Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Vision of the Adopt-A-Native-Elder Program

by John Aldrich

What is the purpose of the Adopt-A-Native-Elder Program? Why does it exist? What sets it apart from other humanitarian organizations that exist to help the Navajo and other Native American tribes?

The Program got its start in the 1980's  during the turbulent years of the Hopi-Navajo land dispute which ultimately resulted in 10,000 Navajos being relocated from their traditional homelands. During those times there were many Elders facing severe hardships and deprivations. When Linda Myers became aware of this desperate situation it was food more than anything else that these people needed for their survival. With the assistance of Grace Smith Yellowhammer, Linda began to help.

As Linda's solo trips to the reservation with food and clothing gradually evolved over the years into the complex logistical endeavor of today's food runs, food has remained the core focus of how the Program assists the Elders. But in addition to the challenges of survival there were also challenges to the traditional lifestyle of the Elders, including dislocation and the ever-increasing influences of Anglo culture.

Linda's commitment from the outset was to provide what assistance she could for the basic survival of the Elders as well as to honor and respect their traditional culture and lifestyle. These are among of the principal values that differentiate ANE from other humanitarian organizations. We wish to honor and respect the Elders as they are and have no agenda to try to change them in any way. These are resilient people, and as long as they have their basic needs of food, heat, and shelter met, they will survive as they have for hundreds of years.

These core needs are met through the delivery of food through the food runs, and, particularly in winter time, the distribution of food certificates and checks for firewood. Food certificates are a particularly effective way of aiding families in the winter since they are simple to deliver and provide Elders with a resource to acquire whatever they might need at the moment.

Despite the urge to want to try to help in any way possible, the reality is that our Program has limited resources, and thus, we continue to remain committed to the core mission. We can't become substitutes for  the role of the family in caring for their Elders; we can't become their healthcare system; we can't provide the resources that are more appropriately derived from the Navajo Nation and Chapter Houses.

Another important way that we support traditional Elders is by facilitating a market for their weavings.  For many weavers this has been their sole means of supporting their families. Through the annual rug show at Deer Valley, smaller shows and markets, as well as online rug sales via our web site, ANE is able to offer a significant amount of income to our Elders who are weavers. This, in turn, provides them with additional resources for food, shelter, and transportation.

The Program assists Elders and their families to maintain a traditional way of life in other ways as well.  ANE, through the Ceremony Fund, provides funds to help families that need help with traditional healing ceremonies. We also help families who need financial support for funeral expenses when one of our Elders passes away.

Our mission statement refers to "mending the broken circle" of our relationship with Native Americans and the Land. This is another unique aspect of our Program. It is important to educate ourselves about Native American culture as well as bring the cultures in contact with one another. This happens extensively through the food runs and the annual rug show.

What does the Program mean to the Elders whom we serve? Linda receives many letters expressing the gratitude of the Elders and their families. For many, the assistance we provide, especially through the winter months, makes survival possible.

What we do for the Elders is based on the principal of the Native American Giveaway. We give our best and give it freely with no expectation of return. The Elders feel gratitude for these gifts, often expressing it through their shy smiles. Some give small gifts such as necklaces and jewelry in return. Many are too poor to be able to make such a gift. Their gift is to touch our hands and our hearts and to offer their prayers. That is enough.

The logo of the Adopt-A-Native-Elder Program illustrates the key elements of our vision. The rainbow arc represents the Program under which  two cultures are reaching out to each other. With the power of prayers, represented by the eagle feather, the broken circle is mended.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Amasani Program

by April Wilsey

A facet of the Adopt-A-Native-Elder Program that many people may be unaware of is the Amasani Program. Amasani means "grandmother" in Navajo.  This program involves both grandmothers and grandfathers.

The Classroom Amasani Program was created to increase awareness of the traditional life of the Navajo Elders and to build understanding through ongoing communication. The program provides educational materials for classroom use and opportunities for students to develop relationships with Navajo Elders, thus promoting a bridge between cultures and generations. An Elder may be adopted for one school year or continue with subsequent classes. 

This winter, Rodger Williams and I did classroom and school presentations about the Navajo Elders and the various programs that are in place to help them with food, firewood, yarn, and other items. Rodger was able to play his drum and sing some Navajo songs to the students, as well as tell Winter Stories to them. I brought Navajo rugs and jewelry to show the students. Also, a ceremonial basket and model of a hogan were on display.

Here Rodger is demonstrating the model hogan to students at the Community Montessori School in Salt Lake City. The roof is removable so students can see the interior layout of a traditional Navajo dwelling.

 Students listen attentively as Rodger plays his drum and sings.

To learn more about the Amasani Program visit the Amasani page of our web site. There you will find additional information as well as links to a variety of resources.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

"A What?"

by Valorie Marshall

(Note: Close friends Joan Trabucco and Valorie Marshall attended their first food run in August of 2009 at Oljato and Navajo Mountain. Click here to read Joan's account of their experience.) 

"Want to go with me on a Navajo food run?" - - - "A what?"

And with that my friend Joan opened a door which we stepped through into one of the most rewarding experiences of our lives, the August 2009 Oljato-Navajo Mountain Food Run.

Places like Oljato, Navajo Mountain, Chinle, Mexican Hat, and Monument Valley seemed so far away from our California homes.

I had never heard of "Adopt-A-Native-Elder", but Joan had already adopted an Elder, Zettie Smith.

Joan's a git-er-done type. And because she is, and because she's a buddy with whom I share a love for Native Americans, we signed up for the Oljato food run.

In preparation for the food run Joan did all the legwork. She kept in close contact with Linda Myers, and although Joan never exactly said so, I think to assure us a spot on the run Joan volunteered us to do any job, transport any thing, climb any mountain, or ford any stream.

When she told me our food run assignment was to haul 86 bags of onions from California to Utah I was only mildly surprised. (Now we know that we could have picked them up in Chinle, but we weren't the seasoned food runners then that we are now.) And the onions made the trip in excellent condition anyway.

We gave ourselves a couple of extra days before we were to meet Linda and the other volunteers in Mexican Hat. We stayed the first night in Kingman, AZ, enroute to Chinle.

A word of caution: beware of depending on a GPS for navigation. There were many, many, many routes to our various destinations, and the GPS seemed to favor the longest routes and dirt roads. But Joan had also taken advantage of AAA's travel planners who provided foolproof Trip-Tiks with clearly marked routes to our main destination and home again.

Our GPS did guide us into some incredible country. An example is Indian Rt. 23/7 on the way to Chinle from Kingman. The Chinle Holiday Inn IS waiting at the end of that route - - - it was just that our GPS was much more certain of that than we were, but it was a beautiful journey off the beaten path.

Basha's is the only grocery store in Chinle, and they close at 7 p.m. SHARP. There's also a Wells Fargo in Chinle and, and one in Kayenta. In Chinle livestock roam free on the highways so be mindful because they seem to be everywhere, especially in the evening when they're making their way home.

Joan had a surprise for me in Chinle. She had booked a private tour of Canyon del Muerto. Our personal guide was a Navajo storyteller, and he told us much about Navajo history and life in the canyon. From our very first hours on The Land we knew our lives were being touched by something precious and good.

From Chinle we traveled to Mexican Hat, UT, a tiny little settlement. Don't expect to buy groceries there, only staples. We checked in early at the San Juan Inn where we met up with the other food run volunteers. Like nervous schoolgirls we were dressed early for our first meeting, which is a good thing because we learned that if a meeting is called for 4:00 p.m., that pretty much means 3:45. If you're told you'll leave the parking lot at 8:00 a.m., be ready to roll at 7:45, and so on. We caught on real fast.

A ceremony was conducted outside the first evening. As we entered a private grassy area, one by one we were smudged, sat in a circle on the ground, and everyone told a story and brought a special item to be blessed. In those moments, during that sharing, the stage was set, my nervousness dropped away, a peacefulness settled in. While Linda spoke and we shared our stories, I sensed that whatever the next few days would bring I was exactly where I was intended to be, with exactly the people I was intended to be with.

The weather for the August food run was quite warm, but not too uncomfortable. Definitely carry a good supply of drinking water.

We delivered Rainbow Boxes, clothing, and wool for the weavers to the Oljato Senior Center and to the Chapter House at Navajo Mountain. We had Navajo interpreters with us because many of the Elders speak only Navajo.

We were given "thank you" gifts made by the Elders. Mine was a necklace. When I wear it, people admire it. When I tell them it was a gift that came from a food run to the Navajo reservation, most say the same thing I had originally said - - - "A What?" - - - so I tell them where they can find out all about the food runs and ANE, and then I tell them my story.

There were Navajo blankets and hand-tooled jewelry and trinkets available for us to buy. I bought a Navajo rug from Emma Valentine, woven from her own wool and dyed with herbs and vegetables. One of the interpreters told me that Emma will use the money to pay for food this winter for her animals.

At Oljato, Joan got to meet Zettie. That was the very, very, best surprise.

Zettie is in her 80's.  She had walked to the meeting place that morning. We learned that Zettie is a medicine woman. Because of what we'd read, and out of respect for the Navajo culture, we weren't sure we were supposed to touch her, but Zettie took Joan's hands and held them for the longest time, and gave us warm hugs. There could be no doubt that Zettie know exactly who Joan was.

In all honesty we'd talked about that and wondered how many of Joan's letters Zettie had received. Does she receive the packages Joan sends throughout the year? Any doubts, the miles, the difference in cultures, the language barrier were all erased. This is what Joan had come here for. She got to hold her Elder, look into her eyes, laugh with her. Some of Zettie's family told us they read Joan's letters to Zettie, and that, yes, Zettie has gotten everything Joan sent.

Joan and I hope to be part of another food run someday. In the meantime, almost every day I think of our trip, the Elders we met, and our group of volunteers. We were blessed.