The mission of Aculturame is to educate and inspire people on cultural, social, and historical aspects of indigenous cultures. In line with that, I would like to introduce my first post on Trailblazers, a section on my blog that will cover cultural perspectives and people in indigenous communities.
For my first post I would like to introduce you to Jaclyn Roessel and her blog Grownup Navajo. I would also like to take this opportunity to discuss the important role of grandmothers in Native American communities.
I also want to share Jaclyn and her blog because in the United States, in March we celebrate the contributions of women in history; better known as National Women’s History Month. What a better way to close the month of March than by honoring women who have made a great impact in our lives and our society.
The main reason I wanted to share Jaclyn’s work is because she is a great example of an up-coming young leader within her community. Very often when we read about Native Americans in the United States their history and culture are presented as if they were a thing of the past; as if they are no longer exist and they have now become relics only available through museums. This is another reason why I wanted to present interesting stories about modern Native Americans; to shed a light into what young people such as Jaclyn are doing to continue to preserve not only the memory of the ones who came before her but also her culture.
I first met Jaclyn about two years ago while conducting research on Native American history and Native American writers. I connected with her blog and writing style right away. Jaclyn’s personal experience about losing an important figure in her life as well as a member of her Navajo community resonated with my personal story of losing my own grandmother in Mexico. I also connected with they way she is able to express herself through her poetry. It reminded me of the way indigenous women from Mexico used to express themselves but due to strong western cultural influences we have shied away from it.
Grownup Navajo is a personal recount about a Navajo woman’s journey into womanhood. In Navajo (Diné) culture this journey is known as Kinaaldá, a cultural rite of passage for women in the Navajo community. Grownup Navajo was first started as a way to connect with other people while Jaclyn grieved the loss of her paternal grandmother; Jaclyn says that she used writing as a way to figure out how to move forward while having lost a very important presence in her life. Her blog went from being a personal journal to becoming the foundation for her entrepreneurial career.
To understand Grownup Navajo and Jaclyn’s need to connect with her grandmother is important to understand the role of grandmothers in Native American communities. Grandmothers in Native American communities are not just the caregivers of their children and grandchildren but they are leaders in their communities, dispensers of wisdom, and spiritual guides. In Native American communities it is not uncommon for the working parents to leave the child rearing to the grandparents. Grandmothers are left in charge to care after their grandchildren; they become the caregivers and sources of knowledge, they become important in their communities and other women look up to them for guidance.
Since grandmothers are responsible for the care and education of their grandchildren, grandparents become a form of ‘cultural conservator’ in charge of making sure the next generation learns the cultural traditions and the ways of the generations who came before them.
This cultural trait is not exclusive to the Native American groups in the U.S. as other indigenous groups in the rest of the Americas share this same practice. In Mexico it is no different, as grandmothers are the epicenter of many families, including my own. Considering our cultural and personal similarities, my connection with Jaclyn’s personal account was an almost immediate one considering we both have a high regard for the role of our grandmothers in our communities.
Jaclyn’s grandmother, the late Ruth Roessel, was a pioneer in the early days of Indian Education. She believed that knowing one’s culture and language was an important aspect to incorporate into the education of Native children from a very early age. Mrs. Roessel helped establish the first school controlled by a Native Americans community in Rough Rock Arizona in 1966. This effort in turn led to her helping fund the Navajo Community College (now Diné College) in 1968. Mrs. Roessel’s philosophy, advocacy efforts as a teacher and a leader in her Navajo community, as well as her ideals were passed down to and live today in the actions achievements of her granddaughter Jaclyn.
Jaclyn shared with me that after her grandmother passed away she was heartbroken as she had so many plans after college graduation that included her grandmother. By writing about her grandmother and sharing her poetry, Jaclyn discovered that she in fact had the wisdom and knowledge of her grandmother within herself all along; that no matter what she did or where she went her grandmother was with her all along.
Grownup Navajo is then a personal recount about how a young Navajo woman becomes a writer, a poet, an activist and a conduit between the strong women in her family who came before her and the next generation of young Navajo girls who will become women in the near future. Ruth Roessel became the inspiration of her granddaughter’s work and also in the process helped her find her calling in life.
Jaclyn is now following her grandmother’s steps by working in education; after working for the Heard Museum for a few years she recently undertook an entrepreneurial path to dedicate full-time to her creative projects involving Grownup Navajo.
I invite you to check out her blog and follow her journey as she shares cultural stories passed down from her grandmother and as she undertakes her full-time job as a creative entrepreneur.
This and every month, we acknowledge and celebrate Native women like Jaclyn who continue making a difference in our communities through preservation, entrepreneurial spirit and trailblazing a path for all those who will come after them.
Check out Jaclyn’s blog Grownup Navajo and follow her work through Social Media through the following links;