PHOENIX, AZ – WatchCut/ Cut.com is the production crew behind “100 Years of Beauty,” see the series playlist here. I had the pleasure of providing research and context to each decade of Dine’ history since the 1910s. My research had to summarize in a paragraph or two how historical developments affected each decade’s style. As a bonus, I pulled together the jewelry for each look. The Heard Museum Shop, located in Phoenix, AZ, provided jewelry made by mostly Navajo artists and I provided jewelry from my family’s personal collection and my own line, NotAbove Jewelry. Lastly, Sage and her mom, Charlotte, had the perfect accents to finish some of the looks, namely the Navajo blankets and more turquoise.
The rest of this post sheds some light to my research work, shares archival photos that inspired each decade look, and gives proper credit to the jewelry shown in the video. But first, I wanted to share some quick thoughts about the hairstyles and the jewelry.
Since the release of this video, there have been comments regarding the tsiiyéél (Navajo bun). Some saw the video as suggesting the tsiiyéél (Navajo bun) was worn during the early 1900s and not today. This was not our intention to make it look this way. As most Diné know already, someone’s mother, father, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, grandparent, and/ or friend continues to wear a tsiiyéél today. I wear mine. With that said, I urge you to check out my best friend Jaclyn Roessel’s site, Grownup Navajo. She speaks more fully to its cultural importance here (also, she began #TsiiyéelTuesdays). In all, it brings about an incredible sense of pride to see more people my age and younger wearing their hair in a tsiyeel.
Another sense of pride is the way in which we wear our turquoise. Aside from the distinctive silver metal work of Navajo jewelry, natural turquoise means a lot to us as Diné. Turquoise is one of our four sacred stones, part of our Creation stories, and more. We were taught that when we wear dootł’izh (turquoise) the diyin dine’e’ (holy people) will know where and who we are. I grew up knowing Navajo jewelry as coming from a foundation of knowledge that does not fit a linear timeline. So, my aim with this project was to represent various styles of Navajo turquoise jewelry, in hopes that it would emphasize how it is all traditional. I know Navajo jewelers who create jewelry from a source of traditional knowledge that then becomes part of how we live as Diné. This, to me, is preservation of our ways.
So much more can be said but I won’t delve into the details of my 12+ hours of research. I do hope the rest of this post provides some light to my process. As you can see each decade since the 1910s (and before) brought enormous challenges to our existence that greatly affected how we live today. Yet, this video illustrates the resiliency and perseverance. And, with each decade, the beauty of our existence endured and we continue to grow from a point of strength and hózhó. As Diné, we always walk in beauty.
Again, cheers to Marina and Christopher (of Cut.com) for coordinating this project. Erin Skipley for styling and makeup. Sage and her mom Charlotte for representing us so well on camera.
CLICK on Images for Historical Context, in caption, by Decade
The 1910s became a prelude to a major change in Dine’ way of life. Native veteras who had served in WWI were granted US citizenship, not including women. Yet, Navajo womens’ rug weavings were seen as “housework” and not as one of the most marketable incomes of that time. One method used to create a marketable rug, fairs and exhibits with prizes were provided to “discourage inferior work and the making of smaller sizes” were encouraged by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs in their 1913 Annual Report. CREDIT – L, Photo: “A Navajo Belle.”
This decade began with the Secretary of the Interior, with instructions by Congress, to increase the student enrollment by “whatever rules and regulations he felt necessary.” This led to many miserable student experiences rather than an actual education. These bad reports led to the Meriam Report of 1928. It was a national response of Navajos condeming the taking of students to off-reseservation boarding schools. CREDIT – L, Photo: “Navajo girl, Ganado, AZ, 1926,” NYPL Archives.
In 1930 the Tribal Council voted to accept the day-school program along with small boarding schools on the Navajo reservation. by 1935, nearly 50 day schools were set to be built in rural reservations locations. These schools would teach grade K-3. At this time, traveling around the reservation was mostly made by hose, wagon, or foot. Transportation by automobiles were done by government tribal officials or by traveling tourists. CREDIT – L, Photo: 1931.
Many Navajos left the reservation and the country for the first time even after their experience with boarding schools and day schools. Navajos gained new perspectives after WWII that encouraged self-determinations. New initiatives in health care, education, political and legal authority took place in the mid-1940s and were then implemented in the 1950s. CREDIT – L, Photo: “Navajo Woman taking photograph, 1945,” NM Tourism Bureau.
The Navajo “tribe” started to become the Navajo “Nation.” More tourism started to figure into its economy especially with visits to Canyon de Chelly and Monument Valley. Western movies and articles from Arizona Highways (magazine) mixed with paved roads made the Navajo Nation more accessible to outsiders. CREDIT – L, Photo: Time Magazine Archives.
Artists and the whole of Native arts would receive more attention but with mixed success. Iverson describes this period as “[e]ven if limited by the conservative, if not rigid tastes of white patrons, Navajo artists began to expand their horizons by the end of this time. Some artists benefited from instruction at more distant locations or encouraged other native artists or non- Indian artists whose vision often inspired or encouraged them. They, too, established a kind of foundation for the innovations of the 1960s and beyond.” CREDIT – L, Photo: “Community uses sewing facility at Chapter House in Sawmill, AZ,” NAU Archives.
A major trend in Native American jewelry hit this decade. By then, a growing number of tourists would appreciate the current-day styles by attending major Native art galleries or art shows throughout the country. Meanwhile, a dwindling number of trading posts on the reservation would be open by the end of the decade. Education-wise, on-reservation schools would improve with greater presence of Navajo educator and administrators. A growing number of Navajo professional educators would slowly take their place at BIA and on-reservations/ border town public schools. CREDIT – L, Photo: AZ Highways April 1979.
Politically-speaking, There was a concentration of corruption and power, which led to a structural reform from a chairmanship to a three-branch presidency. Tiffany Lee’s article, “If I could speak Navajo, I’d definitely speak it 24/7”: Diné Youth Language Consciousness, Activism and Reclamation of Diné Identity,” reveals the changes happening during this time as well. There was a shift of Navajo parents not speaking all the time in the Navajo language due to boarding schools and other reasons stemming from history. Thus, the current generation of Navajos were not speaking as fluently and so their own children did not learn nor speak fluently. This was very much a transitional decade. From living on and off the reservation in English-dominated schools represented a larger social shift over time. A lack of jobs available on the Navajo Nation caused more people to reside in cities or border towns. Each family had a similarly different story. The artists during this period were educating themselves on marketing and showing their works everywhere. Trading posts were no longer a major part of Navajo social life, CREDIT – L, Photo: Beck Family Photo.
Navajo towns grew during the 1990s, such as Tuba City, Kayenta, Lukachukai. These towns would see more residents although 100k Dine’ lived away from the Navajo Nation, primarily in border towns like Flagstaff, Phoenix, and Albuquerque. It was an urbanization of people, mostly ranging between eighteen and twenty-four years of age. Yet, ceremonies were another way for off-reservation relatives to remain connected to their families and hometowns. Navajo jewelry now was more contemporary while remaining respectful to the older styles of jewelry. CREDIT – L, Photo: Beck Family Photo.
There is a growing sense of cultural continuity that is increasingly relevant to the young Navajos. The concept of “living in two-worlds” was not as applicable as growing up with an understanding of our history and being Dine’, accordingly. Nationally, the National Museum of the American Indian opened to a record number of Native gathering in one place. CREDIT – L, Photo: Turquoise Rose, movie poster.
A continued growth in arts and inspiring cultural engagement is defining this decade. Notable events include young Navajo men and women who walked to all four sacred mountains to bring attention to environmental and social issues happening on the Navajo Nation. In the arts, there is more attention brought to trends involving Native appropriation, as well as innovative Native jewelry styles. Major support is given to Native made creations by Inspired Natives, as well as, being mindful of our relation to one another as Dine’ in today’s world. CREDIT – L, Photos: Kim Smith, Sage Honga, Grownup Navajo.
Jewelry List by Decade
1910s Jewelry from Beck & Honga Personal Collections
1920s Blanket & Jewelry from Honga Personal Collection
Nizhoníyée shadí! This is such a beautiful project and I am so grateful your work is front & center. Ahé’hee for your efforts and using your influence to further share our people’s culture.
WOW!! What a GREAT project!!!! Congratulations – just brilliant!!!! So glad you’ve sent it & I’ll definitely forward it… can’t believe you did all that research in 12 hours. I started to jot down comments, but have a deadline tomorrow… will return to this & re-enjoy it…
A big hug/kathy
Kathy M’Closkey, PhD
Adjunct Associate Professor
Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Criminology
University of Windsor
Windsor, ON N9B 3P4
(519) 253-3000 ex. 4073
(519) 252-8472 (home/Voice Mail)