From the Diné

Kelly is my course buddy, this awesome, bubbly Navajo girl in Native Language and Community class held by lecturer Christine Simms, a member of the Acoma tribe and resident of Acoma Pueblo (Sky City).

She told me of a smaller, less commercial pow wow (compared tot he Gathering of Nations) – Nizhoni Days at UNM, right on the field outside my apartment.

Eagle feathers are held in extremely high regard in Native American culture
Eagle feathers are held in extremely high regard in Native American culture

Now this really is something not to be missed; there are songs, dancing, competitions, craft stalls, and food…lots of food. Such a wonderful celebration of colour, culture and music. Watching some of the dancers really is mesmerising!

The fine beadwork and details are traditional to Navajo dress
The fine beadwork and details are traditional to Navajo dress

At Nizhoni Days (Nizhoni meaning ‘beautiful’ in Diné Bizaad) I got there just in time for Kelly’s brother’s dance- a traditional tribal dance. The Navajo Nation are the biggest tribe of Native Americans in Northern America; occupying an area of high desert encompassing New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah. They have their own language- Diné Bizaad, culture  and government and are recognised as their own sovereign state.

Kelly’s brother is one of the leaders in this dance as he is such a strong dancer. In traditional dress adorned with eagle feathers, deer hide and traditional Navajo beadwork he begins the routine. The combination of this mesmeric dance and the lull of the drums transports me for a moment to a place that I consider the ‘real’ America, an America that many people in this country are fighting tirelessly to preserve and regrow after all the hardship that has been endured.

In my mind I am following these dancers in this Warrior’s Dance for hunting and its motions tell a story of these warrior men on their hunting trail. As they dance low they are sneaking up on the animal (their prey) in the story of the dance, their knife in it’s knife-pouch ready for when they pounce.

Crouching low to sneak up on his prey
Crouching low to sneak up on his prey

Their decorated, beaded breastplate protects them and the feathers in their headdresses represents the power and strength of the warriors themselves. As the dance progresses they walk in a zig zag pattern, so as to confuse any enemy who may be following them. The horse hair of their costume represents their transportation and the deer hide leather, their source of food. They wear eagle feathers as the eagle is the most sacred bird, it is strong, powerful and clever and is the only bird who can fly to (and communicate with) the heavens. He protects them on their journey.

The delicious smell of frybread (a traditional Navajo snack) wafts over to me and lands me back in the land of the present, right back on the playing field of UNM and I realise how much more dancing, drumming and food I have yet to experience from this cultural moment in space and time, under the heat of the New Mexico sun.

I feel quite honoured to be here, to witness such beauty in these movements, and eat such amazing fry bread! I meet Kellys parents and her father blessed me in the traditional Navajo way with eagle- for protection. Her mother takes these earrings from her ears, and presses them into the palm of my hand ‘a gift from us’ she says ‘turquoise protects you on your travels’ (also a stone traditional to the exquisite and intricate Navajo jewellery, beadwork and clothing). I can almost feel their power as she presses my fingers around them. Turquoise, my favourite stone, how did she know?!

Author: ellecoco

A buckaneering chocolatier, fuelled by chocolate, powered by adventure...

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