Grant Manager, Navajo Cultural Arts Program
in her blog "Leading with Fire" have always been inherently found in the practice of the cultural arts. Personally, weaving has helped to make me a stronger individual, and I would go as far as to say a tougher Diné woman. It was a treatment plan for my bouts with insomnia, depression, and writing blocks. Weaving also held the responsibilities of a teacher, showing me how to engage my cultural belief system and fortify my critical inquiry skills and self-esteem.
Throughout my time as the NCAP grant manager I have learned that cultural arts holistic well-being is an area that many of our Emerging Artisans are trying to not only fully comprehend but also to embrace. "Where do we start?" many ask as they entered the Navajo Cultural Arts Certificate Program. My response is always the same - Just do it - Work with raw materials, talk with the plants, put your scraps away properly, make mistakes and learn from them. I tell them to take care of those teachings and the many others that they will learn along the way because, as cliché as it sounds - if you take care of them, they will take care of you. With those inquisitive artisans in mind, I thought I would take a minute to address the NCAP's take on Holistic Well-Being, specifically focusing in on how artisans can start to reflect upon their work from a holistic perspective.
While there have been several pieces about holistic well-being published, one article in particular stood out to our NCAP team: "The Wellness Wheel: An Aboriginal Contribution to Social Work" by Dr. Margot Loiselle and Lauretta McKenzie. What we specifically liked about this article was 1) its adaptability to indigenous paradigms; 2) its dialogue with Diné holistic well-being; 3) its encouragement to self-assess; and 4) its proposed wellness program through an analysis of four aspects: Physical/Material Aspects, Emotional/Social/Relational Aspects, Mental/Intellectual/Cognitive Aspects, and Spiritual/Ethical/Cultural Aspects. Loiselle and McKenzie created a list of guiding questions that could be used to assess an individual's well-being. NCAP critically analyzed those guiding questions to understanding how they could be adapted to further inquire into the Navajo cultural arts holistic well-being.
The following are guiding questions that artisans can utilize to self-assess where they are in terms of their own cultural arts holistic well-being journey.
Physical / Material Aspects:
Mental / Intellectual / Cognitive Aspects:
Spiritual / Ethical / Cultural Aspects:
These are in no means an ends to Navajo cultural arts holistic well-being; however, they have been a starting point of discussion as we worked with several Navajo cultural artisans throughout this blog series. In call a particular we would love to give a tremendous shout out and thanks to Kurtis Smith, Shayne Ray Watson, Sharonna Rae Yazzie, Sam Slater, Leonard Gene, Waycee Harvey, Troy Uentillie and Jess Williams, for helping us to gather a little further insight into the holistic well-being of Diné cultural artisans. Ahee'hee!
And for artisans who wish to create what Loiselle and McKenzie call a "self-care plan", these guiding questions may be able to help set positive goals, identify negative behaviors, and look toward creating a more holistic approach to their cultural art well-being.
Stop by next week for our final blog of the series, which will include an analysis of the series' findings as well as an announcement by Miss Navajo, Crystal Littleben detailing our Summer Weekend Workshop Series!
Emerging Artisan, 2017-18 Cohort (Basket Maker)
Ya’at’aah shik’ee doo shidine’é. Shi éí Farrah Mailboy yinishyé
Hello! My name is Farrah Mailboy, I am the Water Flow together clan born for the Red Bottom Clan, my maternal grandparents are the Big Water People Clan and my paternal grandparents are the Salt People Clan. I was raised in Lukachukai, Arizona and continue to make my home there. I am a part of the 2017-2018 Navajo Cultural Arts Certificate Program. My emphasis in the program was Navajo Basketry. I joined the Navajo Cultural Arts Program so that I can give back to my students and youth across our Navajo Nation. As a Psychology major and educator, I would like to utilize Navajo Cultural Arts of a form of Art Therapy.
Before I joined the Certificate Program - I was kinda a NCAP weekend workshop junkie. The first workshop that I attended with NCAP was a two-day sash belt weaving workshop. I picked up sash belt weaving faster than I thought. So, I decided to try another workshop, which was silversmithing with Lyndon Tsosie. That workshop went pretty well as well. Then, I signed up for moccasin making with one of my fellow NCAP classmates Brent Toadlena. It was a little tougher than I had expected but it didn't turn me off to the Certification program. That’s when I decided to get an application and complete it.
So far, I am AMAZED at the amount of work, time and effort that goes into weaving a Navajo Basket. WOW! It amazes me what can be created from a single sumac stick. The struggle was REAL attending classes every Saturday with Thomas! Ayyyye! JK! I have learned so much from our instructor Thomas Yellowhair. Thomas shared with us the significance of Navajo Basketry. Learning to pick sumac and splitting sumac over and over and over and over as a real pain! OMG! I still haven’t mastered that skill. However, the smell of wet sumac is so delicious! Slowly but surely, I am still completing my first Navajo Basket.
Every one of us have a different mentality and I have learned for myself that I have to have a clear mindset. I want to put to put nothing but positive vibes into my basket. If I didn’t have that mindset then the “awl” was very difficult to use or the Sumac sticks didn’t want to bend a certain way. Navajo Basketry has taught me a lot about patience and therapeutic for myself.
I honestly cannot thank Dine College Navajo Cultural Arts Program for the amazing opportunity to be a part of this cohort. I am not an “artsy” person and I never been to any sort of Museum that have to do with cultural arts. Within this year, I got to visit The Heard Museum and the Museum of Northern Arizona. I have been exposed to another world, that I want to take my students along to visit and appreciate the importance of Navajo Cultural Arts. Thank You!
Emerging Artisan, 2017-18 Cohort (Silversmith/Weaver)
As a young Navajo person, I have made it my life’s goal to keep tradition, culture, language and history of my people strong and resilient from complete globalization and influences that affect the Navajo tribe from cultural extinction. The Navajo Cultural Arts Program (NCAP) has been one of the first steps into giving me hope and inspiration to providing knowledge to our people in the future. As a student emphasizing in Weaving, I had the chance to emerge and strive towards a mastery level. NCAP has been one of the most exciting and best decisions I have ever made in my life. While growing up, I lived with my grandparents after the death of my mother when I was 6 years old. I remember how much I’ve grown to this day culturally. I first learned to weave by only observing and talking with my grandmother. I never actually attempted to warp a loom in my lifetime until this past year during a workshop I’ve attended in Phoenix at the Heard Museum. I was shockingly surprised by myself when I wove my first rug that came out beautifully.
My first piece - done at the Heard Museum
I found myself weaving like I knew how to do it already. My movements were natural and flowed smoothly as I reached the top of the loom to finish the rug. I think it’s amazing how my mind and my body kept a little part of something that I didn’t inherit completely. It was from this day on, I felt that I could do so much more. One thing, you should know is that I am a graphic designer. I come from a mother that painted, beaded, made moccasins and learned a lot in fashion. She was great. My father was also a painter and beader. So, I was not surprised when I started to drift towards more of becoming an artist myself. I learned a lot of my techniques while going to school at Arizona State University and Mesa Community College in the Valley. I came home after 6 years to live with my family and reconnect myself to our Navajo ways. I found a perfect way to merge my two lives into one when I joined NCAP. I learned so much from master weavers and my instructors at Dine College. I find myself visualizing more designs and recently started to experience a lot with color. A lot of what I do now is more contemporary, where color is more heavier over traditional design. I have a very long way to go to perfect my technique in weaving.
My motivation increased recently when I was awarded the Community Choice Award in the NCAP Museum Exhibit in April 2018 for “Sunset”, a traditional wide ruins rug infused with fiery colors. This has been a wonderful experience with NCAP. I currently have a larger loom up and going that looks stunning in its earlier stage.
As an emerging weaver, I encourage the younger generations to learn more about our cultural arts. Weaving is a medicine. When you weave, your body heals itself mentally, spiritually, physically, and emotionally in ways you can’t imagine. I found something for myself that utilizes my life’s teachings and knowledge to find a place in this world. It’s never too late to find yours.
Ahxéhee’. Thank You.
Emerging Artisan, 2017-18 Cohort (Moccasin Maker/Silversmith/Basket Maker)
So, we arrived at Tsehotsoi Middle School on the morning. I had my baskets and other necessary items in hand, then proceeded on into the school. As the NCAP program assistant and I got into the classroom, we were greeted by a young group of students. They were well mannered and eager to hear about basketry. After a quick introduction from the teacher, I was asked to begin my presentation. As usual, I began by introducing myself the traditional way: stating my clans, my name, where I’m from, and what I’m presenting. I then began to tell the origins stories of Navajo Basketry.
I proceeded on with the history of Navajo Basketry, all the way from the emergence and the recreation of our “Ts’aa’.” As I was going on with the story, I also mentioned the patterns and colors incorporated in baskets and explained the significance. I was amazed with one student, I would ask a question for the whole class and she answered with great accuracy. So, I got to the point where I felt it was necessary to show them how a basket is stitched. At the time, I had a basket which I was working on and I showed them all about the various kinds of stitching. I had no clue how much interest they would have until I got to the that part. All the students looked closely as I stitched the last ring, which was the cedar stitch.
At about this time, I began wrapping up my presentation and I wanted to know what the students have learned. So, I pointed to symbols on the basket and asked them what it represented, to my surprise the class answered correctly. I still had 2 more groups to present to on the same topic. It was just a repeated process for each group. Before departing the school, a group of kids came up to me and handed me and thank you card signed by an entire class. Inside of that card was an envelope, I didn’t think anything of it or bothered to open it until we arrived back in Tsaile. Inside that envelope was 17 dollars, which all students contributed to.
This experience has given me an idea of what to expect in future demonstrations and I strongly feel I’ve executed my objective satisfactorily. The students were awesome as well, they made this presentation memorable for me. I’ll carry on this motivation to every demo, presentation or workshop I lead in the future.
You could learn how to host workshops too! Just join the next NCAP cohort, starting in August 2018. It is a 24 credit hour program over the course of 2 semesters. Worth it? I would say so! Just contact Christine or Sheryl from NCAP for more information!!
And if you are interested in checking out some of my basketry - don't forget to stop by my WH Moccasin & Basket Design facebook page!
Johnnie Bia, Jr.
School back in 2002 and he also took some credits with Dine College before he transferred down to Phoenix Valley where he went to Scottsdale Culinary Institute- Le Cordon Bleu. He resides in Phoenix Valley nowadays where he is an Executive Chef. Kurtis was first curious about how people made ceremonial blankets when he would attend NAC peyote ceremonies. He then finally took it upon himself to learn how to sew. From the encouragement of one of his good brothers, he was able to learn how to sew with a sewing machine. His first projects were for a giveaway items for his little sister’s peyote ceremony.
material/colors and how the customer wants their product to function. Kurtis feels that he is at an “Okay” level for his sewing skills and techniques because he believes that you cannot judge your own self on your work. But he does stress that he puts his whole self into his work, reminding others that you have to take care of yourself first - be in a good physical state and good mindset. If there is something wrong with you or not feeling good, it will be difficult to fold or to sew. People don't want individuals who are falling apart to create their pieces just like they don't want your blankets or bags to be falling apart - people can judge you for that so put in your best efforts. You are the first one that needs to be healthy before you start working on a project. You want your customer to feel good and to take care of your products
through their schedule. Kurtis mentioned that he takes care of his sewing abilities because it was given and he has been blessed with it. Once you figure it out and master it, just take good care of it. Sometimes it works in your favor and sometimes it difficult to work through problems that pop up. Either way, it is something you can’t just give it away or push it off to the side because it is a part of your livelihood. You put your mind into it, you made it a part of yourself. The designs and colors you put on the projects is a part of you. A person must give themselves to that gift that was given to them. There’s good thoughts, prayers, and songs that go into it, a person will have some teachings from it. He/she can make a good living with it, whatever they want they can obtain it through sewing.
Sewing can build up your self-esteem and self-worth by seeing the happy faces of your customers. You feel proud and good within yourself when you know that people are amazed from your blankets & bags. They feel thankful and happy about your work so when they Thank You, it moves or touches your mind, heart, and soul. Sewing can give and take relationships with family, friends and relatives. When working on a blanket or bag, you are using and sacrificing your time away from family, friends, and relatives. It helps to maintain a good relationship by setting a good example of knowing how to sew a ceremonial blankets and bags. It can be good and bad depending on how your family, friends, and relatives take it.
For Kurtis, sewing holds a significant and spiritual place in his life - putting himself out there for self-preservation, self-deaeration and away from self-destruction. He found something that he could put spiritual value into so that he wouldn’t harm himself or anybody else. For Kurtis, he wants to live a good life through his sewing, it can put a person in check and can leave them in a good place. Your relationships are based on what you put out for people. Sewing blankets and bags coincides with that output of his values, beliefs, and values. Kurtis takes time for prayer by finding it is best that a person should be in a clear mind, in a state of trancendency when dealing with spiritual instruments. Kurtis listens to peyote music because it helps a person to keep going as they work on a project. Singing along with the music while folding or sewing is always good to do because it helps you to get into it. By doing that, it’s a prayer in a song that goes along with and within a blanket and bag. Kurtis mentions the positive activities that a person can do for their spiritual well-being is knowing that it has to be you, “Taa’hwiajitee’”. Praying is the main thing that a person can do for themselves. You can give someone money to help say a prayer for you, but what if things don’t go your way. It will be easy to blame that person for nothing saying a right prayer for you. So it is best to pray for yourself, because that will help you to believe it by saying those words that come out of your mouth. Praying is the only and best way to keep your spiritual-self going.
In conclusion, there are a lot of things that go into folding and sewing Native American Church peyote blankets and bags. Being in good physical health within a person is important, because they have to be up to doing the work. Having a clear and positive mind helps a person to really get into folding and sewing. It helps an artist feel good emotionally through the customer’s reactions of the final completed product. The spiritual aspect is the main important one to focus on because people are going to be using the blankets and bags around a peyote ceremony. In a way an artist must be in a spiritual mindset, spiritual feeling, and to live that spiritual lifestyle. It is having respect for the gift of folding and sewing blankets and bags.