Native American culture & teachings through a modern lens

Month: September, 2016

Grace, Guts & Power

Growing up as the oldest grandchild and daughter in my family, I was keenly fond of praise. I relished in moments when my parents and grandparents would give me a compliment. I loved their feedback, whether it was about a speech I had written or how I did in the school play, I reveled in the feeling of their outward exclamations.

There were two things my grandparents would say however, that I wanted to hear most. If my late Nalí hastiin (paternal granddad) was ever impressed by something so much so that he said, “you have guts.” That was gold to me. I remember a couple times when I played in basketball games and he said, “That took guts, good job.” In college I ran for a pageant and came in as runner-up, I was crushed. When I told him on the phone I didn’t win, he sighed, clicked his tongue and said, “That took guts Jac, I am proud of you.”

Once my late Nalí Asdzaan (maternal grandmother), after my dad had given a great talk at the orientation for teachers shared, “Your dad really spoke with power.” She shook her fist as she closed her eyes as though it gave her strength just remembering him earlier in the day and the words he shared. I dreamed of her one day talking about me in that way.

The two of them, as I have written here many times, were my guideposts. Their compliments, teachings and stories drove me to strive. I wanted so much not solely to please them but I was so inspired by the way they lived their lives that I believed if I could follow their teachings, there would be hope for me to make similar impressions in the world.

 

I write this post still in disbelief at the remarkable night I had performing in celebration of OXDX Clothing’s Fall Release. I performed two poems, “Dear Girl-Made-of-Honey” and “Seeds of Resilience” which was written as a special collaboration with OXDX Clothing Founder, Jared Yazzie. I have given many public talks, I teach as well so public speaking is something I am comfortable with. However, if you measured my nerves on Saturday morning, I would have been noticeably anxious about the performance.

 

Performing my poetry was never my intention but standing on the stage and getting to share two poems which were foundational in my healing this year was such a privilege. I am honored to write this blog, thankful for the way it is received. I thought about my grandparents as I stood on the stage. I thought about how I never got to hear my Nalí asdzaan tell me I spoke with power. However, there were so many other compliments she shared with me while she was alive and I will carry those forward instead. I look at my life now, I think about how much I shook on the stage and realized, even in light of my fear, I had the guts to perform and I didn’t need any more compliments to reassure me…I could feel the power of the words reverberate in the room. Words given to me by the grace of Diyin Diné’é (Holy People) to share. I am so grateful for what this blog and these teachings…the same ones given to me by my late Nalís, have come to mean to people. It truly is beautiful to see that Grownup Navajo is not solely a blog. It now has a community of people surrounding it who work to “speak sacredness fluently” in their lives. That is power and it takes guts to commit to that value especially in a society that does not like difference. There are always threats to cultural learning, many created by a history of oppression in this country towards our people but also ones that we choose to let block us. It is those hurdles we must dismantle, they are the true challenge to furthering our knowledge base. When we choose to stop keeping ourselves from seeking more knowledge then we can truly harness our full power, utilize all our medicine to heal each other and show ourselves just what our guts are made of.

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This vlog shares the teaching of “ahééh jinízin”. Ahééh jinízin is the instructive ideology of being appreciative, living in thankfulness. Gratitude has been proven to help build resiliency in people. When we are thankful, it allows us to adapt to situations more fluidly, it strengthens our medicine.

In the spirit of this teaching I would like to say ahé’hee (thank you) to my family for their love and support and to my partner Warren, for his help with the GN booth, tech support in recording the performances and for offering a reserve of strength.

Seeds of Resilience

Growing up, my late Nalí Hastiin would continuously share the quote, “If it is to be, it is up to me.” He would recite it often to my siblings and I. Whether we had lost a game, received a poor grade or even were frustrated with something at school. He’d share these words as a way to continually remind us we had the power to change the circumstances.

I carry a notebook with me and this quote is one I return to often. It is one that helped drive the start of Grownup Navajo. I started this blog as a way to explore my Navajo teachings in light of both my Nalís (paternal grandparents) having passed away. Grownup Navajo began as way for me to challenge myself in the realization that if I wanted to learn more about my culture and language, then I needed to push myself to act not waiting for teachers to come to me but reach out looking for people to learn from.

This attitude of learning has truly become the foundation of my resiliency. In an effort to “speak sacredness fluently” in my life, I work to not simply accept my current level of cultural knowledge as something that is static but instead choose to cultivate sacredness through a dynamic and evolving way of searching for more clarity. In doing so, I reclaim my power in being able to facilitate my modern traditional education.

It is this journey of building my cultural resiliency that has brought kindred spirits into my life. From relationships of love and friendship, I am fortunate to have people brought to me by the Diyin Diné’é (Holy People) to aid me in this journey to speak sacredness fluently. It is in this effort that I was asked to collaborate with Native fashion designer Jared Yazzie, founder of OXDX Clothing. By clan, Jared and I are related and I call him my “brother awesome” because he truly is positive and simply, awesome. From having his work featured in National exhibitions to mainstream publications, I hold great admiration for his work and who he is a Diné hastiin (Navajo man). Over the course of knowing each other, we’ve held many meetups to talk about ideas and at one of these Jared asked me if I would be interested in writing a poem to celebrate the launch of his 2016 Fall Release – “Save What We Have Left”. I eagerly agreed and dove into this project guided solely by his hope to have the uplifting message potentially include the title of the collection.

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The OXDX crew (L-R): Founder/Owner, Jared Yazzie, Assistant, Shaina Yazzie & Hannah Manuelito – Make-up Artist.

It has been an honor to work with Jared on this project. From coffee dates to being a part of his creative retreat to shoot the promo video for the collection, I have enjoyed working with Jared and his assistant Shaina Yazzie.  OXDX Clothing and Grownup Navajo have many things in common but the biggest link is our unwavering pride in being Navajo. The poem “Seeds of Resilience” celebrates the power of Navajo and other Indigenous peoples. It touts the generosity of our people as the most incredible quality to our existence.

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With other OXDX models & managing crew, making magic during the video shoot.

OXDX Clothing will be hosting a Fall Release event on September 17 in Chandler, AZ. The event will include music, an OXDX fashion show (naturally) and a special performance by me. This will be the first time I have performed my work in public. We will also be unveiling a special collaboration t-shirt at the event as it has always been my hope for Grownup Navajo to have an apparel line.

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I am nervous but incredibly thrilled to share this piece of my creativity with Grownup Navajo followers and beyond. I hope what relatives see is an example of the possibilities of growth that exist when our energy is not used up defending the knowledge we don’t possess but rather accept, for our own benefit, where we are in our cultural learning journey. In doing so I hope we can challenge ourselves to act each day in small ways to become fluent in our people’s knowledge. This can mean different things – learning clans we don’t know we have, using greetings of appreciation in our language, eating more traditional foods. It is my belief that for us to continue to build and cultivate our resiliency, we need to understand, “if it is to be…”it is up to us. We are who are ancestors prayed for – we are meant for this earth, for this time and I hope this poem in a small way can kindle the flames, both big and small that fuel the desire to learn more so we can continue to prepare ourselves to be the cultural carriers for the next generations.

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It is with a humble heart that I share with you this beautiful video of this poem, “Seeds of Resilience”. Produced and edited by Paper Rocket Productions a Native-owned film company it celebrates the OXDX Clothing brand.

Let us challenge ourselves to harvest seeds of love & resilience for the next generations.