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!
NCAC Apprentice 2018/19 (Silversmith)
I didn't have to imagine. This was my reality this Spring 2019. My Choice? I wanted to take my silversmithing skills to another level, work with heavy gauges of silver, and sell my work alongside my weavings. Who was there to help me? Lyndon Tsosie and the NCAP Apprenticeship Program.
At Lyndon’s shop, I became comfortable working on basic chains. And as time passed and with Lyndon's help, I learned how to make heavier jewelry as well as jewelry that was lighter for everyday wearing. I also focused a lot on my design. Lyndon’s tips and knowledge on raising metal allowed me to reach a new level of skill and aesthetic. So here is what I learned...
The attentive master jeweler, Lyndon, would wait until I asked a hard question or expressed frustration at what I was doing. Those lessons received and tips became part of my tools. Lyndon taught me that he was a tool as well. He would say: “I’m a tool here and that is how you are going to learn more than I can teach in my entire lifetime because everything around you can teach you and can be tools. So respect them and keep learning.”
Working with thick gauges of 10 or lower, learning how to manage the heat properly, and selecting the correct tools were great take aways from my time as an apprentices. As my supply list grew prepared myself to raise silver into a vessel perhaps a cup or tumbler. A bigger torch, heavier hammers, anvils and several copper plates contributed to my practice sessions. While the NCAP provided funds for this journey, I had to learn how to budget so I only had enough left to purchase one silver 6x6 18 gauge piece for the final piece.
After four weeks of visiting Lyndon and finding some weaving time in between visits, I completed the final assembly of my necklace and I did my final buff on the bracelets. Then the challenge began - I started raising the sliver. Every day, for 5 days, I was working at least 6 hours on the hammer work of the cup, slowly coaxing the sliver from flat sheets to organic vessel. Every course needed annealing and every morning my hands and arms would ache and cramp but I pushed through finally knowing that it takes all your tools, used properly and with respect to shape art. The cup was simple but I became more than just a cup with every hammer blow and cramp. Then... it was all over.
The pieces were done. But before I turned the pieces in for my mini exhibit, it was time for critique of their style and wear. Positive reviews all around with remarks that the pieces that are heavy are rightfully so and that pieces that look heavy were surprising lighter than expected, which attest to their value as a everyday wearer jewelry. The biggest critics were from the NCAP grant manager, Christine Ami and my mentor Lyndon Tsosie who both ran a list down of the stages where I could have done better but complimented on the execution for a new silversmith. Their last words were of encouragement and of how being pushed will tighten the bar between novice and master craftsperson. They reminded me that I should reward all the hours, pain, perseverance, devotion to design and crafting with a good life. Just like the first lesson, the first tool I was given the principal of Sa'ah Naagháí Bik'eh Hozhóón from Wilson Aronlith. So I look forward to more as I continue to work with Diné College and The Navajo Cultural Arts Program. Thank You!
AND... Stop by to check out the creations I made during my apprenticeship at the Navajo Nation Museum from July 8 - August 2, 2019. Opening Night will be July 9th from 5-8pm. The title of my exhibit will be "Received from Jóhonaa’éí: Tools of Silversmithing." I hope to see you all there !
NCAC Emerging Artisan 2018/19 (Moccasin Maker)
When I first enrolled, I took whatever class that interested me. This included the fine arts and a sampling of the Navajo cultural arts classes that they had then. Every experience was really good until I took the moccasin class….that was it for me. 💙💙💙 I LOVED it 💙💙💙. I always remember Mr. Harry Walters telling us that our art picks us. Mr. Walters was my first moccasin making instructor and he intrigued me with his knowledge of Navajo culture. He told stories, sang songs, a trip to Dinétah and as a result made me proud to be Diné. Just this past fall, I enrolled in the Navajo Cultural Arts Certificate Program for the year 2018-2019 with the emphasis of moccasin making. It wasn't a spur of the moment decision - I have wanted to be in the Navajo Cultural Arts Program for the last three years but for various reasons, I was unable to be in the program until this past year.
Ni’hoosdzíinbiyiin, Shash biyiin. He explains in Navajo and English. Everything that I was being taught here at the college through culture, history, language, and art classes was now coming together. Inclusion is all important and now EVERYTHING MAKES SENSE. All the pieces are put together and I have an understanding of the Navajo universe.
Weaving and the loom. Aheehee, Mr. Lyle Harvey. Baskets and the materials, Aheehee Mr. Thomas Yellowhair. Moccasins and the appropriate use of materials. Aheehee, Mr. Harry Walters. I have a true understanding of the stories that each instructor brought to the classroom.
Now come the cliché “Full Circle” makes sense and now that is what I believe.
To me, Full Circle means as a Navajo woman that I can integrate my western education and my Navajo cultural education with my identity. I plan to bring this knowledge with me to the elementary classroom and to everyday life. They all have a place in and outside of the classroom. My year with Navajo Cultural Arts Program brought this realization to my attention.
Full Circle. Our Diné moccasins are sacred footwear…the top is Father Sky, the sole is Mother Earth and the sinew is lightening. The lightening is what holds the sky and the earth together.
Full Circle. My obligation as a moccasin maker is to pass on the knowledge that was gifted to me through our program and Mr. Harry Walters.
Full Circle. I feel complete. Life is good.
NCAC Emerging Artisan 2018/19 (Basket Maker, Moccasin Maker)
My husband, Mike and I signed up for a two-day silversmith workshop in St. Michaels on October 25thand 26th. Our instructors for these days were Chris Tom, Charles Johnson and Lester Craig. Day 1 we worked on stamping straight lines for a bracelet and then on Day 2 we worked on cutting and soldering.
I took the workshop because I wanted to learn how to make buttons for my moccasins. I want to finish a pair of moccasins that is made all by yours truly. That was my goal when I showed up. On that first day, the men asked about our goals or why we were taking the workshop and then they decided what types of projects we would be working on. I was given smaller stamps to work with, to practice repetition in my stamping and to also do some drawing with basic stamps. My husband and I had so much fun these two days. We learned so much from these gentlemen that it inspired us to really take this art seriously and purchase the supplies to get started.
Some of the tips I remember from these two days were: if you make a mistake with your stamping, just go with it and make the mistake apart of your final piece. After each hit you make with your hammer, regroup and hit the stamp again. Don’t forget to breathe. And you will smash your thumb so just let it happen, there’s no avoiding it. If you are very serious about silversmithing, practice and practice and work at it every day.
I feel that all these tips apply to all the Navajo cultural arts and to life general. Mistakes help you to learn about you strengthens and weaknesses and to learn from them. It makes your life interesting but, only if you learn from them. We will all get hurt so don’t be afraid to live your life. When you make mistakes or get hurt you must regroup and take a breath. And if you love to do something you should enjoy it, by doing it every day.
NCAC Emerging Artisan 2018/19 (Weaver)
Personally, I took it as a true test to see how confident I was in setting up a loom. The very first part of the process was to start with the warping. What would be an adequate size for a community loom? Enough that it could get finished within a week? I was taking into consideration to many things….on the day of setting up the loom, I packed what I thought we needed. Surprise! Of course, the zip ties I brought weren’t long enough, so now to look for wire. The words of our weaving instructor came to mind, “Make sure you have everything on hand, you don’t want to say ‘I don’t have it’ and put off weaving”. Should have packed the wire! Eventually, it was set up and ready to be created. I sat to the loom first; we were taught that the first couple of wefts are the foundation of your creation. You think positive thoughts about the weaving, the process it takes to complete and the journey upon completion. My thoughts were that whomever took the time to add a few or even more wefts would find themselves in complete peace and contentment. There is so much going on in the world and in our own lives today that sometime we forget to think about the present, “the here and now”.
If you have had the chance to sit down to the community loom to weave or even just to admire it, I hope that you had a moment of tranquility. I encourage you to make a visit to the museum exhibit, have a seat and add a few lines. You will not walk away disappointed.
NCAC Emerging Artisan 2018/19 (Silversmith)
I could become familiar with the tools, materials, and time that it would take to make these earrings.While that was a pretty cool learning experience - it was the workshop itself that took place on April 17th that truly made this experience worthwhile.
We had a tremendous amount of fun getting to know each other. After introductions were given and the “Ayes” were had, the safety gear went on. With their natural talent for designing, we got to do some stamp work and rolling plate designs on 24 gauge brass and 20 gauge silver. The end results were spectacular pairs of earrings they got to take home with them! They were both very inspiring to get to know and demonstrated that the student can sure teach the teacher. They revealed to me that everything an artist touches is art even if the materials are different. Although I am sure it was a transition for them - working with the rough destruction process of metal work instead of with gentle spinning of wool - swapping metal tools for their cedar tools they were used to.
It took a little bit of elbow grease and teamwork to complete the rolled earring. Very much well worth the sweat though. We had a lot of laughs and fun with the rolling plates. The biggest challenge we found was getting the perfect amount of pressure for the end result we wanted. My goal was to convey to the participants that the first thing silversmithing asks of you is the ability to channel your passion for creation. I hope that message came through!
I had a ton of fun connecting and encouraging! I hope to visit this mother and daughter duo in from Spider Rock sometime this summer. Ahe’hee for this experience!
NCAP Apprentice 2018/19 (Silversmith)
I was only seeking cultural knowledge to back my weaving when I first joined the Navajo Cultural Arts Certificate Program in 2017. The program required that I select an emphasis area and at the time I wasn’t looking to expand my artistic ability past weaving. But I also recognized that silversmithing was an option in the program. A small moment of self-doubt, much like when I first filled out the application for NCAP went through my mind. As I contemplated adding silversmithing as an emphasis area, I asked myself, “was this going to worth my time away from my loom, friends and family?” The possibilities of “what if?” were at first negative - "what if it takes away from my weaving? what if I am not good enough?" I signed up anyway for my silversmithing classes with Wilson Aronilth and looking back on that decision...my :what ifs" have become “what if I had not?”
Every class, mentor and event that NCAP included only strengthened my understanding of K'é, which is both a Navajo philosophy and Navajo skill. Those moments of self-doubt are no longer signs of weakness but great turning points where life changing decisions are made.
By the end of the program, my weaving did not suffer - I received the Legacy of a Master Weaver award for my stripped blanket at the 2018 NCAP Exhibit. I took a gambled with that rug - another area of self doubt - my decision of reviving older styles of weaving. And guess what....my gamble selecting a second emphasis area paid off. Starting with sheet of 3x6" sterling silver plate during the cohort I received a ribbon for a simple split shank bracelet. They were recognized by established silversmiths and weavers as great examples of Navajo Art even though I didn’t feel like they were. To me, they were just small aberrations in the cosmos that is Human existence.
Fast forward to 2019 and I’m now an expert at trudging past the small pauses of why? NCAP did that. The Program gave me the ability to plan and work independently while developing relationships that strengthen Navajo culture. I find myself doing activities outside my comfort zone with a Certificate of Navajo Cultural Arts in hand. I’m doing this while also continuing to weave full time for Native American art Shows and being a caregiving to my father. Life didn't stop me from applying and receiving a NCAP Paid Apprenticeship. Through that gamble I was given the opportunity to learn from Lyndon Tsosie, a world renowned Navajo Silversmith and owner of the House of Stamps in Gallup. Little did I know at the time that his advice would have life altering affirmations of the path NCAP put me on.
“You have to earn your chops” and “believe in your work as you design it, not as the experts defines it” Those are the central lessons I learned from Lyndon as we both concentrated on the 61stHeard Museum Guild Indian market and Art show. During my time with Lyndon, I asked about older techniques and styles of Navajo Jewelry and Lyndon responded with a trove of knowledge and experiences that I have yet to utilize personally. But I have learned that with the simplest tools, great art can be created, nurtured and shown to hold its beauty among others styles.
Another moment of self-doubt - Submission time to the Heard. I was fully prepared to defend my work. I had three weaving pieces to submit with one sliver bracelet- A total of 4 pieces but the limit was 3. For a split second, I wanted to switch out my weakest weaving for my bracelet as the other two weavings were made for the expected standards of Navajo textiles. My weakest piece was an experiment and broke almost every rule of the standard of Navajo weavings. A split second later, I walked out with my bracelet and I left my atypical, experimental weaving to be juried.
What if I had NOT! That experiment - that piece that I thought had the weakest possibility of placing - Won best of Show at the 61st Heard Museum Guild Indian market and Art show. I brought home ribbons and an empty bracelet case. Even a half done bracelet that wasn’t buffed sold! I urged the client to wait until I had polished the edges with a rock making a comfortable hand formed bracelet for them. Now I understand having integrity in one’s art even if it’s different because if you work at making it the best it can be it will support you and someone will find it beautiful. I’m am excited to see what happens next because... what if I had NOT?!
NCAP Intern - Student Affairs Project for Success Internship Program
Hello my name is Kimberly Jake and I am from Ramah, NM. I am in my third semester of my Business Administration BA program at Diné College. So how did I end up becoming an intern at the NCAP? I happened to see a Student Affair Project for Success Internship Program's flyer advertising for students hires. I figured I’d give it a shot and see what happens. I interviewed and after an unbearable wait for a call back, I received a phone call telling me I was hired. I was pretty excited because I had no knowledge of what the NCAP was, where it was located, or what
N - C - A - P stood for 😂
My first day with the NCAP, I got to meet Crystal Littleben, project coordinator, and Sheryl Benally, program assistant. Later on during the week I got to meet Dr. Christine M. Ami who is the Program Manager. Dr. Ami covered my duties, expectations, and let me know it was a learning environment - I didn't realize how learning it would become 😁. When were introducing ourselves to one another I learned that Sheryl started out as an intern as well and that made me feel even more comfortable. I knew that there was room to grown in the program. After my first week, I felt as if I could feed off all their positive energies and I have to say I am glad that Student Affairs Project for Success Internship Program had placed me with NCAP, which I now know stands for the Navajo Cultural Arts Program 😂. All in all I was ready to learn something new and be a part of this awesome team.
I want to go back to Dr. Ami's comment about being a hands on learning opportunity for a moment!
In my first week of being an intern I helped out with NCAP's First Fridays at DC Libraries. February's event “Ribbon Pillowcase Workshop” was in Shiprock, NM at the Sen. John Pinto Library, South campus at Diné College. I set up the sewing machines, laid out materials, fabric glue, scissors, ribbons, and irons, and greeted participants as they walked in. Sheryl had asked me if I wanted to join in. I was hesitant at first because I had never sewn in my life nor had I ever used a sewing machine. I was intimidated for sure! 😥 The participants there were experienced and had been sharing their stories of how they learned to sew and what they had created. I toughened up and got my materials together. To my surprise I did not think I had to pick matching colors; I just assumed it was just done randomly ... but it was not. You get to be the creator of how your masterpiece will turn out. It’s the little things that mattered to bring my pillow out.
After I cut out 18x18 material, it was time to tackle the sewing. Boy was I scared to use the sewing machine because I did not want to break it or mess up the threading. The workshop leader Andrea Sekayumptewa was very kind, helpful, and patience. And thats what I have taken from from this ribbon pillow workshop - PATIENCE and POSITIVITY. I learned that it takes you put a lot of patience and good thoughts and energy into work like this. I notice this when I first started you could see that I was in a rush and my sewing was a bit all over the place. I was getting annoyed with how it was turning out, but after I took a break than came back to my sewing I came back with a positive attitude and better energy. After that break I started to realize and notice that my sewing was becoming straighter and I was getting more acquainted and comfortable with the sewing machine.
Being a part of the “Ribbon Pillowcase Workshop” making was an awesome experience. I am pleased to say that I feel more comfortable with using a sewing machine. When I showed my family members my finished ribbon pillowcase, they were surprised that I had the patience to do it. They gave me compliments and started telling me they wanted me to start making other things such as a ribbon shirt or skirt. It is a great feeling knowing that I accomplished making a pillow cause because at first
I wasn't so sure what I had gotten myself into. I didn't want to mess up the pillow. I'm glad everything turned out great. Who knows... I just might invest in a sewing machine and make my own creations!
I am have lots of fun working with the NCAP and I am excited for our upcoming events in silversmith work, basket making, weaving, and moccasin making. I am looking forward to learning more about how traditional Navajo cultural arts intertwine with modern living, the stories, the teachings and also the skills of how one comes up with so many beautiful pieces.
NCAC Emerging Artisan 2018/19 (Silversmith)
Ya’ateeh, My name is Irvina Chee. Women Empowerment nishli’, Passion Ba’ shischiin, Resilient Dashicheii’, Empathy dashinali’. Shi Ne’hema dee’naasha’. Those are my “clans” that helped me identify my brand for a Workshop we did with Mr. VanDeever as a part of the Navajo Cultural Arts Program (NCAP). My emphasis in the NCAP program is Silversmithing.
One semester down in the program and I have learned so much more that just how to silversmith. The program is one of the most unique experiences I have ever had in a college setting. Unique and special in all its teachings not just in the emphasis you choose. Day one in the NCAP program started out with a butchering demonstration that all of our bellies appreciated! It was not only a great way to get to know my fellow cohort members, but it also showed us how the NCAP staff works together, how they collaborate with other organizations, and how the cultural arts doesn't just start in the classroom in this program.
Within the silversmith cohort, I have met some very special people! Within the silversmith cohort, I have found a tool to further beautify my heart, mind and surroundings. And within the cohort, I learned what peace of mind can produce. In your hands, solid and ready to adorn. Our first semester, our instructor Anthony Goldtooth had us perfecting our stamp work and finding our own individual styles. He shared stories of his own path to becoming an artisan himself and how he is following in his father’s footsteps, Tony Goldtooth, whom is a Master Silversmith. Those were by far, my favorite stories. Every class was a different teaching on technique and metal manipulation. Personally, I find the art very therapeutic and adaptive to me and a hammer. The beauty left behind, after some buffing and polishing of course, is holisticly satisfying. I absolutely fell in love with it.
I look forward to next semester and to learning new techniques on how to work with metals and stones. I am very excited to soak up everything that the program has to offer in the near future, as some artisans have decided to do all the programs (which you can do too!). I hear there is a Shoe Game we will be attending to learn how Navajo business systems starts with this game. There is also mentioning of field trips to Trading Posts, Museums, and Galleries too. I find it so amazing that no place else on Ni’himá can you get these teachings than at Diné College. I also must say It also does not hurt to have Tsaile provide the appropriate backdrop for such an experience. The campus and the land are beautiful year round.
Thank you very much for the knowledge and opportunity to live my dream. Again my name is Irvina Chee, I am from Marble Canyon Az. Ta”neeszahnii nishli’, Kinlichii’nii’ bashishchiin, Kinyaa’aanii dashicheii, Ashiihi dashnali’. Ahe’hee!