ROCK, AZ - Two extremely rare relics of Chief Manuelito's wife Juanita
were unpacked and welcomed by three generations of her descendants
last week at the Navajo Nation Museum, where they will be on loan
from the Autry National Center for six months.
dress and saddle blanket woven by Juanita, who died in 1910, were
carefully lifted out of their cardboard boxes, unfolded and put
on display as part of the Chief Manuelito exhibit, which opened
not until several pairs of eager hands in latex gloves fondled them
for a while.
and touching the weavings was an emotional experience for Juanita's
great-great-granddaughter, great-great-great-granddaughters and
me, I can see her," said Rose Nez, 76, of Tohatchi, N.M., Juanita
and Manuelito's great-great-granddaughter. "I think she's watching
us. That's the way I feel. She must be proud and smiling at us.
Both of them."
daughter Jenny Nez, 57, said the family was aware they had famous
ancestors, but didn't think much about it until her sister, historian
Jennifer Nez Denetdale, wrote her book "Reclaiming Diné
History: The Legacy of Chief Manuelito and Juanita."
all went, 'Whoa,'" Jenny Nez recalled. "That's when we
knew we descended from somebody really special."
son Nicholas, 30, a welder and college student, also made the trip
from Tohatchi to watch the dress being unpacked for its first time
on exhibit in many years, if ever.
this thing just got taken, and for it to come home now, it makes
me feel stronger and more powerful," he said. "It lifts
my spirits to think that something you do, something you leave behind,
can reach back years later and help someone."
gave the biil to her friend, photographer and collector George Wharton
James, in 1874. It was already well worn and patched in several
places with calico, and it is believed to have been woven between
1868 and the year he received it.
lost the dress for a while, then found it, and it was eventually
donated to the Southwest Museum in Los Angeles, now the Autry National
Center. The items were archived, but it is not known if they were
ever displayed. In her book, Denetdale writes of traveling to the
museum in 1997 to see the weavings.
simple dress and the somewhat newer saddle blanket, with a colorful
star design in the center, arrived at the museum last week by climate-controlled
truck, along with a conservator from the Autry Center, Angie McGrew.
curation demanded the weavings sit in their boxes for a length of
guess I didn't realize how important it was until I arrived about
midnight on Tuesday and Jennifer and (museum exhibit curator) Clarenda
(Begay) were there to greet it," said McGrew, who is Chiricahua
Apache. "It's a wonderful artifact, but it didn't hit me until
then how personal it is to the Navajo people."
said she is "so impressed" with the Manuelito exhibit.
feel confident about leaving these objects here for six months,"
said other museums, including the visitor center at Bosque Redondo,
have already expressed interest in hosting the exhibit after it
is finished at the Navajo Nation Museum.
shows how important it is to be in a position to share our stories
the way we want them told," she commented.