Thursday, December 22, 2011

Meeting the Presidential Couple, Especially Michelle

I always do say good women come out of Crownpoint.
One of them is my aunt Lynda Lovejoy. I’m not going to jot down her resume or tell you everything that she’s has done — just that she is a long-time New Mexico senator and ran for Navajo Nation President twice.
I just want to tell you about her recent trip up to Washington D.C. for the annual White House Holiday Reception.
“Thanks, it sounds very great, but, no thanks,” she said when she was invited by the senate majority leader.
She doesn’t like D.C. because airlines are chaotic, security is everywhere and travelers and tourists crowd every corner of the capital. I wouldn’t like that either. Plus it’s cold up there.
A few days later, she was invited again and she said ‘yes.’ The plan was for four New Mexico politicians to go to the dinner; two Hispanics, one Native American and a white guy to represent the diversity of our wonderful state.
The reception took place at the East Wing of the White House where there are numerous rooms and places to put Christmas trees and decorations. There were symphony bands and choirs and paintings of past occupants hung on the walls.
There were about 300 other guests. “Business people, educators — they were from all walks of life,” she said.
She was the only Native there, or at least as far as she could see after she met everyone. She was wearing a red velvet suit, Navajo style, and decked out in Navajo jewelry.
The food was awesome: prime rib, roast beef, seafood and “just a variety of food.” The White House is known to have the best chef and this dinner was an example.
“The desserts were so tasty,” she said.
The reception was very organized. Everyone was given a number and a time to get food and visit the first couple.
When she got close to the couple, security took everything from her; phone and purse. Since there were a few hundred people all wanting to visit the president and first lady, each guest was only given a short amount of time to shake the Obamas’ hands and tell them who they were — with a photo.
When she got there she shook the president’s hand and told him she was a senator from New Mexico.
“‘We love New Mexico, we want to go back and visit,’” he said to her.
Then she came to Michelle Obama.
“I think I spent more time shaking her hand than the president’s,” she said. “… especially mentioning New Mexico, I think the first lady was very overpowered.”
There was a connection between my aunt and the first lady. Obama wouldn’t let go, and Lovejoy wouldn’t let go. They stood there for a few moments looking at each other and shaking hands. The security guard kept telling Lovejoy, ‘Ok, you have to move on.”
She thinks it was the fact that she was a Native American woman in office — what with the dress and heavy jewelry everywhere. “I’m sure she was very overwhelmed by just seeing the diverse people.”
I’m 5’8’’, my aunt is a little taller, but Michelle is taller. So is Barack, she said.
“It was nice someone was taller than me,” she said. “I was just overwhelmed to see them in person.”

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

What is in a tradition?

Some Native American ceremonies and traditions that are practiced today are not really traditions because it didn’t originate from that tribe. I see this mostly with southwest tribes taking traditions from the northern, Plains Natives, and practicing them as their own. Some people obviously embrace it and carry it on while others keep away from it and stay truly traditional.
Let me provide some examples from my tribe, the Navajo:

The Sun Dance
I can say little about the Sun Dance, but I can tell you where it came from. The Plains.
Wikipedia says it’s a ceremony with songs, prayer and sometimes piercing the chest or arm skin.
My uncle, aunt, dad and grandpa were talking about stuff like this on Thanksgiving ‘Eve.’ My uncle said the Sun Dance is a growing ‘tradition’ on our reservation and a lot of people do it. He made a look of disgust when he was talking about the piercing.
From our family gathering I learned that Navajo ceremonies traditionally have a patient; someone who is sick, or living in a bad way and needs a ceremony and prayers done. We have the Squaw Dance (we can use the word ‘squaw’ this way, but you can’t because it’s offensive to use it any other way), Yeibichai and sand painting.

Teepee and Native American Church
We do not live in teepees nor is the teepee a traditional housing structure for the Navajo. But every now and then, you will see a teepee constructed on someone’s land or backyard on the reservation.
The Plains Natives used teepees and it became a traditional structure for the Native American Church (NAC), which practices peyote. Peyote also isn’t traditional to Navajo culture and ceremony — it came from Mexico and the Natives there.
The Mexican hallucinogen and the teepee from the Plains met in Oklahoma during the time when many tribes were forced to “Indian Country” — i.e. Oklahoma. The combination produced the NAC which has it’s own songs and customs.
The NAC still has a very strong following on all reservations, including ours. There are certified medicine men who can purchase peyote and perform the ceremonies, which, I heard, costs somewhere between a couple hundred dollars to a couple thousand.

Powwow is a national phenomenon. It came from the Plains Natives too. From, it says the powwow originated from the war dances from the Plains and Ponca tribes. Or it originated from white people making Natives dress up and dance for them (I hope it wasn’t this). The Natives were lined up and made to parade through town before they danced and sang, which was the birth of the grand entry. Either way powwow is awesome and a lot of Navajos do it, sing it and travel across the country to attend powwows — not to mention the cost of dresses, feathers, leather and skins.
I have been to two powwows; the largest powwow in the world, The Gathering of Nations, and the North American Indian Days Celebration in Browning, Mont. on the Blackfeet reservation. They were both awesome.
It’s not just dresses put together, each feather or skin means something. The beads and colors mean something too. Some dancers wear a family design or a tribe design. I once talked to an Ojibwe at The Gathering and asked about a skin he wore on his chest. He said it was otter skin and he wanted to wear otter skin because otters are clean, they’re always cleaning themselves and rinsing their food and being happy. He wanted to be like the otter.
There are different dances too: fancy dance, grass dance, traditional dance, jingle dance and others.  Everyone, from all tribes knows the different songs, dances and all the rules.

Sweat Lodge
The sweat lodge is not traditional to Navajo culture either. It came from the Blackfeet. Many Navajos ‘do a sweat’ to cleanse the body or purify themselves. Like the teepee, you see these every now and then or hear people talking about it.
That’s all I have to say about this one.

These are all traditions from the northern tribes that have influenced what we call and embrace as ‘tradition.’
I really don’t know how these came down to my tribe but I know that a reservation is not a prison. We travel all over the place and there is at lease one Navajo on every reservation (enter laugh here). And we have been traveling since we all have been forced from our land and moved around. The way I see it, we are the same. We all believe in a Creator, Mother Earth and living a good life without waste or bad energy. So we have made connections and embraced each other’s traditions and called them our own — powwow and frybread is a good example of this — while keeping our true traditions alive.

I wonder though, have the northern tribes taken any ceremonies, traditions or songs from us?