From July 11th to the 15th, I attended the 2018 Emerging Diné Writers’ Institute at Navajo Technical University Crownpoint, New Mexico campus.
The amazing institute is co-sponsored by the Navajo Women’s Commission and Navajo Technical University.
The institute intertwined with the Eastern Diné Reading Series, an event open to the public which included readings of the visiting authors.
The institute itself was created to immerse aspiring Diné (Navajo) writers in an environment in which they can learn about creative writing as a Diné.
College and high school students of all ages can sign up for the institute for free and are housed in the dorms and fed by the awesome kitchen staff at NTU for the entirety of the event, although the public can also attend the presentations that occur over the few days.
These recruited college and high school students are referred to as “Writing Scholars” throughout the course of the event and attend various writing activities and presentations taught by acclaimed Native American writers, many of which have experience in getting their work published.
This year’s series featured writers like Dr. Laura Tohe, Orlando White, Esther Belin, Dr. Jennifer Denetdale, Dr. Kimberly Blaeser, Veronica Golos, Rex Lee Jim, and many others who I will talk more about in this blog!
There are links to work these amazing writers have done at the end of this post.
Once we checked into the dorms and were graciously fed we met in NTU’s Hospitality Center where we were challenged to write a short story in about five minutes.
Here’s my tragic story of the beloved puppy named Pubby:
PUBBY: A TRAGEDY
Once there was a puppy named Pubby.
Pubby liked chasing rabbits.
The rabbits were fast and liked to cross the road.
Pubby had never been on a road before.
That’s why…once there was a puppy named Pubby.
Every institute has its lead author who helps oversee the activities and this year’s author was Dr. Laura Tohe, the 2015-2017 Navajo Nation Poet Laureate and author of several books and projects.
NTU’s own Lemanuel Loley, Diné College’s newest English Department instructor Matthew Jake Skeets, and Wisconsin’s 2017 Poet Laureate Dr. Kimberly Blaeser also welcomed the writing scholars.
Writing activities are riddled throughout the entirety of the institute and are led by the guest authors.
Matthew Jake Skeets led the first activity as he taught us about lineation in poetry, an attribute of organizing your poems in a certain way.
We were told to write a poem that experimented with organization, patterns, and structure of poems.
I used the model of the four sacred mountains to construct my own mountain of words seen here:
I wake up knowing what I have to do.
Run, coffee, pray
Something came up
that brought me back down.
I can’t do anything and so I fall asleep.
I wake up knowing what I have to do.
Life’s hard and every day is a struggle but as Dine we have a philosophy that motivates to keep moving forward and to learn from our experiences.
Lemanuel Loley then guided us toward the top of a hill that overlooks the campus, an activity experienced at last year’s institute, in which he then proceeded to read from Irvin Morris’s The Glittering World.
This nature writing exercise emphasizes the importance of nature to Diné writers and we were soon writing our own pieces of work that we then shared shortly after.
We were then instructed to pick a visible object, and write a poem from the perspective of the object, for example, I chose to write from the perspective of a dirty denim shirt that was attached to a few twigs.
I love Metallica
Iron Maiden too
Cassette tapes napped inside my pocket
My lighter shade of blue
He used to wear me to Tuba and back
His singing chest was mine
We smelt of pickles and Kool-Aid
We smelt of cheese and wine
She wore me too, we hugged her
We warmed her when we could
She smelt of cherry blossom
We always smelt of wood
I was his wingman on all their weekend dates
It became harder to hold his growing shape
He wore me less, we hugged her less
Again just me and him
until he wore me one last time
And now I wear the wind
The Eastern Diné Reading Series resumed after with Esther Belin, a Diné writer and multimedia artist, who read a few poems from her two books, Of Cartography and From the Belly of my Beauty.
After this first evening of writing I was excited to experience the Institute once more with last year’s nervousness replaced with excitement and appreciation.
Day two started with an opening prayer from Ramona Begay of the Navajo Women’s Commission followed by remarks by Dr. Elmer guy, The Navajo Technical University President, and Russell Begay, current Navajo Nation President.
Both Dr. Guy and President Begay talked of the importance of writing in professional fields and how it is complimented by reading as much as possible.
Russell Begay commented on how spoken language defines people and how learning Diné Bizaad explains a lot about ourselves as Diné individuals.
President Begay also mentioned the Art in Embassies Program started by then president John F. Kennedy in 1963.
To hear about this for the first time was fascinating, knowing that Native American cultures have been heavily represented across the world.
Dr. Laura Tohe presented a craft talk on Diné Aesthetics that focused on organization of creative thinking, which in Diné culture is represented by the four directions.
As Diné we are taught that the East represents thinking in which individuals are given thought, to observe a situation and think thoroughly about the road ahead.
The South represents planning and youth in which Diné individuals learn to absorb knowledge and plan on accomplishing goals in their life.
West represents action in which Diné individuals use their knowledge and planning skills to execute a certain objective, this direction also represents adulthood in an individual’s life.
The North is the reflection stage in which we go back and contemplate our achievements so we can use that experience to carry out the next goal in our life.
Dr. Tohe used this model to create some of her current works such as a Navajo oratorio titled “Navajo Slayer”, an opera centered around a Diné veteran dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after returning from the Middle East.
Dr. Tohe is working on showing “Navajo Slayer” to audiences abroad.
Next was the Author’s Panel which included Dr. Laura Tohe (Making Friends with Water, No Parole Today, Tseyí: Deep in the Rock, Code Talker Stories), Esther Belin (Of Cartography, From the Belly of My Beauty), Matthew Jake Skeets (www.cloudthroat.com), and Daniel Vandever (Fall in Line, Holden!).
The authors talked of their passion for writing and how to become inspired as a Diné Writer.
Matthew Jake Skeets talked of the need to still discover his purpose as a Diné writer and being excited to discover one’s own voice, especially while being a part of a very distinctive culture.
Daniel Vandever feels that his inspiration comes out of necessity to tell the story of the Diné people, a trait that is evident in his first children’s book, Fall in Line, Holden! which covers the Native American boarding school experience through young Diné, Holden.
Cultural appropriation in literature was discussed by the panel, an occurrence of misrepresentation of culture, most often done by persons outside of that culture.
Appropriation of Native American culture has long been evident in the literature world and the panel of authors used this opportunity to stress the importance of Diné writing, that we as Diné writers must retake our voice and express it authentically.
We were also told to be more critical of literature, to question works and look out for any signs of misrepresentation or misinformation and to speak out against it.
Jacqueline Keeler’s craft talk on National Media, Publishing Agents was about her experience as a Freelance-writer covering culturally relevant topics.
She spoke on informing the native and non-native audience in a way that is captivating enough to inform as well as inspire.
Jacqueline Keeler contributes to media outlets such as The Nation, High Country News, and Yes! Magazine and has published works. (The Edge of Morning, and the Forthcoming Standing Rock to the Bundy Standoff: Occupation, Native Sovereignty, and the Fight for Sacred Landscapes due to release next year!)
Next was the publishing presentations that included Veronica Golos, author of three poetry books (A Bell Buried Deep, Vocabulary for Silence, and Rootwork).
She also works as the co-editor for the Taos Journal of International Poetry and Art, an online journal where people from everywhere in the world can submit their poems to be featured.
Matthew Jake Skeets informed us of his website Cloudthroat.com which is his own online platform to publish aspiring Native American’s works for free.
He encouraged us to submit our own poems to the website and told us he’d work with us to edit our poems so please share his awesome website and if you have some work to share, (of course you do), then do so!
Next was Navajo Times contributor, Duane Beyal (I can’t remener for sure if this was Duane, I know someone spoke in place of Tom Arviso, Duane…if this wasn’t you who spoke I apologize and if you did then thank you again for your awesome words! Ahhh!!!).
Duane Beyal talked about the newspaper industry and how he, as an editor, encourages the mixture of storytelling with keeping a proper mixture of writers and topics which helps keep the information relevant and entertaining.
NAJA, which stands for the Native American Journalist Association, was mentioned and I think this quote found on their website embodies a little bit of everything that everyone should understand about Native American Journalism.
For more than 30 years, NAJA has remained committed to increasing the representation of Native journalists working in media, while encouraging both mainstream and tribal media to attain the highest standards of professionalism, ethics and responsibility. – Native American Journalist Association
The word “responsibility” is one to reiterate when talking about Native American prose.
The afternoon workshops are taught by the guest authors of the institute and they go on concurrently covering a wide range of topics.
I attended Esther Belin’s Mean-making workshop and Daniel Vandever’s energetic presentation about his book.
The Function of Mean-Making was Esther Belin’s workshop in which she delved into the process of how humans create meaning of circumstance.
For this exercise, we were given two worksheets, one with the outline of the human skull, and the other with an outline of a heart.
Both had a few lines next to the illustrations where we would list what we felt in our hearts and thoughts in our heads in that very moment.
Then we illustrated those thoughts and feelings however we could inside the diagrams, which turned into a beautiful sight as we then grouped all our illustrations together.
Esther Belin informed us that she used this model to come up with some ideas for the Abandoned Uranium Mine exhibit that was held in the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff, AZ last fall.
Shortly after, she told us to write a personal anecdote about ourselves using the lists we just made.
I’ve always wanted to make some movies so I imagined a cheesy movie trailer and a drew an illustration to go with it. (I’m 23…yeah, I know)
Esther then told us to step outside our story to ask ourselves questions like:
What do I know for sure?
What do I need to learn about myself?
What do I need to learn about the situation?
Esther’s encouragement was very enlightening as she talked of the stress that comes with sharing our stories and remembers seeing students become discouraged from having a bad experience with sharing their work with a mentor or their peers.
She encouraged us to never give up telling our stories, that we should own them, and when we had to, to be patient with our writing. To take a break from it if need be and to return to it.
She left with acknowledging the importance of poetry by saying something along the lines of “if you can’t seem to find any creative inspiration, reading and writing poetry is a great place to start”.
Daniel Vandever talked about his book Fall in Line, Holden! which was released a year ago through Salina Bookshelf, Inc.
If you’ve ever met Daniel you know how energetic he is which is perfect for his mission of traveling to public schools all over the New Mexico and Northern Arizona region to talk about his book.
His enthusiastic charm is what gets people excited to learn more about the history of Native Americans and his positive approach to dealing with such difficult topics makes learning feel inspiring.
While he led us along the presentation statistics were projected revealing the sad truth of the under representation of Native Americans in children’s picture books.
A Native American child is less likely to see themselves as a king, an astronaut, a superhero, and more likely to read a book about an animal or inanimate object.
Daniel hopes to break that mold with his book as he promotes the idea of creativity and individuality, especially as Native Americans who in the past were punished for doing so.
Daniels activity included a worksheet that looked like a Diné clan chart in which one must fill out their clans (we do have a little introduction of how this is done, click HERE).
In lieu of our clan names we were told to write an adjective that described ourselves as writers.
Here is mine:
He then told us to write those adjectives on the back and under them write ways in which we can use those personal traits to help others.
His positivity and energy inspired me to turn a personal trait like feeling bi-polar into a positive way to get my personal story across.
The exercise is a great way to reflect upon yourself as a writer and look at some personal traits and habits we think are bad to realize that we can use these to benefit us and others.
I feel like his presentation is a great reflection upon the message he carries as a Diné writer.
The writing activity today was led by Lemanuel and Jake Skeets who instructed to create a poem with emojis.
Of course, everyone was flustered as it is really a challenge but we did our best.
We then wrote poems that had restrictions, three liners, twelve liners and this helped challenge us even more.
JOHNNY THE GLONNIE
There once was a glonnie named Johnny
Who smelled like newborn baby laundry
He adventured all day, and never behaved
No teeth, only tooth, he was scrawny
After long days he was yawny
He fell asleep on a lawn SEE!
Masaní came out and started to SHOUT!
“JOHNNY THE GLONNIE LET ME HELP YOU SAANII”
She filled him with bread and with coffee
and then sent him out to the Army
With love and support, he learned to transform
That ain’t no glonnie…that’s Johnny!
Kicking off the Eastern Diné Reading Series that night was Matthew Jake Skeets who read a few of his poems that were beautifully crafted, honest, and heart wrenching.
His powerful prose is riddled with haunting statistics of Navajo death rates in border towns, honest reflection of self, and gut busting self-expression that I feel is what makes being a Diné writer so important.
Next was Orlando White whose poetry examines language itself in a tediously eye opening way.
He read from his book Letterrs while animations he made himself were projected to illustrate the letters a, b, c, d, and e which all have a backstory that he goes into extreme length to point out.
Orlando’s examination of letters is like that of an archaeologist in that he digs deep to find the origins of words and letters in such a tedious manner.
I was taught by Orlando while I attended Diné College and his approach to teaching creative writing was something I’ll never forget.
He gives a refreshing experience to the alphabet, a systematic necessity introduced to us from such early stages of life.
Boom, the first full day of the institute and I’m tired, dirty, hungry (not for food, because…you know…free food…plenty of it…thanks again kitchen crew!!!).
Hungry for more inspiration and opportunities to write after being enveloped in the words of masters.
Day three started off with an opening prayer by Anthony Lee who is currently working on The Six Directions of Creation, which, from observing the title, sounds like an aim to educate on creation stories.
What this is about I’m not sure but I know I am very excited to read anything dealing with creation stories.
The welcome address was given by Jonathan Hale, Chairperson of the Health, Education and Human Services Committee of the 23rd Navajo Nation Council.
Jonathan Hale is always enthusiastic and reinforces the need of education that is mixed with creativity.
Dr. Jennifer Denetdale’s craft talk was on history and memory.
Both play key parts in creating a compelling narrative, especially when it comes to spreading news on an important event.
Dr. Denetdale talked about police brutality in an incident that occurred in Winslow, Arizona
You can read this article on her guest column titled The Ordinariness of Being Dine in Winslow.
Dr. Jennifer Denetdale’s presentation serves as a reminder of the power of prose, that the reflection of Native reality can be used to spread awareness of relevant issues.
The Diné Storytelling Panel included Duane “Chili” Yazzie, Lydia Fasthorse, and Rex Lee Jim.
This panel answered questions that centered around storytelling as a Diné writer and was a personal highlight of the institute.
The first question that the panel addressed was, “Is it okay to make up stories or part of stories that are traditional?”.
Diné Traditional Stories carry on cultural values used to help develop children into and during adulthood.
Rex Lee Jim commented that Diné storytelling is meant to be intimate with a lot of the content taught within a family.
He explained that he teaches the traditional stories by focusing on the audience, that traditional stories are meant to develop individuals spiritually and mentally as they grow, so aspects of the story will be changed according to that individual’s development.
The next question dealt with limitations on retelling these stories in our own way.
Lydia Fasthorse responded also by saying people who know the stories will know what you change and to be mindful of that.
To be mindful that although you may change certain aspects of these stories it is the core values used to teach that are important in continuing.
Rex Lee Jim answered the next question which was “Are there any stories that should not be told?” to which he said, “well if there are I can’t tell you” in which we all chuckled.
He explained that Diné stories have a life of themselves and that we should respect them accordingly.
These stories, Duane “Chili” Yazzie explained, are stories and songs taught to individuals at certain stages of their life so in that way they cannot be told to a general audience.
Another subject that “Chili” mentioned is that our elders told us to not reflect too much on negative events in our history, for example Hweeldí, the Navajo Long Walk, further explaining that if we speak these stories into existence their negative energy would return.
Lydia Fasthorse talked about forbidden stories on a more personal level.
These days a lot of people want to learn more from elders and therefore seek out their personal stories so they can later publish these stories for sharing.
In her experience, she’s come across some elders who question her intent asking her if she would later change what they said or exploit their stories to make money.
So, there are some important rules to follow when trying to tell a story from a Diné perspective and I think anyone would benefit from answers from this panel.
The next question was “what techniques are unique to Diné storytelling?”
Lydia Fasthorse explained that our stories preserve our language, that language is used first and foremost to carry knowledge.
Our Diné cultural aspects continue to exist today through the teachings of songs and stories that have been passed down from our ancestors in this oral tradition.
“Chili” said that every tribe has their own unique style but one thing about the Navajo is that the details are subtle and the mentality has never been to over explain but to teach individuality.
He stated also that Rex Lee Jim is a perfect example of the humble storyteller.
Rex Lee Jim mentioned that a lot of Diné narratives are told in first person perspective and emphasized the use of “I…”.
That’s because the stories we are told are for teaching the individual about growing, so they’re constantly told to teach reflection upon oneself.
After the panel, words of encouragement included Lydia Fasthorse stating that the more stories we have the stronger we will be as Diné individuals and as a Diné community.
Duane “Chili” Yazzie encouraged us to find our voice and our purposes as writers and to tell our stories with compassion and conviction.
Rex Lee Jim ended the panel by saying “study your masters” that there are stories told by those before us and that deconstructing their poems and our own will teach us about technique and craft, and finally, that the best way to write is to read as much as possible.
This panel was really…just…*kabooooooooom*.
Of course, we’re always told to listen to our elders but to listen to these individuals who are so experienced in both Navajo culture and storytelling was fascinating.
Before the panel, I was set on meeting with Rex Lee Jim, well for reasons you will soon learn about ;), especially after Orlando White warned me beforehand that Rex was someone to listen intently to anything and everything he had to say.
After the panel, I needed some time to take in the knowledge that we were just enlightened with.
I believe the others had to do the same as Esther Belin, Orlando White, Laura Tohe and I met in a little group to go over some of the topics that were just discussed, well not really the topics themselves but the way they were explained to us.
I do have to take some time to share how amazing this Institute is.
A year ago, I attended but I was nervous about a lot throughout the Institute, so I couldn’t completely appreciate the opportunity of meeting authors, learning from them, hearing them speak, and developing relationships with them and fellow aspiring writers.
I think a week of being blanketed by beautifully crafted works is enough to inspire anyone for quite a long time.
We were then treated to a writing activity by Rex Lee Jim in which he told two of the audience members to begin a conversation.
The rest of the audience was told to write dialogue based on what we thought they were saying.
In observing the two I noticed they were smiling, giving hand gestures, and were focused on appreciating the words they shared with each other.
When we started to share our stories the term “Frybread gossip” was used to describe the banter between people who make frybread.
I love the term so I used it to describe my own poem.
We share our stories
we share our guilt
we share grease burns
we share our scars
but we laugh because we both cry
and we cry because we both laugh.
With these poems, there was so much humorous moments.
Diné have a way of laughing at any situation and that’s such a beautiful thing.
The craft talk of the afternoon was on the Diné Bí Ná’álkid Time Puppet TV Show.
The presentation was headed by Charmaine Jackson and Dr. Shawna Begay.
The Diné Bí Ná’álkid Time Puppet TV Show is a TV based on the Sesame Street TV series and it focused on teaching young viewers Diné Bizaad.
Dr. Shawna Begay brought two of the show’s main mascots and talked about the experience of funding and filming the project.
The show is currently in early stages of production and requires some funding which can be attributed to at their GoFundMe page.
You can watch the awesome promo video on youtube (link at the bottom of this post) and I do hope you take the time to check it out because maaaan this is such an amazing project.
I attended the afternoon workshops of Dr. Laura Tohe and Duane “Chili” Yazzie.
Dr. Tohe’s workshop focused on onomatopoeia in Diné Bizaad, which is what a lot of the language is based off of.
If you begin to learn Diné Bizaad you’ll soon find out that the names for animals and objects in Diné Bizaad replicate the very sound or essence of that subject.
For example, “gaagi” which is the Diné term for crow mimics the caw sound that a crow makes.
We then wrote poems that included these terms.
Duane “Chili” Yazzie talked about his work as an advocate for Indigenous civil and human rights.
If you look him up you’ll come to find the embodiment of a true warrior as he’s taken part in some monumental movements in the past few years.
He lives in the Shiprock area where he does farming and shared a story he wrote about the San Juan River spill in which a nearby mining site leaked causing harmful elements to contaminate the river, a river which many local farmers rely on for crops and livestock.
The writing activity this evening was carried out by Matthew Jake Skeets and Dr. Laura Tohe.
Matthew Jake Skeets played three very different songs off his phone in between long pauses in which we wrote lines for each.
The next exercise asked us to partner up with another person and stare at each for five minutes in complete silence.
This exercise he informed us was used by Sherwin Bitsui, another published Diné writer who teaches at the Institute of American Indian Arts.
I teamed up with an older writing scholar and as we sat there she began to find it hard not to cry.
After the silence was over she informed me that I reminded her of a family member.
This was an emotional experience for some and for others a humorous one, but either way it was powerful in getting out an emotional response out of anyone.
Writing is powerful but it is the powerful subjects that are often the most uncomfortable to digest and I felt that this exercise was great to become accustomed to that discomfort, to break that barrier to write about topics that we all can relate to that are the most meaningful.
Dr. Laura Tohe then took the floor and talked to us about research pieces.
We asked ourselves what topics we would love to explore more.
I grew up loving music and skateboarding and both have intertwined uncontrollably in the scene themselves and in my heart and soul.
The local scenes in skateboarding are very fascinating for me especially as a Diné as there wasn’t much else I was interested in while growing up.
My brother and his friends loved skateboarding and playing guitar, both of which he’s incredibly talented in, and sure enough I followed suit.
I’m still terrible at basketball and football but skateboarding was there for me in a place that has very little to do outside of school.
Not having recreational activities, or theaters, or bowling alleys, and being frowned upon for trying to skate on proper cement that was only available at schools and hospital parking lots, still have a huge impact on the skateboarding community.
I know of quite a few young people who were talented at skateboarding but fell victim to alcoholism, poverty, and life.
She then talked about her experience on working Code Talker Stories, an oral history book filled with the experiences of Navajo Code Talkers.
She told us about her difficulties narrowing down questions as she failed to receive some information that seemed fitting until she finally had the idea to simply ask, “So what is it like being a Navajo Code Talker?”.
She expressed that the stories became so revitalizing as they came raw and unedited straight from the mouths of the code talkers themselves, a phenomenon like catching lightning in a bottle.
She stressed the importance of properly approaching a project in a way that wasn’t disrespectful to those involved.
She took the time to establish herself amongst the Code Talkers as to not be invasive in their personal stories.
Dr. Laura Tohe then started off the evening’s Eastern Diné Reading Series talking about her chance to create a libretto titled Enemy Slayer and is set to make its appearance in France.
Next in the reading series was Rex Lee Jim who read from his poem collections, Saad, Duchas T’áá Kóó Diné, and Ahi Ni’Nikisheegiizh.
His words slipped off the tongue and was told in Navajo, English, and Spanish as he recited poems that reflected his travels all around the world.
He explained the traditional and historical events that have inspired certain poems and this was very fascinating.
The night ended in awe, the authors stayed around to sign books, take pictures, and talk amongst the audience members.
We adventured to the Navajo Nation Zoo in Window Rock, Arizona first thing the next day!
As we piled into white vans, the excitement to see a place I haven’t been since I was a little kid was scraping out my bones.
Once we arrived we were greeted by Philmer Bluehouse who was to be our tour guide for the day.
With bags of turquoise, abalone shell, yellow and white corn pollen, we gave an offering to mother nature so we could visit the animals in good spirit.
Good thing too because man there were so many intimidating animals.
As we ventured throughout the zoo, Mr. Bluehouse told us the traditional stories of every animal.
The Tazhii, Turkey, with the streaks at the end of his feathers for when he barely made it into the 4th world.
Shaash, the bear, who protects us in times of need.
I’ve heard stories about the animals before but being able to meet and greet them while learning about their importance in our culture garnered a greater appreciation of nature.
I felt the life flowing all around me in all different forms.
Soon it was time for lunch in which Mr. Bluehouse demonstrated the four stages of life and mental development in a way I was never aware of.
I really wish I could remember every detail of what was said but his words at the time instilled with me an excitement to gain knowledge, to grow older, and learn from my actions.
We then wrote poems in the perspective of an animal of choice.
I chose Chewy, the Zoo’s raccoon who sat in a tiny shade house watching us weird looking beings walk by.
With the Navajo Nation Museum located within walking distance of the zoo, the next event was the museum viewing.
For the month of June 2018 the Treaty of 1868 was on display at the Navajo Nation Museum and I was able to see this historical document.
A place holder copy now occupies the exhibit but along with it are Diné art pieces which we were told to write about.
I chose a painting by Ryan Singer that showed to Diné men at the trading post drinking coffee.
Of course, I mentioned the name Tanner as the title of my poem, which we shared in the museum’s café.
A stroke, a breath
The burn of coffee on my taste buds
through my nose
pierces my brain
and stabs Lazy through the heart.
He will return.
For now my trading post is open.
I trade my energy for knowledge and happiness,
for a smile, a sip.
The paint stings my nostrils.
The acrylic high calming.
I begin to paint
my trading post.
I paint what I need, a friend,
As we wrapped up in Window Rock we were heading out when I mentioned to my van group I’ve never had a picadilly.
Well the whole van gasped at my disrespect at this new Navajo rite of passage.
So, we headed over to the flea market and grabbed one, Black Cherry, with Black cherry, and hot pickle was the combination of choice.
Well…well…it was good, but one too many scoops and I know I’ll have to get scanned for diabetes.
We drove back to our temporary home in Crownpoint and had a rest before getting into the evening activities.
The night activity was led by Byron Aspaas, a graduate from IAIA who specializes in creative non-fiction.
Byron is currently working on his memoir so do keep a lookout for his name and you can also find his readings in publications such as Red Ink, Yellow Medicine Review, The Denver Quarterly, 200 New Mexico Poems, and many others.
He read an example of this from, I believe, his memoir collection which highlighted some topics of loss, discrimination, and home.
We were then instructed to think about a memory of home, one that we can always associate with that depicts the essence of being home.
I wrote mine about Canyon De Chelly and my family’s many ventures “into the rock” (Really wish Luci Tapahonso made it).
Quite a few of us read our pieces to this exercise and it was a great way to wrap up the day of writing after experiencing such a moving zoo trip.
Byron Aspaas then transitioned us into the Reading Series with reading from his memoir collection.
Dr. Kimberly Blaeser, former 2017 Wisconsin Poet Laureate, and writer of books like Apprenticed to Justice, Absentee Indians and Other Poems, and Trailing You was the last author of the reading series.
Dr. Kim Blaeser said something I feel is important in writing and it is that we all bring something unique to what we witness.
She encouraged us to lean into our past, weighing out the pros and cons of what we’ve experienced, and using that to propel us to own our past, to sing of might!
Her reading of poems was accompanied by pictures she has taken, she’s also a very talented photographer and this combination of writer and photography added immense depth to the experience of her presentation.
The final full day of the institute was soon over, and though we were all disappointed it rained out our chances to have a bonfire, the knowledge we’ve gained from such an eventful day was enough to keep my inspiration ablaze.
Boom, the last day, time for student readings!
The next morning consisted of reading selected poems that we, the scholars, have written over the course of the few days.
The product of everyone’s hard work, imagination, and storytelling was full of bangers!
To everyone that participated, thank you for your bravery and imagination!
There was a recognizable change in energy as we all got to know each other and the nervousness of reading out loud turned into excitement to share our story.
After reading we were instructed to write a story about the experience.
We also wrote letters to future students, telling them about the institute and why they should attend.
We were then given certificates to congratulate our victory! I can’t thank the faculty and the Navajo Women’s Commission enough for this awesome reward.
I mean personally it’s a no brainer, to be taught by the best of the best, published writers from all over the country, to represent my Diné people in a way that I feel strongly passionate about.
The foods good too!
When we finished, we were treated to some good food before we all started packing up our dorms and heading out.
I packed up, said my goodbyes and my thank-yous to Matthew Jake Skeets and Lemanuel Loley and the Navajo Women’s Commission.
Seriously I cannot thank these individuals enough for working year-round to put together such an important event.
To those who attended, thank you for your inspiration.
To the authors, thank you for your time and effort to teach us all something we’ll never forget.
To NTU and the Navajo Women’s Commission I’ll always be grateful for this opportunity.
To those reading, please spread the word of this absolutely fulfilling experience.
Links to all the good fellows of the institute (and their works)! Show em some appreciation! The Italicized texts will lead you to links to their respected websites.
Dr. Jacqueline Keeler: Edge of Morning: Native Voices Speak for the Bears Ears/ Look out for Forthcoming “Standing Rock to the Bundy Standoff: Occupation, Native Sovereignty, and the Fight for Sacred Landscapes”
Matthew Jake Skeets (Cloudthroat)
Check out the Navajo Nation Zoo and Museum! They’ve got so much amazing animals and art to see!