Native American culture & teachings through a modern lens

Tag: Native American

Homeland Mindfulness

On my trip home this weekend, I was able to enjoy the beautiful spring weather in my favorite place in the world Diné Bikeyáh. Surrounded by showers of female rain and rolling clouds and filled with many conversations and laughter, my heart was supremely happy. Driving is a meditative state for me and while on my way home, I thought of many things but focused on how important expressing gratitude can be. I recorded my first travel vlog for Grownup Navajo roadside and in it I challenge us to think about ways we can be better. Watch, ponder, share your thoughts with me.

 

 

If you are looking for more on mindfulness, I encourage you to listen to this conversation I had with Dennis Worden. Dennis founded the podcast NextGen Native to celebrate and raise the profiles of Native people doing impactful work in our communities with the goal of not solely inspiring hope but generating action. I have long felt NextGen Native and Grownup Navajo are aligned greatly with each other as they celebrate the knowledge we have in Indian Country TODAY. For this reason, to be included on this podcast is great honor and privilege. Ahé’hee to Dennis for sharing your vision and continuing to create positive waves for our people.

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Our Sister Was Taken

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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.

Understand, I am Always Becoming

I begin this post by simply saying ahé’hee. Thank you to you, the beautiful subscribers of this blog, for all the ways you support my work and words. I have been astounded by the incredible response to the poems I have shared on Grownup Navajo. It was an incredible challenge to risk, dare and share these words and I am delighted people, mostly women, have found inspiration in them. With this, I challenged myself to record another video of the first poem I shared on the blog. “Soliloquy of Hozhó is an ode to all the ways I am still becoming – still “growing up” in this gorgeous world. I hope you have the courage to share your soulspeak as I call it, with the world. I can truly say there isn’t a grander feeling than releasing these parts of ourselves and basking in the freedom it brings.

With love & light, enjoy!

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.

She said go to the water and pray…

Water is life, image adapted by Jared Yazzie.

Water is life, image adapted by Jared Yazzie.


I watched a video of a fierce asdzaan Diné on Friday shed tears at the bank of the Animas River as she watched gallons of waste from a mine blowout in Colorado kill her beloved river. I read her posts via social media of the yellow-orange water leach its way deeper into Diné Bikeyáh. With each post, newspaper article or account, my heart caved.

It’s taken me days to process, believe, begin to understand how fast the water from the mine oozed into the waterway. I remembered in one post this same woman pleaded for her K’é (relatives) to “go to the water and pray”.

I carried those words around until tonight, when I was able to run along the canal here in the desert. With each step I prayed for restoration of the water’s spirit and the strength of people who fight for the water we have. As I ran I thought about how when I’m old I will remember the time the river turned yellow. In the same way people talk about the rock slide on Black Mesa before the Long Walk began, the way people talk about the rocks that have fallen from Monument Valley. Each of these events have communicated to us how out of sync we are with our mother earth, teachings and practices. But are we ready to listen? When will we be brave enough to act?

These rivers are not the ones I played in when I grew up but I have those memories, in my community, on the other side of the mountain. I know the joy of being able to sink my feet into the shore of the river and feel the coolness of the earth in the heat of summer. I understand how refreshing it can feel to pray at the water and be reminded of the center of your being. I understand how safe being near the water can be.

I thought of my recent trip home and how happy I was having found freshly cooked kneel down bread along the San Juan River. I thought about the water that gave life to the corn and how I found it on a day my soul needed to nourish itself with the tastes of the land. I thought of how when Ghąąjį’ (October) comes this fall, the harvest will be quiet. I thought of how my cousin will not be sharing in the crops of squash or even pumpkins for my home in Phoenix. I think of my close family friend who had memories of playing in the river with his cousins and whose animals will be thirsty now.

Shí eí Táchiinii. I am of the Red Running into the Water people and tonight my heart aches for a river whose life has been taken because of recklessness. As a community we call ourselves Diné meaning “the People” and when we speak of humans – Bila ashlaííi or “five-fingered people”. Not only are we all connected by the curves of fingers but also by the foundation of water that allows the blood to flow through our veins. We are the water and it is us. If you can look at the photos of the damage and not feel anything then tonight I will not only pray for the water beings, the animals and plants, the people whose lives have been intertwined with these beautiful bodies of water for generations, but I will also pray for you. I will pray that you may find your way back to yourself.

She said go to the water and pray…it is at the water where I found so much heart ache, where I was able cry but also give thanks because I can still hear the rushing water. I have hope we will rise in our awareness to protect the water’s preciousness. Tó’ éí’ iiná, water is life, let us carry this in our hearts because this truth flows through us.

Seeds of Gratitude

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Yesterday, my niece and I spent the afternoon planting a batch of flowers in my yard. It was our first gardening endeavor together and it was filled with profound ponderings only a three-year-old can conjure. As we planted the blooms I told her about how I planted flowers with my late Nalí asdzaan. She asked if my Nalí asdzaan was as silly as her Nalí (my mom). I told her she definitely was. We laughed in the cool spring breeze certain of the exact kind of silliness we meant and continued to arranged the flowers in the planters.

It is fitting we chose yesterday to plant as today marks three years since her passing. I wrote on one of my social media accounts how my longing for her has changed. I still miss her deeply but somehow, I am able to understand she is with me, perhaps even closer than before and for the moment that seems satisfying. I know this feeling will flow and shift back to the unbearable feeling of loss from time to time but today, for now, I feel grounded in my grief and grateful I am able to appreciate knowing such a beautiful being.

As we planted the last few flowers, I started talking to the flowers – telling them thanks for coming home with us and how beautiful and strong they are. Angela asked me why I was speaking to them. I told her this way they know we want them to be here, this way they know we appreciate them. She smiled and then started to talk to the flowers too, giving them thanks. It reminded me of the songs I’d heard my Poogie sing as we planted in the corn field. I don’t remember the words today but I remember her spirit so grateful and hopeful for what was to come forth from the field.

Planting with Angela, I looked ahead to her starting school and one day her Kinaaldás. I wondered about my life and if I will ever get to be a mom or what new career adventures I will have. Then I turned to how much life I will experience without my Nalí asdzaan and it is startling. But as I touched and turned the soil in the planters I realized when my Poogie was here she planted so much in me. Different seeds I am not even aware of – that I don’t even know. I believe she wouldn’t have left us if she didn’t think we could thrive. So I am going to bed tonight, with a grateful heart for all the adventures I have had with both my beautiful niece and my late Nalí asdzaan. Two lively, fierce and strong Diné women whose presence in my life feeds my work and nurtures my spirit. Tonight I pray for the words of those planting songs to come to me in hopes they continue to nourish the seeds of resilience planted in me. I also pray tonight for the unknown seeds in me – may they continue to grow within, rooting me in a culture so beautiful and complex it will always deliver me what I need as long as my heart is open and willing to cultivate it’s essence.

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.

In the Time of the Eaglets’ Cry

My late Nalí asdzann would prepare for a new school year, a ceremony or chapter meeting with gusto. She dove into things. I never knew her to announce her fear. When it came to how to start something new, or even what to do next she would simply do. Always reminding me “don’t just talk about it, do it,” when I shared a new idea with her.

Lately, I have been thinking about what advice she would have for me at this point in my life. What words she’d share and I am not sure she’d have any. Though this lack of advice shouldn’t be taken as abandonment but actually a reflection of all that she has already given me.

I return to the memory of my Kinaaldá ceremonies and think about the people that gathered around me. I remember the wisdom shared with me and how much love I felt. I can recall what it felt like to be in the Hogan surrounded by so many of my elders – most of whom have since past away now. It was these pillars of strength who I believed prayed my life into existence. It is them who have created a life so beautiful I could not imagine the wonder, magic and blessings.

It is the time of the “eaglets’ cry” or Wóózhch’įįd (March), a time of year which symbolizes the start of spring. While a cry usually is a mark of pain we must remember the pain fades and what is left is the opportunity for harmony to be found as the beauty pours into the mold that the pain initially created. There was a point during my ceremony where I felt as though my arms would fall off as I ground the corn for my cake. It was hard work and at several moments I felt as though I was going to quit. But each time an aunt or my mom would share a story or would tell a joke. Then I would be fixated on its ending or the punch line I would forget my arms hurt. Before I realized it, I finished grinding all fifty pounds and we were ready to mix the cake.

I think of my Kinaaldá and I remember the smells, tastes, the laughter which would roared from the Hogan. In each scene I have of my late Nalí adszaan, she was always smiling. It was one of the best memories I have of her. So far in my life this ceremony has been the most precious gift my family has given me. In hard times it is easy to forget what a foundation the Kinaaldá has provided. In moments of doubt and darkness I try to visualize the Hogan, the faces that surrounded me and how much I must trust my life has already been prayed for…it is now up to me to just DO.