Thursday, February 5, 2009

Reservation Run

The Navajo Reservation is a mysterious and magical place. Having traveled the rough, twisted and scenic byway from Bluff to Window Rock, Arizona and Gallup, New Mexico more than I can remember, I can honestly say that I never tire of it. It has been about a year since I last journeyed that way, so I was excited when the invitation to speak at the Navajo Nation Museum arrived.

Barry speaking at the Navajo Nation Museum
Barry speaking at Navajo Nation Musuem.

The occasion was the opening of an exhibit featuring Navajo baskets from Twin Rocks Trading Post. The trading post is in possession of a truly magnificent collection of pictorial, geometric and ceremonial baskets brought together over the last 40 years. These weavings provide a comprehensive history of the innovation, creativity and productivity of the Douglas Mesa weavers. They also illustrate inspirational views of ceremony, culture and history of the Navajo people. Clarenda Begay, Exhibition and Collections Curator for the museum, discovered the collection when a portion of it was loaned to the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Committee. Ms. Begay introduced us to Manuelito Wheeler, Museum Director, late last year and the rest, as they say, is history.

The loan of approximately 100 baskets was negotiated, and Clarenda went to work. The museum staff created an impressive display, and invited us to their opening ceremonies last Thursday. We were told that for a short talk on the history, meaning and artistry of the baskets, we would be plied with food, drink and attention. We would also be allowed to witness and film several traditional dances. When someone says "Party!" it gets our attention.

Steve was off visiting an ailing friend in California, so we closed Twin Rocks for the day. After securing the cooperation of "The Team" (Tina, Rosita and Priscilla), who brought along all of the camera gear, we piled in the Ford van and headed south on US Highway 191. Good times were to be had by all. As we drove to Window Rock, the monuments and mesas of Navajoland were illuminated by the early morning light. The day was bright and sunny, and the contrast between earth and sky was magnificent. It did not take long before we began to share stories of past experiences and tales of mysterious valleys, ancient hogans and red people of the red earth.

We rolled into Window Rock, unpacked the camera and descended upon the museum to record the event. The museum staff was gracious to a fault. We previewed the show and were impressed at the accuracy of theme and attention to detail. We were soon invited to lunch and found our way to the dining hall. The staff introduced us all around and we were sent to the front of the serving line. Now that's my kind of people!

We sat down to eat and listen to speechs by the Honorable Ben Shelly, Vice President of the Navajo Nation, and George Arthur, Council Delegate/Resource Committee Chair. I realized, again, that when politicians speak you better be prepared to endure an ordeal. Microphones and elected officials seem made for each other. Both men were well spoken and appreciative of the basket loan.

By the time it was my turn, the crowd was in no mood for further comment. I considered offering up my candidacy for Tribal Chairman, but decided the humor would be lost on the now discontented group. Since I was the last on the docket and everyone had long since finished their meal and become fidgety, I decided to let them off easy. Thanking the tribe, museum staff and artists, I relinquished the podium and released the crowd. Everyone seemed to appreciate the gesture, and a sigh of relief passed through the hall as all in attendance quickly got up before anything more could be said.

A group of Navajo teenagers presented several traditional dances that were greatly enjoyed by the crowd. Our own San Juan County Commissioner and Navajo Tribal Council Delegate, Kenneth Maryboy, Mexican Water/Aneth/Red Mesa Chapters, made a brief statement of appreciation and we were done. Vice President Shelly stopped by on his way out and invited me to return for the unveiling of a sacred Buffalo hide shield that had just been reacquired by the tribe; an invitation I will hold him to and anticipate with much enthusiasm.

The pomp and circumstance of the basket exhibit was a great deal of fun. We were thrilled to participate in such an educational and visually appealing event. The show was based on the art of a people, speaking of their culture, lifestyle and history, and was set in the midst of their homeland. It does not get any better than that.

The ride home was just as interesting as the trip down. Tina, Rosita, Priscilla and I revisited our conversation concerning the romantic, less than subtle landscape, and stories of canyon echoes, mountaintop missives and mythological circumstance. I discovered new perspective on an old, well-traveled friend, was inspired by that which stimulates artistry and initiated associations with people of similar interests.

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Copyright 2009 Twin Rocks Trading Post

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