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Navajo museum’s presentations preserving culture

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. (AP) – The staff at the Navajo Nation Museum is on a mission to preserve Navajo language and culture. Part of the effort includes monthly cultural presentations that have now been going on for more than a year.

For many of the participants, the information from the presentations is something they had once known.

“It’s good. It’s something that comes back to you,” said Nellie Beno of Tselani-Cottonwood. “When you’re small, you don’t think about it.”

Beno was at the Four Sacred Foods presentation on a Wednesday morning with her husband.

Also at that presentation was Marlene Price of Fort Defiance.

“It’s something I’m very interested in. It goes back to my grandmother who used to work for Diné College. Grandma is pulling me back over there,” she said.

The museum has presented on a variety of topics since the series started at the beginning of 2009. The subjects are usually chosen based on the seasons since certain teachings are shared during specific Navajo seasons.

The wintertime featured presentations on coyote stories and string games. Spring is the season for planting, which is why the museum has held presentations on sacred plants and sacred foods in recent weeks.

“We thought, let’s get this information out to our people so they can take it back to their cornfields,” said Char Tullie, museum education curator. “We want to bring planting back to our people.”


In this March 10 picture, Robert Johnson spoke about traditional Diné foods at the Navajo Nation Museum in Window Rock, Ariz. The staff at the Navajo Nation Museum is on a mission to preserve Navajo language and culture. Part of the effort includes monthly cultural presentations that have now been going on for more than a year.

Those teachings could be a lifeline for the Diné people even in today’s times.

Robert Johnson, museum cultural specialist, spoke about how Navajo people would prepare for the winter season by storing food underground. His own family still does that, he said.

“If we still do that today and stored this, we wouldn’t have this Navajo Nation Operation Haashliish,” Johnson said referring to the winter emergencies in the past couple years. “We kind of just look to the government. We forgot about our cornfields.”

Besides the recent plant and food presentations, the museum has hosted gatherings on how to make blue corn mush, the stick game, identifying animal parts, the Treaty of 1868, the Long Walk, Navajo Code Talkers, counting in the Navajo language, weaving, and identifying one’s self through the Navajo clan system, which was a particular highlight for Tullie.

Tullie said people still come up to her to thank her for the teachings on the clan system.

“I had several of the ladies come up to me and shook my hand and said, ‘Thank you so much for teaching us.’ These were ladies older than me. They broke those ties when they were off to boarding schools or they were forbidden to learn the language,” she said.

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Johnson said that a study done by the Navajo Nation Rural Systemic Initiative on schoolchildren in the early part of the millennium found that the use of the Navajo language was decreasing among them.

The initiative took the findings back to the Education Committee with a recommendation to re-educate the people on the Navajo language.

When the museum started the program, staff met with the Diné Medicine Men Association and the medicine men stressed teachings according to the season.

Tullie said she doesn’t believe the Navajo people are losing their language and culture.

“It’s there. We wake up to it every single day and it’s up to us to take the initiative to want to learn it. Our four sacred mountains, our songs, our ceremonies were already set in place for us,” she said.

Since starting the educational presentations series, Tullie said she has found more and more people getting involved. While there are only up to 10 people at some presentations, there are up to 50 at others and hundreds turn out for the museum’s annual New Year’s Eve shoe game.

Another aspect of the museum’s program is the Walk In Beauty Book Club that meets about twice a month. Readers choose a book that is available at the museum gift shop and get together to discuss it. The book club is growing and several members come from as far as Shiprock and Farmington to participate, Tullie said.

Another presentation on March 31 is focused on the Navajo Nation flag and seal.

Tullie said she is hoping that the men who designed the flag and seal, respectively, will be at the museum to talk to people about their creations.

She is currently searching for John Claw Jr. from Many Farms, who designed the tribal seal, and Jay R. DeGroat from Mariano Lake, who designed the Navajo flag, so they can speak about their work.





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