Culture, Arts, & Ceremony
In 2016, Patrick and his family hosted cultural days when students were on break during the summertime. They provided food, and people of all ages attended during the cultural day.
The covered subjects were:
Traditional Navajo songs and prayers.
Traditional ways of preparation of foods.
Native American Church songs.
Traditional Navajo stories.
In 1879, the United States government implemented the boarding school system to "kill the Indian and save the man." They did this by breaking the communication between the old people with wisdom and the young people. Up to the early 1980s, Navajo people were not allowed to speak their language in these school systems. Children would get punished and treated exceptionally badly when they attempted to speak their language or practice their ways of life. Due to colonization and the effects of boarding schools, many of our young Navajo kids do not speak the language of the Navajo people.
Across the Navajo Nation, songs and prayers are taught less and less. Many medicine people do not take the time to teach young people or people who want to learn. For whatever reason, much of our ways have been lost this way.
We put the cultural days together to teach our songs and prayers to our people. There are hundreds of ceremonies amongst the Navajo people. Each ceremony is associated with particular songs and prayers. We tell the songs' stories and sing songs appropriate to sing. Breaking down the definitions of the songs and prayers let the people who want to learn these ways learn them. As a result, many of the young people who learned from these medicine people across the reservation started following the medicine people to ceremonies, forming apprenticeships.
There are many edible foods all around us. They are out in nature; you cannot get them prepackaged, with fancy labels, brand names, etc. They are plants that exist around us.
Our goal is to relearn our traditional plant foods and teas. We are relearning the techniques of planting the foods, taking care of them, watching them grow, and preparing foods from these plants.
Presenters during the cultural days shared their knowledge about traditional foods, traveling on their own time and money to the Ceremonial Grounds.
An example is sharing of teachings around the corn. We shared the songs sung during the planting of corn, starting from placing seeds in water to being put in the soil. Taught about caring for the cornfield up to harvest time and how to harvest the corn—then shared how to prepare the corn using various cooking, drying, and storing techniques. Finally, we taught about the parts of the corn plants used in ceremonies, including Kinaalda ceremonies, Ye'ii bichei ceremonies, Hozhooji ceremonies, etc. Ultimately, we shared how corn is a medicinal food that we put into our bodies and use in our ceremonies.
SONGS & PRAYERS
During the cultural days, some days were purely singing. In traditional ways, these songs and prayers are all prayers; therefore, they will be referred to as prayers. We would gather and rehearse the prayers, singing them or humming them all together. Young people and people interested in learning the traditional prayers were allowed to bring in recorders. They recorded the prayers and went home to learn them. We taught about the meaning of these prayers and talked about these prayers' definitions. Many people who attended the cultural days are highly sought after to sing and use the prayers in ceremonies.
Traditional teachings are passed along during sweat lodges by absorbing the heat into the body, meditating, singing, and praying. One of the teachings is how to use the mind to distract the body in extreme heat. Another is cleansing the body and mind through heat, relieving stress, and learning how to cope with life's daily stress. In addition, the preparation of the sweat lodge from taking care of the fire and heating the rocks are part of the teachings.
Being around people of all ages teaches each other to respect each other is taught through these ways of life. In sweat, people pray for each other and uplift each other. They share teachings, songs, and prayers, all part of these ways of life. After the sweat is done, the relatives have a meal together.
Some relatives in the Wild Cat peak area, including Larry Riggs and his family, have helped continue these ways.
We use our ceremonies to heal people. Medicine people provide the songs and prayers requested by the sponsors. The songs and prayers themselves make the moves appropriate to heal people.
Compensation for running ceremonies varies widely. Patients' families pay what they can afford; sometimes there is no compensation, sometimes the cost of the ceremony is covered, and other times compensation is above the price of the ceremony.
Learning the songs and prayers from medicine people is time and money consuming as apprentices must spend days at the patient's family's house. In addition, many medicine people expect to be compensated for teaching apprentices.
Once songs and prayers are learned, apprentices must retain them. A common practice is to sing while walking or jogging. Walking five to six miles allows one to recite two hours' worth of songs. Walking four to five days a week contributes to one's daily exercise and keeps your health going. Therefore, the songs and prayers integrate into a human's well-being, which is part of these ceremonies.
To slow the coronavirus transmission, the number of ceremonies has decreased significantly in the Navajo Nation since 2019. The reduction in ceremonies has created an additional challenge in retaining songs and prayers.
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