• March 8, 2019 |

    ahéhee’

    may you walk in beauty

    article by , illustrated by

    The Navajo community is a strong matrilineal society. Following Diné tradition, my formal introduction presents both my maternal and paternal clan.

    I am Tł’ááshchí’í (my mother’s clan).

    I was born for Ta’neeszahnii (my father’s clan).

    That’s who I am.

    I carry my mother’s being with me—for we are one.

    I walk in the footsteps of the women in my family, heading towards the sunset as they lead. We stand hand-in-hand, shoulder-to-shoulder. Facing hardships head on, we’re a force of artists, cooks, storytellers, and leaders. Believers, caretakers, and fighters. This is my thanks to them.

    They have all taught me, through love and support, that:

    I am strong.

    I am resilient.

    I am powerful.

    Mom.
    My Shima. To those early Sunday mornings when we shared smiles over warm coffee. To those summer nights we spent curled up in shimasani’s backroom whispering secrets. To the evenings we sat and sang together in the car on our way home from town. To the days I’d return from school crying over the taunts of bullies, tears streaming down my face, boogers clumping in my nose. You’d pull me aside, hands gripping my shoulders, and tell me I should be proud. That there’s nothing wrong with my skin color. That there’s nothing wrong with the braids in my hair. There’s nothing wrong with being Native.

    Be proud of where you come from.”

    These memories, despite the hardships, taught me resilience. You instilled in me a sense of pride. You believed in me when it felt like no one else did. Ahéhee’ (thank you).

    Grandma Betty.
    My Shinali. Our fingers were covered in clay as you taught me how to mold animals and pots. I’d watch, from an alcove in your craft room, as you shaped miniature hogans and Native men and women in Navajo regalia. I’d listen to you sing and hum along to the morning radio as you prepared clay and paint.

    Raise your head higher. Take pride in what you create.

    I can taste the crisp morning air as you tended to our livestock while my brother and I rounded the cows into the corral. Your love for animals and art has created an extensive collection of figurines—collectables I protect with my life to this day. You illuminated a sense of pride in my culture. Hand in hand, we attended Native American Art festivals together, my side pressed up against yours. Your art guided my sense of belonging. Ahéhee’.

    Grandma Decker.
    My Shimasani. On cold winter nights, as the snow settled outside, you taught me string games. I remember looking into your weary eyes as you whispered,

    Hush, shiyazhi, listen.”

    Your hands mirroring mine as we produced Diyogí (The Rug) and K’aalógii (The Butterfly). Your warm embrace after I spent the day outside rolling in the snow. How soft the tips of your fingers were as you placed ash along the edge of my nose and forehead to keep away nightmares. You rose before the sun each morning to tend to our farmland. You retreated to bed late each night to care for shicheii (my grandfather) and cousins. On fall evenings, we’d sit outside, munching on roasted corn, reveling in its sweet taste. On summer afternoons, we’d collect fresh watermelon from the fields with my band of cousins for devouring later. Each time, you shared stories of your past and of our culture. This knowledge will live within me forever. You are a force of love and strength to reckon with. Ahéhee’.  

    Aunt Angie.
    My Shima yazhi, which directly translates to “little mother.” You opened your house to my family. I learned how to make frybread under your expert instruction. You’d take my hands in yours, demonstrating the perfect bread-making technique.

    Don’t pull at the dough! Coax it.

    My first few attempts were lopsided and bulky, but you’d laugh and eat them anyway. You’d feed our entire family, turning meals into buffets. Food became an art form, a unifying force—something we’d gather together around the table for. You communicated love and acceptance through an old recipe of steamed corn stew and frybread. Ahéhee’.

    The women in my family have held the world on their shoulders and marched onwards. They’ve stood eye to eye with their oppressors and fought for their loved ones. These are the women I look up to—whose footsteps I will follow. Without their guidance, I wouldn’t have my chance at roping the moon and climbing among the constellations.

    Among my people we have a saying that conveys both self-empowerment and spiritual balance: May you walk in beauty. This is a teaching I carry with me, a teaching I live by.

    To all the womxn reading this—never forget:

    You are strong.

    You are resilient.

    You are powerful.

    May you all continue to walk in beauty.