Navajo Festival of Arts and Culture Saturday and Sunday at Museum of Northern Arizona

Weaver Vivian Descheney demonstrates her weaving techniques. Photo/Michele Mountain

Weaver Vivian Descheney demonstrates her weaving techniques. Photo/Michele Mountain

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - The Dine way of life is the focus of the 64th Navajo Festival of Arts and Culture Saturday and Sunday at the Museum of Northern Arizona.

More than 80 Navajo artists, musicians, dancers and cultural experts will travel to the museum from all corners of the Navajo Nation to share their traditions through artistic expression. Silversmiths, jewelers, painters, weavers, folk carvers and multigenerational families will be on site to discuss the customs inspiring their work. To describe themselves, Navajos use the word Diné, meaning "The People" or "Children of the Holy People."

The festival supports what the Navajo call "hozho" - living a happy and wise long life, in balance and harmony with the earth and sky.

"We help provide a look into the way the Navajo see the world," said Robert Breunig, director of the Museum of Northern Arizona. "We explore the customs and practices families are using to keep traditions strong."

Visitors will experience weaving on looms, sand painting in action, Churro Sheep, pottery demonstrations, Hoop Dancing, the pageantry of Navajo social dances and musical performances.

The scent of red and green chili stew, roasted sweet corn, Navajo tacos and fry bread will fill the air.

Besides artist booths, one-of-a-kind consigned art pieces including pottery, paintings, weavings, and baskets from artisans across the Navajo Nation will be on display and for sale. Consigned pieces are eligible for entry in the juried portion of the festival.

Heritage Insight Programs support the 2013 festival theme of sustaining the traditions of the Navajo land, language and culture.

Theresa Boone Schuler, a Diné educator from Flagstaff, will lead 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.

Larry King, a Navajo linguist, joins the festival again this year to share his wisdom and desire for teaching the Diné language. King gives a basic introduction of the Navajo language that includes enlightening reflections of the Diné culture in Navajo and English. Attendees can travel a verbal path of history and legend as King illustrates how Navajos use humor to cope. King gears the presentation to all age levels and Navajo and non-Navajo speakers.

Hosteen Etsitty will create sand paintings at the festival. He uses natural colors to depict Navajo deities, animals, plants and planetary beings. He will discuss how the ancient art form is intended to restore harmony. Etsitty learned the art of Navajo sand painting at age 17 from elders within the spiritual community. He has since been perfecting the art that is an integral part of the Navajo culture and Navajo healing ceremonies.

Visitors can learn about weaving traditions with Ann Hedlund, director of Arizona State Museum's Gloria F. Ross Tapestry Program at the University of Arizona. She will discuss how the Navajo weaving process is passed from family to family. Combining her fieldwork among contemporary Navajo weavers and her research into many museums' 19th Century blanket and rug collections, she also will explore the issue of sustainability as reflected in this dynamic art form.

A Navajo and English talk by anthropologist Klara Kelly and Navajo cultural expert Harris Francis will discuss the Navajo relationship to sacred places. The two present their research from interviewing Navajo traditionalists on Navajo sacred spaces, land preservation and efforts to sustain Navajo language and culture. They speak in both English and Navajo.

Barbara Lacy, author of Nanisé, A Navajo Herbal: One Hundred Plants from the Navajo Reservation, will use late 1800s photographs in her presentation featuring how Navajos historically used what grew in nature to make belongings such as pottery, wicker pots, rugs, looms and moccasins. Lacy will share her own collection of handmade Navajo items.

James Bilagody, a Navajo singer, songwriter, comedian and actor is Cultural Interpreter for the Heritage Insights tent. Bilagody will introduce performers and speakers using history, humor and stories to explore the Navajo culture throughout the day.

Jones Benally is set to perform a series of hoop dances. Traditionally, hoop dancing is used to release a bad spirit from the body. Benally has been dancing for 70 years and has been featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show and in Arizona Highways magazine. Benally has also performed for Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain. He has appeared in many films and documentaries and continues to dance at ceremonies to heal the sick. Benally is a traditional practitioner and works at the Indian Health Services.

Radmilla Cody wil bring her "bluebird" voice to the festival stage with performances in English and in Navajo. This traditional Navajo Canyon Records recording artist, Indie Award Winner, Native American Music Award Winner and international performer, continues to maintain Navajo culture by recording music that children and elders can sing in pride.

The Dineh Tah' Navajo Dancers will perform for audiences with dances depicting important times in Navajo life. Dances will include the Sash Belt Dance that tells the Navajo Spider Woman story of the super-human being who introduced weaving to the people. A big hit with the audience is the Basket Blessing Dance, representing beauty. It symbolizes the home and is the central item used to consummate a traditional Navajo wedding. The design of the basket is of ancient origin, which depicts the journey of the people from the four under-worlds and their arrival into the fifth world.

Aaron White, songwriter, guitarist and Navajo flute player and carver, will perform some new material inspired by his Navajo and Ute roots. White has played everywhere from a presidential inaugural ball to a benefit concert at Arizona's San Francisco Peaks. He founded the Grammy-nominated group, Burning Sky and is known for his fingerpicking guitar style and passion for songwriting.

Additional festival activities

"This year we are excited to have key weavers demonstrating on site," said Anne Doyle, Heritage Program manager. "I encourage people to watch this beautiful art form in action while you have the opportunity."

Weaving demonstrators will include Vivian Descheney known for her distinctive Ganado, Two Grey Hills, Chief Blanket and Burntwater designs. Marlowe Katoney will be weaving his rugs that use contemporary images such as "Angry Birds" designs.

The current "Diamonds in Wool: Ganado, Klagetoh, Two Grey Hills Textiles" rug exhibit in the Navajo Textiles Gallery also showcases the beauty of weaving.

Renowned painters Bahe Whitethorne, Bahe Whitethorne, Jr., Shonto Begay, Redwing Nez and many others will be on site telling the stories behind their work.

Children can learn about Navajo customs by making rattles, rug patterns, and woven bookmarks in the Creative Corner.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona, the Arizona Commission on the Arts, Art Works, the Arizona Humanities Council, Flagstaff Cultural Partners, BBB Revenues of Flagstaff and Coconino County of Arizona sponsor the 2013 Navajo Festival.

The Museum of Northern Arizona is located at 3101 N. Fort Valley Road in Flagstaff and is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Admission is free for members and $10 for adults, $9 for seniors, $7 for students with IDs, $6 for American Indians and $5 for ages 10-17.

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