Molded in the Image of Asdzaan Diné – Part One

by Jaclyn Roessel

A little over a year ago, one of my best friends asked a question that would forever change my life. Sitting in the courtyard at work over coffee he shared with me how it was time to plan his daughter’s Kinaaldá, puberty ceremony. That news alone was exciting but as we talked about the plans, Marcus asked if I would be willing to tie the hair of his daughter during her ceremony. Asking on behalf his wife Verna and family, Marcus shared how they had respect for my family and would be honored if I could tie their daughter Maili’s hair. This role is much like a sponsor and is filled by a person the family has respect for, someone they want their daughter to emulate as she begins her journey into womanhood. Understanding this as we talked over coffee that first day my heart swelled with gratitude and humility knowing this was an incredible honor. I accepted. It has been a year to date and it has taken me that long to come to fully accept this occurred but also this amount of time was necessary for me to reflect. What I am sharing today is my journal entry I wrote after the ceremony completed. I am writing this in two parts as I want to mark, celebrate and honor this rite of passage in my life. It is with a humble heart I share this entry with little revisions of my first reflection.

Painting by Jeff Slim

“The Embodiment of Changing Woman” 2016. Acrylic & Aerosol on wood. Photo courtesy of Jeff Slim.

 

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I have been reflecting much about the experience of tying Maili’s hair. From Marcus asking me and our conversation to me actually getting to do it. It was an amazing whirlwind. I was never afraid of being a part – my heart was accepting and communicated to the rest of me. I knew from the start I wanted to be prepared, be ready. Because I have been in such an intense self-improvement mode, I knew I needed to take time to ready myself. It has been the start of my meditation practice and also a more dedicated prayer practice. I worked hard to allow myself reflection and in that naturally found ways to combat my nervousness. In the time leading up to the ceremony I had a dream that I was tying her hair. I was in a Hogan surrounded by voices of women in my life. All communicating to me. Their individual voices were hard to distinguish as were their words. But I could hear the voice of my Poogie (my late Nalí Asdzaan/paternal grandma) above else – rather not her voice really but message of “just do it”. It was exactly what I know she’d say if she was here. I continued to brush Kinaaldá’s hair in my dream with the rabbit brush until I woke up. It was beautiful assurance.

By the time it came from me to leave to go to meet the family in Ft. Defiance I was nervous and yet content. I am still amazed that even in such a challenging time for me personally the Diyin Diné’é (Holy People) found me and gave me this gift. I was/is an affirmation of where I am supposed to be – right here. Arriving at Fort by night fall and found the homestead without a map and I began helping with setup. I slept that night bundled up with blankets in a tent with rez dogs growling around. It was so much fun and ignited in me want for more outdoor fun.

The next morning went so fast. When Grandma Mae, the medicine woman, showed up with my aunt Shirley they both were surprised by my being there with the family. It was perfect to have that connection as I began to brush Maili’s hair, dress her and then mold her. I wasn’t emotional but focused sending all my positive thoughts into her so that it’d aid in giving her a long, rich life. We ran to the east and that was fun. Then we ate and waited for the noon run at which point I was so overjoyed. Maili was so poised throughout the entire ceremony. Not complaining at all. It was impressive. When I returned Friday it was time to run and then begin mixing the cake. Though I just mixed for a little bit, I focused on sewing the corn husks. Then we poured the cake that evening, ate some more and just enjoyed being in the homestead. My mom stopped by and that was so nice, even Evelyn (family friend) was there and I loved getting to see her too.

I slept a little that night but joined in the Hogan sitting next to Maili singing the prayers. That night I sung. There were moments when I could feel the presence of my Poogie sharing the words with me, for me. It was powerful and the truest, deepest form of “soulspeak”. I was proud of Maili as she was very reverent and stayed up the whole time. In the morning I brushed and washed her hair. It was a new experience filled with the beautiful exchange that unfolds when you have many Navajo women in the room. I then tied her hair in a tsiiyeeł(traditional Navajo hairstyle).

It all was done in beauty and with the best intentions and parts of me. There are parts I know more of how to do now and for all the learning I am incredibly grateful. When I talk about the ceremony it will be done with an even deeper reaching understanding of the Kinaaldá. How incredible to receive such knowledge. How beautifully intelligent our ancestors were to know how empowering the Kinaaldá is and would remain. We learn so much from each other during it. And I can feel just how tremendous it is to know that I have new teachers and even more so that I have become a teacher. I am consumed by reverence for this marker and experience because I feel a tremendous honor and great humility that my dear friend and his wife would want their daughter to be like me. How amazing and big that is I am only 31 and I’ve become old enough to take this in. I can hear the Diyin Diné’é share and sing – I can feel them say also I am not done – there is more for me to learn and more for me to be. I am thankful for the affirmation of this honor as the sign I am living my life in accordance with how I am meant to. I think of what my Poogie and Granddad would say to me and I am confident they would be proud and also encouraging of the responsibility I recognize in this. I see how amazing it is to be able to serve in this capacity. I am humbled by the power of the Kinaaldá and remember it really is what has made me who I am. I am molded in the image of my Poogie who is molded in the image of many strong women including Changing Woman. She is the genesis and all that strength and potential grace and power lives inside me. But is not mine. It is meant to be shared – so it needs to shine out from me into the world and for that…my work is not done. (Originally written July 5, 2015)