Art For Indigenous Survival

Navajo of Shiprock, New Mexico 1998

In June of 1998, Irma Stein and I journeyed to the Navajo people of Shiprock. The town is located high on the Colorado Plateau (7000 feet elevation) in the 4 Corners area of New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Colorado. The town is named after the sacred Shiprock of the Navajo. Legend has it that the giant Eagle brought the people from the far north to this land of Prairie Dogs and Magpies, and then drove himself into the ground (leaving only his tailfeathers showing) as a reminder that the people should not quarrel and fight but follow the path of beauty and harmony. The Beauty Way is today the heart of Navajo spirituality.

June 1: Started classes at the Women's and Children's Center. Worked on Mountain Bluebirds, hanging them from the ceiling. Everyone required to make two - wanted them to see that the second is always better than the first.

June 3: Started afternoon sessions at the Senior Center - one of the loveliest buildings in town. Began with 5 women, then 12, finally 25. Started on Bluebirds but planning to move on to Wild Roses and Golden Eagles.

June 10: Back to the Women's Center and Globe Mallows - small wildflowers growing beside the roads once used to dye wool for blankets and rugs. Lera and her boys , Dolly and little Audrey constantly taking pins in/out of the pincushions. Grandmother Lily is a Foster Grandparent who spends her weekday mornings at the center helping with the children.

June 11: Working on Wild Roses with the Seniors. Many speak only Navajo but enough speak English to help with translation. Renown weaver, Sarah Natani invited us to her modern hogan for tea and to show us a few of the weaving treasures inherited from her grandmothers - looms, spindles, wheels - and Navajo Tea.

June 22: Dolly, Shirley, Juanita, Karen, Lily , Lera finishing their Golden Eagles. Talked about the dreaded Hunta Virus and how pesticides being sprayed everywhere to kill the Deer Mice that spread the virus. Fear that the pesticides will make the high cancer rate even higher. The dust from the Uranium Mine pilings is continually being blown over the land. The wind blows (male being strong, female gentle) continually so that the Cottonwood Trees are called the singing trees because of the rustling of the leaves.

June 24: Last day at the Senior Center and a big party to tell us Thank You. Everyone posed proudly with their Roses, Bluebirds and Golden Eagles. Mayme, Ida, Rose, Margaret, Grace, Betty, Elsie, Irene, Sarah - so many dear women. Spent the afternoon finishing the Roses with a group of young seamstresses (9 - 11) at the Youth Center where we had been working for about 4 hours a week.

June 26: The final day at the Women's Center with everyone finishing their Roadrunners. Karen told of the Day Care Center teachers wanting her to teach them what we had done. Shirley wants to take her Golden Eagle to the Craft Show in Window Rock in August. They have worked hard and are very proud of their accomplishments. Gloria Champian, Director of the Center, coordinated a good-by lunch for us and after many hugs, we headed back to Albuquerque, I-40 and home to North Carolina.

Shirley Frey McConahay