Sheryl Lynn Benally
Program Assistant, Navajo Cultural Arts Program
So ... Christine walked into my office at the end of March and said "Guess what, Sheryl? You have seen me do it, it's time for you to do it! You are going to organize and run the Summer Workshop Series this year. Here is the summer scope - A Collaborative Weekend Summer Workshop Series with the Office of Miss Navajo Nation. Miss Navajo 2017-18 Crystal Littleben will be in attendance and we would help to promote holistic well-being through the cultural arts." I knew it was going to take some coordination but I was more than thrilled and excited to start right away.
First things first. I worked with Crystal and Christine to make sure we addressed their ideas. Crystal wanted five (5) workshops in each agency on the Navajo Nation; Eastern Agency (Crownpoint), Fort Defiance Agency (Window Rock), Chinle Agency (Tsaile), Western Agency (Tuba City) and Shiprock Agency (Shiprock). And Christine wanted to tie this series into the Diné College’s 50th Anniversary. - No problem - Diné College has branches in all agencies and so we worked out the locations with the site directors - Thank you, site directors, for opening up on the weekends!
Deciding upon workshop topics and searching for the workshop leaders were the most challenging. We needed to find dedicated artisans who were:
(1) from a variety of emphasis areas;
(2) willing to show and teach community members;
(3) located within specific agencies; and
(4) available the same days Crystal was able to attend.
Talk about moving parts! Slowly but surely it was all coming together. When we released the final flyer for the Workshop Series with the help of Coyote Pass Designs, we immediately got phone calls, emails, facebook messages, visitors to our office (and even houses!) to sign up. We literally had a waitlist up to twenty-two participants for the sash belt-making workshop and 19 for the skirt making. Although the phone calls, voicemails and emails were intense in quantity, it was exciting to know that our community was interested in our cultural arts programming.
Once we filled the workshops - it was prep time. I was off to find materials. I remember when I received the list for the Pow-wow Chest Plate making workshop I thought: “What is this?” “How will this look?” "What if I get the wrong beads." The NCAP had never done this type of workshop before. Thank goodness the workshop leader met me at City Electric and gave me the “101” on materials, how they are used, and what options exist. It was nice to have workshop leaders take the time out of their busy schedules and help with preparation like that.
Can I take a moment to gush about these workshop leaders? They are all so talented and passionate individuals on the cultural values they all shared. Hearing the cultural stories on each workshop emphasis, seeing the amount of material they need to get one project done, the hard labor that goes into it, the time it takes was a revelation and for that, they really do deserve recognition for the beautiful work they create. So, thank you, Troy, Wilfred, Jonah, Keonnie - oh yeah - and Crystal, who led the silversmithing workshop.
And of course this wouldn't have been possible without our community members. Our 26 workshop participants represented all 5 of our agencies and ranged in age from 18 - 65. Some had experience with some cultural arts and for others it was their first time. Many participants shared that their grandparents or parents had the cultural arts knowledge but they wanted to learn and carry on those traditions. I was inspired by how passionate they all were and every participant did an incredible job finishing their projects. They left each workshop happy and excited to show what they created. Calling each other by clan relations like “brother,” “sister,” and “mom”, many of them exchanged numbers to keep in contact. It was a cool bond to see - a bond that I had a small part in creating.
My personal favorite was the Silversmithing Workshop because my late Nali Dennis Yazzie was a silversmither. Since I started with NCAP, I have been given the amazing opportunity to learn how to silversmith. Now, that I have a taste for what it feels like with fire in my hand and beauty as the end result, I will continue learning. I want to keep that silversmithing emphasis alive in my family. We truly did “go all out” during that workshop, because we produced more than just bracelets! We got creative and made bracelets, pendants, rings and earrings. At one point, our participants did not want to leave the silversmithing building because they wanted to learn more.
It was truly an honor working with Crystal again and the turn out was great! After each workshop, we were thrilled to get positive feedback and it was a great feeling seeing the participants leave with cultural knowledge about the workshop. This summer workshop series is definitely for the books!
Miss Navajo 2017-2018, Office of Miss Navajo Nation
workshop as well! My moccasins were an inch too long due to wear and tear (probably from the rainy and muddy days) and the wrappings were hanging by a tread! With help from former NCAPer and awesome workshop leader, Sam, the repair (surgery) was successful! I cut half an inch off the sole and restitched the back half. The stitching naturally came back to me and it was like I never stopped making moccasins. This experience helped to jump start my critical thinking about the holistic components of moccasin making - so that's what I have for you today!
crucial so that your moccasins seems don't have scalloped, wavy edges. This spacing is created through your diligent perception. So take time to rest your eyes. It pays of in the end. Your posture is also something that you have to pay attention to. Much like weaving, if your posture is poor, that laziness reflects in your work and back pain. Now mind you, this is just with the assemblage process. If you hunt, butcher and tan for your own buckskin - that's going to add a whole list of other physical demands as well.
Sam Slater also explained this connection between identity and moccasin making rather pointedly after the UNM workshop: "My identity as an individual is so tied to this art, it was such a humbling experience to teach it once again. Over four days of sharing and living moccasin stories, I know each of these participants all have their own moccasin story to tell, a story they stitched themselves". In short, as my yáázh Wilson Aronilth says, if you do not know who you are, you can never truly be happy. Knowing you are a moccasin maker for cultural artisans like Sam brings happiness and grounding in our Diné cultural identity.
of critical consciousness for your students, but often feel you’re missing the tools. These sacred shoes of survival are those tools. That’s all I have to say now, that these kélchí and their beautiful makers are such powerful tools for our people. I’m grateful for all they continue to teach me." In my opinion - becoming a moccasin maker is like getting your Ph.D. is Critical Theory and Application.
those who are no longer with us. It is in this way that moccasin making comfortably connects Sam and I. My aunt was known for making moccasins with a unique double stitch. Sam found out about this stitch from his NCAC Moccasin Instructor, Harry Walters, and started to experiment on his own. The double stitch calms the scallops of the sole and as Sam worked on mastering this stitch, in a way he smoothed my soul, pushing memories of my bizhi to the forefront. It must be a Round Rock thing!
Thank you to NAS UNM and Sam for inviting me! Keep up the great work! And to our blog readers - if you want to give moccasin making a try - NCAP is hosting a mini moc workshop hosted by Aaron Begay, along with other cultural arts emphasis workshops during the 2018 Navajo Cultural Arts Week. Contact Christine or Sheryl to reserve your spot - They fill up quickly.
Next week's blog is by Johnnie on the holistic components of weaving --- so stay tuned!!
Grant Manager, Navajo Cultural Arts Program
Currently, I am working along side Crystal from Office of Miss Navajo Nation and Johnnie from the Diné College Psychology Program on this unique Navajo Cultural Arts Holistic Well-Being Blog Series. While Crystal and Johnnie are focusing on specific emphasis areas and their relationship to the cultural arts, I'll be posting on NCAP's perspectives of holistic well-being as well as ways for artisans to self reflect on how they can utilize a holistic approach in their own work. This week I'll be looking at our NCAP Logo and how it dialogues with Crystal's platform and Johnnie's research.
The NCAP logo was collaboratively created by graphic artist, Corey Begay, and the NCAP staff. We contacted Corey because of his work with Salina Bookshelf, Inc. and the reputation he created through his mural projects in Flagstaff. We were in search of a logo that embodied our mission - to enhance and revitalize traditional Navajo cultural arts practices while promoting intergenerational teachings. We wanted something recognizable that also emphasized the cultural arts specializations offered in our Certificate Program: weaving, silversmithing, moccasin making, and basketry. Corey was up for the challenge and sent us a few sketches. We selected one of his ideas that interwove elements of beauty and protection. His ideas meshed so well with our own that we could see the potential of the Program through his sketches. From that draft, Corey consulted Diné individuals and the NCAP staff brought in suggestions from the Center of Diné Studies' faculty members. This is what was created!
Within the elements of the logo exists a ring of colors. These colors are not meant as a kitschy approach to culture nor is it a Panindian understanding of wellness. They are Diné philosophies encapsulated within our sacred stones - yoolgai, dootl'izhii, diichilí, dóó bááshzhinii. The NCAP understands them as the ontological (yoolgai - white shell), epistemological (dootl'izhii - turquoise), methodological (diichilí - abolone shell), and ethical (bááshzhinii - black jet) approaches to surviving this world in a balanced manner. These stones are at the base of the Diné holistic well-being framework presented by Crystal. When we work with these stones, we pull to us the physical health, emotional health, mental health, and spiritual health from which they stem. And when we work on our holistic well-being, we call upon these stones for guidance. This is how the relationship between the stones and well-being are reciprocal.
If you enjoyed this quick read today or for more information about the cultural arts and Diné holistic well-being, don't forget to.....
-Visit Miss Navajo Nation's website and her next 5K run in Tuba City
-Check-in with the NCAP blog - Next week's blog is on silversmithing!
-Apply for the 2018/2019 Navajo Cultural Arts Certificate Program :)
A posting by Crystal Littleben, NCAP Project Coordinator
You are probably wondering, what is this Littleben you speak of? Well, my name is Crystal Littleben and I am the Project Coordinator for the amazing Navajo Cultural Arts Program (NCAP). While I call two places home, Round Rock and Tuba City, Arizona, I am quickly starting to feel at home with NCAP here in Tsaile as well.
I am of the Red House (Kin Łichíi’nii) clan,
born for the Coyote Pass (Ma’ii Deeshgiizhnii) clan.
My maternal grandfather’s clan is the Bitter Water (Bįįh Bitoo’nii).
My paternal grandfather’s clan is the Under His Cover (Bit’ahnii).
It is mindboggling (in a good way!) to reflect on the little time I have been with NCAP and the amount of growth I gained both professionally and personally!
Growing up, I have always been naturally drawn to my Navajo language, culture, and arts. I am and will always be a lifelong learning of our Navajo language and culture… so, being offered the job as the Project Coordinator for NCAP was a great way to continue my journey of Sa’ah Naagáí Bik’éh Hózhóón.
Amongst the responsibilities of a Project Coordinator, I had the opportunity to be a part of a Weekend Silversmith Workshop led by Mrs. Martha Jackson. I had only been on the job for two weeks but I was ready for some hands on experience.
I have never tried my hand at any sort of silversmithing work. So, when Mrs. Jackson invited me to participate with the workshop, I was completely caught off guard. I had no idea what I was doing, didn’t know the “silversmith” language, and definitely, didn’t know how to use the tools. But if you know me, inexperience won’t stop me!
I have tons of NCAP stories to share with you and I hope you all continue to read our blog. So stay tuned! Follow us on our Website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
A posting by Christine M. Ami, Grant Manager
Call me sentimental but I want to make an old school mixtape – you know … where you wait by the radio with a blank cassette tape loaded, hoping that the radio DJ plays your favorite songs and praying that your finger reflexes can hit the record button before too much of the song’s intro is cut off. On my mixtape I want Adele’s “Send My Love”, Jennie Rivera’s “La Chacalosa”, Justin Timerlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling”, and Diisigner’s “Panda” to play, so that I may make a gift, a mixtape, for our 2016 Emerging Artisans who just completed their Navajo Cultural Arts Certificate Program. Each song has a unique reference to one of these Emerging Artisans and together - I think this mixtape might just serve as the NCAP soundtrack for this year!
But first, let’s rewind to December 2015…..
The Center for Diné Studies (CDS) had the framework for a potentially amazing Navajo Cultural Arts Certificate Program – the curriculum was set, syllabi were drafted, instructors had been selected, and I had recently stepped up as the NCAP grant manager.
And then in January 2016 this happened…..
Ilene Naegle walked into my office
Delia Wauneka picked up an advertisement
Dawayne Bahe called me on my cell phone
Carlon Ami sat down at the registration table
These four students stepped up to test this budding program’s mission statement:
“To enhance and revitalize traditional Navajo cultural arts practices while providing opportunities for Navajo cultural arts knowledge holders and master artisans to share their unique skills in a multigenerational setting.”
In the end – the students’ exit surveys speak for themselves.......
“This has been the most developmental period during my career as a silversmith. I am extremely grateful for this program and the opportunities/knowledge it has provided me. Thank You, a resounding thank you to the NCAP!”
"I am so glad and happy I took the certificate program. I am artistically and culturally more award of Native American and Navajo cultural arts."
"My fellow cohort group were the best group to have experience the time with throughout each semester. We have grown close and I feel like I have related to them as family now."
"This program was so great and I am happy to be part of it. I have big hop that this program will excel with every cohort."