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Adopt-a-Native Elder to show How the West is Woven

MATT JAMES

This year’s Navajo Rug Show and Sale has a cowboy theme. At first glance, that might seem a little odd, but it does make sense, after a fashion.

Linda Myers, founder and executive director of Adopt-a-Native Elder, which organizes the event, explained the theme.

"What it stems from is John Wayne," she said.

Wayne, she explained, used to shoot many of his movies down in the Southern Utah desert, in and around the Navajo Indian Reservation.

"They’d have the Navajo people play the Indians," Myers explained.

For the Navajos, that meant spending a few days or an afternoon riding around on a horse, wearing a breech cloth and whooping and hollering, and eventually, for that, a paycheck. But, according to Myers, because of the language barrier between the Navajos and the film crews, and because the Navajos were so vastly different from the characters they played, the Navajos never associated themselves with the movie Indians; those were simply the bad guys in the film.

"They used to cheer for the cowboys," said Myers about the Navajos.

To this day, she said, if you walk into the home of a Navajo elder, you’ll hear country western music playing on the radio, and Navajo cowboys are icons in their culture.

So, the rug show has a cowboy theme because the elders, who visit each year to sell their rugs, appreciate it.

The title for the show is "How the West is Woven," and it will run from Friday, Nov. 11 to Sunday, Nov. 13 at Deer Valley Resort’s Snow Park Lodge. As always, a group of Navajo elders "grandmothers" and their families will visit Park City for the show.

But with its theme and some new events, this show will be different.

New events, new items

This year, the weekend’s events begin when children from area elementary schools come to Snow Park Lodge to see a presentation by the Navajo grandmothers. The kids can dress as cowgirls and cowboys, while the grandmothers will perform a demonstration on Navajo culture, featuring customs like weaving and corn-grinding.

After the children leave, at 2:30 on Friday afternoon, the grandmothers will have a chance to play cowboy with a roping contest complete with a moving cow dummy.

"The grandmothers come from 13 areas of the reservation," she noted. "So they many of them don’t know each other until they get here, and they’re going to take on the other areas." She even said some of the grandmothers would be dressing up in cowboy costumes.

"They’re really having fun with this," said Myers. "People are more than welcome to come watch the roping."

The actual rug show will start on Friday at 6 p.m. and will run from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday. Friday evening, admission to the show is $30 for adults and $10 for children, and all rugs will be available at a 10-percent discount. On Saturday and Sunday, admission is $5 or a contribution of canned food.

Myers said that for the first time this year, Adopt-a-Native Elder has requested some special, non-traditional rugs. These feature completely new, one-of-a-kind designs with horses, cowboys, cowboy boots and other Western icons.

Friday night’s event will feature Western music, cowboy poetry and native flute music, along with a live auction.

Saturday morning, at 8 a.m., the weekend will continue with another new event, the Adopt-a-Native Elder Miss Navajo Princess Contest, which will feature two groups of Navajo girls, 4- to 6-year-olds and 6- to 8-year-olds, from outside the reservation. These girls will have to know their Navajo clan, perform a talent and dress in traditional clothing. They will be judged on their efforts and the winner will receive a crown, a Pendleton blanket and a Navajo basket.

"The reason we do it is to promote cultural awareness," said Myers.

Sunday at 10 a.m., the rug show will present World War II veteran and Navajo "code talker" Samuel Tso. Tso will speak about his experiences in the war and do a book signing afterward. The Navajo elders will also take part in the ceremony as well.

"The grandmothers hold their own veteran’s ceremony for any veterans that come," said Myers.

The last event of the weekend will take place Sunday when there is a traditional powwow at 3 p.m.

Charitable impact

Myers said Adopt-a-Native Elder would bring 28 Navajo families to the rug show this year, slightly less than usual, primarily because several of the grandmothers who are mostly in their 80s and 90s are suffering from health problems.

Overall, Myers said about 90 weavers would be represented at the show with between 500 and 600 rugs.

"We represent a wide range of weavers," Myers noted, "from young weavers to very fine weavers, to old weavers who can’t see very well."

She said prices range from about $50 for a 1-foot by 1-foot weaving to between $5,000 and $6,000 for some of the best rugs, which can take up to a year to make.

The proceeds from the rugs sold at the show will help the elders support themselves over the winter, allowing them to purchase food and supplies for the cold months.

Myers said proceeds from the rugs allowed the women and their families to support themselves.

"For us it’s not a hand-out," she said. "They’re weaving. They’re supporting themselves."

The show also supports Adopt-a-Native Elder, a non-profit organization.

"The main thing the Adopt-a-Native Elder program does is to deliver food and supplies to the 13 areas of the reservation," said Myers.

The rug-show entry fees and proceeds from the live auction will help support that mission, Myers said.

She noted that the rug show and sale was one of the biggest events of its kind, and one of the only ones to include significant cultural outreach events.

"One of the things that makes me feel good is when one of the native people come up to me and say, ‘It makes me feel good about the culture,’" Myers noted.

She also pointed out the significance of the Navajo grandmothers themselves.

"When the elders leave, they’ll be a tremendous change in the culture," she noted.

They’re like a window back into time, she added, and perhaps one of the best reasons to come to the show. But with the changes to this year’s program, there will be something different for everyone, she added.

"This year there’s going to be some new things people should come out and experience," Myers said.

For more information about the Adopt-a-Native Elder program, or for a full schedule of events for the Navajo Rug Show and Sale, visit http://www.anelder.org or call 649-0535.


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