Native American culture & teachings through a modern lens

Tag: Navajo 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.

Dream Medicine and Reflections of the Future

IMG_3162

I believe in time travel. I believe in the power of dreams because on some days, I can feel the memory of this ability within my vessel too. I understand dreams to be medicine. Sometimes, it is these tools which first communicate illness in our bodies, distortion in the fabric of our relationships and families. At times, it is the ancestors who tell us truths to quell our worries in these realms. They remind of the power we have yet to tap or even call-in on us and reach out when they feel we are not fully reaching for our potential.
Many Indigenous communities used dreams as medicine to heal. Communities along the what is known today as the Colorado River used dreams to select the leaders of their communities. This practice is one which fills me joy. How beautiful it is to measure leadership by the seeing of what is possible? When I think of what I want to see in leaders of my community, I often include the desire for them to possess vision. How potent of a concept, to demand our leaders project generations ahead beyond the “future” gains they propose.
There are dreams I carry today which give me comfort. In moments when I lose faith or sit in doubt, I remind myself of these medicines still at work in my life. There are times when I am delivered a blessing only to be reminded that I knew it was coming because I had dreamed it. I am humbled regularly by this in the moments when I am relieved a blessing has arrived and I simultaneously think of all the times, I doubted, gave up hope that it was ever possible.
My work as a writer is influenced by the concept of futurism, specifically Afrofuturism a term coined by Mark Dery which means to essentially reimagine the future and its possibilities through a Black lens of creativity, technology and science. What I find most inspiring about this concept and the correlations made by Indigenous Futurism, is the restoring and acknowledgement of our sovereignty as Indigenous people to project and dream a future where we will not only exist but a future in which our dream medicine will continue to heal us.
When we look at our history of persecution and survivance, I am inspired by the miracle of our existence – we were not suppose to be here. Yet, we are; in spite of the millions of actions taken since contact to destroy our way of life and us. Our ancestors dreamt us to this place.
Afrofuturist and Indigenous Futurist thought, are two incredibly radical concepts because it demands we accept our blessings now that we will continue to be prayed into the existence of the future. In dreams there exists a kind of freedom to imagine all that is possible and I plan to continue to surrender to the power of these dreams because there is a level of wholeness my dream self has achieved that I am still striving for, one woven so closely to all the medicine women who have walked and will walk this earth and I must remember in this life, to practice acceptance because their blessings are already here…and still on their way. There are places my unborn children have already traveled and yes, that place too is beautiful.

Languages of New Lands

How do I prepare? How will I begin? How do I start?

Each of these questions has been racing through my mind each day since I committed to expanding Grownup Navajo full-time. Having moved from the Sonoran desert to the high Puebla desert I am slowing planting roots. Having never made a home outside of Arizona, I am beginning to understand how daunting the “all-possibility” mode of a journey can be.

In a recent conversation with Dennis Worden of NextGen Native, I shared how optimistic I am to one day speak the languages of these lands I find myself in now. What I shared on the podcast is how I do not mean the actual languages of the Native people who live here but the languages of the land. In leaving my beloved Sonoran Desert and O’odham Bikéyáh (O’odham Lands) , I understood more fully just how much the land of the desert made me who I am today. Living there I had conversations with sunsets, realized how mountains were actually purple and learned of the powerful impact of welcoming the sunrise each day. These lessons composed an entire language of the place in which I spent over 11 years.

I find myself in a new place observing. Watching the way the sun casts shadows on the hills around me, trying to recall from memory, after the sun sets, the profile of the beautiful mountains circling me, finding most often, how in my mind, they are blurry because we don’t know one another yet. Even things as simple as understanding a place with a tangible season, I am learning how to bring a sweater or jacket with me as I venture out the door.

I am also watching myself. Understanding how my body is struggling trying to find the light in the morning as my home is new to me. How happy I am to have creative brainstorms any time I choose since I do not have a structured schedule. I am simultaneously realizing how I long for a structured schedule because the openness of the each day can at times distract or intimidate me.

This journey is filled with unlearning and learning lessons and languages. How does one begin to speak new languages? Linguists today share that immersion is key. If you want to speak fluently, you need to surround yourself with the language you want to share. I am confident my act of throwing myself into the deep end of this adventure will result in my being able to speak the sacredness of this place.

While the newness of the exploration is daunting, I am continuously encouraged by the voice of my late Nalí asdzaan (paternal grandmother) in my head saying, “Don’t talk about it, just do it.” While I continuously have more questions than answers, right now I also know my observing, listening, questioning is all a part of me doing. While I may not know the language of these lands, I know I am capable of the growth in understanding. One learns language, yes through immersion but also through speaking. I want my actions to be pronounced so I will listen and then speak. I will act in an effort to communicate my heart’s work, understanding I will rise to the occasion of speaking the language this beautifully powerful place will teach me.

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.

Adventures in Grownup Vlog-land

 

From reflecting on my time with women as a kind of worship to sharing my favorite random acts of kindness, I have been soaking up tremendous amounts of positive vibrations from friends and followers of Grownup Navajo. Each of these moments have had a lasting effect on me and I have been having fun creating vlogs (video blogs) and uploading them to YouTube as a way to share them.

 

 

In the past month, I have held space with creative women and even created a fun hair tutorial for a new series I am doing on Instagram and Facebook – Tsiiyéeł Tuesdays. I hope to inspire followers to share their pictures of themselves wearing their hair in the traditional style of our people. As I explain in the video, the tsiiyeeł is the way Navajos are meant to care for our hair, it is how we respect the power of the thoughts found in these precious strands of our lives.

 

 

In this post, I want to share these videos with you and encourage you to subscribe to the Grownup Navajo YouTube channel, if you haven’t already.

 

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)

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!

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.

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!

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.