Thursday, December 24, 2009

Volunteer Profile - Rosita van den Burg

by John Aldrich

When considering the dedication and sacrifice that people make to attend the annual rug show there is probably no better inspiration than that of Rosita van den Burg. Rosita, a Dutch woman in her early twenties who had never been on an airplane, traveled from Holland to Park City for the show in 2008, and then returned again in 2009. In addition to volunteering throughout the duration of the show, Rosita, who is an accomplished artist, created a painting for each of the shows which she donated to the fund-raising auction at the events. The paintings were inspired by Native American themes, in particular related to Navajo Elders and the spirit of the Adopt-A-Native-Elder Program.

Rosita lives near Rotterdam on the coast of Holland. She became interested in the Program through the influence of Jay Tavare, a Hollywood actor with a Native American background. Jay has been attending rug shows for the past four years and promotes ANE through his web site and other activities. Jay put Rosita in touch with Celeste Williams, a local Dinè woman, who helped firm Rosita's resolve to come to the rug show.

Here is Rosita at her first rug show in 2008.

This is the painting Rosita brought to that show. Here she  is explaining the meaning and symbolism in the art. Jay is holding the painting while Linda Myers looks on.

Rosita meets Lena Cowboy at the 2008 show. Part of the mission of every rug show is to introduce people to Navajo culture. Lena and her sister Darlene, in the background, are at their looms demonstrating the art of Navajo weaving. Rosita has already acquired a Navajo outfit with sash belt, skirt, and velveteen blouse. She is holding a yarn bundle which the Program sells at the show for donation to weavers.

Through emails before the first show and in many ways since, Rosita and Celeste Williams have become close friends. Celeste helped Rosita learn about Navajo culture and acquire her Navajo dress.

For her dedication and contributions to the Program, Rosita was presented a small Navajo weaving at the 2009 show.

This is the painting Rosita created for the 2009 show. Jay and Rosita highlight the symbolism of the hands which is a principle feature of the ANE logo. This represents two cultures coming together to improve understanding and heal old wounds.

Rosita's experiences at the two rug shows have only served to strengthen her love and devotion for the Elders. Here she is seen with Grace Smith Yellowhammer, a co-founder of the Program.

This year Rosita allowed more time in her travel plans so that she could visit friends and learn more about the local area. She was able to spend some time volunteering at the ANE warehouse and learn about other aspects of the Program. Masuda Medcalf hosted Rosita for four days after the show and showed her many  highlights of the Salt Lake area.

With Masuda's inspiration Rosita mastered the Zumba and will no doubt introduce this exercise revolution to Rotterdam.

Rosita's trips to Utah and the rug show have been transformative. She observes that the resulting experiences have "changed me into a more confident, stronger, and independent woman".

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Visit To Rocky Ridge

by John Aldrich

The Hardrock/Big Mountain/Rocky Ridge area is one of the most remote in Navajoland. In the mid-1980's there was a great deal of turbulence in this region due to the Hopi-Navajo land dispute. The roots of this dispute rested in the perceived need to establish a firm boundary between the two tribes' lands. This was not a need as far as the people were concerned but was rather something forced upon them by politicians and businessmen. When the court finally handed down its ruling, the result was that thousands of Navajos were forced to leave the land that had been their homeland for generations. Only a handful of Hopi's were affected.

The founding of the Adopt-A-Native-Elder Program occurred in this time frame as a result of Linda Myers' interest in helping these Elders who were faced with relocation. Many resisted and spent time in jail as a result. With the help of Grace Smith Yellowhammer, Linda was able to meet and begin bringing food, clothing and supplies to these people, and thus began the semiannual food runs.

Initially the food runs took place at May Shay's homeland at Big Mountain. May's land fell on the wrong side of the new boundary, but rather than move she elected to stay and lease her land from the Hopis. Now the food runs are held at the Robertson family homeland at Hardrock.

Recently we had occasion to travel to this area to deliver Christmas stockings to the Rocky Ridge School. This boarding school is run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and serves a population that is determined to stay on their land despite the hardships of living in such a remote area. The closest stores of any size are in Winslow, ninety miles to the south while picking up mail is a fifty mile round trip. Many have no running water and must haul their water from many miles away.

As one drives north from the Hopi villages on Second Mesa, an expansive landscape unfolds which has little to no evidence of human habitation. This is because Hopis traditionally dwell in pueblos and villages, and this is Hopi land.

The first indication that you have reached Navajo lands is this sign indicating a turn that will take you to the Hardrock Chapter facilities and beyond to Rocky Ridge and Big Mountain.

This view, looking west across Dinnebito Wash, shows the Rocky Ridge area. The water towers are located at the school. At this point the pavement ends, and travel north and south is on rough dirt roads which become impassable after storms.

The Rocky Ridge General Store carries a limited selection of food and supplies. A concession to modern times, videos are available.

A colorful sign near the store espouses the virtues of education.

Here is a typical Navajo home. Most Navajos live in family clusters with multiple dwellings for different branches of the family along with a shared hogan.

The school is seen here. The number of students attending this school has declined in recent years as many students are bused to schools further away.

Leaving Rocky Ridge we pass a flock of sheep. This is a common scene on the reservation, as livestock grazing, especially sheep, is a cornerstone of traditional Navajo life.

With a blizzard warning in effect the morning we left, we beat a hasty retreat back towards Salt Lake City.

Monday, November 30, 2009

ANE In The Navajo Times

During the recent rug show, the Navajo Times sent a reporter and photographer to the event to create an article for the paper. You can see it here.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Rug Show Pictures Online

An event as extensive as the Rug Show is difficult to represent in just a few pictures. Nevertheless I have made an effort to do so with a slide show of  71 images. This can be accessed through the Rug Show Page of the web site or you can click here to go directly to the pictures.
A few of these pictures were used in recent blogs, but this collection will hopefully provide a more comprehensive view of the show.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Demonstrating Navajo Culture

by John Aldrich
There are many aspects to the annual rug show, and some of them are not apparent to the typical show visitor. The school demonstration programs are one such activity. Organized by Kathleen Mercer, grade-school classes are invited to the show on Thursday and Friday before the show is open to the public. Up to 200 students at a time come for three separate programs in which the Elders and their families demonstrate a variety of aspects of Navajo culture for the children. In addition to watching, students also have a chance to actually try their hand at a variety of things such as weaving, corn grinding, learning a few words of Navajo, and having their hair tied in a traditional Navajo hair bun.

Here students gather around Elders at their looms.  The small loom in the center is used to give interested children a chance to try weaving.

Anna Jackson of Teesto is at her loom providing a chance to see actual rugs being created.

Leonard Holiday of Oljato shows a traditional ceremonial basket and explains its meaning and significance.

Robin Field-Williams is holding a model hogan with its roof removed. This gives students an opportunity to see what a traditional Navajo home is like.

Following a demonstration of corn grinding this young man has a chance to try it himself under the direction of Marty Whitehair.

Girls with longer hair can have it put up in a hair bun by Delorcita Francis of Round Rock.

At the conclusion of the programs children are treated to Navajo fry bread made by Mary Lou Gleason of Teesto.

In addition to being a unique educational and culturally enriching opportunity, the kids have a lot of fun.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Rug Show Apron Party

by John Aldrich
Along with the serious business of selling rugs there's always time for some light-hearted activities at the show. Over the past several years the Elders and their families have been treated to a variety of entertaining games such as the Hat Party and the Purse Game. This year's event was an Apron Party. Organized by Janet Dalton, volunteers created a variety of colorful aprons, and along with each apron came a variety of gifts. Volunteers modeled the aprons which each had a number to be matched with a set of gifts.

Starting with the oldest Elder and working down by age, each of the Navajos could choose their "man" or "woman" (and apron) and then be escorted to the prize area to find out what gifts came with the apron.

Here's a sample of the finery which the Elders had to choose from.

Don Bagley models a particularly tantalizing outfit.

Leona Holiday of Oljato has found just what she wants in a man.

Ted Reynolds, a volunteer from Poway, California, is escorting Anita Jackson of Teesto to the gift area.

Elsie Shay of Big Mountain has chosen an apron worn by Jay Tavare of Hollywood fame.

At the conclusion recipients have a chance to sort through their gifts. In addition to being lots of fun for both Navajos and volunteers, each recipient had many useful items to take home.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Setting Up For The Rug Show

by John Aldrich 

What does it take to make a rug show happen? Of course many, many volunteers have spent countless hours throughout the year to set the stage for the event. But what actually happens at the Snow Park Lodge at Deer Valley on the Wednesday prior to the show to make it all come to life?

Firstly, truck loads of items that are used every year at the show must be transported from the warehouse in Salt Lake to Park City. Then additional truck loads of items, including rugs and other items for sale, must be transported from Linda's to Deer Valley.

Forty to fifty volunteers from Park City and Salt Lake gather to assemble all the materials into the rug show which will start tomorrow with demonstrations of Navajo culture for school children.

Here is the initial room that  visitors see as they enter the rug show. This is only a portion of the overall area the show occupies at the Lodge. Some of the rugs are ready to be unpacked so the hanging can begin.

Fred Palmer, a volunteer from California, is hanging a beautiful tree-of-life rug. Fred and his wife Patti are among a number of people who have come from out of state to help with the show. We even have an international volunteer from Holland.

There are hundreds of rugs to be hung, and deciding the best layout is challenging.

There are always a number of large rugs to be hung which require some skillful ladder work.

In addition to over five hundred rugs which will be on display during the show, there are many other displays of jewelry and other crafts. Several of the tables feature other aspects of the Program's work such as this display for the Walk in Beauty Program which supplies new shoes to school children on the Reservation. Mary Anne Sanborn has come from Santa Fe, NM to help with the show.

A much-anticipated part of setup day is lunch which features delicious sandwiches prepared by Jean Glaser.

This view of the first room,with setup partially completed, gives a tantalizing glimpse of the splendors that will await rug show attendees.  Please plan to attend and be a part of this spectacular event that will directly support and benefit traditional Elders on the reservation who are part of our Program.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Packing Food Boxes

by John Aldrich

With over 500 Elders in the Program, and each receiving a set of two food boxes at each food run, it is an enormous job to pack the more than one thousand  boxes needed for all the food runs. Preparations start several months ahead with the ordering and delivery of food to the warehouse. Several weeks prior to the start of the food runs volunteers meet at the warehouse on two consecutive Saturdays to pack the food into the Rainbow Food Boxes.

Here is part of the group assembled for orientation before the start of packing. Warehouse manager, Craig Payne, is explaining the procedures that will be followed.

Once the packing begins, volunteers with shopping carts place the prescribed food items into the pair of boxes that will become a set for each Elder. They move in a circular fashion about the warehouse picking up items that are arranged against the warehouse walls. At the end of each circuit labels are assigned to each box, and it is transferred from the cart to the taping table.


The food which is packed in these boxes consists of staple items such as coffee, tea, oatmeal, pasta, as well as a variety of canned goods. At the food runs Elders also receive a twenty pound sack of Blue Bird flour along with bags of potatoes and onions. Each set contains $75 worth of food items.

After the boxes are loaded they are taped closed and labels affixed so that every box will ultimately reach its intended Elder. Labels are color coded for each food run location on the reservation. This makes it easier to identify each load and be certain that boxes are delivered to the proper site.


A large number of volunteers is needed to accomplish the work. In addition to regular Program volunteers, special groups also come to help. Above is a group of students from the Salt Lake Community College.

And here is a group from the South Valley Unitarian Universalist Church. In all, there are typically 30 to 50 volunteers helping to accomplish this critical part of the Program's mission.

The fall food runs are currently in progress with the results of these packing efforts being distributed across the Navajo Reservation.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


by John Aldrich

It has been said that water is the life blood of the West. Given this analogy, the arid high desert of the Southwest's Four Corners region, the location of the Navajo Reservation, is in dire need of a transfusion. This has been a particularly devastating summer for Navajo water sources, and wells in some areas such as Teesto and Bird Springs have completely dried up forcing people to haul water even further than normal.

Traditionally the Navajo have lived in dispersed clusters centered around family and clan connections. This rural type of living means that many of these people do not have running water at their homesites and must haul their water from central distribution points, often located at chapter houses which could be many miles away.

During the recent food runs to Oljato and Navajo Mountain I tried to obtain pictures of some of these water sources to illustrate the challenges Navajo face in meeting the need for the most basic commodity of life.

Shown here is the water source for the Oljato area, located not far from Gouldings. People may travel for many miles to fill their containers at this site before returning home. You can guess from the size of the hose that it would take considerable time to fill a container the size of the one shown.

Judge for yourself how long it might take before the person at the end of the line can actually start loading water.

The Navajo Mountain area is a particular case in point for water difficulties. Dependent on a single spring which periodically is disrupted, the residents of this community were without water for weeks last winter during a severe storm. During that time water trucks were unable to drive the remote road to the area to bring water.

The water source shown above is located behind the Navajo Mountain Chapter House. Note the plug in the end of the pipe.

This water source for stock is located just south of Navajo Mountain and is completely dry.

Another source of water for livestock further south is also dry.

Although wells and tanks may be empty and dry they still can provide a canvas for local artists to express their feelings such as this patriotic message near Inscription House.

A pipeline is being constructed to provide a more reliable source of water to Navajo Mountain, but it may be some time before it is completed.