American Indian Heritage Month honored at NAU
FLAGSTAFF - For the first time ever, the Northern Arizona University (NAU) Bookstore is devoting the month of November to celebrating National American Indian Heritage Month. In this effort, diverse and unique guests and displays will be available to the community honoring the beauty and diversity of Native peoples.
During the first week of November numerous events were sponsored including a Navajo rug weaving demonstration by Vivian Descheny, Diné, Abaya Yala Univeristy Association (AYUA) and the Applied Indigenous Studies informational booth organized by Kenneth Hogner, Diné; an exhibition of photographs by Diné artisan Melvin John; a book signing by Arizona Republic education reporter and author Betty Reid, Diné; and a display of Navajo Bible recordings.
Reid explained the significance of the bookstore events as well as the reason for her participation in the Nov. 7 schedule.
"If you put this into the context, if I were a college student, or at the time that I was a college student, I wouldn't have seen people of color or people from tribal communities presented in this way-as authors. I think it's awesome that there are Native Americans emerging in the literary world. It is wonderful and amazing," Reid said. "When I was young, I never anticipated that I would become a journalist. English was a toughy for me, you know? In high school I realized that I loved to write and I thought, 'I'm going to study the heck out of that language and be a writer."
Reid's recent publications include "Navajo Women: Saanii," and "Keeping Promises: What is Sovereignty and Other Questions from Indian Country," co-written with Ben Winton. "Navajo Women: Saanii" is a beautifully arranged tribute to Diné matriarchs with amazing photographs and stories of these women's lives and strength.
Descheny said her presence at the bookstore event is a part of perpetuating the weaving trade.
"I always volunteer to educate people-the younger people and the older people-to let them know what weaving is all about," Descheny said.
She explained that without this educational aspect, the skills and practice of Navajo weaving is in danger of being lost or forgotten.
"Yesterday a group came in and said, 'you know, we expected an old woman to be here weaving, but then we saw you!'" Descheny remembered. "I don't want this to die out in 10-20 years. It's a great way to make a living, last year I made $30,000 just from weaving."
Currently Descheny is focused on creating Chief Blanket style weavings as well as 1886 and Burntwater designs.
Hogner, a NAU student majoring in sociology, participated in the event to share on-campus opportunities to learn about Native peoples throughout the world. Hogner highlighted AYUA and the group's current mission. "We meet every week and talk about Indigenous issues. We're currently working to raise money for the victims of Hurricane Felix in Nicaragua. We have people in our group from all over. We work together, not just with one people, but everybody-we accept everybody," Hogner said.
According to bookstore director Ken Pegram the events were designed to highlight as many aspects of Native cultures as possible and appeal to every part of the northern Arizona community. Pegram said many people believe the bookstore is for university students, and mainly those on-campus. The bookstore employees are currently taking steps to reach out to the larger learning community.
"One of our main initiatives is to become part not only of the Flagstaff community, but the distance learning community. We wanted not only to get this out to them, but to bring them in," Pegram said.
He expressed his enthusiasm in fulfilling this goal by honoring American Indian Heritage Month.
"I think this is important because the Native American community is so large and influential. We felt we wanted to host a series of events and be the central hub so people didn't have to drive all over campus for different events," Pegram said.
"Next year we want to be more integrated with the Applied Indigenous Studies (AIS) program and distance learning. One of our big challenges is trying to expand our services to these folks. This is a real opportunity for us to not only let the campus know that we're here for them, but the distance learning community," he said.
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