Yá’át’ééh. My name is Willis Tsosie. Ta'chii'nii – nishli, Ta'neeszahnii – bashishchiin, Kiyaa'aanii – dashicheii, Totsohnii – dashinali. I am from White Clay, near Sawmill. I spent time in Montana where I raised a family, completed my higher education experiences, and learned some lessons about life from Crow elders, like the one I just shared with you.
Considering myself a lifelong learner, I had an interest in learning Navajo silverwork when I returned home to Dine’, and learned the art at Dine’ College. The learning experience was more than using tools and creating pieces, I also learned its cultural meanings, specific protocols, and how creation comes from within. The experience inspired me to learn more about Navajo cultural arts, so I enrolled into the NCAP Certificate Program where I learned the art of moccasin making from a respected Navajo historian and artisan.
Mr. Walters would start class with a lecture on a Navajo origin story pertaining to Navajo moccasins. With the lecture completed and students continuing with their current moccasin project, we would soon hear Mr. Walters turned on his favorite music recordings like Glen Campbell or 70s rock from a small cassette player he brought to class. To me, knowing the music was there created an atmosphere of learning, concentration, and collaborating. Similar to some of you who may remember waking up to your mom or grandma talking in the kitchen while making breakfast and listening to a Navajo radio station. And between tapes Mr. Walters would provide a few more lessons on Navajo moccasin making.
As a student working towards a certificate program I can explain to you the details involved in making a pair of Navajo moccasins, but as a student embarking on an educational journey, the moments that are captured, like Mr. Walters music will long be remembered and becomes a part of my journey. I think that was what my Crow friend was explaining to me.
My favorite NCAP activity was being able to make my first pair of moccasins, hands down! Coming into NCAP, I didn’t know what to expect or prepare myself for… especially during a global pandemic. I wondered how our classes were going to perform and how I would get the materials but thankfully the staff provided us with the necessary tools to get started. We got out first instructional video and I watched that I don’t know how many times! Our instructor shicheii Harry Walters gave us a step-by-step video and I kept practicing and practicing his every movement. I think by now I remember the video link by heart… that gave me the groundwork in the moccasin making process.
After completing the left side of my first pair, I seen areas where I could improve and better myself for the right side. I took in shicheii Walter’s advice and began making the right side. After 2 hours, I finished shaping the sole and patiently waited for it to form. In the pictures you can see where I reevaluated my performance. After showing shimásání dóó shimá, it made me feel better seeing their facial expressions. Their amazed faces and encouragement stayed with me throughout the effort put in.
What do you look forward to as you start the second semester of the Navajo Cultural Arts Certificate Program?
To gain more knowledge in traditional forms of processing the hide and tanning. We watched a video dating back to 1945 and I saw families gathering and processing the hide from the cow they butchered. I thought our Navajo people did amazing work and turning their ideas into a usable creation.