Grownup Navajo

the Kinaalda through a modern lens

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

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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’.

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.

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