Native American Heritage Month

Native American Heritage Month

In honor of Native American Heritage Month, I will be sharing an excerpt of my documented time traveling to the Four Corners with my dear friend, Amado Peña. He is recognized as an Artisan of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe of Arizona. We’ve traveled countless times to Monument Valley, Canyon De Chelly, and other places on and around the Navajo reservation. 

                                                            Pictured: Me and Amado

 

“At the end of the long road, depicted in many television commercials you probably remember, is the most beautiful place on the planet.” – Monument Valley.

With majestic mesas on the horizon, guarding the land like grandparents surrounding their children huddled under the table during an earthquake — I feel unjustly welcome. The Three Sisters monument, staggered in their glory, proudly stands erect —  their sunbaked bodies ward off the evil spirits leftover from the pain we inflicted long ago.

Monument Valley

 

In this place, I feel different. I am humbled, grateful, sad, angry, and helpless. 

This is the Native American's sacred land, and for over three decades, I have held close the opportunity to be on the reservation nearly every year. In Monument Valley I awake at dawn to watch the sun rise over the Mittens. 

I hold my breath for a second longer than expected. A primal ache boils in my belly. It bubbles up to my throat, and I can’t hold it in for a second longer. I clutch onto the feeling for as long as I can before the tears quietly stream down my dusty, parched face. 

More than 90% of the 27,000 square miles on what is now the Navajo Reservation are owned by the U.S. government and managed under a trust by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. 

I think back to my heritage. My ancestors immigrated here from the United Kingdom in the 1600s. As I drive through the beautiful scenery that sprawls for hours, I am overwhelmed by the sadness, death, and despair we inflicted on these peaceful people. 

This is their land, but according to the oppressive treaty the white conquerors forced them to sign, many different Indigenous cultures do not own the rights to it. The Navajo cannot borrow funds to build homes on their reservation, which inhibits their ability to create wealth as easily as we can. And as most Americans know all too well, homeownership is one of the cornerstones of wealth building. Many Native Americans do not have that right to this very day. Knowing this both disturbs and humbles me as a 13th-generational American who has led my life without fear of missing out on the fundamental liberties this country promises to all. 

In the next moment, I am reminded there is more work to be done. More history to uncover. More conversations with Amado to have. I look down at my worn but beloved pair of Famolares. They anchor me into the dust, their soles keep me steady as my mind wavers, much like the 4-wave rubber base — funnily enough. I am reminded to ground myself at this moment. And as I gaze into the fullness of the sun sitting squarely above what I believe is God’s best work, I am connected back to my breath.

Famolare Honey Buckle

 I am going to leave you with a poem written by yours truly, which was inspired by my time in Navajo Nation. Till next time… 

THE TOIL OF OUR SOIL 

Before we conquered

They only feared

Of mammals amongst themselves

Who sustained them for years

And yet one day

Our heavy leather boots

Stepped on their clay soil

And trampled their roots

Driving stakes in their ground

And through their bodies

This land is our land

The proclamations abound

As we found and hound

For more and more

From shore to shore

We wandered to absorb

And forge our way

Through all the darkness

Rather than the bright of day

We pervaded across their hills

We pervaded through their rivers

We pervaded through their deserts

Our breath became the air

They breathed into their tired lungs

It wasn’t fair

Their songs were sung

They could not speak

Though their voice resolute

We thought them weak

To justify our seek

Of the soil they toiled

For thousands of years

We saw their tears

But looked away

Some filled with shame

But most filled with flame

Guns in hand

This is now our land

We could not hear them

We did not feel them

Or feel for them

We moved them to places

They did not know

The ground not worthy

To be nurtured and sowed

The strong still alive

Tired yet tried

Yet one by one

Too many died 

So what can we do

To right our might

Our country divided

Some ready to fight

What’s on the horizon

Beyond the reservations

Can we tolerate our differences

For our democracy’s preservation

Our country needs to heal

Before we kneel

To whom we towered

We need to honor their power

Their truths and our history

Isn’t theirs they are ours 

If you enjoyed this post, consider donating to Art Has Heart Foundation, started by Amado and J.B. Peña, which has provided college and university scholarships to high school students since 1996. Amado’s art is stunning and beautiful. You can see it here https://penagallery.com/.

Victoria Staten has held numerous executive positions at leading fashion retailers and wholesalers. As an entrepreneur, she's launched, consulted, and mentored companies and individuals through her affiliations with global organizations. She’s super excited to be walking in Famolares again and to be delivering this iconic brand and superior products with a historic yet timely message and core values to another generation of women who want to make waves too.

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