The 2019 Emerging Diné Writers’ Institute

The 2019 Emerging Diné Writers’ Institute
August 23, 2019 Tyler Mitchell
In blog

I attended the 3rd annual Emerging Diné Writers’ Institute this year in Crownpoint, New Mexico. The free event is held by Navajo Technical University and is a week filled with writing workshops for high school and college students to learn from established writers such as Laura Tohe, Sherwin Bitsui, Jake Skeets, Daniel Vandever and many more! Every year I’ve attended for Salina Bookshelf and this year was special in so many ways. I hope you enjoy the pictures and words about this incredible event and please do tell others to join! There is link at the end of this blog with faculty bios so you can learn more about the writers and their work.

Sunday July 14th

I drove into Crownpoint late in the evening of the first day and as I was walking toward the Campus Hogan, I spotted this year’s scholars walking down the hill that oversees the campus.

No doubt they were coming back from the Landscape in Fiction exercise that Manny has the students do every year.

This exercise borrows from great landscape writers like Irvin Morris, and invites the scholars to really take in the area of Crownpoint on the first day.

Crownpoint to me, looks like a crater, and in that crater sits a big campus building, two huge student dorms, freckled with houses, gas stations, pubbies and people on white sandy floor. The mountains rest to the south looking over the residents below.  It was nice to be back.

We all met up in the Campus Hogan, home to all our evening activities for the week and settled into writing and sharing. The next day, the institute was in full swing starting with presentations and writing activities.

Monday July 15th

Diné Storytelling in the Glittering WorldManny and Jake

“How do stories start?” A question Jake and Manny ask us for our first writing exercise of the day.

If you look at Irvin Morris’s From the Glittering World you first read the words “Ałkidąą Jiní“. “Jiní” becomes a sort of shared storytelling tool in Navajo storytelling. When we pass down stories we add our own twist, perspective, methods of storytelling.

Jake then asked us to remember a family story that taught us something about our lives, a profound story that changed how we lived or saw ourselves.

I remember all the stories shared on late night drives: the scary stories, the funny ones, the ones that had us concerned over family members.

Jake let us know we were meant to be storytellers, and every story shared through us is Jiní, and that is powerful.

How to Weave a Poem on a Loom – Jake

This lead us to our first exercise, which was to find a partner, I chose Manny, and tell each other our birthdates with using words.

We did eventually guess each other’s birthday but it took longer than it would’ve compared to simply just telling each other.

We then transitioned to writing poetry on a loom. Not an actual loom.

Jake folded a single paper to make 8 sections and we did the same. He then instructed us to think of a physical location we know, and describe it using our five senses in one to two paragraphs on a separate sheet of paper.

We were instructed to pick 10 words from those paragraphs that best describe what we were trying to say.

We were given a paper with random paragraphs courtesy of, an online random word generator.  We chose 10 to 15 more words from this list. I chose words like shower, poetry, soul, planet, poet, culture, architecture and more.

We then wrote 8 lines of poetry using those 20-25 words, free to add more words to make coherent sentences. I titled mine “Crownpoint”.


A queen rests her body

A crown rests on her head

Life lives in her footprint

Her skin is earth and heat

Her soul is the breeze

She is mountains

Yellow corn in color

Our culture is architecture

Grey buildings at her feet

Her poetry is the wind

She is a poet

Sound asleep

We were then told to exchange two lines with our partner, again my partner was Manny.

With two lines exchanged we each had a whole new poem.

At the end of the activity, everyone took their favorite lines and contributed them to make one big poem.

I believe it was about 15 or 16 lines from 12 writing scholars and 3 or 4 mentors offering their lines.

This activity was so engaging and was an opportunity to experiment with our own poems and coming together to weave one beautiful poem that made sense.

Through the Lens of Poetry – Celeste Adame

Celeste Adame’s presentation was on body and landscape.

She instructed us to write about a physical place we knew and describe it as if it were a human body.

Celeste gave us some easy tips to get started writing about landscape.

  • Make it personal-in the landscape you’ve chosen, what does it mean to you?
  • Emotional – What’s your connection to the landscape?
  • Simple – Write something about this landscape in this mindset.

She informed us that landscape doesn’t always have to be mother earth, landscape can be an arm, curvatures that the body displays. I thought that was beautiful.

My paternal family comes from Canyon De Chelly and we’ve been spending more time inside the canyon near Mummy Cave so I wrote about that.


A crevice is my home.

A journey inside

A drive alongside

A roam alone.

Canyon overlooks spent

During adolescence

And a fence fencing in

A homestead for loved ones desolate

Deep in the rock where Mummy’s rest

And massacres echo

Where we butcher and eat

A shade house from summer’s heat.

Finding our Voice: The Song Within – Sherwin Bitsui

Sherwin Bitsui gave us three poems to read and we wrote our own poems that followed the same form.

First we read “Abecedarian Requiring Further Examination of Anglikan Seraphym Subjugation of a Wild Indian Reservation” by Natalie Diaz and had us create our own Abecedarians. An abecedarian is a poem where all letters of the alphabet start each new line starting with of course, A.

Night Out


Buss out

Cousin slurs

Drinking words

Eat his liver

Fly infested

Grand gesture

Hand shake


“Just slam it bro”

“Kill it dawg”

“Live a Little”

Money talks

“Ober dere

Puke! Ober dere!”

“Quit your whining”

“Rooooowdy” when I slam it

Slurred sight begins

T’ssk you drank it all,


VVVVVVV, I say over the toilet

What the?! Chill out! Better don’t miss!

X marks the end of the night

You good cuzzers?


We then read “Sounds of Ceremony” by Ofelia Zepeda, a poem where Zepeda uses sound to write.

I can’t remember what I was trying to write about here, I think a thunderstorm, but this is what I wrote.


The sounds of dry leaves rattling

Thunder calling to thunder off rock walls

Ricocheting to repeat, dimming out to sleep

Hammer against nail head, the thunder condensed

A slice, a zipper, curdles, gargling, a zipper unzipped

Blood drips, to raindrops on soft sand

Pooling, causing splash, brash, like wood against drumhead

A bone pops, like cold soda, ripping out escaping

Cracks like dry bark held by young hands

Flesh slaps against each other

Steel sharpens, like a shove-it scrapes against cement.

Slam Poetry The Art of Performance Poetry – Roanna Shebala

Shebala is a spoken word artist who performs her poetry by memory using her voice and body to convey the same energy that her poems reflect. She’s been on several national and international poetry slam teams and loves going to poetry slam competitions across the nation.

Shebala taught us a few things. First, to speak up, and use what she calls our “teacher voice”. Remember growing up and getting yelled at by the teacher, the way the room went silent immediately, use that voice. Second, she told us to stand up, to notice the movements in our body, to use our body in performance making sure every movement has a purpose.

She noticed one of the writing scholars was a bit shyer than others and had the scholar stand up to recite her poem to Jake Skeets from across the room.

She then performed one her poems, asking us beforehand to focus on her eyes and head movement while she performed.

She stood still, her voice was powerful and the expressions on her face showed her anger as she directed sharp words at the audience about misappropriation in sports mascots.

When she finished, she explained that she picked three points to concentrate on while performing, one left, one right, and one in the middle of those points. This helps her stay focused and undistracted by the audience.

Roanna doesn’t look at a page to remember her poems, she practices them in various ways to where she can recite them from memory and taught us to try recording ourselves and talk along the recording.

Look out for Roanna Shebala at poetry slams as her performance is powerful and her poems are super clever. She says there is an abundance of Slam communities around the country, especially in Albuquerque, (which is better than Flagstaff and Phoenix communities (in her perspective)). Don’t hate on me, these are just words I heard from a master!

Poetography Weaving Poetry and Photography – Boderra Joe

The next presentation was “Poetography: Weaving Poetry and Photography” taught by Boderra Joe, an M.F.A in Creative Writing Scholar from IAIA and Admissions/Outreach Assistant for the New Mexico School for the Arts High School in Santa Fe.

Boderra shared some pieces of her own, poetry that reflected pictures she had taken herself. She instructed the writers to choose a picture that gave them some sort of emotional reaction.

What I liked about this exercise is that it got me looking back through old photos and reminiscing about old times, especially my time in the United Kingdom, looking at all the church’s which reminded me of a fortress. I honestly got lost in reminiscing but this exercise on poetography is a great tool to get out of writers’ block, giving you something to write about when something can’t be thought of.

Eastern Diné Reading Series

After dinner we all met up in the Hogan for the Eastern Dine/ Reading Series (EDRS). The EDRS is held almost every evening of the institute and is a public open mic event which the presenters of the week participate in. Monday’s reader included Roanna Shebala, Boderra Joe, and Sherwin Bitsui. The reading series is a real treat and is open to the public so if you’re in the area during next years institute, keep this in mind.  

Music & Storytelling: A Music Workshop – DJ Beeso and Antro

The Monday night Music and Storytelling workshop was lead by DJ Beeso (Kino Benally), an indigenous DJ, producer, and multi-instrumentalist born and raised in Shiprock, New Mexico.

Accompanying him was AnTro, a rapper/singer/songwriter who has worked alongside DJ Beeso for a few projects. They explained to us that they wanted us all to write for a song, they had their speakers ready, iMac laptop stickered up, and two microphones ready to record.

They pre-recorded three different beats. We decided to pick two split up into two groups.

At first, we were all nervous but eventually one student went up to record, breaking all the tension and nervousness.

The writing scholars of course are always supportive so we all sat back and watched each other drop some poetic bars, some about summer vibes, some about hot Cheetos, and for some reason a lot were about summer relationships gone sour.

This exercise was so much fun and seeing the support in the room for something so nerve racking was inspiring! You can check out projects by DJ Beeso and AnTro at their Soundcloud HERE.

A big THANK YOU to these two for coming out and then driving back home in the evening.

The crew dispersed after the final verse (BARS).

The first day of the institute was complete but the mentors reconnected shortly in our dorms to tell scary stories.

I created a stronger bond over scary storytelling with the other mentors and it was a highlight of the trip. There were stories of a child ghost named Soda who is apparently an imaginary friend of the children in the family. I had an experience with spooky dolls that were running around my brother and I’s heads while we slept when we were younger.

Our days always ended in the evenings so we were kind of forced to explore a few of the buildings, ghost hunting…well rather being scared and retreating back to the dorms as fast as we could.

Tuesday July 16th

Introspection & Visioning in Fiction – Manny Loley

Manny asked us if there was a moment or fact that we remember but we don’t know exactly why we remember and to write about this moment.

I don’t know why I remember Josh’s belly button, well I guess I do but I dunno why it’s something that’s stuck with me so long and remains at the forefront in my head when I think about those I was with at the time.

Now I’ve written this story many times but I’ve determined its way too gross to post. Just imagine a smelly belly button inside a hot van filled with friends.

Next, We made a list of things we were taught growing up. Then we were told to make a list of things we didn’t learn but found out on our own.

Here is my lists,

Things I was taught,

  • To be hospitable
    • Wash the dishes
    • Wipe away crumbs, trash, dirt
    • Wash the bedding hours before their arrival
    • Light a scented candle because sprays don’t stick
  • that on the rez, driving ten miles over the speed limit is okay as long as you don’t go over before getting pulled over.
  • To make sure every belly I’m with is fed and full

Things I wasn’t taught,

  • That love is honesty
  • To speak my language that had answers to questions that suffocated my throat every time I would ask.
  • To focus on friends, work, love
  • To leave a drink behind when the night left me
  • To be disciplined in learning good habits
  • To understand and let go of bad ones
  • To forgive myself for them
  • To let go of pain
  • How to be happy

I strongly recommend writing in the morning, preferably with coffee.

Fiction in a Flash – Austin Eichelberger

We were introduced to Austin Eichelberger who taught us about Flash Fiction. Flash is often fiction 1000 words or less.

There are known themes within fiction, tools and rules that the writer uses but in flash fiction some of those tools and rules are dialed down while others are amplified.

Austin told us to write a paragraph describing a protagonist doing a simple action using our five senses.

He then read “Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid, which reads like a list of things one must do.

We made a list of the sentences we created, picking the lines we felt best conveyed what our story was all about.

This was a great exercise in writing flash fiction and fiction in general as it made us take a closer look at our writing, picking only the details that drove the story forward, and ditching anything less. This not only makes our story shorter and flashier, but helps make our storytelling sharper and precise.


  • Braeden sits on a
  • Red velvet with icing colored couch
  • Mother’s android screen glowing back on his face
  • Honeycomb cereal and milk breath
  • The low roar of the a/c
  • Mixes with the chopping of knife against wood.
  • The slice is silent
  • Mother is chopping potatoes for breakfast
  • She notices him
  • Lifting his head to look a collage
  • The collage is of her older children
  • Different dad
  • A reflection of his face appears alongside the reflection of his brother’s
  • His brother holding a skateboard
  • Mom notices this too and smiles
  • Braeden looks back down at his phone
  • Sounds of wood scraping against cement come from the phone speakers
  • Mom hears this and smiles
  • She grabs her wallet and car keys
  • “Mom can you get me a…”
  • “Lets go she interrupts”
  • He dashes out the door
  • She follows.

Shout out to my siblings and my momma, I hope she gets them out of the house after reading this!

How to Approach Small Literary Journals – Austin Echelberger

Austin then talked about submitting work to Small Literary Journals.

Journals like the Sante Fe Literary Review, which he is the poetry editor for. He explained the process of an editing team.

The frontline of editors is called the EDITORIAL READERS, who read every submission to determine what might be worth publishing.

After determining what genre the work is, poetry, fiction, non-fiction, they then send it off to the GENRE EDITORS who focus on one of the specific genres

Next up are the MANAGING AND PRODUCTION EDITORS who focus on cleaning up the grammar for works that have been approved by the Genre editors.

The HEAD EDITOR is at the top and has the last say in what poems make it into the journal. They can control the theme of the journal determining if the poem fits amongst the other works.

He then told us about Cover Titles. The cover title is a basically a letter attached to your work that explains who you are, and why you’re submitting to that journal.

A good cover title should include 5 important steps.

Be Polite.

Include the word count.

The third tip is to include any writing achievements (awards, degrees, a list of journals that have submitted your work before) anything to help give you credibility as to why the journal should consider your work.

The fourth tip should be your contact information. This one should be a no brainer but you’d be surprised at how many people forget this step.

The fifth tip is to include a short bio. This lets the reader know who you are, what you do, it puts a face to your writing.

When looking for where and how to submit to journals Austin advises to take notice of the journal’s theme. Some submissions may be intriguing to the editor but not accepted because they may not follow the theme the journal is aiming for.

Take note of the submission guidelines and submission date as well! And be sure to proofread all your work. Check out, an online website to help you organize your submissions.

Now the last thing you want to remember is about rejection. Marlon James, award winning author, was rejected 80 times before his first novel was picked up by a publisher. 80 times! He now holds several literary awards and has since published 3 novels and has more forthcoming.

Never give up on your writing!

Austin was a fantastic presenter and a lot of this knowledge should be written down, memorized, glorified, made a national monument. Thanks Austin!

Persona Performance – Veronica Golos and David Perez

Veronica Golos and David Perez presented Persona Performance.

These two were very animated and spoke loud and loose, they didn’t use the mics and they encouraged the writing scholars to not use the mics either, (we did tho, #shynativehour).

They taught us that writers have the power to create performance.

Those who read poetry can perform it in any way they want.

Two different scholars were told to read the same poem. You can tell right away the differences in tone, volume, speed that gave the same poem a different energy.

The writing activity had us write down the phrases

“I want”, “I was born”, “I hid”, “I whisper”, “I chant”

We were then told to write a poem about water using these phrases.


I whisper from teeth and tongue

of students thirsting for word written, spoken to them.

I want friction from sandstone to sizzle

“I miss them, and they miss me”.

I was born from lightning, from cloud,

from substance with no mouth

who sing me to existence through breeze and thunder.

I hide from heat,

tens of thousands of degrees,

I scream and eviscerate with the suns love.

I chant between rock, in creek.

Every language understands me

when I chant, when I whisper, when I want, when I hide,

when I’m born.

After reading these poems we were asked to stand by David.

He told us to speak with our body, to remember we can use other muscles from the next down to recite our work.

He told us to act out our lines as different characters. We read the first few lines of our poems again but this time as people who were angry!


And then as someone drunk…

Tó…I I I shout from teeeeth n tung…of stuuuudent. Thirsting…I am thirsty…for…..word! writ-en n spoken to dem.

This exercise was a great way for students to perform using their voice in different ways, it offered some comical moments as you can expect and it loosened up our bodies.

Writing Children’s Fiction – Daniel Vandever

Salina’s very own author, Daniel Vandever led the next presentation.

He started by sharing his story Fall in Line, Holden! having the scholars read along from page to page, loudly singing along FALL IN LINE, HOLDEN!

Daniel never went to school for writing and spent much of his life after college at jobs he never felt completely happy at. For instance, at a call center for male enhancement, a very odd job at that.

During these odd jobs, he started doodling the character we now know as “Holden” named after a nephew of his.

One Christmas, he had the idea of creating a picture book for his nephew, to create something rather than just buying it.

So the first versions of Fall in Line, Holden! were made and he eventually had the thought to turn it into something more serious.

To Salina he came and the book has won the 2018 Honor Book Award from the American Indian Library Association.

Daniel wanted to share this story, because he wanted everyone to know that anyone, with the passion for storytelling has a story to tell.

He explained his process of creating a story board for Holden and then instructed the scholars to create their own story.

He handed large pieces of paper that laid out panels for drawings.

The back of the paper was a blueprint for storytelling with the words “setting, characters, plot, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution.”

We then split up into teams and created our own stories.

The mentors teamed up and well, because we’ve been meeting every night to tell scary stories, we ended up with a story titled…

Manny the Yanii.

Manny the Yanii is a young yanii who never really did well in school.

He wanted friends but school proved too hard for him.

Everyday two boys he referred to as the Hero Twins would bother him.

Soon Manny the Yanii can’t take it anymore and gets in a scuffle with the Twins.

In the midst of all this one of the Twins reveals they’ve been messing with Manny, using their powers to make him miserable.

The twins lose the fight and agree to stop messing with Manny.

Manny goes on to live happily and excel in school, going out at night with a spring in his step.

This story is about bullying. Don’t bully!

The Craft of Zines – Amber McCrary

Our next presentation was by Amber McCrary on The Craft of Zines.

Amber shared her story of being inspired by the Riot Grrrl Movement, a feminist movement started in the 90s by Punk bands who wanted women to be respected and represented.

The Riot Grrrl Movement used zines to raise awareness.

Amber wanted to represent indigenous women in her zines, adding that women of color were under represented in the 90s zines.

She chooses images, words, poetry, to best convey her them.

Her Angsty Asdzaa zine includes a collage of old family pictures accompanied by poetry. Later in the evening Amber lead us into a Zine making workshop which everyone really enjoyed.

She also gave a list of Zinefests, festivals that focus on Zines where attendees and vendors showcase their work. There are a lot of them!

Amber’s zines include D.A.N.G Zine (Daydreaming, Awkward, Negative, Girl), Angsty Asdzaa, and The Asdzaa Beat.

Eastern Diné Reading Series

This night featured writers like Daniel Vandever who read from his new young adult novel about boarding school. It’s really really good so far! Manny Loley read from a novel he’s writing of a gay couple amidst the Navajo Nation Ban on gay marriage. It’s filled with beautiful imagery and expresses the struggle that a lot of kids today can connect with. Austin Eichelberger read flash fiction and his reading is so sharp and subtle, it was awesome to hear short and clever stories. Amber McCrary shared poetry and shared samples of her latest Angsty Asdzaa Zine. So awesome!!!!! Again, the reading series is open to the public so come by next year while the institute is happening.

Zine Making Workshop – Amber McCrary

Amber lead our evening workshop of Zine making, one the highlights of the week.

She provided plenty of magazines, glue sticks, stickers, scissors, crafting paper, paint, and (my favorite part) old typewriters.

The students were underway creating their own masterpieces.

The tinging of the typewriters, the cutting of paper, the ripping of magazines were all very calming.

I noticed that while making the zines I was very relaxed, my mind was occupied with what I was doing with my hands, making me forget all the stressful thoughts I had in my mind.

Zine making is incredibly fun and everyone should give it a shot.

We did not get to finish our zines in one night so the next few evening workshops consisted of crafting our zines.

Wednesday July 15th

Hocus Pocus 101: The Power of Creative Nonfiction – Byron Aspaas

Byron Aspaas presented on the Power of Creative Nonfiction.

Byron’s expertise is creative nonfiction, relying on illuminating the environment for the reader and using memories to explain significant moments.

A lot of discussion was had during Byron’s presentation focusing on misappropriation in the world of literature.

As Diné our words have always held weight in the way we sing, tell stories.

It is important that we as writers and readers of Indigenous writing hold up this standard of storytelling.

Part of why the Saad Bee Hozho Diné Writers Collective was created was to ensure that our stories were shared and represented properly.

Hyper Writing: Writing Micro Essays about Massive Topics – Lawrence Lenhart

Lawrence Lenhart is the author of Well-Stocked and Gilded Cage. He teaches fiction and creative nonfiction at Northern Arizona University and holds an M.F.A. from the University of Arizona.

 Lawrence talked about Writing Micro Essays about Massive Topics.

We started off the presentation by writing a list of things we touched that day.

  • Clothes
  • Sandals
  • Wet tile
  • Irish spring bar of soap
  • Lips to water
  • Apple
  • My father’s car door handle
  • My presentation for Salina on a jump drive
  • Hot Cheetos provided by Jake who was provided the Cheetos by Lawrence
  • My laptop which had died that morning after years of use.

Lawrence then talked about Eco-philosophy, a philosophy of ecological harmony or equilibrium (Wikipedia told me that).

A lot of poetry gives life to inanimate objects and Diné Bizaad describes objects as living things so the language itself is very poetic.

Diné Poets bring objects to life thus aligning their philosophy with eco-philosophers who believe there is life everywhere.

These words help us understand that poetry can do a great job of giving life and importance to everyday objects.

Publishing Presentation – LaFrenda Frank

LaFrenda Frank is Salina Bookshelf’s Editor in Chief and her presentation focused on getting published, using Salina’s Guide to Getting Published as an example.

LaFrenda emphasized the importance of Native American Literature, noting the graphic by David Hyuck.

Books about Native Americans make up only 1% of Children’s Literature in American with 27% about inanimate objects and animals, a larger percentage than books featuring People of Color combined.

When it comes to publishing Native American Literature it is important to first consider who is writing the book and if they are the right person to submit that story.

Salina focuses on different types of books for all ages, from Baby Board Books to Young Adult novels and Navajo Language Textbooks used in high schools and colleges.

Each genre has different requirements.

These differences include page length, the smaller the word count the more likely the work will be categorized.

You can visit our ABOUT page and the Submission Guidelines are on the Right side of the page!

Publishing Panel – Jake Skeets, Laura Tohe, Lawrence Lenhart & LaFrenda Frank

After lunch, we were treated to a Panel on Publishing with Jake Skeets, Laura Tohe, LaFrenda Frank and Lawrence Lenhart. This group shared their experiences with being published and about publishing.

Jake was 17 years old in high school when he submitted his poetry to the National Poetry Series and ended up being published! Years later he has a book coming out, in September titled Eyes Bottle Dark with a Mouthful of Flowers! (he gave me an early copy of the book and it is AMAZING! Keep an eye out for it!)

Laura Tohe said she knew she wanted to be a writer by the age of 12 and college was when she was introduced to Native American Literature in the 70s. She also attended a poetry reading that featured Joy Harjo and Simon Ortiz which blew her mind!

Lawrence remembers writing a lot as a kid and now works an editor for DIAGRAM an online journal. As the editor for this online journal he often sifts through 50 submissions a day. He also actually finished writing his acknowledgements to a new book during his stay at the Writing Institute so expect big things coming from Lawrence soon!

LaFrenda shared her story of becoming the editor for Salina Bookshelf about 15 years ago. She was introduced to Native American Literature during her time attending Fort Lewis College in Durango Colorado.

She attended conferences and read essays she wrote herself and soon people were suggesting she try getting published. This lead to her finding Salina Bookshelf. She first started as a sales representative focusing on selling books. After a few years of working her way up in the company she was given the opportunity to take over the role of Editor.

A student asked the panel “how do you know your writing is good enough?”

LaFrenda referred to her experiences of being an editor. She encouraged the writers to fight for your voice and style when it comes to working with a publisher, making sure your work isn’t changed too much.

Jake asked the scholars “are you writing for yourself or are you writing to get published?”. It’s important as writers to write because we love it, rather than forcing something out that isn’t authentic in hopes to get published.

The panel had completely different experiences and upbringings in writing and what I got from it is that everyone’s journey is different and it is hard to know when the right time is to submit a manuscript, but if you love writing enough and stay passionate then your work will hold its own weight. Trust the process.

Diné Cultural Stories – Philmer Bluehouse

Philmer Bluehouse is what we often refer to as a Medicine Man but he describes himself as a guide for healing.

He can only guide us in the right direction to healing he says, that the medicine is already created, he only guides others to it.

Philmer Bluehouse is full of traditional knowledge and his presentation was enlightening.

He wanted us as writers to begin to decolonize knowledge.

He deconstructed the word “Ya’at’eeh” for example.

When we say “ya’at’eeh” we believe we are greeting others, saying “hello”.

Philmer tells us that Ya’at’eeh is two words.

“Yá” means the universe, the sky, the elements that make up the universe.

“Atééh” means “it is”.

When we greet each other, we are connecting ourselves with the rest of the universe.

When we greet each other with Ya’at’eeh we are engaging in a sacred moment.

Philmer instructed us writers that being critical of the words we speak is a step in decolonizing our words.

He then talked about different levels of knowledge.

  • Common knowledge which is what we understand in an everyday interaction.
  • Ceremonial knowledge which is a change in understanding a concept.
  • Esoteric Knowledge is a realization.

These levels knowledge are constantly working together.

There were so many gold nuggets of knowledge in this presentation that I couldn’t possibly write them all down or even begin to explain the different domains of knowledge.

If you have any questions do follow him on Facebook.

Diné Storytelling Panel – Manny Loley, Laura Tohe & Philmer Bluehouse

Next was the Diné Storytelling Panel with Manny Loley, Laura Tohe and Philmer Bluehouse.

A student brought up the question of the LGBTQ community in Navajo traditional stories.

As the years have gone by their inclusion in the community has met with resistance, Same Sex Marriage being banned by the Navajo Nation government being a recent example.

Philmer Bluehouse talked about how every individual is important and sacred.

He mentioned the Separation of Male and Female beings, a sacred event that happened long ago.

“Diné Male and Female Part Ways”, by artist Donovan Snyder. Curated at the Navajo Nation Museum in Window Rock, AZ.

During this separation of the sexes, the relationships between men and women evolved.

This evolution in men and women as sacred as the creation of First Man and First Woman.

There are sacred stories in our culture that include the creation of sacred beings, stories we may have forgotten or have not learned yet from ceremonial stories.

Westernization of our culture can be held responsible for the exclusion of the LGBTQ community but traditionally they’ve always been sacred.

Another concern was if women were allowed to teach traditional stories.

The answer of course has always been yes, as we look back our creation stories, one of the most memorable deities is Changing Woman.

Changing Woman’s experience is a sacred one that every Diné remembers learning growing up and her teachings and stories are used today for ceremonial purposes.

Traditionally, women have always been integral in sharing our culture and again, westernization of our society can be held responsible for steering us toward a society that excludes representation of every individual.

Philmer brought up the sacred layers of knowledge and their similarities with contemporary education.

The way we obtain knowledge, we listen, we study, we apply that knowledge into assignments and when it’s time to graduate, we come up with our own thesis that other’s study.

That process is similar to the traditional way of knowledge of listening to our traditional stories and learning from them.

After learning these stories in ceremonial songs, we pass them on to the younger generation who will add their details accordingly.

Generative Fiction Workshop – Laura Tohe

Laura Tohe is the Navajo Nation’s Poet Laureate and as a fiction writer she likes to create new ways to tell a story.

In her Generative Fiction Workshop Laura drew images of a spider web, a tree, a circle with the four cardinal directions on it and four underneath each other.

The students then created scenarios in which each blueprint could be used to create a story.

Laura explained that creating new ways to tell a story is a tool to decolonize literature.

Laura talked about how traditional and family stories were passed down and as we live new experiences there are new ways to describe these situations.

She asked us to write about the First Navajo to visit the moon.

“The first Navajo lands on the moon, she steps out onto the spacecraft and says….Yadilah we forgot the sheep!”

The next exercise was about our pets, what secrets do they keep from us?

My idea is this, we always get scared of animals because they might be someone disguised as an animal. Yeeee. But what if they tell their own stories of powerful medicine men?

After the ceremony, the Begay family was saddened by the disappearance of their pet but at least their luck has turned.

Eastern Diné Reading Series

This nights Eastern Diné Reading Series was with Byron Aspaas who read a piece about growing up using memory of a marathon he was running. Byron’s skill of using memory to create scenes is truly incredible. Lawrence Lenhart read a piece about being a lifeguard during a summer filled with so many emotions and visceral experiences all while a soothing soundtrack was played. Laura Tohe read a piece from the animals perspective which was reminiscent of traditional stories I’ve heard growing up. Jake Skeets read from his forthcoming book Eyes Bottle Dark With a Mouthful of Flowers, a collection centered around Gallup, New Mexico. The reading series this year was incredible! I honestly almost teared up because it was insane having so many talented people in one room!

Thursday July 18th

Diné Ancestral Plant Knowledge – Florence Hendren

Florence Hendren gave a presentation on Diné Ancestral Plant Knowledge.

Florence Hendren is Tł’ógí born for Naakai Dine’é.  Her maternal grandfather is Kinyaa’áanii and her paternal grandfather is Tábąąhí.  She resides in Chinle, AZ.  Florence earned her BS in Biology and graduated magna cum laude from the General Honors Program at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque NM.  She also earned a Certificate in Natural Resources from Diné College at Tsaile. AZ.  For the last decade, Florence has taught science at the junior high level and realized that there is a huge disconnect from the land, plants and animals with many Navajo young people. 

She named a lot plants found locally on the Navajo Nation and listed several reasons they’re important to culture, which plants created which color dye used for weaving, and medicinal treatments that each plant offers.

Florence gave me the PowerPoint so I will link that HERE! Big shout out to Florence!

Teaching Diné Ancestral Plants – Florence Hendren

The second part of Florence Hendren’s presentation was teaching the Diné Ancestral Plants to students. Florence has spent years as a teacher and often uses cards and board games to make teaching these plants.

Some of the books she uses include “Shanleya’s Quest: A Botany Adventure for Kids”, which comes with a card game courtesy of HOPS Press.

She also teaches with resources from Arnold Clifford, Navajo Botanist.

She advises students to learn more about the plants around them by bringing samples from home to study in class, writing bios or poems about them accompanied by drawings.

Byron, Jake, Amber & I Travel to Window Rock

Manny drove all the kids to Window Rock where we were to meet with Philmer Bluehouse once again and poet, medicine man, playwright, former Navajo Nation Vice President, Rex Lee Jim. I rode with Byron, Jake, and Amber in Byron’s fancy Audi car rental. As we drove through we talked about rez relationships, the Sagebrush liquor/bar, and Jake’s upbringing in Gallup, which his poetry book is centered about. The southwest is beautiful, especially with great storytellers keeping you company.

Tour of Navajo Nation Museum

We got to the Navajo Nation museum and were instructed to take a look around and choose an art piece to write about in any form. There are some great pieces in here, my favorites being the Hero Twins wood carvings and the model of Coyote flinging the scars into the sky!

Naaldlooshii Baahane’: Tour of Zoo with History of Animals – Philmer Bluehouse

After lunch Philmer Bluehouse guided us through the Navajo Nation Zoo.

Before we started the tour, Philmer lead us through a prayer announcing our arrival to the animals and to wish for their blessings so we can learn about them in peace.

As the tour continued Philmer told us stories about each animal. The porcupine is a very gentle being, dangerous only when threatened.

The bear is a stone turner, we should have the same curiosity as her when we turn the stones of our lives.

We can come across hardship when turning these rocks, but if we stay strong, brave, resilient like the curious bear, we can become smarter through learned experiences.

Navajo Family Storytelling – Rex Lee Jim

After the Zoo tour we met with Rex Lee Jim in the Hogan that sits in front of the Museum.

Sat around the entirety of the Hogan we listened to Rex as a he shared Traditional stories of coyote.

He also shared a story about a Navajo woman who was kept prisoner by Spanish soldiers during the Long Walk.

The woman was nice to the Spaniards, offering to cook for them, take care of their horses, earning their trust.

As she was doing this she was planning her escape, finding the fastest horse the Spaniards owned and conditioning it for the terrain she knew so well.

One day, she jumped on that horse and told the soldiers to catch her.

She raced toward the mesas of Chinle that were steep and held loose terrain.

The horse she was on was fast and could traverse the mesa surface with ease while the soldiers were left behind in the dust.

The woman kept riding to Black Mesa where her people were hiding out and offered the horse to be butchered for food.

Rex shared this to teach us resiliency, the generation of our ancestors who endured the Long Walk were resilient, their stories teach us what it takes to carry on our blood, and to be grateful for it, to be inspired by it.

Back to Crownpoint – Picadilly Squad (Byron, Jake, Amber & I)

With a wild day of storytelling and wondering, we headed back to crownpoint. On the way, Byron told us he’s never had a picadilly. Well today was the perfect day for that fact as we found a random truck on the side of the road selling snow cones and yep, PICADILLYS.

Last year I had my first picadilly on our way back from the Window Rock trip but this time it was Byron’s day.

Evening Activity

We got back to Crownpoint and sat in the Hogan to begin the Eastern Diné Reading Series. This was the writing scholars’ night to read and it was amazing to hear the direct result of the week. So much poetry and stories that were brought out organically throughout the week.

After the readings, we all resumed work on our Zines.

Quick Spooky Experience ALERT!

I need to mention that the dorm rooms have amazing A/C and every night I had mine on full blast…except the final night.

I turned it off without realizing the noise it made had drowned out so many spooky sounds.

I had a nightmare this night, I can’t remember what about, but I woke up at 3:30am to howling outside, and the sound of bare feet slapping on the cold tiles near my bathroom door.

I was freaking out!

About an hour passed until my fear finally became too tiring and I feel asleep.

Needless to say, Crownpoint is an interesting place to spend a week in.

Friday July 19th – Our Last Day 🙁

I woke up pretty tired from the tiring night of spookiness and had my final breakfast and coffee in Crownpoint. The food was delicious every day so a big thanks to the kitchen staff for feeding us the whole week.

10 o’clock rolled around and the students packed into the main conference room to share one last hoorah.

Manny stood before the students to congratulate them on the very successful week of writing.

Laura Tohe reminded us all of what a great program we were all a part of and that Manny was the hardest working individual around, and he really is. We cannot thank Manny enough for supporting us every single second of the institute. It was his last month working NTU before he goes off to pursue his Doctorate’s Degree at the University of Denver, and he’s done nothing but his very best. Congratulations to Manny and the biggest of THANK YOUs for all his hard work at NTU and with the Writing Institute. He is still planning to be in charge of the Institute so expect another great time at next years institute.

Students and myself came together one last time for an open mic. Hearing the students read their work from this shared experience was mind-blowing. Amber McCrary blessed us all with the knowledge of Zine making and created a collective Zine which is at the very end of this blog.

Manny gave every participant a certificate, something anyone would be proud to put on their resume. Not only that but we were all given awesome swag through custom journals, t-shirts, water bottles and very cool backpacks.

Lunch on this day was provided by Ira Vandever, brother of Fall in Line, Holden!’s author and illustrator, Daniel W. Vandever. These Vandevers are a force to be reckoned with and I give thanks to these two for helping out with this institute!

It was time to say goodbye to all the students and my new friends.

Manny, you did it again! I am forever grateful to be invited for this spectacular event. Thank you to Jake, Byron, Laura, Amber, Lawrence, Sherwin, just everyone who presented and blessed us with your knowledge and giving us the time to pick your brains. If you’re reading this and want to be part of a great experience that will change your life forever, you’re three years too late so you better not miss out on the next one!


2019 Emerging Dine Writers Institute Faculty-

Click HERE to take a look at the 2019 EDWI Writing Scholars Collective Zine titled Glimmers.

Comments (2)

  1. Kayla 4 years ago

    Nice! Is there going to be another one soon?

    • Author
      Tyler Mitchell 4 years ago

      Hello! The Institute occurs once a year. The next one will be sometime next summer. They usually take place in June or July.

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