Native American culture & teachings through a modern lens

Tag: American Indian Women

I Tell Navajo Stories…Like Grandma

jaclyn roessel maternity

Photo by Hannah Manuelito

 

I come from an open-arms people and a family who shares. I have built a career sharing my thoughts, poems, snapshots of my life and myself. But last year, I felt a call to shift into a new way of being. 2018 was a year filled with many life changes both personal and professional. While, I was focused on navigating, reflecting and rising to the challenge of being more in the moment, I was called to go inward and protect…myself.

 
Now feeling able and willing, I am trying to answer this question, “how do you begin to tell a story you are still living out?” I am not sure. Though I do know I was never a linear storyteller. I pride myself on my ability, or gift, depending on the tale, to tell story like my late nalí asdzaan (paternal grandmother). She would weave strands of background info, context and opinion together with care and ease. While I am not the master she was at this, I do enjoy this circular nature of sharing. This is something my husband tells me often, I tell Navajo stories. By this he means, I share stories which unfold sometimes leaving him confused until the end. I loved to think of my nalí asdzaan’s stories as ones you had to earn. You were tested to listen because sometimes they were long and often complex. She would share with you characters and updates in multiple threads drawing family trees and maps connecting communities across the rez.

 
And what of my story? Where do I begin?

 
When my nalí asdzaan passed, one of the most vivid memories I have of that night is waking up after receiving the news she left us gasping for air asking myself what would I do on my wedding day and the day I gave birth?

 
In the darkness of those early morning hours, the thought of facing each event without her, physically hurt my heart. But what I know now is I didn’t have to worry because I would feel her. She would be there, and so would my late nalí hastiin (paternal grandfather). I would feel their power charge through the day I saw my husband Warren ride into our homestead on a horse for our wedding. I would feel the energy of my ancestors come to bless our beginning as husband and wife, in the powerful winds that carried sands that whipped across the land.

 
She would be with me as I carried our first born in my body. I would hear her in the wisdom my mother shared with me during my pregnancy. In the advice my mother-in-law passed on to me. I would feel her in my sister’s hands as she massaged my body during labor. I would hear her words in the prayers my brother shared while we were in the delivery room. Even in the pain of this moment I could feel the sweet like honey presence – I could feel her with me. I could feel her blessings at work in my life.

 
While I do not know how to tell this story, I recognize why I wanted to keep things close. Last year meant so much to me because I was able to hold it with both hands, an open mind and heart overflowing with gratitude for getting to experience it all. My husband and I marinated in each transition – engagement, new job, news of new life, wedding and birth. Having emerged from our fourth trimester I feel ready to slowly release parts of this story, as an offering. I hope in beginning to tell it, the parts that were hard can begin to heal. This part of my story – the trauma – is hard for me to articulate now but I know with time, even that will begin to melt away like snow.

 
What is powerful is knowing because I am still living this, I don’t have to share everything now. I want the telling of this story to be savored. In the same way, this revealed itself to us – day by day, minute by minute waiting for the arrival our baby being…our son.

Molded in the Image of Asdzaan Diné – Part Two

I am proud to be an asdzaan Diné (Navajo woman). This blog was founded on this thesis and the desire to continue to uplift the story and importance of the Kinaaldá ceremony. I began this project with the hope it would aid me in articulating the power of this ceremony but also provide a space for me to examine the new ways I could challenge myself to learn more about the Kinaaldá and Navajo culture.  The incorporation of the concept of “grownup” is meant as a nod to the idea of never feeling like you are an adult. I use the line “I am always becoming” in the poem Soliloquy of Hozhó to reflect a similar understanding that I am constantly able to improve and become something new.

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Jaclyn Roessel (aka Grownup Navajo) taken during Maili’s Kinaaldá.

 

Over the last year, I have meditated deeply on the role I carried out in Maili’s Kinaaldá. I thought about the ways I challenged myself to take on the role and how it was similar to the way I approached being an auntie. Each role was approached with reverence and care. I want to be an example of a woman who is thoughtful, loving, generous and lives her life independently with purpose but also is not afraid to be authentic.

My continuous reminder to myself, when life gets hard, when I doubt my strength is my mantra, “my life has been prayed into existence.” In moments of trial I think back to the time I had my Kinaaldá and visualize the people in the Hogan. My parents, grandparents, siblings, cousins, uncles and aunties all sitting together and praying for my life. I think about how some of these people are no longer physically with me but live in me and whose teachings come into practice with the way I live my life. I do not have enough words to articulate how grateful I am to my parents and my family for choosing to give me a Kinaaldá. What this ceremony has instilled in me can never be taken away. It implanted in me the richness of the earth from the white dawn I ran into in the mornings to the blue sky I looked up at often at our homestead. There are sacred stones that line my soul, the fire that baked my cake is also what burns in me with the desire to continue to help my people. It must be said that these are only the things I have uncovered so far. I know I will continue to discover the lessons of this beautiful ceremony as I become a wife, a mother and grandparent.

So as I look back at the experience of tying Maili’s hair, I also look forward. I look forward at the promise of continuing to have a strong relationship with her and her family. I look forward to seeing this intelligent woman take on the world. I look forward knowing with certainty she will be a brilliant light that will shine love on her people too. My heart is still humbled by the gift of this connection to her. My soul shakes knowing fully that though my ceremony occurred over 20 years ago, I am still becoming more woman. I am still, like Changing Woman, the matriarch of all Diné (Navajo People), changing, becoming the next version of an asdzaan Diné.

The treasure of the ceremony is boundless – it exists beyond time, place and person. It allows us as families to feel the strength of our ancestors beyond ourselves. This is where the power lies – not solely in the wombs of the women but in our ability to connect and foster each other’s faith through participating in our culture. K’é (philosophy of kinship) means community and community means we show up for each other. That is how we heal, grow and shine. This is foundational beauty of our culture – knowing that as we gather to celebrate the powerful change occurring in a young woman’s body, we are honoring each other. We honor the belief that when we gather in the Hogan to pray, we pray for a young woman’s life generously because we know she is the bloodline, our clans will run through her and out to our people. There is nothing more eloquent than the generosity of my people, the gifts we share, knowing that as we “give away” these good blessings they will only return to us through the work of this woman, her children and back to our people…lifting each other up in generous love.