Native American culture & teachings through a modern lens

Tag: american indian cultures

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.

++++

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.

Tsiiyéeł Powered Compliments

 

In an effort to live my teachings out, to speak sacredness fluently this Tsiiyéeł Tuesday I have learned a new phrase in Diné Bizaad (Navajo language). It is a phrase I hope people can use the compliment the beautiful image of a Diné person who has made their tsiiyéeł, a traditional Navajo bun.

“Nítsiiyéeł nizhónígo iinla!”

 

This phrase means “You made a beautiful tsiiyéeł.” I hope you enjoy giving this compliment to men and women who are wearing their hair in such a way. I think this helps foster positivity and support through connection to each other.

 

 

Watch the vlog and subscribe to our YouTube Channel so you don’t miss any videos!

My Antidote: Light

Positivity and “shine love” mantras have always been my way to cope, encourage and motivate myself to keep striving for excellence in my life. The thing about being a sparkly, light-filled lovetarian is, people sometimes mistakenly think you have never felt the darkness. The truth about the light I carry, is it not only lights my path but acts as my antidote.

There are many lives, friendships and relationships in my life that have been negatively impacted by alcohol abuse. In some tragic cases, my siblings and I have suffered the fatal loss of childhood friends. Growing up in a tight-knit community you are never numb to these instances. You feel each blow and that heaviness of grief is hard to carry because you know there are better choices.

When I moved off the reservation for college and the option to imbibe legally was presented, I entered this with caution and excitement. While I was responsible and careful, there began to be a cycle that would perpetuate, I’d always have a moral battle and consistently feel guilty, so I would stop, not engage and carry on with school. Until the next invitation to birthday party, work event or happy hour and I’d try again taking part, cautiously but the same result would rise up. I understood later, that because my reservation was “dry”, meaning the sale and consumption of alcohol was illegal, alcohol was always going to be bad.

While drinking was never important to my identity, it was easy for it to fall away. But after much consideration, I began to consider what life would be like if I committed to not drink socially. What would my world look like? What more could I do if I didn’t partake anymore? The answer to all of these questions was it’d be the same.

So a year ago today, I unceremoniously, started not consuming alcohol. Having never struggled with addiction or suffered from any legal issues because of recklessness, the choice was seamless. But it was full of meaning. My decision has become a commitment to a way of life and journey on a path I am privileged to walk.

In the process, I have dramatically minimized the impact of the worry about this powerful thief of a substance. Since starting Grownup Navajo, over three years ago, I have challenged myself to align more and more with my cultural teachings. To seek answers and teachers to the questions I have about how I, as a Diné (Navajo) person, should live.

This choice in lifestyle allows me to live in closer harmony with my traditional teachings as a modern Navajo woman. Through my commitment I have created a powerful shift in my life and I share this personal journey because I am proud of this milestone. I am empowered by this decision and feel able to seize the hold alcohol has had on my life. There are many people who have had a tremendous impact on me and yet I will never see them again because of this substance. While that realization angers me still today, I aim for my action to be a tribute to them but rooted in my love of self. By reclaiming the power of my choices, I am grounded. Through this commitment I weaken the impact alcohol will have on my life and that sense of ownership of choice has added to the force of light shining from me today.

The Power of Presence – A Lesson Discovered as I Made My Bed

During a late night drive across my homeland, I jokingly told a close friend how I often feel the “most Navajo” in the mornings when I am making my bed. Instead of laughing as I expected he would, he shared how it made sense. Noting how even this modern act of starting the day could be beautifully traditional. I had never articulated this thought until this moment. But the more I shared the more I understood how much this one teaching infused not just my day, but my life.

Growing up shímasaní (my maternal grandmother) would always instruct me how it was very important that I made my bed. She would indicate how it was a way to show respect for my belongings but also a way for me to show I wasn’t lazy. As I made my bed in the morning when I was little she’d share with me that fixing my bed allowed me to start my day with positive thoughts and intentions.

Shímasaní stayed with us a lot when we were little. She would always be caring for us as my parents traveled and worked. It was her care that showed me how cooking can be a rich love language as she always asked my brothers what they wanted for dinner. They’d respond with either potato soup or her dumpling stew. It’s her recipes for these dishes that are my measure for all others. It is her tortillas that I miss now as her hands are too old flap bread and she is not able to stand very long to cook. But it is also her I think of every morning.

I read a poem recently called “Chorus of Cells” about making a bed. Written by a 100-plus year old poet, the poem illustrated the lyrical simplicity of life found only in seemingly mundane acts. It was this poem and the conversation with my friend that reminded me of the power of being present and how my morning ritual was a conduit to this sense of being.

I always make my bed in the morning. Each day I rise, I hear her teachings urging me to carry openness to the possibilities the day may present. As I smooth the sheets, fluff the pillows and lay the duvet over my bed, I am thinking of my day ahead. Preparing my spirit as I think of the work the Holy People will have me do. It is often the first point in my day, even before I run or pray, when I articulate my gratitude for simply being awake and able to show my dedication to this practice.

I was able to visit shímasaní on my last trip home. I sat with her on her favorite corner of the couch and held her hand. She shared how she was proud of the work I am doing which always means the most to me coming from her because she is one of the strongest people I know. When I look at her life and all that she created, I am left speechless. Her ability to hold onto her traditional knowledge evening after attending boarding school, raising a family of six on her own after shícheíí (my paternal grandfather) died. I don’t always feel worthy of her praise especially when I battle the guilt of being away from her now as she’s older. But when I think about my life and how I live it. I am most proud of having realized how much her many teachings have become my center for the mindful way I aim to live my life. I am grateful now for a beautiful late night conversation which helped me to see the power of my presence – rather, the power of shímasaní’s presence and how it continues to shape me.

In the Desert a Mountain Rises

When I am looking for strength, I picture my strongholds, the places where I have found respite, calm and clarity. Each place I visualize, often in the middle of an anxious bout, are places grounded by mountains. From Black Mesa, the Lukachukai Mountains to the San Francisco Peaks, the Sandias in New Mexico and Piestewa Peak here in Phoenix. All are places where I have seen the sun rise and set on their crests. It is that dependable cyclical force – knowing the sun will rise and fall over their majestic forms, that soothes me.

I find refuge in land, both in mine homeland and those of others. The power of place is a guiding principle of my faith and one I was reminded of this week. I attended an event where an elder Akimel O’otham man shared a traditional song. The beautiful melody was sung to the rhythm of a hand rattle made from a gourd. It was called “in the desert a mountain rises” and as I do not speak O’otham, I can only expand on the meaning of the song to me as a Navajo woman with a fondness for mountains. Every feeling I had while listening to the song was a feeling of reconnection. The peace that comes from returning to yourself and harnessing the power of your being. It is in the mountains where I have discovered, found and regained peace in my heart countless times. Each time I feel this homecoming I understand I am the mountain and the mountain is me.

Listening to the song reminded of my late Nalí hastiin (paternal grandfather) and one of his favorite psalms that I carry with me. “I life up mine eyes unto the hills. From whence cometh my help?” (Psalm 121:1).  I don’t remember where he shared this with me first. Today I visualize our conversation taking place in his “Oasis” in Round Rock as we looked east toward the Lukachukai Mountains, in a moment, I am sure, where my heart was filled with uncertainty.

I love that together the psalm and this beautiful song create a dichotomy. On the one hand, to be filled with doubt and wondering in the middle of a trial where and when help will come and on the other having the delivery of faith so forceful that it rises with audacity in the desert. My people believe in the power of mountains. We find protection in them spiritually and so I love the translation of the O’odham song – “in the desert a mountain rises”. I think about this phrase as a great reminder to not only respect the land but to recognize we are the land. We are the mountains.

I am far away from my beautiful mountains tonight but I can feel their pull. I can close my eyes and see multiple sunrises illuminate the sky with glorious light and their warmth filling my soul. I am thankful for a new connection to the desert through this O’otham song. In a city that identifies with a bird who rises from the ashes, I love that I can now visualize myself rising up in the desert not as a bird but a mountain. It is this image that I will carry with me while I am away from my mountains. This realization brings me peace. As I lift up my eyes unto the mountains, I understand that by the grace of the Holy People, I am my own help and no matter my placement, I can harness mountains of strength from wherever I stand and choose to rise.

Earthen Powers

The leaves are changing. From the high country in Mescalero Apacheland to the gorgeous towering crests of the Sandias in New Mexico to the belt of aspens around the San Francisco Peaks the colors of Aa’kęę (fall) are washing over the mountain ranges in the southwest.

In the past month, we marked the autumnal equinox, a Super Blood Moon, lunar eclipse, new moon and full moon alike. I recently commented to a friend how I can feel the power of the earth, moon and stars move in me. This omnipresent force is guiding me lately to turn inward thinking about the ways to cultivate more practices of self-love.

It is in this reverence I find myself tonight. Having spent the afternoon with a group of empowering women reflecting on ways we can cultivate more practices of self care. A critical conversation as waiting and sitting are extraordinarily difficult for this asdzaan Diné (Navajo woman) with a hummingbird spirit. I am forever on the go and rarely make time to be still.

I recently learned that a common practice of Diné prior to ceremonies would involve the person having a prayer or ceremony spend the four days before a ceremony preparing for the practice. They then would take the time to have the ceremony and then spend the four days after being reverent, observing taboos and keeping close in prayer.

Corresponding to this palpable presence of earthen energy, my life has been full of changes. In this period of flux, I am thinking of the power of preparing to take action. Thinking of the heavenly bodies moving outside and around me, the changing temperatures of the Navajo New Year (the month of October), a natural time used by my people to set intentions for the cold weather coming in the winter months. Amidst all of this, I am urged by a whisper to be still and wait in active preparation.

We falsely assume grand revelations to be scarce as “the waiting” occurs. In actuality, we need to remind ourselves to prepare with an open heart. It is with this grace of heart that revolutions of greater self-acceptance, grand self-realizations, and monumental moments of healing can commence. I believe this is why we take time to prepare in ceremony for our ceremonies. One cannot act brashly hoping to heal but must act thoughtfully knowing greater healing can come from waiting in thoughtful motion. To be still in action and “run with patience” understanding more blessings can be received if we not only set intentions but prepare for healing and blessings with an open, humble heart. So this is where I rest tonight, thinking of the many changes in my life, not fully understanding them but also knowing in my waiting, I am at the epicenter of many earthen powers which will guide my heart as it continues its radical venture.

Moonlight Respite

My house is quiet in this hour. Nothing moves but my heart, ceiling fan, and the occasional sighs of my dog. The stillness is my soul’s reminder to be reverent. There is a lunar eclipse occurring on this spring morning, one of the shortest of the year. We are taught as Diné (Navajo) people to respect this period in the moon cycle. This respect is shown in several ways but the most stark is our dedication to letting the moon be.

Growing up, during an eclipse we were told to be sure we stayed inside and not playing around – we were to be still. We were also not supposed to look at the eclipse and in general not eat, drink or sleep during it. Traditionally, families or healers would share different stores during this time or say certain prayers. This is still carried on today by a lot of families.

In a discussion with my partner recently, we were talking about the idea of taboos. I shared with him how it is important for Navajos, as we carry on teachings, to remember to not overly simplify our ideas to the point where things are either good or bad. For instance, some elders when explaining why we don’t do something would say only – “yiiyáh (oh no/yikes/that’s not good) we don’t do that because it’s bad.” It’s the modern “just because reasoning”. In this model effort’s not made to explain what I think is a more complex reason.

For instance, many of the things we consider taboo – a coyote who crosses your path going north, looking at the moon during an eclipse and other teachings – aren’t meant to simply scare us NOT to do something. What I believe to be the purpose of the teachings is to learn to recognize the power in the world around us. Yes, as Diné people we live in a world with a cause and effect. Meaning we believe when something ails you it is because you are or at some point on you path have lost balance – you are out of Hozhó (harmony/balance).

Being able to take ownership of our responsibility in respecting the world around us is critical. It allows us to live in greater Hozhó. We simply can’t be afraid of the “bad signs” but understand we live in a culture which shares with us many opportunities to connect to all living things. We often don’t do certain things not because we were supposed to be scared of them. But because there is so much power occurring or it is a sacred time – as in the case of an eclipse, that we need to be ready or prepared to understand that power. We need to understand our own strength so we can be certain of our ability to carry the new knowledge.

I find great comfort in my culture because it all encompassing. It teaches us to be soulful in our practices and challenges us to remember many different ways to engage with the world. We don’t make enough time to connect with the world around us. I think many of these practices including observing an eclipse are more important to do today because it gives us an opportunity to reflect. As I sit here in the darkness of dawn I think of conversations I’ve had with relatives during this sacred moonlight. Thinking of the stories I’ve heard or words shared. It is beautiful and powerful to have these memories and then to look ahead with hope to see the new ones I’ll create.

Shíkeyáh as Medicine

Sunday morning I said goodbye to my family after a delicious breakfast prepared by my mom. We ate and laughed as a late winter snow fell outside. My heart swells at all the scenes we took in together and remember the prayers we said for each other and ourselves before I left.

I know I carry these scenes and prayers with me until the next visit. Returning to Diné Bikeyáh (Navajoland) each time as though on a pilgrimage. Each trip is filled with such anticipation of being able to unload the angst and chaos of the city. Born in the vastness of a place which makes you feel like it belongs all to you while simultaneously allowing you to feel small enough to question your being, I recognize how much I am a part of the land and it is a part of me.

Though it means so much for me to be home, I forget how fast times passes when I am away. A recovering perfectionist, I want to not miss anything. I want to always be home and am often heartbroken at missing the simple things – the first snowfall, ceremonies of family friends or even the stories my Grandma tells in between her cup of coffee and dinner. While I can beat myself up for the moments missed I have to remember the faith and practices instilled in me.

Diné Bikeyáh is my medicine. Not just the place, my parents’ home, but the land. I crave the calm of the land as soon as I depart. While away in the desert I find echoes of home on my hikes, while on runs at dawn, each outing sustaining my spirit. It is the land which soothes me, makes me stronger, knows my weaknesses and strengths.

While driving with my Mom as the rain, snow and rain fell, we were graced by a family of gorgeous glowing blue birds. They fluttered by us sharing the same vistas of the Lukachukai Mountains as we made our trek. A moment of fleeting perfection that didn’t have to last long as it provided more than enough serenity. This recent trip was so much about self-care and focusing on restoring my balance. Traveling from the stillness to clamor I humbly look forward to my return to Shíkeyáh (my land).

Yá’at’eeh T’ąątsoh: Season Awakening

photo (2)

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’.