Native American culture & teachings through a modern lens

Tag: American Indian

In Her Hair…

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Photo by Jeff Slim

 

There are millions of stories in her hair.
From the past,
Of the future…
Holding the strands in her hands she feels the power of her people’s resilience,
the resonate breath of generations of people who have come before,
…and the life of those yet to be born.

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Written for the answers we posses, in our bodies, in our hearts, may our prayers guide us and give us the strength to pull the answers out from within us so we can act to heal our people.

 

 

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.

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.

 

 

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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.

Grateful Memories and Other Expressions

Expressions of gratitude have long been part of my life. This morning I went to breakfast with my dad. He is always wonderful company as we have conversations about current events to catching up on life’s happenings. This morning as we were talking I began to reminisce about a memory I had with my late Nalí asdzaan (paternal grandmother).

Over my dresser hangs a special letter I sent her when I was in college.  In it I shared how appreciative I was for having her in my life. I was so moved at having just experienced my sister’s Kinaaldá that the need to send a letter to tell her how I saw her role in my life was necessary. I keep this letter visible as it was the beginning of cultivating gratitude in my life.

 I get to see this letter every morning when I wake up. I am reminded of my connection to her but it also is a reminder to think about what I am grateful for before I even greet the world. The ability to express gratitude is a critical part of building resiliency. When we see we are connected beings we are able to see that not only are we not alone but there is so much we can learn from one another. I made this vlog to share this story and in it I read from the letter I mention. I hope you take time to watch but more importantly, I hope you decide to create your own message of gratitude to someone you love. This is type of change we need in the world – one that values responsibility to each other.

Visit our new VIDEOS page here to see all of the videos so far. Of course, don’t forget to follow our YouTube channel as everything gets posted there first.

 

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.

Gratitude as Translator and Other Thoughts in Pueblolands

There are moments when the gratitude for the life I lead feels heavy. Not in a way that is negative, but in a way that I am so grounded by the power of these gifts I am able to experience, that my heart transcends levity and exists on a plane that is beyond words. This week while traveling for work, in one of my favorite places, “Puebloland” in New Mexico, I experienced this state.

My heart on numerous occasions, felt as though it was folding into itself. This sensation is incredible to experience and one which I often can only react to with tears. While traveling for work, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to facilitate a workshop with a Puebloan artist in Albuquerque.  I enjoy cultural sharing and exchange so there were many points in which I was simply thankful for the experience. However, on one particular day the energy in the room was so powerful and strong as participants spoke to each other in Keres. During this exchange, which had nothing to do with me, I found my heart was not at all lost in trying to understand what was occurring. Instead, it was as if my heart knew what was being said and was grateful – grateful to be in a world that holds such goodness.

I think we forget how powerful a tool gratitude can be. I believe it to be one of the best translators. When we tap into the feeling of appreciating a moment, we surrender to the beauty and gifts and are able to drink it in, wholeheartedly. Gratitude allows us to move through a moment without getting caught in trying to dissect its meaning. In other words, we travel to a place where we can suspend reality and simply be everything we are in connection to the world and people around us. This then becomes a propellant to action. We can then move forward continuing to strive to be better. In this latest vlog, I share more on this topic and challenge each of us to think about ways gratitude is not a passive feeling but a motivator to create more positive change in our lives.

 

The Languages of Hummingbirds & Land

This morning, I woke in the desert with the goal of hiking and basking in the new light of the day at mountain’s top. Breathless after my ascent, I relaxed with a beautiful view of the mountains of the desert around me. While I sat still enjoying the view, I noticed there were several hummingbirds dancing on this mountain top. Called a “charm of hummingbirds” – I actually had to google the word for a gathering of hummingbirds – these beautiful beings sang and danced, a show that moved my heart.

In the past year, I have reflected and meditated a lot on the various conversations we can have with the world around us. The different languages we speak. It is the ones that are not centered on the use of the English language that make my heart the happiest, that fill my soul with the medicine it needs to continue to heal, grow and thrive. From the hug from a close friend, the movement of light draw on the wall inside your home as it sets, all have a tremendous power to share a message. This morning, on top a mountain, my soul and I danced with a charm of hummingbirds, listened to the wind, had a beautiful bee and beautiful beetle land on top of me. It ALL was a reminder of the many languages that provide us guidance in life and how being open and loving can allow the goodness, love and light of the world into us. In this Glittering World, there is so much opportunity for us to challenge ourselves to be loving to each other. This is the wisdom of my conversation with the hummingbird – no matter how swift we are caused to move in this world, there is always enough time to use loving language as we communicate with each other…and to ourselves.
Keep Shining!

 

In Reciprocity…

As if running in the brilliance of spring in the desert wasn’t enough to be grateful for, I returned home to find a special surprise tonight. A follower of the Grownup Navajo’s Instagram account sent me a very powerful and heartfelt message. Completely speechless and teary-eyed I read her words:

“Sister, I have to share how much your words have meant to me. I have been searching for my own light and growth but keep struggling but after watching and reading all that you have shared I cried! Not for sadness but for happiness knowing there are strong, beautiful and empowered women out there…”

These words from a beautiful kindred spirit left me incredibly overwhelmed with gratitude and joy. I decided to make a Vlog especially for this individual – Ms. Lady. Who will forever be a reminder to me to share my soulspeak with the world.

Yes, ayoígo shił Hozhó. I am overjoyed, humbled and honored to walk this path with you. We are meant for this Earth shík’é (my family), let us never forget this.

Keep shining love!