Diné culture highlights MNA Navajo Festival

Jones Benally performs a hoop dance at the 2007 Navajo Festival of Arts and Culture at the Museum of Northern Arizona. Benally will once again be a part of this year’s Navajo Festival to be held Aug. 2-3.

Jones Benally performs a hoop dance at the 2007 Navajo Festival of Arts and Culture at the Museum of Northern Arizona. Benally will once again be a part of this year’s Navajo Festival to be held Aug. 2-3.

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - Navajo Code Talkers and the fine art of Navajo weaving will be explored in-depth at the Museum of Northern Arizona's (MNA) 59th Annual Navajo Festival of Arts and Culture on Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 2-3. Artists, traditional music and dances, Heritage Insight programming, and food will round out the weekend's celebration of the Diné culture.

"Navajo Festival comes to Flagstaff at a very special time of year with the monsoon rains and cool air," said MNA Director Robert Breunig. "I especially like the festival's Heritage Insights programming that provides a glimpse into Diné lifeways and cultural traditions. These presentations show other ways of looking at the world."

Anne Doyle, MNA's Heritage Program coordinator added, "Some of the festival's prominent returning artists include internationally known contemporary painter Shonto Begay, last year's Best of Show Award-winning basket maker Sally Black, Grand Canyon Railway singer Clarence Clearwater, and renowned weaver Morris Muskett, one of only a few males who weave in the Navajo tradition."

Navajo Code Talkers

The U.S. Marine Corps' Navajo Code Talkers are legendary. Their heroic efforts come to light with "Our Fathers, Our Grandfathers, Our Heroes...The Navajo Code Talkers of World War II," the most comprehensive exhibit yet created about the over 400 Navajo young men who were recruited by the U.S. government to devise an unbreakable code in the language they had previously been forbidden to speak.

This exhibit is on loan from the Circle of Light Navajo Education Project of Gallup, N.M. This organization focuses on building cultural pride, self worth, and motivation among Navajo youth and educating non-Navajos about the rich history, culture, language, and contributions of the Navajo people. This exhibit is generously sponsored by Arizona Public Service (APS).

Zonnie Gorman, daughter of Code Talker Carl Gorman and a recognized historian on the subject, will present "Growing Up with Heroes...The Navajo Code Talkers of World War II: A Daughter's Journey." Gorman shares the touching story about her father's role as one of the first 29 Code Talkers, the Navajo Reservation of the 1940s, and the U.S. government's policy of assimilation and eradication of Indigenous languages. She is currently the project coordinator for the Circle of Light Navajo Education Project.

Navajo Weaving

A talk by Teresa Wilkins, Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of New Mexico in Gallup, focuses on Southwest textiles and specializes in Navajo weaving. Her new book, "Patterns of Exchange: Navajo Weavers and Traders," represents her research in trading post archives and interviews with weavers. Wilkins also looks at the intricate relationship between weavers and traders, economic pressures, and how the traders influenced patterns and ideas, guiding Navajo weavers to produce textiles that are emblems for the American Southwest.

Jennifer McLerran, an MNA research associate and associate professor at Northern Arizona University who specializes in 20th century Native art, will talk about the textiles in "Many Colored Weaves."

The exhibit of Navajo textiles from the museum's collection is on display at the Coconino Center for the Arts. Following her 11:30 a.m. talk, a festival shuttle will take visitors to CCA at 12:45 p.m. to view the exhibit and hear additional interpretation by McLerran.

Heritage Insights

Navajo linguist Larry King from Farmington, N.M. walks his audiences along a path of history and legend, highlighting the resilience of the Navajo language in the 21st century and adding his own humor.

Theresa Boone Schuler, a Diné educator from Flagstaff, will again lead the very popular ethnobotany walks along the museum's Rio de Flag Nature Trail and discuss the traditional Navajo uses of regional native plants. Schuler gained her knowledge from her father, a noted Diné herbalist who urged her to pass on the knowledge of traditional healing plants by teaching about identification and usage.

Richard Wiebe, a professor of philosophy and history at Fresno Pacific University, is a MNA research associate and studies Navajo philosophy. Wiebe's presentation and accompanying visuals "The Four Sacred Mountains of the Navajo" is an exploration into geography and its relationship to Navajo language and beliefs.


The Pollen Trail Dancers from Joseph City will present social dances and five colorful storytelling dances meant to be performed in the warm season. The Dance of Holy People comes from Navajo Blessing Way beliefs, the Corn Grinding Dance is connected to the coming of age of a young woman and reinforces the relationship between Navajo people and corn, the Sash Belt or Weaving Dance tells the story of Spider Woman's influence in weaving, and the Basket Dance depicts the important role of baskets in Navajo life. There will also be a dance that tells the story of the Long Walk of the Navajo People. A fashion show illustrating the changes in Navajo clothing through time will also be presented by the Pollen Trail Dancers, emceed by Brent Chase who also accompanies the dance troupe on the Navajo flute.

Blackfire is Flagstaff's own high-energy rock trio. Rolling Stone Magazine's David Fricke writes, "Blackfire raise their voices, like a painted-desert X, for anyone with a righteous fight...Blackfire are also Navajo Indians who connect their distortion-warrior originals to the traditional songs of their people." They will be playing songs from their 2007 CD "Silence Is a Weapon," as well as songs from their other CDs. They add to their rock format stories and dance about traditional Diné ways by their medicine man father Jones Benally.

Clarence Clearwater is a singer/songwriter who returned to the Navajo Reservation more than 27 years ago to learn to speak Navajo and to gain a better understanding of his people and their traditions. Today, his deep voice and stirring guitar can be heard on the Grand Canyon Railway as he entertains passengers. He sings traditional songs in Navajo and contemporary songs in English about his spirituality and the oppression of Native people.

Activities for Kids

"Goat in the Rug" puppet show by the MNA docents will be performed both days at 10:45 a.m. and 1:15 p.m. All day at Creative Corner, kids of all ages will enjoy making beaded bow guards, sheep puppets, and weaving projects as take-home crafts.

Festival Sponsors

This year's Navajo Festival is sponsored by the Arizona Commission on the Arts, National Endowment for the Arts, Arizona ArtShare, Flagstaff Cultural Partners, City of Flagstaff, Coconino County, and the Arizona Humanities Council. Navajo Festival's Heritage Insight programming is generously sponsored by the Arizona Humanities Council.

About the Navajo Nation

The Navajo Nation is the largest tribe in the U.S., covering nearly 27,000 square miles in Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. With a population that has surpassed 250,000, this sovereign nation is focused on health care, education, economic development, and employment to benefit the Navajo people. Thousands of tourists each year are attracted to its natural wonders at Monument Valley, Canyon de Chelly, and Chaco Canyon.

About the Museum of Northern Arizona

The Museum of Northern Arizona is located three miles north of historic downtown Flagstaff on Highway 180. Festival admission is $7 adult, $6 senior (65+), $5 student, $4 child (7-17), and free to MNA members. Become a member today in time to attend the Navajo Festival Members' Preview, Arts Award Ceremony, and Silent Auction on Friday evening before the festival.

For more information, go to musnaz.org or call (928) 774-5213.

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