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Weaving keeps tradition, culture alive

600 rugs will be on display this weekend at annual show

Anna Jackson of Teestone, Ariz., weaves a rug Thursday at Deer Valley's Snow Park Lodge.
Anna Jackson of Teestone, Ariz., weaves a rug Thursday at Deer Valley's Snow Park Lodge.
Laura Seitz, Deseret Morning News

PARK CITY — Kisha Begay helps one child after another at the loom as each child adds a colorful stripe to a small rug.

"It's fun to teach them. We're giving people a taste of what we do," said Begay, 13, a student at Rocky Ridge Boarding School in Arizona.

Begay's grandmother taught her how to weave, and she says it's important for her, as a young Navajo woman, to keep the tradition and culture alive.

Begay is younger than most of the women who demonstrated their skill at the loom Thursday at Deer Valley's Snow Park Lodge. Most of the weavers are Navajo elders, grandmothers, teaching dozens of youths traditional arts such as rug weaving, corn grinding and hair tying.

The event was a preview of this weekend's annual Adopt-A-Native Elder "How the West is Woven" rug show and sale.

Some 600 rugs at the show are the work of about 100 Navajo weavers, said Linda Myers, co-founder of the program.

The elders who created the artwork will keep the proceeds to purchase essentials for winter survival — things like food, firewood and hay, Myers said.

"It's winter on the reservation," Myers said. "People do these for their livelihood."

The event also serves as a fund-raiser for the program that delivers food, clothing and medical supplies to 500 elders living in the Four Corners Navajo reservation. It also delivers Christmas stockings and school supplies to grandchildren.

Co-founder Grace Smith Yellowhammer says many elders live in remote areas of the reservation without electricity or water. She said the annual rug sales came about as a way to "re-create our way of life" while giving women a means to sustain themselves.

The first rug sale 16 years ago in Park City was small — there were only 11 rugs and very few people showed up. The sale started to pick up the next year, and its popularity grew.

Now, Yellowhammer says the women's "hands are dancing through weaving. They're singing old songs . . .

"It brought back what was lost in the past," Yellowhammer said. "It is getting youth involved. They're learning from elders. It's a beautiful exchange of culture."

The elder women say they enjoy the yearly chance to get together and share their traditions with youth.

Katie Furcat of Big Mountain, Ariz., has been demonstrating her weaving skills in Park City for 16 years.

"The children like the way she weaves. Maybe one day they'll learn from her," says Bernice Bahe, 30, who's here with her mother, Alice.

Bernice Bahe interprets for her mother and Furcat, who speak the Navajo language. Furcat says she'll use the money she earns here to purchase food and fuel for the winter.

Alice Bahe says she's grateful to be here, and the money she makes helps a lot.

"She taught us how to weave, how to do things," Bernice Bahe said. "It's important to pass that on."