by Jaclyn Roessel
As I write this email, I am dreaming of snow. I religiously call my Dad every Sunday. Even though we touch base through the week, our Sunday calls are special. He told me yesterday morning that my hometown had its first snow of the season. Living in Phoenix you acclimate to having only 1 ½ seasons – hot and cool. In Navajo land, our lives revolve around the seasons changing. Each month indicates a teaching and set of actions to be carried out. We begin our year in October, Ghąąjį’ or the time of joining seasons and begin to harvest crops.
Recently, we moved from November or Níłch’its’ósí – the time of “thin slice of cold air” to December or Níłch’itsoh – the time of “abundance of cold air”. Our calendar exists as a map for what ceremonies occur in these periods.
The changing of seasons and the transitions from month to month mirrors the changes which occur in the bodies of both women and men. There are passages and ways to maneuver through as we pass through life. In Navajo culture the four directions act as a compass to our life and tell us of these times. The east represents infancy, the south childhood/adolescence, the west adulthood and the north, old age. We understand these times as life phases so getting older is nothing to be frightened of but just another stage in our lives with new responsibilities.
I am the oldest of four children. As the oldest, especially the oldest girl, I grew accustomed to taking care of my brothers and sister. I was always the one in charge when my parents had to work late or went to town. But there were many moments growing up where we were all equal. Age didn’t matter and I didn’t have to be the boss. When I was in fifth grade or so my brothers who shared a room got their first bunk bed. It was the coolest thing ever because the bottom bunk had a full size mattress and the top a twin size, so we constantly had sleepovers. This was normal from day one but the number of sleepovers grew swiftly with the snazzy new bunk bed.
A few months after getting the bed, I remember visiting my Grandma Mae, my mom’s aunt. She lives against the Lukachukai Mountains. It is the best place for fun as her place is near a wash which we relentlessly played in and always seemed to have water flowing. It was a routine visit as we ate and spent time with relatives. I helped my mom stay awake on our late drive home. My mom said shímasaní (maternal grandmother) Mae and shímasaní Lillian, observed I wasn’t playing with my brothers and siblings the way I used too. They noticed me sitting out more and just watching and hanging out with my older cousins. They thought I was getting closer to have my Kinaaldá. I was excited by this until my mom noted it meant I couldn’t “sleepover” in my brothers’ room the same way. She said I was going to be a young lady and needed to start to have my own space and sleep in separate beds. The next day, my mom and dad talked with my brothers and I about this new change. They mentioned to my brothers how they need to understand I was going to be a young lady and they needed to not play with me so roughly. They reiterated how I couldn’t sleep over in their room the same way.
I remember feeling excited about my Kinaaldá even though I hadn’t learned all the details at that point. But I also felt sad. Sad things wouldn’t be the same. Over the next year my mom would take me to several Kinaaldá ceremonies. We would help by bringing food or even just visiting with the family. We would stay up all night with the girl. Every time on the trip back to Kayenta my mom would answer any questions I had. In the times we went as a family to Kinaaldás my parents would explain openly with my brothers what a Kinaaldá was and how they would be a part of it. My sister was still a toddler so by default she was a part of the conversation.
My growing up meant as a family we moved into a new passage in our lives. We learned together and were more prepared when after a year, we started my ceremony. I admire the support my family gave me and the way my parents taught me about the Kinaaldá I would have by allowing me to be a part of others’ ceremonies.
The cycle of becoming a Navajo woman is part of this tradition. On a recent breakfast date, my friend Jessica shared how her dad would tell of four distinct points a Navajo woman uses a Navajo basket in her life. First as a young girl in her Kinaaldá, then at your wedding, next as part of the Blessingway ceremony as an expectant mother and then as the mother of the daughter having a Kinaaldá. I found this a beautiful way of denoting the passages a Navajo woman marks her life with. Navajo culture is built on interdependence and what I find special is even though the Navajo women life’s sees these points, they are not solitary actions. Each of these four events are shared by the family. Our culture is dynamic and built to support one another. As I move into other seasons this year I do so as a granddaughter, daughter, sister, auntie, teacher and student…always a student. Just like snow turns to rain and rain into sunshine. So to is our life. It is constantly changing…just like the weather.