreds of miles away from our homeland. My Nalí Asdzaan escaped. Her faith in our traditional values was what ensured her safety and because of her risk I am here. Her story is a constant reminder of the price of the privilege I have become accustomed to today as a modern Navajo woman. It is my obligation to always maintain allegiance to my family above all else and continue to carry on my traditional values she fought hard to keep.

“I am who surrounds me.” I am blessed to reach a point in my life where I am surrounded by so many women who challenge and love me selflessly. My “lady loves” are a tapestry of people whose encouragement, support and guidance pushes me daily to be better. My prayer for every young lady is to be able to have at least one friend who is always able to share in your journey and remind you are not alone.

Recently, I partnered with my soul sister Jovanna Perez on a new venture – creating a podcast which would share the stories of women primarily in Arizona. Schmooze is a show dedicated to raising every woman’s story as remarkable and celebrating the diversity of experience in modern women. I encourage you to listen to our first episode and follow along on our Facebook page. I am blessed to have Jovanna as a partner in this as her guidance has made the experience all the richer as we blend both of our experiences together to create a project which we hope will inspire others to create change in how we see women in our world.

Today is International Women’s Day, established in the 1900s the day was created shed light on both the achievements of women and the action needed to move women and society forward. Our society doesn’t frequently lift women up. Though women have had significant achievements, for every story about a woman’s success there are still misogynistic comments and policies which threaten the personhood of women. There is still much progress to be made in the area of equal pay and violence against women. So as we celebrate women, let’s challenge ourselves to act moving forward and participate in the fight to assert a more equal view of women in our world.

A significant part of my Kinaalda ceremony was the point at which my Nalí Asdzaan molded me. She pressed weaving tools and other items against my body as a way to ensure my excellence within each area. I was molded in her image and I am grateful everyday to have this connection to her as it reminds me of the interconnectedness between us all – to all the women in my life. We are the bloodline. It is our role as life givers to nurture and challenge those around us. So today, I say ahé’hee’ to my mom, my elders, my sisters, my niece, my lady loves and those who have gone before me as I would be nothing without them. To all the fly, fearless, brave women fighting a battle today, you inspire me and your work provides our world so much beauty. Ahé’hee’.

Enduring Love Through Loss

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I am blessed my first “real job” out of college was also my dream job. Starting it years ago, I had no idea I would be here this long and while every January work-anniversary is marked with, “has it really been this long?!” it is also a month in which I ache and miss my Granddad the most.

My Granddad was with me when I received my job offer. It was the two of us who decided it was a good fit for me and I would take it. I was staying with him and my late Nalí Asdzaan at the time as I had a temporary job in the community they lived. While she would go to work we would talk about life. This was already a difficult period as I was coping with the sudden loss of my soul sister Audrey who was killed suddenly in a car crash the month before.

Audrey and I had met the summer before in such a cinematic way in Washington D.C., I was assured we would be friends forever. Looking at it now, I suppose we are, just not in the way we planned. My Granddad helped me deal with her being gone. Little did I know by mid-February, they both would meet. It’s been nearly eight years since we lost him to cancer. While the battle was long and hard fought, my starting my job is always tangled with my losing him and me “growing up”.

The two events shaped me permanently. My Granddad and Audrey were both two people who lived life with such bravery and chutzpah. My Granddad taught me so many lessons but of everything, he instilled in me a sense of responsibility to my people, family and my heart. In the past year, I have renewed this commitment to myself by choosing my heart above all. Though the journey hasn’t been easy, I have decided to live my life the way he did with an allegiance to Ké’ and love. He is my north star just as my late Nalí Asdzaan is my east. They are my guide posts who assure me soul mates, kindred spirits exist.

I realize I am the best parts of the people around me. We are all made of light and brought together through a desire to create, to leave a mark. Of the many conversations we had prior to starting my job one thing rang through our conversations, my Granddad’s hope for me to have a life I loved. As I write this, to him, I hope he sees my zest for life and how much I am grateful for him. And I can honestly say, this life of mine, is better than we both dreamed possible. As my cousin Aaron assured me, our grandparents are as close as I want them to be. So I look ahead with the promise of a journey which will continue to challenge me to grow with both of them at my side.

Yá’at’eeh Yas Niłt’ees!

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Yá’at’eeh Yas Niłt’ees!

 January customarily begins with a refreshing vibe, the holidays are over and a new year begins with an attitude tuned to the possibility of a clean slate. In Diné Bizaad (Navajo language), January or Yas Niłt’ees means the “time of melting snow”.

One of my favorite months because it seems to correlate with the feeling of January – a big exhale after the season of busyness which preceded it. When you live on the reservation though snow melting can be a headache as the ratio of dirt road outnumbers paved ones and mud-bogging is a daily hurdle. Of course, among the beautiful plateaus and land formations, January in Diné Bikeyáh (Navajoland) is a beautiful time in the cold winter air, the coming and going of moisture and the promise of renewal it will bring in the spring. As you refocus this month, may you find inspiration or encouragement in some of this month’s shares.

SUPPORT. In the recent newsletter of Native Health, a local Phoenix non-profit, the organization announced it was building a community garden within the Steele Indian School Park. I am excited to see the organization grow this community effort and create a place which champions healthy eating. With diabetes being prevalent among American Indian people, turning to healthy eating is imperative to lower risk of the disease for all community members. Visit Native Health’s website to learn how to get involved.

NOMINATE. In April, I was awarded the Arizona Humanities Council’s Rising Star Award. I was most impressed to see an organization create an avenue for recognizing the work of young people making a difference in the humanities community. Arizona is filled with many people who work their passions to create impact so I am honored to be an inaugural recipient of the award. I am especially delighted to help spread the mission of AHC as they begin to accept nominations this year. Learn more about how to nominate a community member HERE.

GO NATIVE. Beyond Buckskin is launching a weeklong campaign beginning tomorrow, January 13th. The style challenge created by BB founder Jessica Metcalfe is meant to reclaim the term “go Native” which has longtime been used in a negative fashion to suggest American Indian cultures are less than others. To take part, wear something Native made – clothes, shoes, jewelry, etc. – everyday this week. Share your “outfit of the day” photos on your favorite social media accounts, not forgetting to use the #GoNATIVE so more people are encouraged to create a stylish look. Read Jessica’s blog post which shares more about this week long movement.

VISIT. A new website was shared with me this week shined a light on a group of Navajo women who have a blog called Blue Bird Pinups. These group of ladies rock 1950s/60s fashion while hosting community events which help veterans and even take part in fashion shows of Native designers. I continuously share American Indian people don’t exist in a vacuum, the Blue Bird Pinups are evidence of this as their style is a blend of retro fashion, rockabilly and their Navajo culture. Follow their blog here.

Yá’at’eeh Niłch’itsoh!

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December is one of my favorite months. In Navajo, the translation is “abundance of cold air”. Much of my connection to my home depends on my involvement in our traditional ceremonies. In Hai or winter, is the time we hold our Yeíbíchéí ceremonies, an extensive healing ceremony held over a week’s period. There are many parts of this ceremony which allow for people to come together in support of the patient. It is always a goal of mine to attend this ceremony every winter as it is such an empowering moment of connecting to my culture and community.

Writing Grownup Navajo is not only about sharing Navajo culture but is also a process of me continuing to restore the balance or hozhó in my life while away from my homeland. At the beginning of December I had the chance to meet and visit with relatives as we came together to support a family friend for whom the Yeíbíchéí was being held. It helped me start the month centered and connected to shíké’ (my family). 

Yá’at’eeh Niłch’itsoh! (Happy December!) is a new monthly feature, I aim to share new projects, products, articles and other interesting tidbits I am finding inspiring, exciting or important. Look forward to seeing a list of four things each month I think you should take in and enjoy.

READ. Arizona State University recently released a study the State of Indian Country Arizona Vol. 1. In this study, new facts about American Indian communities have been shared painting a picture of the land I love. I continuously tell people, this state is one which is unique in the sophistication, progress and dynamics of tribal nations and while many of these successes are outlined in this report so are the challenges.

GIVE. Whisper n Thunder is a 501(c)3 dedicated to the empowering American Indians through education, awareness and opportunity. A key program of WnT is the EREZ Fund an assistance program for American Indians who are suffering from weather related emergencies. In the winter, the efforts are focused on providing heat subsidies to families who are in every case freezing in the Dakotas. Learn more and give here.

SHOP. As co-founder of the blog presence 4.0, I am excited to share a new partnership we created with the Beyond Buckskin Boutique. P4xBBB provides a curated selection of styled looks for BBB which are then available for purchase. I encourage you to visit BBB to see the many beautiful pieces of Native made art, fashion and jewelry on the site.

LOVE. Grownup Navajo is delighted to share a new line of jewelry launched by fellow presence 4.0 co-founder Nanibaa Beck. Aligning with GN’s Naaltsoos Project, Beck’s Notabove Jewelry is grounded in promoting the use of Native languages using the skills and talent of a long-trained jeweler’s daughter. Her secondary project in collaboration with Navajo artist Jeff Slim interprets Navajo cultural stories in a style showcasing Slim’s signature geometric style. Her designs are fresh and all hand cut something surely many will enjoy wearing. Check out Notabove Jewelry on Beck’s recently launched blog here.


Giving thanks has long been a part of my life. As Navajo people we are taught to rise early in the morning and giving an offering as a way to thank the Holy People for the day ahead of us. What I love about this practice is as a people we continuously live in the present but also look forward – we look ahead for the goodness and the beauty. Our efforts in prayer in the morning are meant to prepare us for the journey.

My gratitude practice has continued to formalize as an effect of my grownupness. After college, I was new to the “real world” and would often get distracted by the daily minutia. As a way to quell any negativity I created a daily alarm on my phone with a note to find one thing every day I was grateful for. Four notebooks and counting later, I have a written record of the many things in my life from the best scoop of ice cream, an insightful phone call with my mom or a dream of my late grandparents. Each entry varied some profound, many were silly and all heartwarming.

Through this journey, I have continued to add new aspects to my practice. For me being grateful is a constant state. Last year I started a new tradition of reframing and reclaiming Thanksgiving by celebrating Friendsgiving a time to celebrate the wonderful friends who make my life rich and me a better person.

I’ve mentioned on this blog before the importance of recognizing how interconnected we are to one another. For me this practice of communicating is expressed in saying Ahé’hee’. Whether it is in Navajo or English or Spanish there is power in sharing a moment where no ego only selflessness exists. I think when we say thank you it is our opportunity to just “be human”.

Nearly a year ago I launched my card company the Naaltsoos Project, the motto “putting Navajo to paper”. It merges both my love of letter writing but also is meant to share the importance of communicating with whatever words we know of our Native languages. My favorite card and really the reason for the others is my Ahé’hee’ or thank you cards. I wanted a personal card which would say and carry the love and power of the word.

I read an article years ago about a corporate woman who noted the value of saying thank you before you get to where you are going. It reminded me instantly of me late Nalí who never waited to say thank you. She would always get little gifts for the people who helped her at work or relatives. She was the most selfless person and I know. If I can be even part of the person she was I’d be particularly grateful. I continue to thank her for the example she set and recognize every time I utter or write Ahé’hee’ I am more like her and that is what I am thankful for today. 

New Year Reflections: A Navajo Perspective

JMRoessel Sunset

I miss Diné Bikeyáh most in the fall and winter seasons. There is a special connection I have to my land in the winter time when it receives its first dusting of snow.  It’s not solely the look of the land but what the transition signals. The change in seasons means the continuation of key parts of our culture. It signals our ability to tell our sacred origin stories again. I look forward to playing string games with my uncles and all the joking which will ensue. There are also “normal” winter things which just feel better at home. The making of s’mores in my backyard may feed my sweet tooth but often feels incongruous next to my pool and palm tree.

In Navajo we call October, Ghąąji’ meaning “the joining of seasons”. It marks our new year and the time we harvest the crops of the summer and begin to prepare for the winter’s ceremonies.  It is a time for us to cultivate the richness around us as we anticipate the hardships winter will bring.

When I moved to Phoenix to attend college, I promised myself I would return home at least once a month. It’s a promise I have only broken a few times as the demands of work have taken precedent. My winter trips home are what I long for mostly because it’s when our ceremonial cycle reaches its pinnacle with our YeíbicheÍ ceremonies. Held traditionally from the time of the first snow until the first lightening comes. Attending Yeíbicheí ceremonies offers an instant connection to my family and community. Everyone comes together to support the healing of the patient with whom the ceremony is held. As with all our ceremonies, it is a time for us to connect with one another.

I dream of home in the desert. It’s the desert which sustains me and quenches my thirst to be home. It’s the desert which distracts me from what I miss. As the seasons change, I plan the style changes I will make – more scarves, autumnal hues, boots and tights. But most importantly, I look for openings in my calendar so I can travel home to see family. “Being Navajo” is a continual transformation as I am always learning what more I can do. In a world filled with such complex beauty and chaos it is easy to assume the lessons are just as intricate. But the truth is simple – we are wondrous beings with an inherent need to connect to each all we need to do is just show one another we are important by being present.

Dress to Inspire with Presence 4.0


I describe my personal style as “sophisticated kindergartner,” since I tend to wear clothes in fun, colored prints, tactile fabrics full of sheen and sparkle. Shoes are rarely practical as patent leather heels are donned at least twice a week and I am always wearing turquoise. While I tend to ignore the casual Friday memos, my style is one of a modern, girly Navajo woman who enjoys getting ready in the morning.

It is in the early morning hours between my rituals of running and prayer that I feel closest to the women in my life. I hear my late Nalí lady best in this time. While alive she would always stress how it was important to wear dresses and skirts. Of course, these lectures occurred often during my undergrad days at Arizona State and always when I was wearing jeans.

When my Nalí lady passed away so many people would approach me giving condolences often noting how she always dressed in her traditional skirt and looked very respectable. Her style was full of poise. She wore skirts everyday explaining it was the way we respected Mother Earth. It was by wearing a skirt that Mother Earth knew we were Navajo women. While she wasn’t the only lady in my life who dressed in this manner, I would consistently hear from her how important it was to do so.

As I begin my career I began to see the beauty of wearing skirts, especially dresses. They were effortless – no matching required, it was one seamless piece. To this day dresses and skirts are something I have embraced. They are delightfully feminine and I tend to make them mine with sparkly accessories and my signature turquoise ring.

As noted before in a previous post, I am part of a trio which blogs about Native style. This week we, Presence 4.0, are hosting a STYLE MIXER in Santa Fe, New Mexico just before the start of the Santa Fe Indian Market. We are delighted to provide a platform for people to come together, create new connections and form collaborations while conversing about the power of art and style. Should you find yourself in town join us Friday, August 16, 2013, 4-6pm at El Paseo Bar & Grill for the inaugural Presence 4.0 STYLE MIXER. I write this as I prepare to leave the desert for the week’s events, I am anxious about our event but certain of two things, the night will be memorable and I will be wearing a dress.

Notes of Gratitude

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To my dad’s dismay, one of my favorite genres of books is self-help. I find it oddly inspiring to read these books as a way to try to make myself better. My best friend consistently jokes when I reach a roadblock in my life, “Well I am sure you will find a way to fit it into one of your challenges.” This referencing my incessant 30 or 40 day plans:  vegetarian, vegan, more organized, the list goes on and on.

While my dad may not always appreciate my book selections, he is part of the reason why I am so quick to take up these types of tasks. My parents, when talking to me about my school performance,  would say, “We don’t care about the grades you get as long as you try your hardest and work smart.” This was inevitably met with a sigh on my part because I realized quickly, you can always improve and it’s this idea of doing more which reminds me of my Kinaaldá.

A main focus of the ceremony is the physical act of running. The girl is responsible for running early in the darkness of dawn and at noon. Running to the east, she runs farther than the previous run.  The run is symbolic of the importance to push yourself to be stronger.

This month I celebrate my 30th birthday. August is a special time as it reminds me to do very critical things – to give thanks and love more. My late Nalís, among so many things, taught me the importance of gratitude and love. They did so by showing me what it was to be generously thankful and love fully.

For this reason my birthday month challenge is #30for30notesofgratitude, meaning every day this month I am sending or hand-delivering a note of gratitude to someone who made an impact on my day.  I firmly believe it is through the practice of gratitude and loving one another abundantly we can change the world. What can be more profound or have greater impact than the giving of ourselves selflessly. My first few letters were to my grandparents thanking them for the lessons they instilled in my but most importantly, I thanked them for showing me the power of love through their love for one another.

The Angel(a) of My Life


My niece Angela is the love of my life, a vivacious toddler and my world revolves around her. I tell everyone I know how meeting her changed my life. I witnessed her entering the world and felt in an instant, between her first breath and cry, my heart grow. It grew exponentially, in such a rapid leap to accommodate for the love I birthed just for her. I am not a mother but I can’t imagine loving anyone more than I love her.

Angela has given me many gifts in the time I’ve known her. One of the first was her laugh. In Navajo culture we celebrate the first laugh of a baby as something special and important. This transition in life is significant as it is the first time a baby is able to wear turquoise. Angela laughed for me on my birthday, almost two years ago. This is such an honor and that she choose me, means the world to me. It is an important role as the person with whom the laugh is shared is suppose to host a dinner for the child and family as the first gesture of generosity. As the host, you are meant to give unselfishly to show the child, this is how we, are suppose to act here in this world. Angela’s first laugh ceremony will forever be a marker of my grownupness. As I understood for the first time my role in her life.

As she’s grown I am more cognizant of the examples I set. I think of the people who have shaped me and how I am stronger because of the things they have taught me and I realize, I want to be that person for her. So I live my life knowing the best thing I can do for her is to live fearlessly authentic. As a result, Angela will no doubt witness her auntie’s silliness, mistakes and hopefully, bravery. Today she turns two years old and I am grateful for the abundance her presence in my life has brought me. If I can be half the person she is now, I will be all the better for it.

Presence Hand in Hand

Hand in Hand

The women in my life all sew. I am continuously reminded of them especially remembering their hands. My mom’s hands are smooth and soft. I still hold her hand when I cross the road as it is a comfort knowing she is by my side reaching back to help me keep up and always there to guide me forward. I think of my mom’s hands here and there during the week, how they type at the key board or the way they move while she knits. But I also have many memories of her at the sewing machine whipping up everything from pillowcases to dresses and costumes for my siblings and I. Our favorite costume by far, was the Captain Planet costume she made from my brother Bryan. A technical feat as each muscle from bicep to quads were hand sculpted.

My late Nalí Asdzaan was one with impeccable fashion sense. I was continuously impressed with her ability to pair different prints from a variety of stores. My sister and I remember her keen ability to incorporate leopard print into her outfits and still wear her Navajo jewelry. A valuable lesson I learned early. She made us many of our own outfits for special occasions. Her hands would work seamlessly measuring our waists and lining up the material.

When I was in college I ran for Miss Indian ASU, I came in second and held the 1st Attendant position, which meant I attended many public events dressed in traditional attire. Shímasaní made my outfits during this time as she was a skilled seamstress. I remember us going to the fabric store together and her giving her approval to different prints and material to be made into tops, skirts and ribbon shirts. Her hands were always very steady while she sewed. Today her arthritis keeps her from sewing but my home and closet is filled with the many outfits, pillows and quilts she’s made me.

Each of these women instilled in me a keen appreciation of design, color and craftsmanship. I have always loved clothes, fashion and was fortunate to be encouraged to style myself very young. In addition to Grownup Navajo, I have co-founder a style blog with two exceptional Navajo women Nanibaa Beck and Chelsea Chee whose views and style vary and compliment my own. Presence 4.0 celebrates the creativity and ingenuity of Native people. Our blog is dedicated to documenting “our community’s participation in fashion by featuring individuals’ style and expression on the ground, off the streets and along the dirt road because it happens there every day.”

Presence 4.0 highlights the style of ordinarily fabulous American Indian people found in our society today. Our blog advocates for advancement of American Indian people’s presence in popular culture. I encourage you to check out our blog and stay tuned as it continues to grow and change. We are the only blog of our kind dedicated to the portrayal of American Indian people, so I am proud to be a part of this new movement.

When I was in high school, I dreamed of one day having my own magazine. A fashion magazine filled with color and beautiful people. Presence 4.0 is this dream realized as it has allowed me to work with many talented people. This project is one I am delighted to be a part of as it strengthens the connection I feel to the women in my life. They have fashioned my thinking just as they have shaped with their hands the many outfits I carry with me today.


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