Grownup Navajo

the Kinaalda through a modern lens

Shíkeyáh as Medicine

Sunday morning I said goodbye to my family after a delicious breakfast prepared by my mom. We ate and laughed as a late winter snow fell outside. My heart swells at all the scenes we took in together and remember the prayers we said for each other and ourselves before I left.

I know I carry these scenes and prayers with me until the next visit. Returning to Diné Bikeyáh (Navajoland) each time as though on a pilgrimage. Each trip is filled with such anticipation of being able to unload the angst and chaos of the city. Born in the vastness of a place which makes you feel like it belongs all to you while simultaneously allowing you to feel small enough to question your being, I recognize how much I am a part of the land and it is a part of me.

Though it means so much for me to be home, I forget how fast times passes when I am away. A recovering perfectionist, I want to not miss anything. I want to always be home and am often heartbroken at missing the simple things – the first snowfall, ceremonies of family friends or even the stories my Grandma tells in between her cup of coffee and dinner. While I can beat myself up for the moments missed I have to remember the faith and practices instilled in me.

Diné Bikeyáh is my medicine. Not just the place, my parents’ home, but the land. I crave the calm of the land as soon as I depart. While away in the desert I find echoes of home on my hikes, while on runs at dawn, each outing sustaining my spirit. It is the land which soothes me, makes me stronger, knows my weaknesses and strengths.

While driving with my Mom as the rain, snow and rain fell, we were graced by a family of gorgeous glowing blue birds. They fluttered by us sharing the same vistas of the Lukachukai Mountains as we made our trek. A moment of fleeting perfection that didn’t have to last long as it provided more than enough serenity. This recent trip was so much about self-care and focusing on restoring my balance. Traveling from the stillness to clamor I humbly look forward to my return to Shíkeyáh (my land).

Shine Love.

It is hard to escape the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. today as it is the day which bears reminding of his work and sacrifice of life. There are many favorite quotes of his I have gained inspiration from, “To serve. You only need a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love.” “Everyone can be great for everyone can serve.” But today what I choose to focus on are his words of love.

It’s his belief in the power of love which echoes an outlook which I spent nearly half of my life basking in, learning from. When my late Nalí asdzaan was alive she would talk about her day and share stories of her interactions with her students. She would note the top students in her class but much of her recollections were the students who struggled. She would note how hard talking to them was or what trouble they may have gotten into. At the end of her story, she would sigh – this was her trademark sigh as it would be her entire body surrendering to the situation but also accepting her place in that moment – it was a beautiful moment when she did this. I remember once asking her what she was going to do. She smiled and say, “I am going to show them I love them.” It was simple.

Her answer was love. Whether it was a child who would act out in a classroom or someone who wronged her, she would always choose forgiveness and love. My late Nalí asdzaan did so many incredible things during her life, in her career but of the many things I treasure is her showing me that love can change the world because it allows us to strengthen our ties of Ké’ (kinship) by showing we will be here and we are responsible to one another.

Since her passing, I’ve adopted the mantra – “Shine Love.” It is the way I work to live my day by exuding a love for life and respect for others. “Shine love”, is my attempt to leave those I come in contact with a feeling of being appreciated because you and I are here. (Of course, it also shares my unwavering connection to all things sparkly.)

On this day as we reflect on the work of the giants of grace, love and change in our lives and past, let us think of our call to action. Because these quotes and mantras are only words – stagnant on pages, resting on computer screens in the latest meme – without action. How will we summon the greatness in our souls out into the world? For these words to create the next movement our society needs we need to live them out. I believe love is the action, love of ourselves and others.

Shine loves.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Yá’at’eeh Hai

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I rang in the New Year surrounded by family, in the land I love and call home. Diné Bikeyah (Navajoland) was white with snow and blissfully cold the first of the year. I ended and begun the year in the way I aim to start and end every day, with a grateful heart.

Processing my hopes from the vantage point of a fresh year, much of what I want to be is better. Whether it’s a better daughter, sister, girlfriend, auntie, or friend, I believe I can be kinder and give more love to those around me. I share these aspirations in the middle of the Hai (winter) season in the “time of the melting snow” Yas Niłt’ees (January), a period of time whose cold air and weather is seemingly harsh but also reaches out to us with caring grace of warm homes and family love.

I am looking forward to a new year sharing more of what I have learned in this undeclared break from blogging. Grownup Navajo celebrated two years in existence and there is much planned for this next year but for now I want this post to simply be a reminder that we are enough even as we strive to be more. Yá’at’eeh Hai (Happy Winter).

Stay Gold.

#STAYGOLDGIVE31

At 30, I am making every one of my English teachers happy, as this almost birthday girl has been thinking of Pony Boy Curtis. The greaser from the S.E. Hinton’s book “The Outsiders” has come to mind several times this August as I set to mark my golden birthday – the day you turn the age of the day you were born. While the American novel is filled with the drama of rumbles and the fuzz, the phrase “stay gold” stands as poetic reminder to remain true to oneself and in full of goodness and innocence.

August prompts me annually to reconnect and give more of myself to others and the causes I am passionate about it. Last year I launch a month long thank you campaign – #30for30notesofgratitude – sending notes of thanks to people in my life. In the same vein this month I want to pledge to donate 31 extra hours of volunteer time.

Much like my gratitude practice I dedicate a great deal of my time to volunteering. I find it rewarding to work with many organizations including Whisper n Thunder, Arizona Humanities, Valley of the Sun United Way and the Phoenix Symphony. In each role I have learned so much about the impact the organizations have in our community.

My #STAYGOLDGIVE31 challenge is my effort to remember being involved and active in the many communities I am a part of is critical to my personhood as an asdzaan Diné (Navajo woman). Whether it is helping out relatives with ceremonies or taking care of our elders, the giving of time to help one another is a priceless gift. Foundational to improving our society is remembering being a part of a community carries with it an inherent obligation to not solely show up but be present and participate. Stay gold friends.

Yá’at’eeh Ya’iishjááshtsoh

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Normally a month full of activity July seems to pass so quickly. This year is no exception as I post this I am confounded by where the time has gone. In Navajo it’s the season filled with the “flourishing of early crops”. A time when working in the corn fields is critical. This idea of tending to what needs care is something I am working to fold into my daily practice.

I am most comfortable when I have a full schedule but lately I am trying to find ways to breathe deeply and enjoy the warmth of summer. In an effort to stop the glorification of busy, this month’s list is curated with trying to add more “soul time” to your day. With a list of easy to-dos, take a stop day (or hour) to simply treat yourself a little more gently.

CREATE. Check out one of my favorite bloggers and Phoenix native, Kathy Cano-Murrillo a.k.a. Crafty Chica for inspiration to feed your inner Frida. Her stenciled scrapbook paper tutorial is my pick.

TUNE IN. This Sunday, August 3, listen as I, along with my presence 4.0 co-founders Chelsea Chee and Nanibaa Beck, host a radio show on Native fashion and style. We will be joined by Rezonate Art and Beyond Buckskin Boutique owners. Airing 6pm (Atlantic) find more on the show details HERE.

SIP. I am an avid tea-drinker. Find time to savor a cup – I love a strong brew of ginger tea. Problems never seem so bad after a cup.

CELEBRATE. Few people know my passion for noting, knowing and actually celebrating obscure and bizarre holidays. Between National Cheesecake Day (July 30) and National Jelly Bean Day (July 31) there are many options to risk your dental health.

Ode to the Desert

ODE

I was raised in Diné Bikeyáh (Navajo land) but I grew up in the desert, a place that has taught me many lessons. Of them, how important it is to stay hydrated and (one of my favorites) how a place so hot can be full of so much earned beauty because everything, including the people, has survived such extreme conditions.

I moved here after graduating from high school. Arriving to attend Arizona State, I wasn’t shocked by city life or by how big my new school was – all of that excited me. The greatest challenge was taking care of myself. Not because I didn’t know how but because I was used to herding the Roessel clan. The oldest of four, I cooked and cleaned while my parents worked.

Though my sole responsibility was to go to class and do my homework it was a difficult adjustment. I worried about what wasn’t getting done back home and who was helping my mom. I’d think of family members and community happenings. I was homesick a lot but slowly the desert made it easier.

Reflecting on the nearly ten years I have lived here, I have come to love the land. Though winters are glorious here, I am quite fond of the summer. I love how the town feels as though it’s mine without the “snow birds” and long waits in restaurants. I love the comfort of the heat and illuminating sunshine – the power of place, home to the O’odham. I am grateful I have carved a space for myself.

Today after a very long day in the office I found my way to one of my favorite places. As I walked monsoon clouds moved in and the rumbling of thunder sounded. It sprinkled a soft gentle “female rain” on the dirt path. It’s been through my gratitude practice and prayers that I have been able to maintain my connection to home. But in the moments when the monsoons come I am closer to Diné Bikeyáh, the closest I can get being as far away as I am. As my incredibly insightful friend recently reflected wet dirt is “a smell that reminds us we are of this earth and connects us through our senses.”

Traveling recently in New Mexico, I was swept away in the feeling of being home. A grand grownup moment for this current phase of my life, I see being a modern adszaan Diné (Navajo woman), means my state of “being home” travels with me. Though I dream continuously of being able to do my work and “be home” one day, I embrace the blessing of finding home in new lands and wondrously, in people.

As I walked in the rain tonight, I listened to the rain fall and let it engulf me. I was reminded of my childhood, adventures in enchanted lands, how my mom talks of us “bunnies” being brought into this world on days that were filled with rain and as I breathed in the familiar scent I thought of Diné Bikeyáh. I learned in the desert how to connect not just to myself but most importantly to others. In a place so arid and foreign from the playground I grew up in, I was blessed with a life so rich and lush I could never have imagined…Ahé’hee’ (thank you).

Yá’at’eeh Ya’iishjááshchilí!

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A near holiday in my world is the Summer Solstice. Approaching quickly, June 21, it’s the half way point of the calendar year – the longest day – full of the most sunshine. I find this day a perennial reminder of the need to stay connected to the natural world, a feat in the city.

A long standing tradition of mine is to celebrate both the winter and the summer solstice. The Summer Solstice serves as a special cause to gather friends and celebrate. Despite being domestically disabled (read: cooking is not my strong point) I revel in the opportunity to host friends and entertain. Over the years my lady loves and friends have joined in game night, sunrise hikes and pool parties all celebrating the joy of spending another season together.

June or Ya’iishjááshchilí means, “asking permission to plant early crops”. As Diné we are meant to prepare, pray and begin to plant the summer’s crops. It’s a cycle “always becoming” meaning we are continually focused on bettering ourselves, our practices. We have many stories of the important lessons the Sun has given us what better time, in the sunlight of summer, to note its brilliance and our necessity as “five fingered-people” for its warmth.

This month’s special “summer do” list is all meant to help to align, re-focus and make our life a little bit brighter…

MAKE. Tomorrow, June 18, has been declared National Maker Day. A day meant to encourage and celebrate the innovators and incredible creative who have contributed to the dynamism of our world. Why not set aside time today to make something…even if it’s just your bed, it’s a start.

GET TESTED. June is home to HIV/AIDS Testing Day June 27 and Native Health, a Phoenix non-profit, is hosting a screenings locally on select days this month. Take some time to practice some safe self-care.

VENTURE. Make plans this month to spend some ample time outside. Happening in Concho, Arizona June 19-22 and 26-29, is the Lavender Festival. Held on the Red Rock Ranch and Farms, this Arizona business, grows several different varieties. Summer is the perfect time to enjoy an event or festival.

BREATHE. Take a moment on Saturday to breathe in the sunshine, whether in the morning or at dusk what better reminder to understand our place in this world and focus on finding balance than the most center point of the year.

To Shízhe’e’ With Love

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Even after thirty years, I still fall in love with shízhe’e’ (my dad). He is a person who has inspired my vision and encouraged me consistently not to be content with mediocrity. As his Dad taught us to fight – for love and our people – my dad taught me to be brave. Whether it is bravery to say what is unpopular or bravery to feed my creative soul. I have been blessed to have a man in my life that has shown me the power of my own strength.

It was my dad who tied my hair when I began each of my Kinaaldás, wrapping my hair with all his and my mom’s hopes for my life. My ceremonies are the greatest gifts my parents have given me. As the ceremony instilled in me a deep connection to my faith as a Diné woman and certifying my place in this world and allegiance to shíDiné (my people).

Existing in a world which is always changing, today I send a special note of love, light and gratitude to a wonderful man who continues to inspire me to be better and for whom I would certainly not be the woman I am. Ahé’hee’ Dad for reminding my best is always enough and I can always do more. Happy Father’s Day today but know I am never without your lessons and words. I love you.

Yá’at’eeh T’ąątsoh: Season Awakening

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On my list favorite things are: magic, surprises, unicorns and seasons changing. I recognize how child like this love list is but I am continuously taken over by how much magic you can find when the seasons change. It is incredible how complex our environments are and how they have adapted to changes in environments.

In the past couple of years, noting the seasons change has made me feel more “grownup”. Every time I notice a change in environment – leaves changing, the early rise of the sun and it marking the start to a new day – I think of my elders. It was something my grandparents and aunties and uncles would note – the moments of surprise found in a day and how we as “five-fingered people” are just a small part of the world around us.

In Navajo, each month in the start of the year relates to the earth shaking off the cold hibernation of winter. It’s a time filled with new life and beginnings. From the “birth of eaglets” (February) to the time of the “eagles’ cry” (March), the month of the “tiny plant leaves” (April) and now May or T’ąątsoh, the time of “large plant leaves”. I enjoy the reference each month indicates throughout the year. In the spring especially, revival is what is underscored with the start of new life.

Too often we forget the many intersections in our life. The points at which our paths cross one another, the connections to our community, the effect we have on our environments. As we prepare for the next change in seasons we should challenge ourselves to see not solely how we are distinct from each other but most importantly how we are connected and how we can help one another.

This month’s love list encourages you to connect with others’ causes and stories, enjoy.

SHOP. May is host to Small Business Week, a time to bring to highlight small businesses make to our community. As highlighted in this post from the White House blog, “this country’s 28 million small businesses create nearly two out of three jobs in our economy”. The amount of Native owned-small businesses are at an all-time high. New to my computer’s favorites bar is the online store Rezonate Art, an Indigenous Arts Collective representing seven different artists from different mediums. This collective not only elevates the work of talented artists but it plans to invest in community impact projects to further the power of dollars spent by supporters.

LISTEN. In the latest episode of schmooze my partner Jovanna and I interviewed our moms. Though I talk with my mom all the time, having a special conversation in tandem with my soul sister and her mom was a treasured moment shared. Too often we forget we all come from women and how much can be learned when we take a moment to absorb each other’s stories.

PLEDGE. This week marks National Womens’ Health Week, hosted by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, it’s meant to remind women to make living a healthy life a priority. Take a moment to pledge, along with other women across the country, what you want to improve about your health.

SEND LOVE. As the Naaltsoos Project shows, Grownup Navajo loves snail mail! One of my favorite sites is the The World Needs More Love Letters. An organization dedicated to sending love notes to those who need an extra dose of support and encouragement. This month make time to send a note to someone in your life whose helped you lately or someone you miss.

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’.

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