Stories that are felt, not read
November 20, 2013
These men and women are the Elders in their small communities on the Navajo (Diné) Reservation, the largest Native American reservation in the country (it’s bigger than Belgium).
They are the matriarchs and patriarchs of their family groups, and they provide for many generations of their families with their weaving, caring for their children, their grandchildren, and possibly their great grandchildren. Some of them, such as Carol Blackhorse, are as old as ninety nine (99), and they’re still weaving rugs with incredible skill and intricacy. They are amazing artisans, and even more amazing people.
Ever since I was in the first grade, I have been attending this marvelous hearth of culture.
Every year I go to reconnect with the culture, and my "Grandmother", Ruth Benally. People come from as far away as France to help support their Elders and to keep this beautiful tradition of weaving the soul onto a rug alive. After all, the average income of an on reservation Navajo is just under $6000 a year, and that barely pays for necessities like water, a rarity in the Arizona desert where most of them live, and firewood for heating their homes in the winter.
I never really grasped how hard life on the reservation really is, but after actually getting to talk with the people who live on reservation, and seeing how excited they get over something as simple as Jell-o (they’re absolutely crazy about it), it has all become more real in my mind.
Living in a harsh desert world with no running water, and only a rare occurrence of electricity, is something these people experience every day. They struggle endlessly to make ends meet, and, with a little help, they do. They make their art, whether it is rugs, jewelry, or baskets, and the amazing people at the Adopt-a-Native-Elder Foundation share it with the world. Elinda McKenna, director of the volunteer program at ANE, says, "the annual rug show provides a market for traditional Diné (Navajo) weavers and jewelers to sustain themselves and their families with the income they earn at the event. Rekindling our friendships and heart connections strengthens the bridge between our cultures." These heart connections and friendships are very important, because these people have so much to share with us. They have this culture that involves intricate artwork unlike anything else in the world, and that’s something that we should cherish. They put their hearts and souls into these works of art so that each may tell one of their many stories. The least we can do is listen.
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