Navajo language teacher Irene Hamilton, second from right, poses on Friday at Kirtland Central High School with her students for a group portrait for the
Navajo language teacher Irene Hamilton, second from right, poses on Friday at Kirtland Central High School with her students for a group portrait for the school yearbook. Students were encouraged to wear traditional Navajo attire on Friday to celebrate Native American Heritage Month. (Jon Austria / The Daily Times)

Kirtland — With a dark blue velvet shirt, white pants and moccasins, Kirtland Central High School senior Adam Natonabah stood out among a sea of hoodies and jeans wore by other students.

As Natonabah looked at his peers on Friday, he said he wished other students had also worn traditional Navajo attire as part of the school's celebration of Native American Heritage Month.

"It's important to keep the tradition alive and keeping the culture going for future generations," he said.

He also wanted to honor two family members by wearing their jewelry.

The bow guard he wore belongs to his uncle, Raymond Kurley, while the black headband and coral necklace belonged to his cheii, or maternal grandfather, Andrew Natonabah, who passed away in 1999.

Traditional dress for Diné women consists of a pleated skirt, long-sleeved blouse, turquoise jewelry, concho and sash belts, and moccasins.

Men also wear jewelry, along with a shirt, pants and moccasins.

Irene Hamilton, a Navajo language teacher at Kirtland Central, explained that Navajos wear turquoise for protection, and it is the stone that identifies the Diné.

"It's more than just being a rock," Hamilton said.

Both men and women may tie their hair into a tsiiyéél, the Navajo word for hair bun, which represents knowledge, she said.

"You have full control of your cognitive abilities," she said.

Like her students, Hamilton is also learning about Diné culture and has learned that moccasins represent the rainbow and leading a good life.

She also was told that sash belts are always woven in red, white and green colors, and single women wear the fringes to one side of their bodies while married women hang the fringes on both sides.

"You're making a statement when you put on your moccasins or tie up your hair in a tsiiyéél," Hamilton said.

Although only a handful of students dressed for the day, they left a positive impression on the Navajo language teacher.

"It cheers me up. I think it takes a lot of courage," Hamilton said. "The students that do that, follow through, they're the minority."

Freshman Aliyah Wilson also was noticeable with her black velveteen shirt and pink satin skirt made by her grandmother, Judy Wilson, for her kinaaldá, or girl's puberty ceremony.

"I'm proud to be Native, and we have one of the biggest tribes in the U.S., and we have beautiful jewelry that we show off," Wilson said.

Sure enough, her turquoise necklace and large turquoise bracelets were not difficult to spot.

Sophomore Chantel Pine dressed traditionally because it showed and honored her Native American heritage.

Among the pieces that Pine wore were a long, white satin skirt and turquoise necklace that were made by her nali, or paternal grandmother, Bessie Pine, who passed away last year.

"I know that if she saw me today, she'd be proud of me," she said.

After gathering for a group photograph for the school's yearbook, senior Athena Talk started her work as a student office aide in the administration office.

Talk's outfit mixed modern and traditional elements by combining a contemporary, black lace shirt and blue jeans with a squash blossom necklace, turquoise bracelets and earrings, concho belt and moccasins.

"I thought it was important. Considering not that many people still do," Talk said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 and nsmith@daily-times.com. Follow him on Twitter @nsmithdt on Twitter.