Native American culture & teachings through a modern lens

Tag: women

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.

 

 

Náádąą Rising & Other Reminders from the Cornfield

When I started my new adventure, I had no idea how much “new” I would be surrounded by. From finding a new coffee shop to hang out in to searching for a favorite new eatery to get carry-out from, life has been full of “firsts”. I’ve have also been seeking the answer to a new question – what songs do I sing to help the roots I am planting in this community be the healthiest?

 
I remember planting with my late Nalí asdzaan (paternal grandmother) when I was little. I love this memory of ours. From the feel of placing the jewel-toned corn kernels in the moist earth to the heat of the summer day, our entire time together was incredibly fun. I have been thinking of her consistently since I started to build my life in New Mexico. This memory came to be me recently as I have been reflecting about the kind of life I have planted and am cultivating. I remember her sharing songs as we planted. Offerings to the corn we hoped would grow in our field.

 
In my new home, days have been filled with exploration. I’ve been searching for my place within this community while also pushing myself to being open to people who cross my path. Being open provokes vulnerability which can be daunting. But there is treasure to be found in yourself and your surroundings when you crack open to (or from) a new experience. I recently shared a wonderful dinner with new friends and I was struck with pure giddiness as I felt the promise of a place being carved out for me here in these new lands.

 
As I have been seeking opportunities for Grownup Navajo to grow, I’ve longed for the strong sister bonds calling to me from across the desert. Answering prayers, I have connected to other motivating female Native entrepreneurs who have showed me a new kind of sisterhood. One formed and tested in the fire of trailblazing. They’ve cheered me on and reassured me of the normalcy of the journey I’ve traveled so far in launching my business.

 
In the corn field, my Nalí adszaan would move with measured intention. Creating the holes in the earth for the seeds with deliberate care. We would move row by row, being conscious of our thoughts and energy as we offered the seeds to the earth. Thinking about this day and the current point on my journey, I feel there are songs I need to learn and ones I somehow already know the melody. These “songs” I carry with me are ones of love, compassion and gentleness. I forget too easily, two lessons of the cornfield: 1) if I want corn to grow I have to get my hands dirty and work the earth and 2) corn takes time to grow. Much like children we must offer our praise and gratitude for the path that has unfolded. It is necessary to be thankful, even for the uncertain path.

 
I am grateful for the way the answers to the questions my heart asks arrive in my heart simultaneously quelling the anxiousness in my mind. Whether in the form of encouraging words from a fierce entrepreneur or an inspiring conversation with new friends, we are provided connections to the tools we need to continue to flourish. My life – each of our lives – have been prayed into existence and nurtured with intention, just like the corn that has grown in our fields. Corn which has grown for generations, blessed with songs whose power whisper reminders of our purpose. Our destiny is to grow and learn like the sacred náádąą (corn) we use for our prayers in the morning and ceremonies throughout our lives. Let’s hold this truth close, so we never doubt the direction we are going because it is innate in us to grow, rising bravely, like stalks of náádąą in a beautiful field.

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.

 

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.

 

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’.

In My Father’s Land

I entered this world through my mother but it is in my father’s land I live and call home. A place called Round Rock, a very small community in the heart of Diné Bikeyáh (Navajoland) in northeastern Arizona. This is the place where I grew up and lived when I was small. The place of many adventures in the iconic red dirt. I spent countless days with my late Nalís at their homestead and eventually had my Kinaaldás there.

My late Nalí with Round Rock in the distance.

My late Nalí with Round Rock in the distance.

People talk about the beauty of Navajo culture being found in the matriarchal structure without distinguishing the significant role men play in our society. In the book, Blood and Voice the author discusses the differences between the two as falling with the changes which happen to both the female and male bodies. Women have their menstrual period and men’s voices change when they enter puberty.

These two changes are critical to the longevity and continuance of Navajo society without women changing we would not be able to carry on the bloodline of our people. Men’s voices are necessary as they traditionally were the medicine men – they sung the songs of prayer in our ceremonies, they have the power to heal our people’s ailments. They are necessary to maintain Hozhó, the balance and harmony in our society.

Turquoise is a very sacred stone to Navajo people. I was taught to wear turquoise everyday as a form of protection. In Navajo we pray not only to Mother Earth but also to Father Sky. These beings are interdependent as we cannot have one without the other. Turquoise is worn to honor the men, to remind us we have both a male and a female side in us we must respect.

I have been shaped by the men in my life as much as the women. I am a young woman who proudly calls herself a daddy’s girl. My dad is the person I turn to when my heart and spirit is broken but also when I need to be inspired or pushed harder. It was my dad who molded me during my Kinaaldás. My wit and ability to keep up with the guys’ is due impart to my brothers who incessantly tease and joke with me. Growing up I took care of them but today more and more they carry me and my spirit when I doubt my own strength.

My late Cheí (maternal grandfather) was someone I only met once before his passed away suddenly, I do not remember this but my mom tells me he said I was such a beautiful baby girl. I know him only through stories and pictures but I dream about him and hope he is proud of the person I have become. My late Nalí Hastiin (paternal granddad) taught me two very important lessons with the way he lived his life – to love unconditionally and to fight. To fight for myself, my heart and my people. A quote he would recite often was, “If it is to be, it is up to me.” I love this quote and try to live my life by it as it challenges me to a sense of agency, it’s filled with civic responsibility.

As part of the American Indian National Veteran Memorial at the Heard Museum, Dr. George Bluespruce notes, “As American Indian people we honor two things continuously, our elders and our veterans.” I believe we must challenge ourselves to remember daily the reasons we are able to enjoy our lives seamlessly. Our culture and society was made by the people who came before us. It is our privilege to continue this work but we must also remember and respect the people who helped build today.

Tomorrow is Memorial Day, a time for us to remember not only the people who have made the ultimate sacrifice but also those who have stepped up to the call of duty to fulfill the promise of our country and to make our communities better. Like no other ethnic community American Indian people have served our country with the highest rate of servicemen and women per capita. I look around and my world has been touched by incredible men and women who have seen and understood the cost of our freedom. To my late grandfathers, uncles, aunties, brothers, sisters and dear friends who have served with humility, dedication and love, I extend my sincere gratitude for the lessons you have taught me. Your commitment can only be matched with drive to not be content with mediocrity and continuance to strive to the betterment of society.

Rising Star: Reflection

I love sparkle. My mom calls me a raccoon and sometimes a magpie because I am continuously distracted by all things glittery. It seems fitting a recent award I was honored to receive is called the Rising Star Award, something shiny. Given by the Arizona Humanities Council, the award recognizes a young professional, student or volunteer with outstanding and creative approaches to engaging the public with the humanities.

Post acceptance speech, with my beauty of an award.

With my beauty of an award.

I accepted the award with my dad at my side, the most handsome date.  This year marked the first year of this award and the 40th anniversary of the Arizona Humanities Council (AHC). Since 1973 AHC, has been dedicated to sharing the power of the humanities through the exploration of cultures, stories and experiences in an effort to create a civil and just society.

I am honored to have been one of two recipients of this award. Myrlin Hepworth, director of Phonetic Spit an organization which provides a space to empower youth to discover their voice and combat literacy. I have followed the work of Myrlin’s project and am in awe of the creativity and vision to use poetry and music to create life altering experiences for youth.

One of my favorite films about American Indian leaders is “Teachings of the Tree People: The Work of Bruce Miller.” It documents the work of the late Skokomish leader Bruce Miller, someone whose passion for teaching traditional basket weavings and cultural stories led the way for his community to revitalize these tribal practices. One of my favorite lines from the film clearly shows the brilliance of Bruce Miller and the value of tribal knowledge. I paraphrase, “As tree people we must understand not all of us are going to have the same knowledge. We all know different things. If each of us knew everything about our culture and history we would have no reason to need one another.”

I think this perspective of interdependence is critical. It is only through understanding and valuing the perspective we each have that we are going to be able to address the problems of our society. This is the value of the humanities. The humanities provide a forum for us to explore the concepts and ideas which make us uncomfortable.

In Navajo we call ourselves Diné, meaning “The People”. But we also talk about all people as Bila’ Ashladii’ or “five fingered people”. This is our common ground and a place in which we can begin to lean on one another to find solutions for the wicked problems of today. While it is important to be self-reliant, we also need to know it is our human nature to feel we belong…to one another.

Note: I extend boundless gratitude to Jovanna Perez, Billie Fidlin and Nanibaa Beck, the three women who nominated me for the award. I would not be as strong as I am or feel as though I belong without your guidance and support. Ahe’hee’.

We Belong to One Another

This a special Valentine’s Day note of gratitude and admiration to the women in my life:

I have been blessed with the gift of interacting with some amazing women. Women who are dedicated to making our community better, raising awareness about women’s rights and issues and furthering the understanding of diversity. I have listened to friends argue passionately about why certain issue from blood quantum to women’s access to healthcare matter. I’ve shared lunches with aspiring lawyers who discuss justice issues, listened to a panel discussion where an artist detailed her passion for her work and her advocacy for ending homelessness. I have been overwhelmed with the drive, inspiration and work of these women. Most of whose ages are close to mine. I call all of them friends, sisters even, as we are all fighting the same fight – one of equality, empowerment and awareness.

With Jovanna

With Jovanna at Women’s reproductive rights advocacy event

Navajo is matriarchal society, meaning when a new child is born the baby takes the clan of the mother – no matter if they are boy or girl, as we are the bloodline. It is the women who own the land. When a couple is married it was traditional custom for the groom to move-in with the bride and her family.

Navajos believe half of your body is female – the other male, but they exist as one. We learn by doing. I was watching a close friend the other day tell my niece it is important to put your shoes on starting with the right side as this is your female side. He talked of how this is how we respect this part of us.

With Thalia, Robyn and Angela

With Thalia, Robyn and Angela

It is important to understand even though women have certain roles our balance in society depends on the men. We know we need men to assist in the continuance of our culture as we depend on them to be the leaders – whether through being medicine men or by protecting our land. The balance hinges on our ability to incorporate and maintain the teachings of Hozhó – the philosophy of everything having a living essence and co-existing in harmony with one another.

With Nanibaa

With Nanibaa at an arts event

I started this blog as a celebration of women because I believe American society does not celebrate or respect women enough, in particular women of color. So today, on a day of love I wanted to send a special note of gratitude to the women I have been so fortunate to meet and work with in my life. This is a love letter to these women as I am grateful for what they have taught me – so far. I am a young Navajo woman and I understand in order for my community to improve, I need to be a part of the dialogue but most importantly part solution.

With retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor

With retired Supreme Court Justice and advocate for women, Sandra Day O’Connor

Ladies your work and personas are ones which drive me to do more and grow. I believe we carry one another and I am humbled to continue to learn from you. Ahé’hee’ (Thank you).

Jovanna Perez + Nanibaa Beck + Kristin Thomas + Sierra Teller Ornelas + Andrea Preston + Chelsea Chee + Jessica Begay + Nikole Yurt + Adrienne Keene + Rachael Myer + Dr. Jessica Metcalfe + Billie Fidlin + Mary Stephens + Cassandra Hernandez + MaRia Bird + April Bojorquez + Mikaela Crank-Thinn + Kate Crowley + Angelica Delgadillo + Rebecca Balog + Natalie Brown + Lisette Flores + Alexandrea Schulte + Nitasha Half + Annabell Bowen + Lindsay Nordstrom + Ashley Uentillie + Serena Castillo + Brenda Golden + Karen Spencer-Barnes + Andrea Hanley + Darsita Ryan + Donalita Bitsinnie + Nikke Alex + Shaylin Shabi + Misha Newell + Millie Chalk + Vania Guevara + Bobbi Nez + Melissa Bob + Velma Craig

With special thanks to…

My mom Karina + niece Angela: I live my life to make you proud. I love you.

My sisters Robyn + Kim + Thalia

My grandmas Lillian + Mae + Eva + Marie

My aunties Faith + Mary + Michele + Lorinda + Jeanne + Ramona + Jennifer + Theresa

My (cousin) sisters, I love you all.