Rug sale keeps reservation afloat
The Navajo Reservation spans a wide desolate area covering multiple states near the Four-Corners area. The descendents of the original Americans are isolated from society in more ways than one.
"When you go there, it seems like you’re in a foreign country, another planet," said April Wilsey of the Adopt-A-Native Elder Program.
She said it’s similar to a Third-World country. Poverty shackles the people as they battle a year-round struggle between life and death.
"A lot of times," Wilsey said, "all they have left is just a little bit of flour left in a can." Wilsey was quiet for a minute as she struggled to continue her thought. "It makes me cry sometimes thinking about it," she said. "I can’t imagine living like that every day."
She explained the high-desert area having to squint to see living structures with dirt floors randomly dotting the barren reservation.
"Many don’t have electricity, most don’t have water," Wilsey said.
The Adopt-A-Native Elder Program will host their 17th annual Navajo Rug Show and Sale Nov. 10 through 12 at the Snow Park Lodge at Deer Valley to raise money for the people on the reservation.
Linda Myers, the director of the Adopt-A-Native Elder Program, visited the reservation more than seven years ago. What she saw also hit an emotional nerve.
"She saw how destitute they are," Wilsey said.
Afterward, Myers continued to bring food and other resources down to help the people. During a particular visit, a Navajo woman brought a hand-woven rug and asked her to sell it for her. As Myers continued to come back to the reservation, the people provided her with more and more rugs to sell. Meyer became, in a sense, a Navajo rug broker.
"It has now become a tradition for the last seven years and rugs are sold from people all over the reservation," Wilsey said.
Some of the weavers will make an appearance at the event and will demonstrate their technique. They will travel on their own dime and family members will take off work for this event. The sale of the rugs is becoming a major role in their financial stability.
"It enables them to sell their rugs and helps them make it through the winter," Wilsey said. "This is where they want the biggest amount of sales. It’s a very critical time of year for them."
The rugs are filled with detail. Some of the weavers work a full-time schedule to make them ready to sell. One man recently finished a giant rug that, Wilsey said, he worked on for eight to 10 hours a day for a year. He brought the rug to last year’s show and had it priced for $25,000. It did not sell at the Park City event, but later he sold it for $22,000. Wilsey said the man who bought the rug turned around and sold it for $45,000.
"When they price their rugs, often times, they are thinking of their truck payment or something else," Wilsey said. "They price their rugs based on those reasons. Sometimes they are higher and sometimes they are lower than what they should be."
Each rug is different and most have intricate colors, designs, animals and images that are symbolic of their culture.
"We will be loaded with that this year," Wilsey said. "They don’t follow any patterns. All of it comes out of their heads."
The weaving of Navajo rugs will influence more than merely financial stability for the people. More importantly, for some, it helps preserve the Navajo culture. This year’s theme "The Weaving of Life," is representative of connecting the past with the present, the old with the young.
"It’s the end of an era and tradition and culture," Wilsey said.
Many of the Native Americans now, Wilsey said, are becoming Americanized and losing some of their customs.
"The Elders still dress in traditional wear," Wilsey said. "A lot of them carry on the traditions and most of them speak only Navajo. It’s dying."
To fall inline with the theme, there will be events for the youth. On Saturday, there will be a crowning of the Navajo Little Princess, weaving demonstrations and the Adopt-A-Native Elder Program will have some of the Elders discuss their culture and background to Salt Lake and Park City grade-school children. The girls in the princess pageant will be dressing in authentic Navajo clothing, speak the dialect of their clan and perform traditional talents.
"We are doing this to keep teaching the children their culture," Wilsey said. "We are trying to get the kids to go back into their culture. This is about generations passing down tradition to generation to generation."
The event will start Friday with a sale of rugs, jewelry and a live auction. The event will also have Native American actor Jay Tavare, who has been in movies with Jude Law, Cate Blanchett, Tommy Lee Jones and Kerri Russell’s heart-breaker in Steven Spielberg’s mini-series "Into the West." Tavare will be auctioning off items from his films at Friday’s dinner and auction event. Rich Wyman will also perform Friday from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Tickets for Friday are $30.
Saturday is open to the public. The sale of rugs and jewelry will go from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. The Navajo Little Princess pageant will start at 10:30 a.m. There will be a silent auction of children’s rugs from 1 to 3:30 p.m. A grandmother’s weaving demonstration will also take place at 1 p.m. Starting at 3 p.m. there will be Navajo singing and dancing. At 4 p.m., Rhonda Duval will perform a special traditional Navajo song and dance. Tickets are $5 per person or $5 in canned goods.
Sunday is also open to the public and the rug sale will go from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The flag ceremony, the Navajo veteran’s speech and the Navajo Blessing Ceremony will take place from 10 a.m. until noon. At 1 p.m. there will be a grandmother’s weaving demonstration and at 3 p.m. there will be powwow dancing.
For more information, call 649-0535.
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