WINDOW ROCK — Several Navajos recently returned from a 10-day trip to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates where they attended the second annual Desert
Cultures and Civilizations Festival. They were the only Native Americans represented.
Cora Maxx-Phillips, executive staff assistant in the Office of the President and Vice President, led the group. The World Desert Foundation, which works with desert communities to develop their lands, sponsored the trip.
Maxx-Phillips gave a presentation on the U. S. Forest Service’s recent decision to proceed with the expansion of the Arizona Snow Bowl and that decision’s implications to the Navajo people and their culture.
“Information was exchanged about having the Navajo Nation become a chartered member of the World Desert Foundation to reap the benefits of the research in the science and technology and being a part of the strategic alliance of the world desert cultures,” Maxx-Phillips said.
She said the group met the president of the World Desert Foundation, Dr. Cherif Rhamani, who is also the UN ambassador and Prime Minister of the Environment from Algeria.
“He was very interested in the Navajo Nation delegation and wanted to learn more about our culture,” she said. “He said he would someday like to meet Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. to begin a dialogue on the desert cultures of the Navajo people. He would like to see Navajos become an integral part of the World Desert Foundation.”
Lillie Lane, public information officer with the Navajo Environmental Protection Agency, discussed prominent environmental issues and how they impact the Navajo people and their lands. The presentations were given to Arab students studying in various disciplines at local universities.
The United Arab Emirates is located as a sliver of land north of Saudi Arabia close to the Persian Gulf.
The 2005 festival was held about one hour outside of Dubai in a village that was constructed for representatives of many countries.
The seven-day festival featured an elaborate opening ceremony with a conference in Dubai to host discussions and exchange on desertification issues, economic development and the preservation of desert resources including water, plants and other resources.
Lane said the theme of all the events was the need to recognize, share and celebrate the many significant contributions that desert cultures have contributed toward the world’s civilizations.
There were discussions of the importance of sustainable development in light of global warming, and how best for desert cultures to preserve and perpetuate themselves without negatively impacting the world.
Another aspect of the festival included the exchange and meeting of numerous desert communities and cultures from deserts throughout the world.
Besides the Navajo Nation, countries represented included those form Africa, Saudi Arabia and the Middle East, China, Australia, Mongolia and the Inuits of Alaska.
Many countries sent delegations, which performed tribal dances and music.
“Some countries showcased their livelihoods and efforts to devise viable economic development that take into account desert tourist ventures and the need to market tribal arts and crafts in a viable venue,” Ms. Lane said. “One of the highlights of all countries was the opportunity to dance, sing and share their culture.”
The Navajo participants shared songs, dances, crafts, knowledge of healing practices and medicinal plants used in healing.
Representatives of all the countries were housed in a small area in make-shift trailers that served as a contemporary home. The biggest challenge was the lack of effective inter-cultural communication. This proved extremely frustrating because many tribal groups were informed of schedule changes at the last minute, or that they were supposed to be in another place while they were busy in the exhibit area.
“The desert landscape, with camels chewing on scarce vegetation and ibex wandering around, was different from the more vegetated deserts of Navajo land,”Lane said. “The terrain where the festival was conducted was flat with occasional sand dunes.”
She said the horizon shimmered as the sun reflected light off the light colored sand.
The Navajo delegation also included Jimmie Harrison, Jerry Blacksheep, Lorenza Garcia and Curtis Ray.