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Friday, July 21, 2017

Empowered Dine' Women

With Miss Navajo Teen at Women's conference today.
Shiprock, NM

Coordinators of the conference: Miranda, Shirley and Karen
Shiprock, NM 2017

What a wonderful day I had in Shiprock, NM! I attended and presented at the 9th Annual Celebration of Women conference today.

The blessing was just in being present to share and spend time with a diverse group of Navajo women of all generations.  The narratives of each woman was medicine and the perpetuated dialogue was all about having and giving 'love' to each other by way of language and in prayers.

The attendees who attended are now some very empowered Dine' Women! There was much healing and affirmations of good ways throughout the day, and to the celebration of the Dine Matriarch, the warrior-women in all of us.

Many thanks to the Northwest New Mexico Arts Council for making my attendance and presentation possible, and also to Shirley Montoya.

Shil nizhon.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Hádít’é: Lifeways of the Desert Matriarch Southwest Workshop

Please contact me via email

for inquiries concerning this cultural presentation

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Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Her 'Beautyway'

Female Navajo child with lamb
Photo source Internet
Photographer Unknown

This image has made its way across the Internet for some time now, I do not know the photographer but assume it was captured by a non-Navajo person visiting the area. The era of this scene seems to be maybe during the 1930s-1950s.

There are many assumptions that can be made by quickly viewing this image, but if one takes the time to really "see" the image, it tells its story to the viewer.  It depicts a young Diné (Navajo) female child sitting outdoors with a lamb in her lap.  She is 'adorned'  in her southwest desert tribal clothing with cultural adornments on her shirt.  It is a cute capture to be sure, but for me it also shows the engagement of tribal sovereignty, not so intentionally  by her, but of those who consciously dressed her.

Even in modern society many people assume that the Diné are an intact culture, but sadly we are amidst American colonization. Its true that the year 1492 was documented as "first contact" for many Indigenous people living in the eastern coast and into Florida and Puerto Rico. But for the Indigenous desert dwellers of the now labeled 'American Southwest' "first contact" was not that long ago.  It was the Spaniards who first approached the Indigenous lands of the area. In 1535 under the direction of Spaniard Cabeza de Vaca the Europeans began their trek of the coast of Texas to displace and perpetuate grand acts of violence upon the southwestern 'first footprint' people.

For my Diné  the first encounters with the Spanish happened around 1540 by conquistador Coronado, who trespassed on Indigenous lands in the area of what we call Dinétah, near present day Navajo Dam area in northwest New Mexico. And at that the early Diné  ancestors did their best to stay clear of the newcomers.  But in 1864 the Euro-American government leader Kit Carson engaged a forced march of Diné  from Arizona to a prison internment camp in central New Mexico at Fort Sumner near present day Santa Rose, NM. The Diné  were held hostage at this prison till 1865 when the Diné  leaders spoke up and insisted we be allowed to go 'home' to our ancestral lands. This was a time of great suffering, violence and death. But we endured and kept faith and hope and today my Diné  are stedfast in perpetuating their existence.

I share this story because it lingers in this image of a young Navajo girl with her lamb.  Every image you see of a Navajo man or women, this story is with them, it is their aura if you will. This history is what is called the Long Walk of the Navajos, for us it is expressed as Hweeldi, 'the time of sorrows.' Just like this image of this child, it is in our Diné  DNA, it will never leave us, it is the reason for our present existence in the 21st century.  Though this trauma can have a great many ill effects, many of the Diné  keep it as a reminder that we have endured and can keep existing as Diné  people in a modern world.

This image of a Diné  child 'adorned' in her tribal adornment depicts how we have endured and taken parts of the American culture and thus used it for our survival. Historically, the Diné  have adopted the used of velveteen  and calico cotton to make their garments both for men and women. This child wears a velveteen blouse, I assume a handmade garment by her matriarchs and also a tiered-shirt with ribbon or ric-rac  edging. Her shirt is 'adorned' with silver buttons, which was a mainstay for Diné  clothing in this era.

Though this child may have not be aware of her act of decolonization, she is the inspiration for a Diné  women living in 2017 -  she sits in her 'Beautyway.' She is my muse, and she is my faith that my Diné  will continue to be strong and steadfast in keeping hold of the culture of our ancestors who came before us.

Blessings in all things.

By Venaya J. Yazzie 2017


Sunday, July 9, 2017

Our tribal attire is not your fashion trend

Close up view of an heirloom Zuni Pueblo-style stranded
necklace with bird adornments.
Photo by Venaya Yazzie 2017

In my opinion modern Euro-American "fashion" and its politics has no connection to cultural fashion of the Indigenous tribal peoples of 21st century people.

First of all Indigenous clothing and 'regalia' is not about perpetuation of "fashion" in America.  Instead Our tribal clothing attire concerns the spiritual. Yes, many of the tribal people of the Americas have adopted the fabrics or textiles of contemporary culture, but that is only due to aspects of Euro-American colonization affects of the current generations. We have survived colonization and it is true that many of us are still amidst the process of assimilation, but be sure we survive with our traditions of adornment culture intact. This expression does not merely press the tangible aspects but it also concerns the spiritual concepts of our tribal adornment.

Our garments we make concern story, they are our oral histories made into shirts and skirts. The additions of silver, shell, elk teeth, turquoise, whatever it may be, are our prayers intended to bring protection and blessings to the wearer of the garment.

Specifically here in the high-desert southwest, Navajo and Pueblo communities are very aware of this philosophy. Too ensure our survival of our tribal existence and identity in our current tribal garments we pray and visualize our direct ancestral designs given to us, and being the motions of 'creation' of these beautiful garments.  For the Navajo women, we make our wool rug dresses of our warrior matriarchs, and weave ancient land and storm cloud patterns to keep us strong and protected. For the Pueblo, they work in cloud designs to their garments in order to page homage and instill teaching about the connection of land and rain.

I speak only from experience as a Navajo/Hopi person. I cannot speak for all the other 500+ tribal nations across the country. But, I do know we all have connection in our tribal belief systems and that many parallels exist. 

Secondly, our Indigenous expression via our garments and jewelry are not fashionable trends that mainstream American society is about. Our tribal clothing is not and never should be meant to be "trendy." I say this as it was understood and passed to me via my elders and matriarchs. Yet, I have seen and currently see how globally non-Indigenous people have illegally taken our tribal designs and clothing styles.

This type of tribal appropriation is what we have to deal with as Indigenous people in 2017 - we must keep up our guard in all areas of our culture to ensure our distinct identity and designs.

Thirdly, the American fashion industry concerns American consumerism and materialistic tendencies.  The mass production of garments ensures that poor Third World countries keep up the forced labor and low wage garment factories just so a majority of entitled Americans can all wear name-brand products.  The homogenization of America's fashion is a sad tale, for it means that everyone should be the same, basic and 'safe,' a concept that does not in anyway reflection the diversity in our tribal people's viewpoints and overall Indigenous epistemologies.

The truth is that the Indigenous tribal clothing and jewelry of the Americas is about keeping the spiritual vision and 'medicine' of the souls of the People intact. The Indigenous tribal clothing and jewelry we have made and continue to create is Our armor,  Our distinct tribal designs are Our strength. By wearing these items we are collectively stating that we are alive, we are surviving and moving forward with our tribal ways and identity.

Be sure we are not the "vanishing race" that Edward Curtis labeled us, instead we are stronger, brighter, and more enlightened than ever. That is and always how Creator intended it all to be.

Perpetuate Beautyways everytime.

By Venaya J. Yazzie 2017

Thursday, July 6, 2017

shił hózhó - happiness

 +      +      +      +

when you
in what your are doing,
what you are doing,
what you are doing.

+      +      +      +

 quote by B. Tracy

Friday, June 23, 2017

Navajo-style hat band

Navajo-style hat band (full view)
Photo by Venaya Yazzie

Navajo-style hat band (detail view)
Photo by Venaya Yazzie

This year I have been in research mode concerning my subject of 'Indigenous Adornment' - but more specifically Diné adornment,  I have found the beauty of the unique cultural item: the Navajo Hatband.

The two images I have posted above are ones I captured of the new piece my grandmother and  I collaborated on. This hatband features a leather strap, buckle fastener and the most remarkable of all, the historic Navajo-made quarter buttons. I have had these coin buttons for some time and have used them on a velvet shirt I made. But, in this opportunity I liked the idea of adding them to make this hatband even more aesthetically pleasing.

This hatband was inspired by some historical photographs I have seen in photography books of the early Diné in Arizona Navajoland.  It seems that the 1940s - 1950s (this trend carried on into 1970s) Diné male adornment concerned the 1940s era felt Stetson cowboy hat. In many of the photographs I viewed the Diné men favored the black version of the popular cháá Diné term for "hat."

I often write and favor discussion of Diné female adornment, but I was really intrigued by the hats worn by Diné in Navajoland in the 1940s era. 

Photo by Donald Allam Blair

In my research I visited the National Cowboy Museum online site and discovered the photographs of Anglo photographer Donald Allam Blair from Oklahoma. He photographed the Diné  people in the community of Window Rock, Arizona in September 1955. Among the many wonderful photographs was this on of an elder Diné man 'adorned' with his hat, his earrings and traditional Diné male hairstyle.  Though you cannot see if he as a hatband on his hat, I still find this image worthy of showing an example of the type of hat worn in this era.

I for one am grateful for the non-Native photographers who captured images of my Diné people of the past - images such as this exist to inspire the new, 21st century generation of Diné people.


By Venaya J. Yazzie 2017

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Animas River, my water relative

The Animas river, my water relative
Photo by Venaya Yazzie

I have been blessed in full abundance, for I was born in the presence of two rivers. The high-desert waters of the Animas and San Juan Rivers have always been flowing their dialogue in my ears.

The river is in my bones.  I have great adoration for the waters that flow in my community of To'ta'.  My eastern Dine' relatives trekked this land and blessed themselves with the water of the Animas and the later San Juan.

Water is life. That expression is the reality of us as humans, but it rings so true to the desert people of the Navajo and Pueblo people of New Mexico. This state is also home to the grandeur of the ancient Rio Grande river, which trials down the middle of the state to Mexico.  But, the Animas is my corner of heaven. I visit this river daily and I blessed myself with her water. This ritual for me as a Navajo/Hopi woman is prayer, it is in essence 'beautyway.'

For the most part I think mainstream, non-Indigenous America sees the rivers as a place to use for recreation. But I know that the Navajo people in this community see the river as a relative, as an extension of our K'e'.  Our Dine' clan system is primarily made up of water clans. My paternal clans are affiliate directly from water. I am therefore 'born for water.'

In 2015 the Animas river was contaminated by the abandoned mine tailings from the upstream Gold King Mine and that flow of pollution then fed into the San Juan river, which runs through the Navajo Nation in NM and UT. During that time in August 2015 our sacred desert waters turned a fowl yellow-ochre hue.  In my mind the river died that day. It was a time of mourning for many of us Navajo people, our water relative was in distress.  But, we enacted our prayers, recited in our mother tongues and we offered our humble plant medicines to her...and we hoped and waited for our beautiful water relative to return to us.
Perhaps she did go away from this world for a time, and then returned  from the spirit place. Since then the Animas exists and was reborn and chose life and now she is healing herself.

I believe we as Dine' should consciously visit the Animas and San Juan rivers on a daily basis, where we should offer our prayers and bless ourselves with her waters.  This is an act of respect for the water. This process is a humble way of existing, it is about our continual survival of us and of our Dine' ways.  Lets not forget.



By Venaya J. Yazzie 2017

Indi.Ears Matriarch Earrings

Indi.Ears Navajo Matriarch Earrings by Venaya Yazzie

Indi.Ears Hopi Matriarch Earrings by Venaya Yazzie

I have always adored the historical photographs that we have access to in the 21st century. As an Indigenous southwestern woman I view this images with great respect in mind. These images of my desert matriarchs are my roots. I may not know their names or their tribal clanship, but they are my 'relatives.'

I create these Indi.Ears Earring designs as an homage to them, the Indigenous women who existed before me, whose life created a trail for me to exist now.

These earring designs tell a story of life in the desert, they speak prayer and motion the stories of the past.

Indi.Ears Matriarch Earrings can be viewed and purchase via my Square Up store at this link: