Native American culture & teachings through a modern lens

Category: Uncategorized

Creative Rezilience & Community

The path is created by walking it.
I hear my late Nalí asdzaan (paternal grandmother) in my ear everyday saying, “you know what to do.” This message is now coupled with the reassurance of my parents, who remind me to trust my strength.

Opportunities have manifested from invitations to empowering events, messages from followers and friends.

This kind of faith in self, creativity & community has guided the journey of Grownup Navajo and carried us to our latest project. In a conversation earlier this year with the Executive Director of Rezilience Indigenous Arts Experience, Warren Montoya, I casually shared my desire to create a large scale puzzle incorporating my poetry with Diné bizaad (Navajo language). Without missing a beat, Warren invited Grownup Navajo to be a Program Partner at the 2nd Annual RezArtX festival.

IMG_0006
I immediately agreed and began thinking about how to construct it. A quick realization was the impact powerful images would have on the piece. Having worked with and followed the art of Onyota’a:ka artist Monique Aura Bedard from British Columbia, I reached out to her hopeful she’d be open to the collaboration. With great excitement she agreed. Together we flushed out what this puzzle could look like and decided we wanted it to include both of our languages and concepts of respect for our earth mother.
In collaboration and sisterhood, we created a large-scale, 3D mural puzzle incorporating language and poetry. The installation, “Nahasdzaan Níhimá: From My Mother I Learned All I Know” will be approximately 8 feet long and 4.5 feet high and will include 24, 16-inch cardboard, cubed, puzzle pieces. The puzzle will encourage visitors of RezArtX to experience language, art and poetry in an dynamic hands-on way.

IMG_0065
The concept of the puzzle is inspired by the ways in which we learn from the imminent matriarch in our lives Nahasdzaan Níhimá (Mother Earth) and the dził (mountains). We will launch this project at RezArtX our goal is to continue this project sharing more images, poems and phrases that our community can engage with and create.
As Grownup Navajo continues to grow and expand our focus of enciting community action through creative movement, art & culture, I am encouraged by the openness and power of K’é (kinship). How beautiful it is to be guided by the energy of people willing to trust and whole-heartedly collaborate. This project would not have been possible without the faith, encouragement & help of others. It is not often someone generously offers space for your creative play and it is rare for a sister you have never met in-person to be so giving of her own craft. I am incredibly thankful to both RezArtX and sister Aura, for their kindness in supporting this vision and cannot wait to see the public experience Aura and I’s project this Sunday, April 30 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Ahé’hee!

 

For more information in attending Rezilience visit www.rezartx.com. For those interested in supporting this project please e-mail me at grownupnavajo@gmail.comIMG_0017

 

Advertisements

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.

img_2900

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.

img_4128

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.

oxdx

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.

++++

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.

Speak Sacredness Fluently

There are days when I hit snooze before the sun changes from the white dawn to blue sky, long before my feet even hit the floor in my home. There are evenings when I am just so grateful the pain, frustration of the day is gone, that I am happy to not look back.

But then there are mornings when I run to the east, pray to the sun before it shines over the summit. There are points on my travels home after having made an offering to our sacred mountain that I feel I am living out the sacredness I was taught. These moments of synchronicity in sacredness are the ones I chase and strive to hold and achieve.

In a recent conversation with a close friend preparing for ceremony, I was inspired, challenged, to think about my life as a language – a conversation of sacredness. Watching my friend prepare for ceremony reminded me of ways I was taught to prepare for practices of sacredness. Preparation begins with a choice. A choice to speak sacredness fluently. Sacredness is finding gratitude in every moment, greeting our brothers and sister with terms of kinship, sacredness is putting others – our community before ourselves. Sacredness is choosing to heal, choosing the light when it seems easier to cower in the darkness.

I have been meditating on this challenge of speaking sacredness fluently. Wondering how can I lead in sacredness? How can I love in sacredness? How can I live a life full of sacredness like my ancestors and elders have? Some of this will mean me practicing more of my language, striving to seek more knowledge of plant medicines. But what this means most is to live in gentle humility. Understanding I am connected. Connected to other bilá ashląądii (five-fingered people). Living in sacredness is not living in perfection, it is actually the opposite of perfection. Speaking sacredness fluently in life means I am always becoming. I am always able to do more for my family and community. Speaking sacredness fluently will be a new model I begin to use to challenge myself to rise with active hope aimed at serving those around me.

As I write this, I am grateful for all the moments leading me to this understanding of self and grateful I get to share it with beautiful brilliant souls all seeking the same truth – to speak sacredness into existence by living it out day after day on the corn pollen path.

 

Returning…to Myself

The month of June has been full. Brimming with love, time with family, adventures in new lands but also returns. Numerous things this month have come back to me and I returned to many places too. From a gratitude journal I had lost to the power of my body being restored dealing with ailments it’s been facing. I traveled back to places that have taught me much about myself in times before. Family members returned for visits. Love returned – in many ways, as if to show me all the ways I have grown.

There is a beautiful quote I recently fell in love with by poet Yrsa Daley-Ward, “And sometimes you meet yourself back where you started, but stronger.” I love this phrase and feel it resonate as the message of my month. I feel the medicine of these returns collectively showing me how much I have grown. It is a blessing to write of these returns for all that they are, gifts. Reminders to me of how much can be gained when we choose to be authentic, risk and trust our strength in order to better ourselves.

When we think of all the ways we come back to a place, a moment, a person, we are often met with comfort. Noting some sort of familiarity with this “place”. The gift in getting to return is the opportunity to continue to explore the place with new perspective, see things you haven’t seen before, make new connections, spend more time in gratitude for the lessons learned in the space, moment or person.

I often think of the return of my people from Hweełdí (the Place of Suffering) in southern New Mexico during the Long Walk. I think about what it must have been like when they walked home after their imprisonment. How beautiful every rock formation was when the “first” glimpse was taken. I imagine the swelling of their hearts knowing there were people who were not making the journey with them. I think of how incredible it must have felt to know that everything that was trying to break you; that tried to extinguish the light of your soul did not succeed. The joy that was felt in that moment must have been what challenged them to not rest complacently in the comfort of return but gave reason to rise.

What a gift a return can be. To get another opportunity to look at something you’ve cared for and feel it with your being. What a gift it is to return to a place that shaped your perspective and feel its hold take you. What a blessing it is to hold the person you love knowing you can grow within reach of each other.

The return of my people to Diné Bikeyáh (Navajoland) is paramount. Though this happened over 140 years ago, I can still feel its power. I am grateful for the ways the carrying of the story of my people has taught me the beauty of returning to something, someone you love. How they taught me not to be lulled into contentedness by being back where you have been but instead to challenge yourself to look for ways to hold onto to this sacred feeling of being back “home” but knowing you are stronger than before and therefore must strive and reach for new practices. What a glorious way to challenge your heart. To know it is elastic and able to grow within your new shape. So tonight, I am resting in the comfort of my wholeness, returning to myself, a beautiful asdzaan Diné (Navajo lady) who is made, formed by a constant cycle of returning beginnings.

Molded in the Image of Asdzaan Diné – Part One

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.

 

●           ●           ●

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)

Our Sister Was Taken

ashlynne (1)

Photo by Chelsea Garnenez

 

 

His sister was taken.

Your sister was taken.

My sister was taken.

Our sister was taken.

I write this with a heart still quaking at the news of a brilliant little soul who was taken this week from her bus stop in Diné Bikeyáh. Taken from her family, taken from her homeland, taken from this earth.

As mentioned by so many now, one child lost in such a horrific way is one too many. While I am still struggling to grasp this news surrounding the kidnapping and murder of Ashlynne Mike, I feel nothing but the deepest soul shaking sympathy for the unbearable grief her family must face at this time.

I hope the collective trembling our hearts feel at the loss of this sister and daughter of ours is enough for us stand up in unity to ensure we have no more stolen sisters, and brothers. Let us remember we are responsible to each other and through this civic commitment to honor each other, we will heal our communities not solely with hope but action. It’s through honoring our teachings of K’é that we protect each other, sister and brothers.

Hai Reflections in Spring

FullSizeRender (2)

The agaves and ocotillo have been blooming here in the desert. I love seasons changing! I have written that before here on Grownup Navajo. But its magic never fails in amazing me. I am completely taken away as I run, hike and simply be in the desert.

At the heart of the transition of seasons is a movement from an ending of one period to the start of another. While these shifts are gradual they can be in retrospect monumental. The past six months have been one of the most intense periods of my life. It has taught me so many lessons and truly dared me to rise like a mountain in the desert.

As a celebration of my favorite season, winter or Hai in Navajo, I challenged myself to not only continue my gratitude practice but incorporate a visual element. The daughter of a photographer, I love taking photos. I love capturing a moment. Through my Instagram account, and in this last season of my life, I made a conscious effort to share a photo each day of a moment that made me incredibly happy and grateful.

FullSizeRender (4).jpg

Using the hashtag #HappyHaiJac, I shared a photo each day. The result is a collection of 88 photos of my winter moments. I am one photo short. It’s the day I lost my best friend Jet, my fur baby – dog. I looked but could not find anything in that day that brought me joy. One of my best friends pointed out to me that Jet remained in my life through my hard moments on purpose and now that I was stronger, she thought he realized he could leave me. Though my heart still hurts for his steady companionship, I think she was right.

I often hear from people how they hate winter. I try to understand this but it always misses me. I am at home, in my element, in the winter. In my culture, winter is focused on healing. It’s when we rebuild ourselves through our ceremonies. When I look at this past fall and winter, this truly was the focus. I learned to risk, say goodbye and hello, I reconnected with my soul’s needs, and I began to see all of my power and fell unapologetically in love with it.

FullSizeRender (5)On the Winter Solstice, I climbed Piestewa Peak, here in the desert, my favorite mountain to hike. My spirit was heavy but I was hopeful as I watched the sunrise that morning. What has happened since then has been full of so much power, I don’t have words to describe it all. All I have is gratitude.

There is a saying I often repeat, when I find myself speechless at the universe’s outpouring of love for me – “Ahé’hee…more please”. It’s my small, mindful prayer to the Holy People. My way of accepting my life as it is in this moment. I find so much, especially in the time of the seasons change, in this month with so much earthen energy to be grateful for. From the vibrant yellow of the Palo Verde trees, to the fire in the Ocotillo blooms, life is everywhere and the desert’s beauty leaves me with a full heart and today, now, all I have to say is…

Ahé’hee…more please.

 

Hello Spring

IMG_4059

I vibe at those higher frequencies…

Where love meets light, where spring renews

and is reborn in the cool breeze, in the fire of the ocotillo blooms…

In the place where the sun shines,

at the point of the season’s change

there is the heart of my vibration,

dancing like a hummingbird.

++++

Sending each of you positive thoughts, love & light as you start this new season. Spring is the time for renewing, replenishing and nourishing the crops we’ve planted.

What seeds have you planted in your soul and what do they need to bloom?

Yá’at’eeh Dąą/Hello Spring!

 

Soliloquy of Hozhó

I challenge you to find new ways to describe my essence because

I’m beyond beautiful…

I am the strength of a mother who pushed hard to bring her daughter into this world when her heart stopped.

I am more than incredible…

As I am the resilience of my great-great-great grandmother who escaped from Hweełdí to return to Diné Bikeyáh.

 

My insight runs deep, as my heart beats to the rhythm of prayers sung by the medicine women in my life.

My light is the fire in the home, it’s omnipresent, wrapping itself around you until the chill dissipates.

I am light.

I am love.

Together this force is strong.

My force is strong and I unapologetically stand in its power throughout the day and long into the night.

I won’t submit to anything, I lived that way before and that kind of tiny life hurts.

I’m freer

Like this

I honor myself in this life by being the woman I’m meant to be.

I will grow. I will morph into my next form. I will become more woman.

 

Understand, I am always becoming.

Not because I’m not enough but because I am everything.

 

I am the trees, the sun, the flowers, the earth under your feet

I am the vivacity of flowing water as it caresses the embankment

 

I am a baby’s laugh, the First Laugh. Because this laugh reminds us we are meant for this earth

I am meant for this earth. Just like this laugh, I resonate in your soul

Reverberate and shake your being awake

 

I share this not as an excuse or warning but as a promise

I am molded in the image of Changing Woman and my power is something I share, flaunt and protect. It radiates from me slowly burning away the darkness and exposing love. This prismatic energy will make you want to love me more. I know this because I love me more with each step and effort to be more free, to be more me.

I constantly woo myself

My being is an endless love song, a soliloquy of Hozhó, sung like a prayer in a Hogan offering thanks and humbly requesting more blessings so this light can

Continue to shine

Continue to exude

Continue to radiate

 

Understand, I am always becoming.

Not because I’m not enough but because I am everything

 

Shíkeyáh, My Love

IMG_0597 (1)

My people came from the earth and because of this, I believe, every story I have ever been told by my parents, grandparents, aunties or uncles, always starts with place. There is always a reference to a specific point in the land to set a story. Whether it’s where a family lives, “Remember where the Kinsels home is? The ridge there…” “Remember the mountain from the stories about the Diyin Diné (Holy People) and how Ma’ii (Coyote) wasn’t supposed to climb the hill? That is the hill.”

Some of my favorite conversations are ones that have happened as I have traveled across my homelands. From early morning discussions shared while commuting with my dad to late night drives with my mom returning from town. The land I come from is the not necessarily the backdrop but is me, the heroine in the story, the temple where my story and my people’s story is written.

I’ve danced across the earth. I’ve played in the dirt. When I was home for Christmas, I woke to a snow draped landscape. Waking up with my family and striping down to little cloths so I could take a bath in the first snow I was home to enjoy. All in an effort to bless myself with a life that leads into “old age”.

I believe I can feel the power of the earth move in me. I can feel the stars’ energy and the lunar shifts in my life. I was taught to be humble. To understand my place in the world. But tonight when I think of the beauty of this winter, the lessons the cold air is teaching me each time it washes over me, I don’t feel small, I feel I am giant.

When I was home in the snow at Christmas and my bare feet began to ache from the shivering cold of the snow underneath me, I felt strong. When I watch a sunrise and see the genesis of the day the Holy People are creating I can feel my ancestors.

I think often of my great-great-great grandmother who was removed from our homelands during The Long Walk, the government’s forcible removal of my people and imprisonment at Hweeldi (Place of Suffering) or Ft. Sumner in New Mexico. I think of her escaping this horrific place and her journey home. I wonder what it must have felt like to see the land again. I ponder how it compares to the joy I feel when I return to Diné Bikeyáh every month.

My day dreams while I am in the city are of the places my heart has found solace in from mountains to springs and washes where flowing water runs. All of these memories are my fuel. Touchstones that create motivation for me to grow, touchstones to help me own my power as an asdzaan Diné (Navajo lady).

For Diné (Navajo) people pride is not a characteristic that is encouraged. But when I think about what has created me. It is the land. I am the red sandstone formations, I am mountains I have hiked, camped and played in. I am the stars’ brilliance, the moon’s shine. I am sunrays that spill through the clouds during every season of the year. So I don’t ever feel insignificant because I come from a people who have learned the sacredness of the earth, the blessedness of the heavens and the medicines of the land.

The feeling I harness most as I reflect on these teachings is pride. It is not boastful but it is a whisper. Like the small voice I use in the morning when I pray at dawn. The quietness of my breath as I wait for the sun to kiss the land goodbye at night. It is that quiver of pride that I hold because it is one grounded in respect for the small amount of teachings I hold and the vast amount of curiosity I try to not to let overwhelm me because there are still so many things I do not yet know. So tonight as I go to bed I will think, dream of shíkeyáh (my land), my love, and pray for more clarity and strength. I will ask with a humble heart that I can continue to have more conversations with sunrises, serenades in my favorite places and offer prayers out of respect for the grandeur of place that is the beginning, middle and end of my story.