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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


May 31, 2003 - Issue 88


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by Sararesa Begay The Navajo Times
credits: Sandra Black, 65, of Promise Rock, Utah, teaches about weaving.

Sandra Black, 65, of Promise Rock, Utah, teaches about weaving. Monument Valley, UT - Marlena McKenzie, a 16-year-old junior at Monument Valley High School, skillfully maneuvers the black colored yarn through the loom strings.

"I'll be a weaver," McKenzie said about her future. "Weaving takes your mind off things."

McKenzie concentrates on keeping the rug design straight and keeping her striped rug design even.

McKenzie and three other classmates wove at the octagon-shaped cultural classroom on the school campus last Friday morning.

When McKenzie was a little girl her mother, Maggie Black, taught her weave.

Comasheena Clark, 14, Allison Stash, 14, and Nathaniel Yazzie, 13, are the other students weaving cinch belts on their own looms.

Each student except for McKenzie had never woven on a loom before.

Clark said she doesn't think she'll weave another cinch because "it's not really my hobby."

Elderly instructors
Stash and Yazzie shyly worked on their weaving projects as Navajo elder Sandra Black instructs and praises them in the Navajo language.

"That's beautiful," Black said in Navajo to Yazzie as he wove.

Black, 65, of Promise Rock, Utah, teaches the students the almost-forgotten art of weaving horse cinch belts.

"The teaching behind it is the looming begins to teach and be the inspiration," said Don Mose, the high school's Navajo culture teacher and adviser. "The loom begin to take its part."

Mose began the N'dahoo'aah program about 10 years ago, and it is normally a three-week summer program. McKenzie and the other weaving students are part of this year's program which began early this month and will conclude on May 29.

This year's N'dahoo'aah program began early, and there will be no summer program, according to Don Mose and Patricia Seltzer, Monument Valley High School principal.

N'dahoo'aah means "learning and relearning" in the Navajo language.

Program students learned to use technology to enhance Navajo traditions and there are more than 45 students participating from the San Juan School District, mostly from junior high school and high school.

The students are taught by Navajo elders who are master weavers and artists. Students are taught how to create rugs, cinch belts and beadwork.

Expanding the program
Mose said he wants the N'Dahoo'aah program to spread across the Navajo Reservation so students can have the best of both the Navajo and bilagaana worlds.

This year students are learning rug weaving, cinch belt weaving, and beading.

However, this year students aren't able to use computers to create their designs, according to Larissa Oliver, Navajo government teacher.

Within the traditional crafts of weaving and beading are hidden mathematical ideas, according to Mose and Eli Spanier, a former program supervisor who now works at a foundation at the University of Colorado-Boulder.

In the past, the program presented a rediscovery of mathematics and its application to the students by using computers to create their designs, and to use mathematics in their individual craft project.

Mose said his fellow teaching colleague, Nick Mose, his younger brother, is doing just that by instructing students how to build houses.

The Nick Mose carpentry class is learning how to build octagon houses for needy community members.

Teaching practical knowledge
Nick Mose started working with the school-to-work program about eight years ago and wanted the carpentry students' to have a more practical knowledge of the skills.

"I sat down with (the school administrators), and said, 'Let's do something more with building houses,'" Nick Mose said. "We are also doing a community service by building a series of homes in this area."

Nick Mose said that his carpentry students have done 12 octagon homes for area residents.

Nick Mose said his 18 students learn footing, foundation, framing, rafting, roofing, and sheet rocking work.

Currently, Nick Mose's class is building an octagon for Jessie Gilles, whose home had a lot of wide openings where wind and rain would get in.

Nick Mose said Gilles' former home had a lot of water damage, and the floor was completely rotten.

Nick Mose's students began work on Gilles' new octagon home in March, and redid the framework.

"These kids are learning all that about carpentry," Nick Mose said. "It takes a lot."

Nick Mose said his students are scheduled to complete Gilles' new home on May 23.

The summer carpentry class is planning to start building a log cabin on June 9.

"Most of these kids are at-risk kids," Nick Mose said. "Ninety percent won't end up going to college. I think this is one of the best programs for students."

Giving back to community
Don Mose said there is a shortage of housing in Navajo communities, and he believes this type of a program allows students to contribute their skills, time and energy to the communities.

"The whole reward of this is the kids are giving back to the community," Don Mose said. "That is how a community should work. You solve a problem by using your own people. That's what I love."

Don Mose has big plans, ideas and dreams on how to expand and make the N'dahoo'ah program better.

"I want to start a language program, and build a cultural center," Don Mose said, adding that he's already got some land set aside for the future cultural center.

Don Mose said many parents want to work together to teach the students about the Navajo language and their culture, but many times they don't know how.

"The language needs to start at home," Don Mose said. "The parents need to teach at home."

But with President George W. Bush's administration and the implementation of "No Child Left Behind Act," Seltzer is concerned about continuing and keeping the N'dahoo'aah program.

"A lot of site base controls are being taken away," Seltzer said. "The whole focus is shifting to testing and scores."

Seltzer said the N'Dahooah program is very much a part of the school district.

"I just hope these federal restrictions aren't so tight for local flexibility to make program choices," Seltzer said.

Seltzer said other schools such as Whitehorse High School in Montezuma Creek, Utah tried to model the program.

"A lot of schools have looked at it like Tuba City," Seltzer said. "This program could be done in other cultures."

International interest
Don Mose has taken the program to other parts of the world including Siberia to a group of indigenous people called the Kantays, and the Yukon, Northwest Territories, in Canada where there are people similar to the Navajos.

Don Mose said the San Juan School District has sent 10 Navajo students to the Yukon, and the Yukon people sent 10 of their own to the local school district.

Currently, there is no research or conclusive data available, Seltzer said. Claudette Bradley, a University of Alaska professor, hasn't followed up on studies that she was scheduled to measure and study about the program. She was unavailable for comment.

For more information, contact Don Mose at or 435-727-3204.

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