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!