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.