Monday, October 24, 2011

Food Run Report - Sanders-Big Mountain-Teesto Fall 2011

 by Elizabeth R. Rose   Photos by Penny Montague

This fall's food run to Sanders, Big Mountain and Teesto was the last of the year for the Adopt-A-Native-Elder Program. For the volunteers, 50 strong, who came to Winslow to participate, the food runs turned out to be especially meaningful.

We gathered in Winslow, the struggling railroad town along historic Route 66. I'd say at least half our volunteers had been to this food run location before and some had participated in the previous food run, arriving late on Saturday. As we gathered, I found myself missing Wendy Sanborn very much, and thought of her as she continued in her recovery from a broken leg. I thought of her dedication to the elders and the program and how much she would have enjoyed being with us. We missed her warm and cheerful personality.

Sunday we gathered at a local church for our first meeting. It was great to see Linda and Celeste and meet CJ who was carrying out the tough organizing role usually handled by Ed. I have to say, he did a magnificent job. (But we missed Ed and Judy!). You can see by my writing that those of us who return season after season to volunteer for the food runs become a family of sorts, having twice yearly reunions.

Our luck held, weather-wise, and, as the day dawned we looked forward to seeing the elders in Sanders. It was a sunny day with no wind. These are the elders who were re-located from the Big Mountain area when the boundaries were re-drawn. Ella, the coordinator, requested that the Adopt-A-Native-Elder Program visit "her" elders and we are always happy to gather in the little shade house and have time with them.

As the volunteers busily unloaded vehicles and set up, the elders gathered in the shade house. 100% of the elders in the program were there! The sunshine warmed us all and there was an animated, happy atmosphere as we went through the program. When Linda got to the part where she offered Blue Bird flour for any elder willing to sing for us, several brave women got up and sang rhythmic Navajo songs. As I enjoyed the songs, I hoped that they were teaching the songs to their grandchildren so that the culture and the words of the songs would live on.

The singing continued and a tall, stately elder rose to offer her song. Following is what Cindy Devers, volunteer, recalled. We were all moved by what happened next.

"When Alice stood up and spoke in Navajo I thought she would also sing in Navajo.  I was stunned when she began singing God Bless America in English, with a clear, beautiful voice.  I was thinking of our country's shameful history with the Navajo nation, (and every other Native American nation for that matter), yet she was singing this particular song.  When she sang the phrase,  land that I love, I was overcome by emotion and tears welled up.  It was really touching that other elders and many support people sang along with her and finished the song together. Truly a special, shared moment that I will never forget. It was a gift and  a blessing to have been a part of it.

A little later I noticed she was sitting alone so I walked over to thank her for the song.  I complimented her on her beautiful voice and how much I enjoyed her singing. She said she had learned the song many years ago in school (a catholic Indian school) And it was the first time she sang it by herself.  I told her I had also learned it as a child.  She also told me she was part of a group a year or so ago that learned it together again and performed it at a ceremony at Ft. Sumner. I'm thinking that must have been related to the Bosque Redondo Memorial and a commemorative event acknowledging the "long walk".  She said she was 84 years old at the time."

As we finished the program and the time came to eat, we did something different. It was so warm, we asked the elders if they would like to eat outside, and most of them did. So we took the tables and chairs outside and the atmosphere continued to be lively and social.... kind of like a garden party! It was nice to have more room to walk around and serve the elders and visit with them.

Big Mountain:
The gathering at Big Mountain is always impressive and always results in my commitment to return to the Land and the elders. We were blessed with yet another sunny mild day. New volunteers had been told about the size of the group at Big Mountain and the history. John Burrow was joined by his son Bob, from Boston who was clearly enjoying the experience. I knew this day would be special for him.

As always, the elders formed a large circle with the beautiful countryside and sky as their backdrop. It has become traditional for groups of elders to sit in the same place each year. A group of dapper men, all dressed up in fancy boots, bolos, ketohs, western hats... on the left. And a special group of elder women friends on the right, under the big tree.  Way down in the circle, as the sun warmed us, a group of women opened colorful umbrellas to shade themselves. This added to the festive atmosphere as items were laid out on the tarp and giveaways stacked neatly on the tables.

The Robertsons had been cooking up a storm and we were greeted with those famous cinnamon rolls. The food is always excellent at Big Mountain!

The program commenced and Big Mountain, too, provided us with food for thought and some inspiring words from the elders. Grace Smith Yellowhammer talked about how important the program was and how we did not forget the elders at Big Mountain. One elder talked about her appreciation for the program, tearing up.

I was impressed with how much our coming means to the elders. This group was dressed for an important occasion. As I made my rounds touching the warm, leathery hands of the elders I noticed beautiful jewelry, colorful silky skirts and matching scarves. We were being honored with their dress. They had carefully chosen what to wear that day.

As we got ready to leave, I remember the image of an elder sitting under a tree and wished I could have painted a picture of her. She had dressed in shades of purple, blue and turquoise. The colors flowed together like a watercolor wash. She was amazingly beautiful.

Our last food run, Teesto, is always like coming home to family. The Jacksons are so welcoming and work hard preparing food and getting the shade house ready for us. I'll never forget the time when the Jacksons proudly showed us the new outhouses. The women's outhouse, labeled Saani, came complete with padded toilet seat, mirror, plastic flowers and hand sanitizer.

This was a smaller food run as compared with Big Mountain, but the elders were equally as excited about our being there and we looked forward to making the rounds, touching their hands and renewing acquaintances. I enjoyed the slower pace and got to talk to some of my friends who come to each food run as volunteers. Our volunteers are special people with amazing life stories as well.

It is always fun to see Anita Jackson and see what she is weaving. She had some of her marvelous snowflake pattern rugs for sale. The weavers at each location are so giving of their talent and donations to both their sponsors and the program. Even seeing and touching these traditionally woven rugs is a gift.

Teesto is also the place to purchase traditional Navajo skirts and blouses. It was fun watching our volunteers from New Zealand choose skirts.

As we gathered for our last circle, we said good-bye to each other. After less than a week, we had become friends and had shared some moving experiences on the Land. I look forward to spring and seeing the elders and the returning staff and volunteers once again.

I decided to make the five hour drive home. I did just fine... guided by the light of a huge harvest moon and remembering how the elders were saying prayers for our journey and blessing us with gratitude for the gifts we had brought.

(Liz is a travel writer and regular volunteer on the Sanders-Big Mountain-Teesto food run. See more about her here.)

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Food Run Report - Dilkon-Leupp-Birdsprings Fall 2011

by Jane Wierengo

Shirley Upchurch and I traveled to Winslow from Phoenix on September 26th, 2011 to participate in the Dilkon, Leupp, and Birdsprings food run. We are from Georgia. It is our 6th year to come on a food run. But we have come about 9 times altogether. I have helped with photography about 4 times.

We arrived at the Super 8 and immediately ran into Linda, Rodger and Celeste. It was good to see the whole family at this food run, including CJ.  Celeste had big shoes to fill taking Wendy's place for this food run due to Wendy's accident.  She was surely missed by everyone who knows her! Pravin and Aruna, the managers at Super 8,  welcomed us with open arms.

Ray Coleman and Cindy Cook were out delivering shoes for the Walk In Beauty program. We were looking forward to our reunion with them. Ray was the one who first convinced Joyce Reese and me to come on this particular food run about 6 years ago. He has since "watched over us" very well!

On the 28th, we had our cars loaded and headed out for Dilkon in a caravan.  We were proud that Lorna, Kate's Mother, was able to stop what she was doing and drive the medical van down from SLC at the last minute.

We headed to the LDS church but it had not been opened. Everyone had unpacked the cars and when we saw that we would have to rearrange, the volunteers put all the things back in the cars and we made a smooth transition to the Chapter House at Dilkon. That is one of the things that continues to impress me about the volunteers for ANE. They see a job and get it done. There is no whining or complaining! There seems to always be a "plan B"!

I liked the Chapter House because it had 2 open doors and there was good air flow and plenty of room to move around to give out the "giveaways" and also to greet the elders. The bad thing was that there was not a real kitchen so the kitchen workers had a hard time of it but they pulled through in great style.

Emil was a new volunteer who got to meet his elder for the first time. Rodger interpreted for him and I was glad to be a witness thru my camera.

During the Dilkon food run, my elder, Anita Jackson from nearby Teesto , always comes to check to see if I am coming to see her afterward.  Shirley and I made the trip out to her house after the food run. We are always impressed with ourselves that we can find Anita's house as there is no GPS that could take us there. It is so special to be invited to visit with her and to talk to her about her life past and present.

The men of the group always do the most excellent job working together , setting up the boxes and the accessories. Although we had beautiful weather on this trip, I have seen them work thru 70 mph wind storms and they never take a break. They have a job to do and they work together to do it.

I think it is at Leupp that I cherish my role as photographer. I love to take portraits and some of my favorite elders are here. I think as a photographer, you have to hope for the best. You don't know what opportunities you will have, what the lighting will be like, if your camera will work and so on...

The elders at Leupp are happy and joyful. So many of them express their appreciation to us for coming from near and far to serve them. This year we had volunteers from AZ, WI, FL, GA, UT, NH, PA, CO, WA,  and other places.

Kate couldn't come due to a family emergency and her Mom, Lorna, filled in by driving the medical van. "Nurse" Trudy(CO) and "Nurse" Krista (WA) took over Kate's duties and did a great job serving the elders.

One of my favorite photos was of Trudy talking to George Willie. It expresses tender care and concern as well as admiration for his role as a Code Talker in WWII. Their hands lovingly touch to form the "bridge between the cultures" which is one of the goals of ANE. This photo to me shows the heart of every volunteer who was on this food run. It shows love in action.

I have to admit I have a few favorite elders whom I love to photograph. One of them is Woody. Woody won "Crackerjacks"  for being 96!  I was amazed that Woody was 96. I think he wanted to win the prize and that he is really 88. But, nevertheless...he still herds sheep. He wears magnificent jewelry to the food runs and he expresses his genuine thanks to us for helping his people...all said through the Navajo language and interpreted by Mary.

Mary Robertson Begay is our interpreter along with her husband, Harry. They are dedicated to helping the elders and are from Big Mountain. They continually express sincere thanks to the volunteers for coming to help their people.

Another favorite couple at Leupp is Alice and Austin Tso. These are Shirley's elders. They love Shirley and she loves them back.. Their daughter, Linda, watches over them and communicates with Shirley as they do not speak English. They have formed a true friendship across the miles. It is fun to see them participate in the games. At first you think they are quiet and shy. But, in the games they become playful. It is rewarding to get to see that side of them!

I like to see all the joy of the elders during the planned games. I think of all their hardships, their daily struggles , the problem of how to get to the center for the food run, the struggles with their health and so forth. But, the joy on their faces at these food runs touches my heart. The planned moments of fun will be something they will talk about until the next food run.

At Leupp, Lola is the coordinator. I was glad to hear Lola sing. I believe she sang "Jesus Loves Me". Very quietly and one by one the 40  or so elders joined in. It was inspirational to hear and it touched my heart .  I found out on this food run that Lola and her husband are gospel singers. Lola retired but no one could be found to replace her at the Senior Center, and she was hired back. Everyone is delighted. She is trying to provide healthier food choices for the elders.

Victoria Begay is another of my favorites. She has the most beautiful countenance on  her face. She has a peaceful , beautiful spirit. She especially likes Ray and she usually brings something for him. She couldn't understand why her sponsors were not at the food run.  By her expressing that thought, I could see how important it is to the elders to "see" their sponsors. I know it is hard to come from far distances due to the cost and so forth, but it means a lot to the elders if you can make it to a food run.

One thing so outstanding that I want to mention it here is the antique sewing machine. Trudy brought an antique treadle sewing machine to her elder. The lady getting it was so thrilled. Trudy had to go to a lot of trouble to bring that sewing machine to the reservation, but now it will go back into use. Such a thoughtful gift!

Normally, I can never catch the guys in one place. They are busy arranging the boxes, taking boxes of give aways into the chapter house and so forth. But, I caught them "resting". Well, truthfully it is a "set up" shot.

Last day. The weather was nice so we headed out to Sadie's land. Sadie looked great! She has had a hard year or so, and has bounced back.

Her daughters , Toni and Terri, prepared a beautiful meal for us. They received the ANE blankets as a gift.

Zonnie and John Slowtalker are two of my favorites. I think I am "in their clan" as I am also a "slow talker" from Georgia!

The elders love to see young people volunteering. Hayleigh and Michelle are here with Lillie Curley.

Cindy is the sponsor of Jill Curley. They are  2  of my favorite people to photograph. As a photographer, I do not know why I am drawn to certain people. But with Jill, it was his big rodeo belt buckle that he earned in his youth. When I first saw Jill, I wanted to know his story. He is in his 90's, but he used to ride in the rodeo. I could imagine how interesting it would be to sit down with him and many others of these elders to hear the stories of their lives.  Jill gave Cindy his watch last year as a gift. (The "giveaway" circle is a beautiful thing to behold. The elders give what they have, and we give what we have and it is never ending...)  It made him very proud to see her wearing it. Again, the touch of their hands creates a healing gesture between our cultures. It is a reminder that one person can make a difference in the life of another... wounds from the past can be healed through a loving touch of kindness, generosity, and genuine caring for another person. Just to recognize what the elders have been through and to try to make a positive difference at this point in their lives is important for us as volunteers.

I could never  guess what was in store for me the day I found the Adopt-A-Native-Elder Program on line. Everything about the program blesses me. I am thankful that Linda paved the way 25 years ago for the rest of us so that we would be trusted to come out on the land. I feel I am witnessing a vanishing people and their way of life. I have received more blessings than I have given. I have been thankful to work with volunteers with open and loving hearts for others. I feel so fortunate to be integrated into the Navajo culture even for a brief period of time. I have loved meeting the elders, learning about their lives, being welcomed by them as they now recognize "the peaches", and being able to share from a first hand experience about their needs to people in Georgia.  

To be given the opportunity to capture these elders on film has meant a lot to me. I look forward to "the next time".  As for the volunteers and the elders..." one is silver and the other gold". It is difficult to "tell" about a food run. You have to experience it to really know what it is like.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Walk In Beauty - Fall 2011

 by Cindy Cook and Ray Coleman

Quaking aspens were tinged with yellow and the air was crisp.  It was time for the fall delivery of Walk In Beauty shoes.  The truck held nearly 400 pair of new shoes – each tagged for delivery to a specific child.  It also held over 130 pair of shoes from inventory.

Building an inventory of shoes allows the dollars of our generous donors to meet the needs of even more children.  Knowing what style, color and size of shoes most often requested, we shop sales and hold the shoes in inventory until we receive orders from our schools.  A selected number of inventory shoes are taken on each delivery.  During the fall delivery we were able to meet emergency needs of 16 children.  The inventory was also used to trade out a number of pairs that, due to measuring problems, didn’t fit.

The morning we began deliveries, we said morning prayers along the San Juan River.  There had been considerable rain in the area and the river was swollen and a muddy color.  The desert was unusually moist and green for this time of year.

Over the summer a new school had been built for the students of the former Mexican Hat Elementary.  We met our coordinator, Patricia Bigman, in the lobby of the new Monument Valley Elementary School. The pillars in the lobby were built from stones brought from the mesas behind the school.  Adorning the wall of the lobby was a painting made from a photo of Patricia’s children on her homeland.

 In spring we visited Many Farms Community and Tsaile Public Schools and agreed to add them to the fall delivery.  Our coordinators at both schools did a wonderful job identifying the children in need of shoes and measuring their feet.  As we left Tsaile, a kindergarten boy who received new shoes was standing in the hall with his classmates.  Pointing at us, he loudly exclaimed, “They’re the ones who gave me the shoes.  Thank you Ray.  Thank you Cindy.”

Our coordinator at Leupp Boarding School, Colt Chischillie, poses with some of the students who received new shoes.  A young boy said, “My old shoes don’t fit.” A broad smile covered his face when he put on his new shoes.  Several teachers from Leupp met us in the parking lot to tell us their students had come back to class all excited and showing them their new shoes.  They invited us to stay and share fresh mutton with them as a show of their gratitude.

At Pinon Elementary, our coordinator, Rose Blie, looks on as shoes are tried on a special needs child.  Teachers at Pinon offer their help.

Each child tries on their shoes to be certain they are a good fit.  At Many Farms Public School we were assisted by teacher’s aide, Sadie Hoswoot, Walk In Beauty Coordinator, Lorraine Begay, and a parent volunteer.

At each school, the children’s voices fill the air.  “If these fit can I take them home?”  “My mom is in Flag.  I live with my auntie.  She will be so happy.”  “Can I go on the playground with these?"

If you have questions about Walk In Beauty please email us.

Click here for more photos.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

ANE on Turning Point

For those of you outside the BYUtv viewing area, or those who missed the broadcast or want to see it again, the episode of Turning Point that features Linda and the Adopt-A-Native-Elder Program can be seen via streaming video from the BYUtv web site. Here is the link. Another story is part of this broadcast as well, so be patient. That's not Linda in the kayak.