Acquiring health care a dangerous struggle for American Indians


American Indians are 249 percent more likely to die from diabetes compared to the general U.S. population. They are also 533 percent more likely to die from tuberculosis and 627 percent more likely to die from alcoholism. Without enough medical treatment and health care coverage, American Indians are subjected to a life expectancy of 71.1 years. This is four years less than that of the general U.S. population.

According to a report by the Utah Department of Health in 2001, 17.3 percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives have been unable to get the health care they need. This figure can only be fought by tackling some of the most difficult problems within the health care world as it pertains to American Indians.

A major factor is geography. Melissa Zito of the Utah Department of Health serves as the Indian health liaison/health policy consultant. She compared the state of American Indian health to a ripple effect in a pond. “The closer you are to the center, the higher quality you will receive,” she said. Many American Indians live far away from major cities and hospital clinics. The farther they are from a clinic, the lesser their chance of attaining quality health care.

One resource, the Indian Walk-In Center of Salt Lake City, assists registered American Indians with gaining access to medical resources such as immunizations, acute or chronic health care, eye care services, nutrition counseling, dental services, and primary health care. Often, however, the help the center offers is limited and can be difficult to attain.

To qualify for coverage at the Walk-In Center, Zito says individuals must be registered members of an American Indian tribe. The center’s Web site lists the steps individuals must take to register for health services. An individual must bring a photo ID, documentation of income, proof of residency, Social Security numbers for self and family members, documentation of Indian blood, and a basic knowledge of which type of health insurance is needed. Because nearly 50 percent of Utah’s American Indians live on reservations, it can be difficult to obtain such documentation without traveling to a larger city and filling out forms for each article, which can be a time-consuming task.

LeAnna VanKeuren, health program manager of the Indian Walk-In Center, recognizes the challenges facing American Indians. She said another major struggle the health care world encounters is the “lack of data to accurately describe the health status of American Indians who live on reservations.” In other words, without detailed information, it is difficult to estimate exactly what kind of help most American Indians need and how many need it.

So, if an American Indian needed emergency care and didn’t know the kind of coverage he or she had or the medical history of the patient, time could run out for the patient, assuming the distance traveled to get urgent treatment was not a factor involved.

Anthony Shirley, coordinator of recruitment and financial aid at the University of Utah College of Nursing, says health care access for American Indians is in a worse state than it was 10 years ago.

In an e-mail interview, Shirley said “most American Indians are not insured so they [are referred] out of the Indian Walk-In Center in Salt Lake City. These doctors and nurses and health professionals are unknowledgeable of our culture so we often do not get referrals within the Salt Lake Valley.” Also, many people are forced to return to the reservation to find an Indian health service clinic or hospital.

Another problem, Zito admitted, is that “it’s difficult to get folks enrolled in the health care they need so desperately.” Older generations of American Indians are not accustomed to receiving regular health check-ups and therefore see little reason to travel far away to get them. This is especially dangerous because American Indians are at a high risk for developing diabetes. Without habitual care, suffering can be prolonged.

“Diabetes is at all-time high for American Indians,” Shirley wrote in his e-mail. He said the problem “is a combination of education/awareness and demographics. Many American Indians are not educated on proper diet and with many American Indians living on the reservation, the only resources they have are cheap foods that contribute to diabetes.”

Zito recognizes this as well, saying, “Diabetes is a problem in the social, cultural and physiological parts of American Indian society.” It is a problem that is especially difficult to combat without modern treatment such as insulin and medications.

Currently, the Utah Department of Health uses the Utah Indian Health Advisory Board (UIHAB) to connect tribal, state and federal governments in an effort to better address American Indian health policies and concerns. UIHAB is also used to establish trust among governmental groups and American Indian organizations. And, according to Article III of the board’s bylaws: “UIHAB will advise and make recommendations for improved physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health of American Indian people in Utah.”

Zito quoted a historic phrase used by Cherokee leaders to say, “as long as the grass grows and the rivers flow the government will provide for the Native people.”

Preparation now can pay off later


Many people in the world today worry about what tomorrow will bring. Will I be prepared? Will my family be safe? How will we survive if this economy doesn’t turn around?

Preparation is key to finding answers to these and many other questions.

Althea Sam, a student at the University of Utah and an American Indian, said these questions are constantly on her mind. She worries because with her current school load she only works part-time and no longer lives at home with her parents.

“There isn’t usually a lot of extra cash at the end of the day,” she said. However, Sam recognizes the importance of being ready. “It is always necessary. Even students can be prepared,” she said.

Sam explained in a recent interview that the best option for this is going back to the old ways of canning food, saving and being smart about spending.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is one organization that encourages setting aside essentials for a rainy day. The Church has compiled many resources and tools to help families and individuals around the world get started on something that can be intimidating: food storage and preparation.

Church officials say people need to be ready for adversity in every aspect of life. The three most important elements to being prepared for the future are education, employment and food. A good education will be the base for a solid future. This base leads to a good job that will make it possible to meet the basic needs in life including the final element, food.

Jeff Newey, an employee of the LDS Church, was part of a team that put together several pamphlets to distribute to people worldwide. This collection is called “All Is Safely Gathered In.”

One pamphlet, “Family Finances,” discusses how managing money now can be helpful later in life. The pamphlet advises avoiding debt, using a budget, building a reserve, and teaching family members “financial management, hard work, frugality and saving.” It also includes a budget worksheet.

The second pamphlet, “Family Home Storage,” teaches readers how to gather food and save a little extra money in case of emergency. It discusses the following topics: three-month supply, drinking water, financial reserve and longer-term supply. “Its purpose is to give people hope and to simplify the message,” Newey said.

While the pamphlets don’t detail every necessity, they can help anyone prepare for the unexpected.

“The Navajo tribe [in New Mexico], lost a lot of money on Wall Street,” said Irene Wixom. “Most Navajo people just have to deal with downturns in the economy, they don’t have mortgages, they don’t anticipate these problems.” She explained that while living on the reservation, Navajos have nothing to do with the mess that the economy is in. “They didn’t get caught up in all the loan problems, they didn’t make the mess,” she said.

Wixom, a Navajo, explained that many Navajos have not been preparing for anything drastic to happen.

Her own family, on the other hand, has been saving for years and trying to put a little food away so that in times of need they will be ready. Wixom, her husband and their three children now live in Salt Lake City and worry about their family and friends still on the reservation.

“They don’t have mass transit or even a huge selection of cars. Some of the roads are in pretty bad condition and that limits them. … It’s harder to be careful,” Wixom said.

“We haven’t decided to do anything new,” she said, explaining that it’s the little things that are going to make the difference. The few things the Wixom family have been focusing on are cutting back spending and planning their trips instead of just jumping into the car.

“We budgeted for years to get rid of our mortgage and other debts,” she said. “The only debt we have now is student loans for the kids’ education.” They are still comfortable today because of careful budgeting earlier in life. 

“There are more important things than big houses and big cars; your child’s education for example. Those are the things we worried about,” Wixom said. 

Wixom stressed the importance of being wise. She said the best way to prepare for the downturns in today’s economy is to stay up to date about what is going on in the world.

“People get busy and are uninformed. They didn’t see it coming. When the bubble burst we were ready,” she said. She stressed the fact that this should be common sense.

Many organizations and resources exist to help people get started on preparing for those unexpected turns in life. As Newey said, resources are available to “give people hope and simplify the message.” With all the tips, though, common sense is also important.

“If you can’t afford that cup of coffee from Starbucks don’t drink it,” Sam said. “Everyone loves that cup of coffee, but be responsible.” 

Tips for being prepared (from “All is Safely Gathered In”)

  • Avoid debt: Spending less money than you make is essential to your financial security. Avoid debt, with the exception of buying a modest home or paying for education or other vital needs. Save money to purchase what you need. If you are in debt pay it off as quickly as possible.
  • Have a back-up supply: Build a small supply of food that is part of your normal, daily diet. One way to do this is to purchase a few extra items each week to build a one-week supply of food. Then you can gradually increase your supply until it is sufficient for three months. These items should be rotated regularly to avoid spoilage. For longer-term needs, and where permitted, gradually build a supply of food that will last a long time and that you can use to stay alive, such as wheat, white rice and beans.
  • Use a budget: Keep a record of your expenditures. Record and review monthly income and expenses. Determine how to reduce what you spend for nonessentials. Plan how much you will save, and what you will spend for food, housing, utilities, transportation, clothing, insurance and so on. Discipline yourself to stay within your budget plan. A budget worksheet is a useful tool to help you with your plan.
  • Build a reserve: Gradually build a financial reserve and use it for emergencies only. If you save a little money regularly, you will be surprised how much accumulates over time.
  • Drinking water: Store drinking water for circumstances in which the water supply may be polluted or disrupted. If water comes directly from a good, pretreated source, then no additional purification is needed; otherwise, pretreat water before use. Store water in sturdy, leak-proof, breakage-resistant containers. Consider using plastic bottles commonly used for juices and soft drinks. Keep water containers away from heat sources and direct sunlight.

Educational programs bridge the success gap of American Indian students

Story and photos by AARON K. SCHWENDIMAN

Many students in the United States today don’t graduate and go to college, but with programs and scholarships available there is hope for the future. Today American Indian students are among those who have a graduation rate of less than 60 percent, according to a study by the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research.

American Indian students are among those who have a graduation rate of less than 60 percent, according to a study by the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. Photo by Aaron K. Schwendiman

American Indian students are among those who have a graduation rate of less than 60 percent, according to a study by the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research.

Many American Indian students who attend Grand County High School in southern Utah live between the Navajo Nation Reservation and Moab, Utah, which makes it difficult for these students to stay in school.

Grand County High School in Moab has a total student body of about 440 students with about 7.5 percent of those students American Indian. This number of American Indian students fluctuates constantly because many of the students move between the Navajo Reservation and Moab. It is the only high school within the county that American Indian students can attend.  The next closest high school in a separate county is Whitehorse High School in Montezuma Creek, Utah.

Stephen Hren, principal at Grand County High School, has been working in the Grand School District for 20 years, first as a science teacher and now as a principal for two years.

Grand County High School in Moab has received a federal grant through Title VII, which is part of the “No Child Left Behind Act” that focuses on Native American academic improvement.

Grand County High School in Moab has received a federal grant through Title VII, which is part of the “No Child Left Behind Act” that focuses on Native American academic improvement.

Most of our students are Navajo, so they go back to the Navajo Nation reservation or Montezuma Creek, which is where Whitehorse High School is located,” Hren said in an e-mail interview.

Hren said the graduation rate of the American Indian students at the high school last year was about 66 percent when the students don’t move back to the nearby reservation. This is above the national average of 57 percent.

If we have our Native American students consistently, those that do not move back and forth to the reservation, we have a better than 57 percent graduation rate,” Hren said. “However, for those that move around, our statistics would be similar to this statistic.”

But students who move to and from the reservation get a very inconsistent educational experience. They have different reasons why they move, Hren said.           

“Sometimes, they are seeking job opportunities, other times they are in trouble within the reservation, so they leave,” Hren said. “They return for ceremonial purposes, or if they get into trouble off the reservation with school attendance and sometimes the students move without their parents and live with aunts, uncles, or siblings.”

To address these issues for American Indian students in Moab, Grand County High School received a federal grant through Title VII, which is part of the “No Child Left Behind Act” that focuses on Native American academic improvement.

Title VII is dedicated to supporting local educational organizations and institutions so that students can meet the same challenging State student academic achievement standards, just like all other students are expected to meet, according to the U.S. Department of Education Web site.

Grand County High School has created a Native American Studies course, which is open to all students, and a club that has been tracking the progress of its American Indian students. The school has seen an almost 30 percent increase in its passing rate, Hren said.

He believes that if more schools create similar programs, graduation rates and academic achievement of American Indian students will improve.

Nola Lodge, clinical instructor at the University of Utah and a member of the Oneida of Wisconsin Tribe, believes that infusing multicultural education in every subject in schools will help increase graduation rates. Lodge is a member of the Indian Advisory Committee to the Utah State Board of Education that is developing an American Indian education plan to address the issue of the success gap.  They have patterned their plans after Washington State and Montana, both of which have implemented successful programs for students.

“We have decided to infuse Indian history education and social studies at all grade levels, K-12,” Lodge said.

Nola Lodge, a clinical instructor at the University of Utah, believes that infusing multicultural education in every subject in schools will help increase graduation rates.

Nola Lodge, a clinical instructor at the University of Utah, believes that infusing multicultural education in every subject in schools will help increase graduation rates.

Improving academic achievement through tutoring and support structures is another way that has helped American Indian students in school.

Ramalda Guzman, community health representative director for the northern Ute Tribe, says there are many socioeconomic factors that play into the reality of low graduation rates throughout Indian country.

“It’s a bleak picture but our communities are doing their best to address it,” said Guzman, a member of the Ute Tribe. “In our community we try to provide different activities during school and after school that promote education and keep students interested.”

Guzman worked as a tutor in public schools in the early 1980s. She said working with American Indian high school students presented many challenges because they did not seem interested in their education or did not take it seriously.

When students are introduced to reading and other subjects early, they seem to be better prepared for school and be more confident in doing schoolwork and communicating with their teachers and peers, Guzman said.

As a tutor throughout these years I not only worked with students academically but advocated on their behalf when it came to other issues that impacted their lives,” Guzman said. “When students find they can trust you they tend to reveal more of themselves to you.”

Students who do well in high school and want to go on to college may encounter another obstacle: funding. To help American Indian students with college tuition the Northern Ute Tribe provides scholarships.  Individuals must fill out an application and provide required documentation such as an acceptance letter from a college, letters of recommendations, a personal essay, and ACT scores. Each year the tribe sponsors 50 students who will receive approximately $8,000 per year, Guzman said.

She recommended that the Ute Tribe education department provide students with assistance filling out college applications and helping them navigate through the college admission process.

“We are constantly seeking ways to help our students be successful in school,” Guzman said.

Once students enter college, many universities offer programs to help them succeed. The University of Utah has the Center for Ethnic Student Affairs. According to the Web site, CESA is dedicated to providing programs that assist students through the different barriers of society and helping them achieve academic excellence. The center serves the needs of American Indian, African American, Asian American, Latina-Latino, and Pacific Islander students.

The U’s Lena Judee is the American Indian program coordinator and Inter Tribal Student Association advisor for CESA. Judee’s specific focus as an advisor is to assist American Indian students complete their studies at the U.

Lodge said the main goal behind these programs for American Indian students is to support them through their educational experience so that they don’t feel alone in a large community.

The Ute and Ouray Indian Reservation


Winding roads and narrow passageways of mountains and trees lead you through the countryside and into the northeastern region of Utah. More than 150 miles east of Salt Lake City is the town of Fort Duchesne, Utah.

Fort Duchesne is the central headquarters for the Ute Indian Tribe. Surrounding Fort Duchesne is the Ute and Ouray reservation, which is located within a three-county area known as the Uintah Basin. The reservation spans more than 4.5 million acres, making it the second-largest Indian Reservation in the United States. Enrolled membership is approximately 3,000 with more than half of its members living on the reservation, according to the Ute Tribe’s Web site.

“Our reservation has a variety of altitudes from 11,000 feet to just below 4,000 feet, from pine and aspen forests to the arid deserts of oil fields,” said Mariah Cuch, director and editor of the Ute Bulletin. “There is a wild range of wildlife from bear, moose, elk, deer, eagles and all the little critters in between.”

The land of the Uintah Basin plays a large part in where the Ute Tribe receives some of its revenue. The basin is home to many forms of hydrocarbons that have been trapped beneath the surface for millions of years, according to the Bureau of Indian Affairs website.

Ute Energy, one of the largest businesses within the reservation, takes advantage of the many natural resources available to the Tribe. The majority of the company’s ownership is held by the Ute Tribe. According to the company Web site, Ute Energy was formed to enable the Tribe to become an active participant in the development of its energy estate.

Large businesses like Ute Energy establish tribal ownership over the land of the reservation. Smaller Ute-owned businesses on the reservation provide a local marketplace for people.

The Ute Plaza Supermarket and the Ute Petroleum Convenience Store are two businesses in Fort Duchesne that are owned by Ute tribe members.

“The supermarket has been here for years,” said a Ute Tribe member, who preferred not to give his name. “I like to support the locally owned and Ute owned businesses in the area, it makes me feel I am giving back to my tribe.”

Also located in Fort Duchesne is the Ute Bulletin. The newspaper is funded by the Tribe and is published bi-weekly. It provides the Ute Tribe in Fort Duchesne and its surrounding communities with news and upcoming events about the tribe and the reservation.

Cuch, the managing editor, has worked at the paper for eight years. She said about half of the Ute Tribe membership live off the reservation so she always has to think about what they want know.

“I try to look into functions and activities that are going on, always keeping in mind the historic value of today,” Cuch said. “I also try to highlight our youth and their accomplishments.”

Along with business, education on the reservation plays a large part in the Ute culture. The Tribe provides an education program called Head Start that introduces education to children and families early on in life.

“It is many things, it is an early childhood development program for at-risk children 3 and 4 years old,” Tom Morgan, director of Ute Indian Tribe Head Start program, said in a phone interview. “It covers their education, health needs, mental health needs and if there is any disability, it helps with that.”

Children who become accustomed early to the educational experience gain the skills they need to move ahead in their schooling, Morgan said. For the people at Head Start, their job is to reach the young students early so they will want to go to school in the future.

“We know we need to start really early with kids and at Head Start it does exactly what it stands for, it gives kids a head start,” Morgan said. “Especially on the reservation, kids need early exposure to learning and also the exposure their parents can get to help their children so they are more educationally minded.”

For people living off the reservation, asking questions and understanding tribal culture within the reservation will create awareness of the people and local events, Cuch said.

“We are a modern and functioning part of our area,” Cuch said. “On a cultural side our powwows are open to the public and would encourage people, if they’re curious, to come out to the reservation during those times and ask questions to come to an understanding [of the culture].”

For poverty-stricken Navajo Nation, a wrenching choice between development and the environment


Elouise Brown stands at the edge of a rise in the middle of the New Mexico desert, pointing toward a barely distinguishable plot of land in the distance that has become the center of a battle in which her family and the entire Navajo Nation have become bitterly divided.

Brown is the head of Dooda Desert Rock (dooda means “no” in Navajo), an organization she formed to oppose the Desert Rock power plant that has been proposed for the nondescript stretch of earth a few miles away. She stands on the edge of the Dooda Desert Rock Camp, located an hour’s drive southwest of Farmington, N.M. 

The controversy over the plant is hardly new to the Navajo Nation and the broader Four Corners community of which it is part: The coal-fired facility would be the region’s third.

But this time things are different. This time the threat is not posed solely by outsiders who intend to plunder the area’s resources, offering a pittance in royalties for the mess they leave behind. Rather, the developers are members of Brown’s own family and tribe, acting with funds and official authorization from the Navajo Nation.

The company co-developing the project, Dine Power Authority (DPA), is an enterprise of the Navajo Nation. And the company’s general manager, Steven C. Begay, by dint of the complexities of Navajo clan structure, is considered Brown’s grandfather.

“He’s not in his right mind, I don’t think,” Brown said of Begay, noting that she treats him with customary familial respect but doesn’t receive the same treatment in return.

Taking a Stand

It’s the first day of Dooda Desert Rock’s (DDR) second annual four-day protest and Brown has returned from pointing out the construction site. She is now sitting in the camp’s central plywood shack, wearing a black Dooda Desert Rock T-shirt and a camouflage army jacket with her last name embroidered on the sleeve.

“We’re nothing to them, we’re nobody to them,” she says, speaking of DPA and its partner, Sithe Global. “They say we’re out in the middle of nowhere, but we don’t consider it the middle of nowhere.”

The walls of the shack are hung with news clippings and timelines that chronicle DDR’s efforts to kill the Desert Rock project. An illustration posted outside, near the entrance, depicts the plant in stark black, a skull and crossbones painted in red inside a column of noxious CO2 rising into the air.

“We don’t have a choice, we have to do this,” she says forcefully. “There’s nobody else doing this so we have to do it.”

But the involvement of DPA has added a unique wrinkle to the issue, one that has opened fault lines within Brown’s family and the broader Navajo Nation community.

With a 25 percent equity stake, the Navajo Nation Council could potentially generate desperately needed jobs and revenue for its 180,000 people, nearly half of whom are unemployed. Yet for Brown, whose activism has been central in stalling environmental approval for Desert Rock in court, the potential for economic benefits means little when the true costs are accounted for.

“It’s totally insignificant,” she said, in a telephone interview before the protest. “What’s more important, money or health?”

Health and the Environment

A passage from the invitation to the DDR protest makes plain Brown’s feelings about the involvement of the Navajo Nation’s government in the Desert Rock project: “Our Navajo leaders are forsaking Traditional Ways to take corporate money to poison our land, foul our air, and steal our waters. This abuse must STOP!”

By “Traditional Ways,” Brown explains that she means “care for everything and everybody.” She was raised by her parents, she says, to “take care of the whole cosmos.”

From the same vantage point where the Desert Rock site is visible, one can also see smoke billowing from the Four Corners power plant, leaving a brown-black streak along the horizon just above Farmington. And just a few miles east from there, barely beyond sight, is the San Juan power plant.

“The two combined are putting high levels of mercury particulates into the air and into the water, because they’re both using the San Juan River,” says Miles Lessen, a math coach for Navajo Nation schools who has lived in the nearby town of Shiprock for about a year, in an interview at the DDR protest. “So people who live down in Sanostee [a town west of Shiprock], this breaks my heart, they’re drinking the water from both plants that are coming through, so they’re getting a higher dosage than even I’m getting.”

For Brown, the health effects she believes were caused by this pollution catalyzed her efforts to block construction of a third coal-fired plant. 

“I’m not going to pinpoint this certain person with this certain ailment, but there’s a lot of cancer patients,” she says. “If you go to the cancer center in Farmington, there’s a lot of people. I’m not just speaking for the Navajo Nation, I’m speaking for all walks of life, all living species. There’s a lot of kids with asthma, respiratory problems of all sorts. There’s babies that were still-born. These don’t just happen constantly for no reason, there’ve got to be reasons behind it,” Brown continues, identifying chemicals, like mercury, released by the San Juan and Four Corners plants as the cause. 

“That’s how I got involved, I wanted to know ‘what can I do?'” she says.

Yet, when confronted with Brown’s dire claims, Desert Rock’s top officials react with a mixture of puzzlement and frustration.

“From a total impact standpoint, I think it’s going to get better before it gets worse. I don’t even see it getting worse, I just see it getting better,” said Nathan Plagens, vice president of Desert Rock LLC, in a telephone interview.

“We have an agreement with the Navajo Nation that for SO2 [sulfur dioxide], every time we emit, we will mitigate 110 percent by reducing SO2 emissions from another source,” he said in describing the first of a three-tier arrangement in which Desert Rock is contractually bound to reduce emissions not only from its own plant, but also from the two existing coal-fired facilities.

After SO2, Desert Rock has pledged to reduce nitrous oxide and acid rain using similar formulas at the contractually mandated second and third tiers respectively.

As for mercury, the plant wouldn’t use the San Juan River. Instead, its water would come from an aquifer located a mile below the surface of the land. And Desert Rock is classified as a non-discharge plant, meaning none of the water it uses will be re-released into the environment, Plagens said.

“The majority of the water that we’re using is basically for pollution control,” he said, with a hint of irony in his voice. “I don’t know where mercury can get in to come in contact with the water.”

But the real sticking point, from the standpoint of the courts and the Environmental Protection Agency, has been carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. The gas is a major contributor to global warming, yet the EPA is not currently authorized to regulate it, according to Plagens. And a coalition of environmental groups, including DDR, has used the lack of CO2 regulations to appeal the EPA’s permit for the Desert Rock plant in court.

“The Environmental Appeals Board will say whether the EPA has to regulate CO2 permits,” said Plagens. “If they do have to regulate CO2, then a lot of things would be thrown on the table.”

At the DDR protest, Brown stresses the widespread consequences of allowing another coal-fired power plant to be built.

“Where are kids in their future generation going to go when the global warming gets worse? When there’s no more good air quality for them to breathe? What are they supposed to do?” she says.

And she’s not alone in her concern. “Unfortunately, every day, I’m losing my life expectancy. I eat healthy and I take care of myself, but I’m inhaling carcinogenic material,” Lessen says. “People down here, they’re getting it even worse.”

And while Sithe Global and DPA have promised to set aside funds generated by the plant to disassemble the facility and restore the environment after its resources are exhausted, there are currently no such plans for CO2 reduction.

Begay refers to the global warming claims of Brown and her associates as “nebulous.” “There are no rules the EPA can go by,” he said.

“It’s the same old garbage they’re coming up with that’s already been discussed,” he said.

The Promises

In forming DPA, the Navajo Nation set the standard for a broad paradigm shift currently taking place in Native American communities nationwide. Alongside tribes like the Crow and Blackfeet, the Navajo are pursuing a more active role in developing their own energy resources, including renewables like wind and solar in addition to traditional coal, oil and gas.

“The old-school is to lease the land, lease the resources,” said Begay, DPA’s general manager, in a telephone interview.

“We’re doing things under a new approach, with more participation and more equity,” he said.

Projections for the Desert Rock facility indicate that the equity Begay speaks of could translate into as much as $50 million in annual revenue for the Navajo Nation, whose yearly budget is $96 million, according to the 2000 census.

In testimony before the Committee on Indian Affairs on May 1, 2008, Begay emphasized the potential economic impact of the proposed plant.

“This project, which would create thousands of jobs during its four-year construction phase, 200 permanent, family-wage jobs in the power plant and another 200 well paying jobs in the adjacent Navajo mine during its lifespan, is absolutely critical to the economic future of the Navajo Nation, one of the most impoverished areas of the United States, with 50 percent unemployment,” he said, in a transcript of his testimony retrieved from the Department of the Interior’s Web site.

And, while already substantial, the revenues become all the more significant in the face of the potential closure of several plants that use Navajo-owned coal, which Desert Rock Vice President Plagens predicts could cost the Navajo Nation $40 million to $60 million per year in lost royalties.

The looming shortfall underscores the vagaries inherent in royalty schemes that have become a major force behind the push to take on a more active, management role in energy resource development.

“A lot of underhanded tactics have taken place in the past,” said Duane Matt, technology coordinator for the Office of Surface Mining, a division of the Department of the Interior. “I think [Native American tribes] need to have a personal, vested interest in what’s going on.”

In particular, Matt, who provides technology and training to Native American mining enterprises, referred to a recent lawsuit in which a Blackfoot woman sued the U.S. government for $47 billion in unpaid royalties.

Decided on Aug. 7, 2008, for 1 percent – $455 million – of the amount originally sought, the Cobell v. Kempthorne case exposed the flaws of the “old school” land-lease system of which Begay spoke. He said the case is partly responsible for a stipulation in agreements between DPA and Sithe Global requiring that all financial disputes be resolved in Navajo courts rather than in U.S. federal courts.

Royalty graft is likewise part of the checkered legacy left by the San Juan and Four Corners plants that has engendered deep mistrust among Brown and her supporters. But they remain unconvinced that the equity arrangement with Desert Rock will offer a significant improvement over the past.

“There were a lot of things promised that were not fulfilled – jobs, economic growth,” said Brown, adding later that the Navajo people would have to be “stupid to fall for this again.”

Miles Lessen, the math coach, points to inadequacies in the status quo to explain why he is pessimistic about the idea of things changing much under the Desert Rock model. “I think you talk to most people, stay around here for a while, talk to most people over in Sanostee and Shiprock and Gallup and all over and they’ll tell you there’s a lot of money that the tribe gets and most of the people here don’t see any of it,” he says.

Moreover, extravagant promises of economic development have a hollow ring to Brown and her supporters, who question whether the Navajo Nation will ultimately be able to raise the hundreds of millions of dollars necessary to purchase an equity stake in the project.

“If it’s projected as a 3.7-billion-dollar project and it’s not going to be built for another four or five years, I almost guarantee it’s going to be double that,” said Michael Eisenfeld, an environmentalist with the San Juan Citizens Alliance, an organization that opposes the plant.

“Where do they think they’re going to get the money for this?” he asked in a telephone interview.

Moved Yet Unmoved

At the Dooda Desert Rock Camp, Brown talks about being forced from her previous three protest campsites, which were located closer to the Desert Rock construction zone. Members of her own family even attempted to drive her off the current site, summoning grazing officials and Navajo rangers to expel her.

“We can’t trust anybody,” she says. “Everybody’s doing this for greed.”

For Brown and her supporters, who include major environmental groups like the Sierra Club in addition to concerned area residents, opposition to the plant is not a simple choice between economic rewards and environmental preservation. It is a rejection of the premise that money cures all ills and brings nothing but happiness.

“To me, money’s not everything,” Brown says. “Money can buy a lot of things, but when your relative’s going to die from cancer, you’re not going to take that money that you earned from the coal-burning power plant and go buy your relative back.”

Perhaps the most tragic fallacy of all, she says, is the notion that people can no longer live without the comforts of modern technology.

“We’ve done without electricity coming into our house, we’re doing fine,” she says. “We live as good as any of you, anybody out there. We’re living as well as DPA does, or Sithe. And we may be hauling water; I don’t see any faucet in here, do you? They don’t need it either, they’re just lazy.”

Repatriation closes karmic circle for Native Americans


When the Great Salt Lake receded in the late 1980s, American Indian remains began jutting out along on its shoreline. Then the remains started to go missing, presumably stolen. The state had to step in.

Utah adapted a federal law, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990, or NAGPRA, to standardize the way remains are handled. When Native American remains are found, an individual or tribe may claim them and have them repatriated, which means to return items to a descendant or culturally affiliated tribe.

A claim can be made on remains if at least one of three things is proven: lineal descendant, cultural affiliation, or if the remains were found on their aboriginal land.

A lineal descendent is someone who can trace their ancestry to the remains he or she is trying to claim. If this can’t be proven, a tribe may then try to prove cultural affiliation. But Rebecca Nelson, research assistant for the Utah Division of Indian Affairs, said it’s difficult to get people to agree on what that means.

“What osteologists and scientists in the archaeology community believe is cultural affiliation really doesn’t have a lot of meaning to American Indian people,” Nelson said.

According to the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Web site, cultural affiliation can be established when “geographical, kinship, biological, archeological, linguistic, folklore, oral tradition, historical evidence, or other information or expert opinion — reasonably leads to such a conclusion.” But since it is a Native American belief that everything is related, scientific evidence means nothing, Nelson said.

When neither cultural affiliation nor a lineal descendant can be proven, the last resort to claim remains is proof of aboriginal land. This is the area that gives Ron Rood, assistant state archaeologist, the most trouble because “those remains could possibly have no relation to lineal descendant or cultural affiliation,” he said.

If no claims are made, the remains are buried with a ceremony in Utah’s burial vault at the mouth of Emigration Canyon in This is the Place State Park, which has been blessed.

The remains are buried as soon as possible because it is a common Native American belief that if remains are unburied, the individual’s spirit roams the earth seeking rest, Nelson said. This can cause karmic imbalances that result in physical harm to their descendants.

Bruce Perry, chairman of the Northwestern Band of Shoshone, said the Shoshones don’t believe this because they have been Mormon since 1880; they just believe the remains should be buried properly.

Perry said they have repatriated and buried two individuals found in a cave on Hill Air Force Base.  He believes the bones discovered along the Great Salt Lake were Shoshone because that was their aboriginal land. The tribe didn’t have a lot of money at the time, so they couldn’t afford to give the remains a proper Shoshone burial, which involves wrapping them in a buckskin that costs about $500. The two individuals are buried in their cemetery 3 miles from the Idaho border in Washakie, Utah.

Rood is delighted when tribes make claims. Repatriation is a way to bridge communication between Native Americans and the scientists studying their ancestors, he said.

“As a scientist, and an archaeologist and an anthropologist, I believe repatriation is very important. It’s a way, conceivably, for archaeology and tribes to really work together,” Rood said. “It bridges those gaps to find out what really happened.”

Rood has been working on a case that has rewritten history. Seven Native American remains were found in a mass grave in Nephi. All were male and one was as young as 10 years old. Pioneer journals described a skirmish with who Rood believes are Goshutes that led to the deaths. From examining where the fatal shots hit, Rood could deduce that the men and boy were killed while they were running away, not in self-defense.

About once a month, Rood receives a call about human remains, which he said keeps him busy. He can tell “almost immediately” if the remains are from a Native American person because of differences in cheekbones and eyeholes.

One case stands out to both Rood and Nelson. A hunter found the remains of a baby near Fillmore. It was buried with glass trading beads, a woven basket, and a metal plate and cup with “all the pomp and circumstance that was required at the time,” Rood said. Since the baby was only about a year old, its sex could not be determined. The Paiute Tribe made a claim on the remains.

When artifacts like the beads are found in a gravesite, they are repatriated along with the rest of the remains. They are considered funerary objects and are also covered under NAGRPA. The artifacts found with the baby have stayed very close to it throughout the entire process, which can take about a year, Rood said.

This is a great example of successful repatriation for Nelson because “it was obvious someone loved that baby very much.”

‘Faces from the Land’ depicts powwow dancers and regalia


Painted black lips and a bright yellow jaw sit below a set of dark, piercing eyes. The beautiful array of a feathered headdress, buckskin fringes and a fan of feathers ceases to distract the viewer as the dark eyes pull them directly in. They show a strength and confidence, and they portray a pride in tradition and heritage that is honored at the powwows.

Travis Ike, of the Omaha Tribe, wearing his Native regalia is one of many powwow participants photographed by Ben Marra.

Ben and his wife, Linda Marra, of Seattle, Wash., have followed Native American powwows for 20 years. Their traveling documentary photo exhibit, Faces from the Land, features Ben’s portrait photography and personal statements from each of his subjects.

The Faces from the Land exhibit was at the Main Library in downtown Salt Lake City from Sept. 20 to Nov. 15, 2008. Ann Morris, a librarian there, estimated that about 30 people a day walked through the exhibit, the majority of those being adults.

The Marras attended their first powwow in 1988 when Ben was given an assignment to take a color photograph depicting the theme, “Celebrate Washington State.” Recently returned from photographing people in Nepal, Ben immediately discarded all the played-out Washington icons and came up with the idea of photographing Native Americans from the Northwest.

“At my first powwow, I saw beautiful imagery right here in our country,” Ben said. He wanted to photograph and share it.

After the photo assignment, the Marras continued to attend powwows across the United States and Canada, and the photography grew into a larger project for them.

“We did this on the side for fun, to take off for the weekends, but you keep learning of more powwows and seeing people you know,” Linda said.

The Marras became more dedicated to their photography project when they decided to use the images to strengthen or spark an interest in the Native American community. On their Web site, they write their hopes that the photos can teach people about the importance of tradition and family, and about beliefs associated with powwows, dances and native regalia. 

Due to a lack of education about Native Americans in school, neither of them knew much in the beginning and had no idea what to expect at a powwow.

Linda was surprised at how welcome they were. The Marras made sure to keep their word and treat everyone well so they weren’t seen as “ugly, white people.” Relationships have been very important to their success.

“This whole project has been based on relationships and we’ve been careful to form and nurture those relationships, and honor those promises made,” Linda said.

Their relationships with powwow dancers are also based on cultural respect. For example, if an elder asks individuals to dance, they have to. It is respectful and an honor for the invitation to be given and accepted. Linda and Ben have been asked to dance before and obliged, even though Linda said she is self-conscious and doesn’t dance. It wasn’t a real dance, Ben said. It was more of a two-step while circling around, something that anyone can pick up after a minute.

The Marras used to search for their subjects at the powwows. They would look for someone with a certain presence and a unique way of carrying themselves.

These days, though, powwow dancers seek them out and ask for their photo to be taken. The dancers come between songs and usually only have five or 10 minutes where Ben can create a few photographs.

“We make [the process] fast for them because they are here to be dancing,” Ben said. Sometimes during a shoot, someone will run in and tell the dancer that his song is next. They will run out, regardless of if Ben is done.

Linda meets the dancers before the shoot to take down their name and tribal affiliation. Then Ben tries to make them feel comfortable despite what setting they may be using. Whether it’s a school hallway or a portable trailer, they try to always create privacy so that it is just Ben and the dancer.

The dancer stands in front of the same brown cloth that the Marras have had since the beginning of the project. The lighting is also kept similar. This helps to keep the photos consistent with one another, so that a photo from 10 years go can be placed right alongside a photo from today.

Ben uses a color slide film to get the most vibrant colors. His color portraits are a unique and signature work. Few photographers have such an extensive portfolio of portraits. Ben’s color portraits have a different feel to them, especially when compared to the sepia-toned Native American images made by Edward S. Curtis in the late 1800s and early 1900s, said Morris, the Salt Lake City librarian.

Some of Curtis’ photographs appeared on a television alongside the exhibit. Native Americans have rarely been shown in traditional attire in color. Most of the historical pictures are black and white or sepia, which don’t allow for the full effect of their regalia to be seen.

Ben also photographs the dancing at powwows. He manages to get close up and has a knack for getting great action shots since he is familiar with the music.

“He’s been doing it for so long that he recognizes the dances and knows when they’re up in the air or when the last beat of the song is,” Linda said.

Every dancer who is photographed by Ben receives a copy, which is usually proudly displayed in their homes, Linda said.

The Marras have a book coming out in April 2009 called “Faces from the Land: 20 Years of Powwow Tradition.” The book will feature 150 of the best color portraits over their 20 years of following the powwows. A personal narrative will accompany each of the photos.

Native American designer finds home


The definition of home is different for everyone. Some people consider home a place where family lives; others view home as where one feel the most at peace. For many, a simple definition of home is hard to construct.

Cal Nez, a successful Native American graphic designer, has struggled with the idea of home for as long as he can remember.

“Is home a physical location or inside me or Sandy, Utah?” Nez wondered during an  interview at the University of Utah.

As is tradition in the Navajo Nation, Nez was given to his grandparents to be raised at a young age. However, instead of being raised by his mother’s clan, which is considered to be dominant, Nez was raised by his father’s side. He never knew his mother and hardly knew his father. When he was about 5 years old he was forced, like so many Native Americans, by the federal government to attend boarding school.

Nez remembers his experience at boarding school as nothing short of hell and likens his time there to prison.

“I understand every aspect of confinement, abuse, of mental manipulation,” Nez said.

According to Amnesty International USA Magazine, beginning in 1869 with President Grant’s Peace Policy, more than 100,000 Native American children were taken from their families and forced into boarding schools in an attempt to “Americanize” the Native American population.

A scene he plays back in his head is one of a long, dark hallway at the boarding school in New Mexico. He is standing at one end and his grandmother is walking slowly down the hallway toward a tiny door, barely visible. Nez said he would never forget that image and the feeling he had of loneliness when his grandmother left him.

When Nez was a sophomore in high school he enrolled in the Latter-day Saints Indian Placement Program. The program placed Native American students with LDS families and Nez moved to Salt Lake City to attend South High School.

“I came to Salt Lake to learn what a normal family was,” Nez explained. But before he began his journey he had to deal with leaving his grandmother and the need to find himself. Nez vividly remembers leaving his family but telling them that he would remember who he was. He promised to come back for his grandmother.

This parallel in his life, first his grandmother leaving him and then leaving his grandmother would shape the ideas he has about family and belonging.

Nez moved to Salt Lake and attended Sough High School. While attending South, Nez felt the drive to succeed. He excelled in art and design and was the first Sterling Scholar in Art from South High. He remembers seeing the seniors graduate with honors and all the adornments. At that moment he realized he wanted to feel that sense of pride and accomplishment. He wanted to emulate the success he had seen the other students achieve.

Nez said he had always been able to duplicate and capture images and showed talent at a young age. At the boarding school he remembers doing one of his first drawings and his teacher, Ms. Beach, rewarded him with a one-dollar bill. The drawing was of Abraham Lincoln chopping wood.

With his natural ability to recreate designs and determination to “make it” Nez worked locally for a couple of advertising agencies. While working, however, he discovered he was missing something.

Nez decided he needed to take his talents and start his own business. “I quit. I packed up my stuff and left,” he recalled. Nez and his wife, Yolanda, were expecting their first child.

Armed with nothing more than his portfolio, Nez drove to Arizona to present his raw abilities in graphic design to the Chairman of the Navajo Nation, Peter MacDonald. Nez walked into MacDonald’s office and said: “I want to show you what I can do.” He walked out with two jobs.

One of the jobs MacDonald assigned him was for the Navajo Nation Fair in 1989. It is an original oil painting depicting a Navajo man wearing silver sunglasses and the scene of the fair can be seen in the reflection. Nez said this painting symbolizes the presence of the Native American.

The face of the man in the poster is made up of a collection of a few dozen different faces, one of which is his wife’s, Yolanda, grandfather.

Cal Nez Design, based out of Salt Lake City, is a 100 percent Native American graphic design and advertising agency. In October 2005 Nez was featured on the cover of Utah Business Magazine, when it highlighted minority business owners in Utah. Of the experience Nez says it was and is such a great honor. He said he just hopes he can be a good role model for other Native American business owners.

His philosophy about graphic design is that he tries to keep the integrity of the art. Each piece he works on and designs has his own personal touch. Nez believes the world of graphic design should move away from pre-made templates and generic work; he wants to return to the human aspect. “Every client is different,” he said. “Every message is different.”

Tribal colleges aid American Indian success

Story and photos by ANNE ROPER

American Indian students mixed with colonial teaching methods create an educational recipe for disaster. Drop out rates are high among Native students, such as the Navajo Nation where only 41 percent of American Indians graduating from high school.

In the 1960s, a movement for educational amelioration began to sweep throughout Indian Country, putting into motion a clarion call for reform.

Tribal colleges answered that call.

The tribal colleges, also known as tribally controlled colleges, can be found on reservations or in remote communities where post-high school education is so inaccessible, it is out of the question for many. The colleges boost the local economy by providing jobs for faculty and staff in places that face insurmountable unemployment, some as high as 70 percent.

And whereas some traditional schools have tried to stifle American Indian culture, tribal colleges encourage it. They even teach it.

L’Dawn Olsen teaches writing and English at Wind River Tribal College on Wind River Indian Reservation, home to the Arapaho Tribe in Kyle, Wyo. In her classes, the experience is different from the moment it starts.

“We begin every class with a ceremony,” Olsen said. “We smudge; we drum.”

Smudging is an American Indian practice that involves burning a plant and taking in its life experiences. The process is difficult to explain because American Indian culture learns by experiencing something firsthand, as opposed to mainstream American culture that emphasizes explanation from a scientific standpoint, Olsen said.

It is this cultural difference that has prohibited so many American Indian students from succeeding in the educational realm.

“[American Indian students] do not fair well in any kind of colonial idea of education,” Olsen said.

Tired of boarding schools and low graduation rates, some visionaries began the first tribal college in 1968 – Dine College in Tsalie, Ariz. – during the movement toward self-determination.

By 1972, six tribal colleges had been built. The American Indian Higher Education Consortium was created as an initiative of the tribal colleges to form a community. Today, the AIHEC has grown to represent 37 colleges in the U.S. and one in Canada.

All the colleges are fully accredited or are in the process of accreditation. Wind River Tribal College is accredited through the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. Students are able to transfer to any state university or to the handful of tribal colleges that offer bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

Tribal college enrollment is overwhelmingly female, with an average of two women for every man. The AIHEC describes the typical tribal college student as a single mother in her 30s.

The American Indian Resource Center at the U.

The American Indian Resource Center at the U.

Beverly Fenton, director of the American Indian Resource Center at the University of Utah, has a feeling why. She has been there herself.

Fenton was widowed when her husband died at 36 of Lou Gehrig’s disease, which usually begins to afflict people in their 70s or 80s. She had a 7-year-old son, a broken heart and only three years of college. Because she fell just short of a bachelor’s degree, Fenton knew she still wouldn’t earn more than minimum wage.

Beverly Fenton, director of the American Indian Resource Center at the University of Utah, replies to questions from American Indian students. She is a strong supporter of tribal colleges.

Beverly Fenton, director of the American Indian Resource Center at the University of Utah, replies to questions from American Indian students. She is a strong supporter of tribal colleges.

Fenton completed three years of college at the University of Illinois, but culture shock, unhappiness and loneliness eventually caused her to drop out.

“I always felt badly I didn’t finish school,” Fenton said. “But I never felt compelled to until my husband passed away, and I had a little boy to support. So I went back and got my bachelor’s and master’s.”

For Fenton, one major advantage to tribal colleges is their proximity to students’ homes and families. Many students, especially first-generation college students, find the big universities difficult at first, Fenton said. Well-meaning families see the struggle and encourage them to drop out of school and come back to the reservation.

“A lot of their families will say, ‘It’s OK. Come home. We don’t want you to be unhappy. No one in our family has ever graduated from college.’ So you get stuck,” Fenton said.

Olsen has encountered this same problem in Wyoming.

“They have a very difficult time leaving, because living on a reservation, they are part of that support system,” Olsen said. “They feel very much at odds when they go to a university because there is no support system in place to help them integrate.”

At tribal colleges, students are able to naturally make that transition. It helps that they don’t have to give up their culture.

“[Tribal colleges] also infuse completely all of the tribe’s specific culture, tradition and language into the curriculum,” Fenton said. “They can feel like they’re getting not only academics but also the cultural and language aspects of who they really are.”

But American Indians aren’t the only students at these colleges. All tribal colleges, except two, allow non-American Indian students to enroll. Haskell Indian Nations University in Kansas and Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute in New Mexico are federally chartered institutions, administered by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The bureau permits only American Indian and Alaskan Natives to enroll in the two schools.

Most colleges require a proficiency in the tribes’ native language, which may hinder students with no knowledge of the official dialect. It is no different than expecting a student to know English, Fenton said.

Non-American Indian and American Indian students alike can enjoy the lower cost of attending a tribal college as compared to community college or university off the reservation. The AIHEC lists tuition for one credit at $107 for an American Indian and $151 for a non-American Indian. By comparison, one credit hour for a resident at Salt Lake Community College costs $225.

“The cost of an education is prohibitive for a lot of students,” Fenton said. Both she and Olsen emphasized American Indian students must pay the same amount of tuition as any other student at colleges and universities across the country.

Of all the students who have thrived in tribal colleges, one couple represents the epitome of success for Fenton: Michael and Whisper Catches. Michael is working toward a master’s degree in Lakota leadership and management, and Whisper holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration with an emphasis in management. They have four sons: Wakiyan Hotun, 6, Hehaka Sapa, 4, Tatanka Nunpa, 3, and Kinyan Luta, 18 months. While Michael works toward his doctorate degree at Sinte Gleska, they have chosen to stay on the Rosebud reservation in South Dakota.

Success like Michael and Whisper’s is becoming more prevalent. Graduation rates for American Indian students are still at 4 percent in Canada where the tribal college movement has just begun, whereas U.S. graduation rates are hitting anywhere between 12 percent to 25 percent. Tribal colleges should be credited for this improvement, Olsen said.

There are no current plans for a tribal college in Utah, but one would be welcome.

Forrest Cuch, director of the Utah Division of Indian Affairs, hopes to get a tribal college running in Utah. But some barriers to such a project exist.

Cuch believes local leadership is not focused enough on education for a tribal college to start here.

Fenton thinks the reservations in Utah don’t have enough people to justify building one, but it would still be a good idea if they decided to.

All the advantages come down to one thing for Olsen: “Indian people want to be Indian people.”

Navajo rug sale supports American Indian elders


Life on the Navajo reservation and in traditional hogans made people strong. Years of following sheep around the desert, watching children move away from their homes and weaving together strand after strand of coarse sheep’s wool to create hundreds of rugs in a single lifetime has given the elders at the 19th Annual Navajo Rug Show and Sale their dedication to each piece.

The rug show took place Nov. 7-9, 2008 in Deer Valley Resort’s Snow Park Lodge in Park City, Utah.

Rug weaving is a historic Navajo, or Diné, tradition and is honored in the show that was formed specifically to support the Adopt-A-Native Elder Program (ANE).

This program, created to benefit Navajo elders, began in the 1980s through the efforts of Linda Myers, a Park City woman who was impressed by an early display of Navajo rugs from elders in northern Arizona. Soon after that event, Myers got involved in collecting and distributing medical, food, and hygienic supplies to elders living on the Navajo reservation in southern Utah and northern Arizona.

A group of supporters eventually joined Myers and the Adopt-A-Native Elder Program was established. Mary Phillips, one of the many volunteers at the rug sale, said it is “an honor to work with Linda. The program’s success is truly inspiring and shows Linda’s devotion not only to the elders themselves, but to the Navajo tradition [of rug weaving.]”

According to the program’s Web site, there are more than 2,500 people involved in the program today. Most are from the United States but some are from other countries as well.

Rosita Van den Berg is one such volunteer. Rosita is from Holland and became interested in the program while visiting a fan site of American Indian actor Jay Tavare. 

Tavare, an avid supporter of ANE, has information regarding the program on his personal Web site and on his Facebook and MySpace pages. Van den Berg, who attended the event this year, created a painting to honor American Indian people and donated it to be auctioned off with its proceeds going to the program.

Tavare, known best for his roles in the TV miniseries “Into the West” and films “The Missing” and “Cold Mountain,” has supported ANE for seven years. He has attended the rug show for the past three years. “It definitely brings awareness about the culture of Native Americans,” he said. He hopes his support can act as “a symbol to reach across nations and get the message as far out as possible.”

Another supporter at the show was author Rose Johnson-Tsosie of “Finding Helen – A Navajo Miracle.” Tsosie was born on the Hopi reservation of northern Arizona in 1950 but she and her twin were taken from her biological mother at birth and were placed for adoption. The siblings were raised by a white family, Albert and Wilmont Johnson, in Cache Valley, Utah, where they grew up never learning much about their American Indian heritage. Tsosie said all she was aware of was that “growing up Navajo in a white society was different only because I knew my skin was different.”

In 1983, Tsosie reconnected with her biological mother, a Navajo, while serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Arizona Holbrook Mission. Through tears Tsosie said, “there are many exciting times in my life but this is the ultimate dream when I got to hold my mother and my mother got to hold me.”

Since then, Tsosie has been actively involved in the American Indian communities of California and Utah. She now travels around the country promoting her books and speaking about and on behalf of American Indians.

Attending the ANE rug show gave Tsosie a chance to show the reason she says she loves being Navajo: “learning the tradition of my heritage.” Tsosie also said, “I do respect my heritage. I am still learning about who I am, about where I am going and where I have been.”

About 28 weavers were featured in this year’s rug show. Their ages ranged from the early teens to nearly 100 years old.

Patrina and Diana Furcap, ages 13 and 12, are sisters. They learned to weave from their mother at about 6 years old. Each sold one hand-made rug on the first day of the show. “I think it’s important to keep the tradition going from one generation to the next. We shouldn’t lose it because it’s art,” Patrina said.

Most of the weavers present were women. However, four men also participated. William Whitehair, who has been weaving since he was 7, said gender differences might be rooted in history. When European settlers arrived, they brought with them their traditional form of household with women at home doing domestic activities and men outside working in farms. Although the American Indian way is matriarchal, many Native people adopted the European style and over time, weaving became primarily a female activity. Still, Whitehair said, he weaves because he’s “always enjoyed the art.”

At the show, rugs were sold at prices ranging anywhere from $150 to several thousand dollars. Prices are indicators of the quality of each rug and the amount of labor involved.

Linda Myers explained, “It’s not about the weaving itself. It’s about how when you go up and feel these rugs and you feel the hands of the weavers…that’s one of the gifts of purchasing the Navajo rugs all woven by hand. All these rugs carry that beautiful spirit of the weaver and their hands and the patterns.”

Designs range from the simplistic “Diamond” pattern (a single shape woven throughout a rug) to the intricate “Tree of Life.” This rug is a story, beginning with a “wedding basket.” At the bottom of the rug is the basket, usually woven in yellow or brown, which symbolizes the beginning of a family. From the basket grows a tall corn stalk with many branches growing from both sides. Birds of all colors are perched on the branches, each representing older generations of the family. There are also birds in flight on either side of the stalk, which stand for the younger generations. At the top is the “tassel” of the corn which holds the pollen. In Navajo tradition, corn pollen is offered with prayers, giving significance to the tassel being the tallest point on the Tree of Life. This rug can be woven in any color assortment ranging from rich dark colors to pastels.

Proceeds from the rug sales go to support the ANE program in buying food, firewood, and other items for Native elders. Individuals also could purchase balls of yarn in various shades to donate to elders for use in weaving. Some customers chose to sponsor a specific elder and invited him or her to choose the colors they liked the best. Additional donations can be made at the Web site.

The Adopt-A-Native Elder program has been a success for more than 20 years. One weaver has been a part of the program since its inception. Weaver Grace Smith-Yellowhammer of Teesto, Ariz., feels blessed to play a part in ANE and is proud of the international community involved. “We are all connected,” she said, “One voice, one prayer, one heart.”

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