She was very happy with her sale because she got to keep the money. This money allowed her to buy graduation items she thought she wouldn’t be able to afford. She went on to attended Navajo Community College and earned a certificate which uprooted her from her home area to the Eastern Agency community of Crownpoint. It was here that she worked at Indian Health Services, the Navajo Nation Police Department, the Office of Vital Statistics, and Crownpoint Community School.
She had married, had a family and a place to call home. Weaving became therapy because she soon found herself a victim to domestic violence. Two years after filing for divorce, her oldest daughter became ill with leukemia and passed away in April. During these trying times weaving de-stressed her and provided an extra income. Five years later, she married Kenneth Begay, a big supporter of Gloria and his stepchildren.
When teaching her students, she tells them to research other well known weavers and their textiles such as Roy Kady, sisters Barbara and Lynda Teller, Gilbert Nez-Begay, and Kevin Aspaas; they all have their own story for weaving, their styles are what makes them recognizable, even from a glance. She says “the more you learn about other weavers, the more you know about yourself and you can create your own style”.
Learn your language, even if you know just a few words, you identify yourself as a Dine person; to learn that being Dine is unique. “No one can take that identity from you”. That is something that a lot of our youth are dealing with, they may feel embarrassed to speak it because they might get shamed for speaking; it should be that way, we should be encouraging all the youth to speak our language.
The last is something that she recalls her mother sternly telling her “You have ten fingers, those ten fingers are given to you so that you can take care of yourself; work with your hands”. This was not just a saying, it is the Dine philosophy of self determination or T’aa Awoli Bee. I recall my own grandmother saying that whatever you want or desire is at the very tip of your fingers, it's up to you to make the rest of the hand, mind and body to work to earn it. Sometimes, we take for granted how much work you put into something has its own rewards, or sense of accomplishment.
We ended the interview encouraging one another to keep weaving, carding, spinning, and learning. In Gloria’s words “Weaving is a non-stop learning process”.
My buckle and two bracelets have unlocked a new area of thinking that I did not know existed! By learning the traditional techniques, I have also discovered that I only need a hammer and a few stamps to create beautiful pieces of jewelry.
In the second semester, I am excited to challenge myself to learn and create pieces of jewelry that speak to my understanding of Navajo Culture. In the meantime, I will continue to let my creativity “flow”.
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.
Christine M. Ami
NCAP Grant Manager
Several of our NCAP family members were juried into the in person event prior to its transition to a virtual format. These 4 individuals decided to take the leap with SWAIA into the realm of online sales. We wanted to give a tremendous shout out to our Diné College faculty and students who are now entering into their 4th week of this virtual market:
-Pottery Instructor: Jared Tso
-Wool Processing Instructor: Tahnibaa Naataanii
-BFA Silversmithing Student: Carlon P. Ami II
-BFA Silversmithing Student: Ephraim "Zefren" Anderson
Click on their names above and you will be routed directly to their SWAIA Artist Page. There you can learn more about them as artists and purchase directly from them via their online booths! While the Virtual Market ends August 31st, the artists' websites will be accessible for an entire year. So stop back in and check on the unique work being produced throughout the next year.
Crystal and I also had an opportunity to sit down and have zoom chats with Jared, Carlon, and Zefren about their experiences being accepted into the market and setting up their virtual SWAIA booths. Check out our conversations below!
We look forward to supporting our Diné College artists in their cultural and fine arts pursuits. If you are interested in joining the Diné College Bachelor of Fine Arts Programs, be sure to contact the following program coordinators for more information:
Shaina Nez, BFA Coordinator, email@example.com
Crystal Littleben, Navajo Cultural Arts Program Coordinator, firstname.lastname@example.org
Navajo Weaving BFA Student: CA315 Wool Processing II
I figured - why stop here?! So I added Annatto Seeds, something I found at the grocery store in the spice section. I didn’t know what to expect from this honestly. After letting that boil, I added another skein and that came out even brighter.
color. I immediately turned down the heat and added the skein of wool. I Waited for a bit and decided to let it set in a glass jar to see if the color would be better achieved that way. After a couple of days, I took it out and it came out more of an indigo color. It was not the color I was shooting for, but it is still an accomplishment because I’m learning the use of alum and how heat could also play a factor in getting the colors.
The last skein in the picture is one that I am very proud of. It is made with what was left of the cabbage dye bath and what was left of the flower dye bath....I let one side of the skein in the cabbage dye bath and the other end in the flower dye bath. I let it set this way overnight. By morning it created this variegated skein.
There are more other plant dyes that I am very interested in experimenting with. Thanks to our Professor Sarah Natani and her extensive knowledge in plant dying, I am confident in dying wool and experimenting more in the near future.
Sue V. Begay
Navajo Weaving BFA Student, CA315 Wool Processing II
I prepared the black walnut skin with a pre-soaking. Pre-soaking is required because the black walnut is very hard. I had my black walnut soaking for one day and one night. I prepared the labels on the skein and wet the weft. For this project, I used heather gray and blanche white from Brown Sheep Company along side some of my hand spun wool. After my skeins and weft were labelled, I dipped them in the prepared boiling pots of water. The water I used is from the unconfined aquifer water from Narrow Canyon. All the dyeing is done with unconfined aquifer water. I repeated the same process for the yellow skin onions- although I did not have to pre-soak.
For each dye, I made two groups: one set made with alum and another set without alum.
My experience with dyeing with yellow onion skin and black walnut was very exciting. The colors of the weft are gorgeous with both yellow onion skin and black walnut. I learned about the slight various of natural plants as well as the differences using machine spun vs hand spun wool. Ultimately, what my major take away this week is that the beauty and gorgeous colors that comes from Mother Earth are treasures. Watching how the color comes alive.
Here are some other practical take aways I learned this past week:
Lesson Learned: The wool is still very hot even after two baths.
Lesson Learned: Never mix a pre-dyed skein with your skein you wish to color.
Lesson Learned: Be patient and let the colors work.
BIG Lesson Learned: This is what not to do. I put in a white skein and put a sky-blue skein on top of it and the color transferred onto the white skein. I can still use this in my pictorial rug as a corn tassel or streaks in the skyline. One of a kind weft.
I am very honored to be in this class even though we are distance learning. It was absolute great day of hands on activities and I am looking forward to another great lesson. But for now...I saved some of my black walnut and I'll be testing it out with some Navajo churro raw wool.
Navajo Weaving BFA Student: CA315 Wool Processing II
In preparation of dying wool, I found it interesting that it was encouraged to recycle or repurpose materials. There’s really no need to go and purchase everything new. You just have to look around and see what you could use. A metal basket with bailing wire could be turned into a strainer or empty water/milk jugs could be used to make tags to label your skeins.
Once the tea was ready; we added the unbleached white wool and the heather gray wool...the colors that came from the first dye bath were very subdued. The second dye bath, when the alum mordant was added, the colors was very bright! The first dye lesson was a success!
When seeing the colors that developed from this lesson, I couldn’t help but think about the many other plants on the land that serve a purpose. Whether it was a natural remedy for an ailment, or an essential item for a ceremonial reason or a utilitarian item; these plants served a purpose. I am very honored to be learning these ways and that I can share this with my helpers. We are already looking forward to the next plant dye session.
If you are interested in joining the Navajo Weaving BFA program in the fall, be sure to get in contact with Christine Ami (email@example.com) or Crystal Littleben (firstname.lastname@example.org). It's a one of a kind program - only offered here at Diné College!
Christine M. Ami, Ph.D.
Grant Manager, Navajo Cultural Arts Program
I would watch her weave for hours, sometimes laying on the floor with my eyes closed listening the thump of the comb as she carefully secured one line of wool to the next. I could follow the sound of the warp as she moved the batten in preparation for her next line. I would sit next to her while she wove and every once in a while, she would call me over to put a few lines in, watching how I handled the comb, worked with the weft, and practiced my turns.
To sit in front of her loom for a photo op was strange - and while everyone in the room was laughing, smiling, and enjoying the last few minutes we had together before we headed off to Flagstaff, I knew at 10 years old that I wasn’t the weaver of that beautiful storm pattern rug despite what that soon to be developed film would present.
This is a scene of what Philip Deloria could define as Playing Indian (1999) or what I would be inclined to call playing Navajo (check out my dissertation [Today, We Butcher: A study on Navajo Traditional Sheep Butchering, 2016] - it’s mostly on sheep and butchering but you can check out some insight to playing Navajo debates). It isn’t as uncommon as we would think and with today's technology - it happens almost spontaneously. Photo ops for graduations, weddings, tourism, magazines, Instagram and Facebook have sprung up in recent years with Navajo individuals pretending to be deeply entrenched with traditional practices, even assuming traditional artisan roles such as weavers, potters, basket makers, silversmiths, etc. I am not referring to photographs of Navajo individuals who document key moments of their lives where they have left their comfort zone to engage and create with their own hands for the first or billionth time. I am referencing those who knowingly have no experience with the art pretending to work on a cultural arts piece for a mere photo op, stealing intellectual property and artistic abilities.
Most recently I was called in to assess an incident where an Instagram photo and Facebook video had been released of a Navajo individual who was pretending to be the weaver of a Navajo sashbelt in progress. I later found out that there was a Navajo run production team taking footage. They wanted some b-roll of Navajos weaving - what could be more of testimonial that our cultural practices persist in the heart of the Navajo Nation than an image of a beautiful Navajo woman sitting in front of a loom weaving? The only problem - there were no Navajo women weaving at that moment. But there were warped looms in a locked room with no one present at the moment to claim ownership and there was an available Navajo person willing to pose although had no knowledge of that style of weaving and were well aware that the weaving on the loom was not of their making. The loom was positioned incorrectly and hands that were not the artist moved the dowel that separated the male and female warp. Photos were taken; video was captured; posting on social media took place. In just a few moments – a theft had occurred.
Stolen - credit of artwork.
Stolen - intellectual property.
Stolen - credit of the maker.
Stolen - the intimacy between the sashbelt maker and their loom.
While there is a tremendous lesson to learn from this incident for those parties involved - they never offered to make amends with the weavers; they never offered their apologies to the looms. I was the one left to clean up the aftermath that they had created - I was the one who had to let the weavers know what I had found out about the violation of their creative space and the violation to their identities as Navajo weavers. A few days later on a cold Saturday morning we sat as a group and we talked while they wove - the looms listened. That day the weavers finished their pieces and began new sashes - the looms forgave them - the looms forgave me. Thinking about the event and the many other instances that I have seen on social media, television, and magazines where Navajo play Indian, I felt that there was a need for public discussion to take place about why it is wrong for individuals to pose for photos, pretending to be an artist of an art piece that they did not create, Navajo or not. So here are my ponderings ... each one worthy of their own posting or book.
Would an individual (Navajo or not) pose for a photo in front of a painting, sculpture or other fine art with such confidence as to suggest that that artwork in the photo was of their own making? Probably not. I've been asking my colleagues (who are weavers, painters, silversmiths, and photographers) this question - and their responses are overwhelmingly the same - absolutely not. Then my question remains, why would this be okay for someone to do so with a cultural art? The debate between the cultural and fine arts has been in existence for more than a century (Check out this oldie but goodie by Boas Primitive Art ). This is the very rationale for creating a Navajo Weaving and Navajo Silversmithing BFA program. Graduates of this program are set to re-envision the future of the southwest Indian art’s culture and economic markets through visual sovereignty strategies. Hulleah Tsinhnahjinnie’s (Seminole/Diné) posits visual sovereignty in “Dragonfly’s Home” in Visual Currencies: Reflections on Native Photography (2009) as “a particular type of consciousness rooted in confidence which is exhibited as a strength in cultural and visual presence” (p. 10). She continues, “visual sovereignty does not ask permission to exist, but … require[s] responsibility to continue” (p. 11). In this manner the NCA BFA Emphases seed its students with responsibilities to Diné community, culture, and ways of understanding the world through the language of art. What this sashbelt incident has taught me is that our BFA graduates have a lot of work ahead of them - working to confront the lack of cultural and visual respect that our cultural arts face from both within and without the culture. Their positions, their voices, and their work are stories of survivance.
Does the fact that this was a Navajo loom, that it was a Navajo individual willing to pose, and that the production company was Navajo run make this theft okay? As Navajo people, we so easily charge non-Navajos with cultural misrepresentation, cultural appropriation, and even unauthentic authorship. With photography and videography in mind, we can look at the work of Edward Curtis, who for decades has been rightfully criticized by Native artists, activists, and scholars for his staging of Indigenous peoples for photos, blending two or more completely distinct indigenous populations for the purpose of capturing the "Indian" before he vanished. Curtis' most exemplifying piece of our Navajo culture fading off into the sunset is found in his composition of Vanishing Race. The location of our dismal future was contained within the walls of Canyon de Chelly, whose canyon mouth is less than 30 minutes from Tsaile. Images of colonization and the theft of our indigenous visual sovereignty was and is not a hard sell for these Edward Curtis case scenarios. So....
...what happens when the lack of cultural and artistic respect is committed by our own people? As I was searching for answers, trying to understand why this incident had taken place, I replayed to the rationalizations presented to me by those who were involved in this incident:
“I didn’t know it was a classroom,”
“There are looms all over campus,”
“We just used the loom as a prop,”
“We weren’t playing,”
“I’m a weaver - I know it is not okay to mess with someone’s loom,"
"If I knew it was someone’s, I would have never,”
“I’m never going volunteer for anything again,”
“We didn’t have time to find a weaver,”
“I’m sorry. I should have known better”.
I could continue but you get the idea - the excuses are endless. For whatever the intention, rationalization or excuse, scenarios such as these are not only demonstrations of a lack of respect for our own cultural arts but also for our own people. This is internal colonization at its best. No longer is it an outsider who wishes to capture our people in the thrust of cultural exoticism; rather, it is our own people who have staged these scenes to maintain the static visual representation of what a Navajo should look like and should know how to do. We self imposed what people like Edward Curtis had visually depicted of us. We self-romanticize, self-fetishize - and in the end - for what purpose? - To continue to prove to the outside world that we are still Navajo? Or worse, to prove to ourselves that we are still Navajo? Or worse yet, we just want a pretty picture for Instagram? In any of these scenarios the larger issue is about respect, or rather, lack thereof. Lack of respect for the artist, the loom, and the weaving. It also suggest a lack of self-accountability of the individuals who see no harm in just taking a picture.
And after reflecting upon this scenario, the excuses presented to me, and understanding the internal colonization at work - I don't think that those individuals who were involved in those photos understand the complexities nor the ramifications of their actions; moreover, since, I was the one blocked from Instagram and Facebook profiles, it appears as if they feel as if it were their personal space that was violated - not the weavers who were creating on the looms. Their social media block serves as a hope that I could never reprimand them for their posting of culturally appropriating photos again. It was a failed attempt to make me feel as if I had been the one who overstepped my boundaries.
Regardless of the displaced anger of those who sat in front of the loom that wasn't theirs, one of their excuses continued to linger on my mind: "the looms were just props." How could these looms be used as mere props when their existence alone represents the world around us, the deities who we pray to, and the elements of nature who challenge us? Weaving looms are not coat hangers; they are not pull up bars; they are not jungle gyms for children; they are not props. These looms are our world (Check out the Bee ádeil’íní: Navajo Cultural Arts Language Series segment on the cultural teaching of the loom for more insight on the cultural teachings of the loom). And while to many, one sashbelt is the same as the rest, serving as a perfect Navajo background to authenticate Navajo photographic status, to the sashbelt weaver there are so many distinctions between each creation. From geometric and algebraic calculations, wool, yarn, or cotton selections, respinning decisions, to the accompanying songs, prayers and thoughts woven into each piece that will journey with the person wearing the sash during their intended occasions - each sash is unique and each sashbelt weaver is keenly aware of that. There are reasons why and when an individual can or cannot wear or use a sashbelt, many of which are associated to key transitions in our life like puberty, child birth, and after giving birth. Moreover, in none of our cultural teachings does the rationale "I need it for a photo" justify the use of a sashbelt or the need to sit in front of a loom and pretend to be the weaver.
With that, this scenario and those similar bring up a larger and perhaps more frightening question: does the aesthetic perpetuation of cultural arts trump the perpetuation of the cultural art skills, knowledge, and purpose? The creation of the NCAP was to (1) continue the intergenerational transfer of Navajo cultural arts knowledge; (2) perpetuate the technique and skills of the Navajo cultural arts, and (3) reconnect the cultural teachings to the cultural arts practices. While aesthetics matter for a plethora of reasons, including rather practical issues such as fit, wear, and use, the empowerment of our cultural arts teachings, skills, and purpose should and must trump the mere "playing Navajo" mantra. We are Navajo people, not because we wear Navajo cultural arts but because our mother's have given us that birthright and with that birthright comes responsibilities to our way of life. Being Navajo is more than playing a Navajo model, more than having a census number, and more than "coming home" to vote during elections. Being Navajo entails community and cultural obligations that tie us to our land - including an engagement with, respect for, and responsibility to our cultural arts skills, knowledge, and purposes. At the NCAP we have witnessed the transition of young Navajo artists from mere inquiring minds to culturally and technically fluent cultural artists. We have experienced, as staff, the possibilities that this knowledge holds for both the students and the teachers. That proof, for us, is more than enough cause to continue our outreach programs - exposing the cultural teachings that come from the loom as more than pretty picture material - but rather, as a way of life that is at times harsh but rewarding in more ways than we can empirically record.
Ultimately, why would there be allowances for presenting false visual stories to the world when we have specialized artists and people who dedicate their studies and their lives to these arts who could be spot lighted - showing the world real stories of survival, resistance, and survivance? There is no need to “play Navajo” for the purpose of an image. We do not have to fit the Edward Curtis mold of what a Navajo individual should be posed as. As Navajo people, our visual stories are so diverse. However, for those who maintain, perpetuate, and celebrate our cultural arts, while they connect to our greater history and future of who we are as Navajo people - please let their stories be their stories. Our looms, our weavings, and our cultural artists have voices, lives, and agency. Let’s not take that away from them for the sake of “likes” or ❤️'s to be hoarded on social media networks. If we are looking to capture an image of a weaver – let the person in the photo be a weaver. Let the work in the background reflect their work. Let’s take the time to talk with, learn with, and highlight our cultural artists - showcase their work, promote their small businesses, and celebrate them.
Yes, we must build rapport and establish relationships with our cultural artists.
Yes, we need to help to protect our cultural artists by becoming more self-aware.
Yes, this will take time.
In the end, the time it will take to create this connection is in no way comparable to the quantity and quality of time, effort, and sacrifice that these artists have put into learning their work. We want to do more than just listen to their stories - we want to hear them. Through visual sovereignty, we as Navajo people, can help people hear those stories by way of images - so let's stop playing Navajo.
With that, I return to that day when my dad was taking my photo in front of my Nali’s loom. It is both similar and distinct from the sashbelt loom incident. Similar in that photos taken from these scenes would reveal false stories of who the weaver was/is. Distinct because at the end of my dad's photo session, my grandmother sat next to me. I remember that she took my hand with the comb still in it and guided it with sound. In that moment - it was as if she opened a window for me, teaching me how to find my own identity and my own healing (check out our Cultural Arts Holistic Well-Being Series). As I grew up, with some luck, some family support, some amazing teachings from weavers like Ilene Naegle, Roy Kady, Jeannie Jones, Jonah Yazzie, and TahNibaa Naataanii and a lot of honest time in front of my own looms, I found out what a loom can do for me holistically. My loom, that I must admit needs a bit of dusting off as of recent, saved me in many ways. Weaving inspired me to start speaking the Navajo language and helped me to deal with depression, insomnia and years away from the reservation. And although I have accrued just a shadow of my nálí’s skills in weaving, she still inspires me everyday that I pass her weaving that is hung in the center of our home. I would never want anyone to sit in front of her loom again and claim credit for her inspiration.
NCAC Emerging Artisan 2019/20 (Silversmith)
My name is Kalandrea Billah. I’m Red Bottom Clan born for Deer Spring Clan. My maternal clan is The One Who Walks Around and my paternal clan is The Towering House. I’m from Cedar Ridge, Arizona. This is my first semester here at Diné College. I'm in the Navajo Cultural Arts Certificate Program, emphasizing in the area of Navajo Silversmithing.
I didn't know exactly what to expect as I started out this program, which I am completing with my mother-in-law, Nona. I was mildly intimidated given that we were commuting all the way from the Western Agency. We came into to submit our applications and register for classes. We didn't know if we made it in time to get on the list for housing but we didn't care. "Sign us up and we will figure out housing later" was our general philosophy. 🤣 Risky attitude but totally worth it.
Already we find ourself 8 weeks into the program - just like that - 1/4 of the way through. I'd like to say that this has been one of the best experiences that I’ve had in my life. As we approach midterms week and our final meeting for the NCA197: Navajo Arts Material and Resource with Brent Toadlena, I can't necessarily begin to comprehend the impact that this class has had on me and all the things that I have learned.
The very first day of class we took a field trip out to the Chuska mountain where we gathered Alder Bark 🌳. After gather some bark, we ventured to Canyon De Chelly for Mountain Mahogany🌲. Before even before left to find bark, I knew this class was different. We learned gáál sin (journey song) as Mr. Toadlena explained that we were going to embark on a journey of learning about processing of natural materials. Its a sacred process filled with hard work and options for shortcuts along the way. No short cuts this time around 🤣 Not only were we told stories about the plants🍃, but we learned how they were used to make red dyes for a deer hide 🦌. Why a deer hide?, you might ask? We would be using the dyes and hides to make small pairs of moccasins - yup, your read that right! Old school.
I really enjoyed this class and my instructor. There was a lot of good information and I feel that I was able to appreciate and value the many lessons that I was taught. I had a great time in this class. Thank you a great 8 weeks, Brent and classmates!