Navajo Nation members invited to participate in Dine‘tah Drama Festival in Gallup

Event designed to tap into Dine storytelling tradition

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
  • The Dinetah Drama Festival is scheduled Dec. 8-10 at the University of New Mexico campus in Gallup.
  • Groups of six to 10 people from communities on and surrounding the Navajo Nation are invited to participate.
  • The festival is being resurrected after originally being held in Tuba City, Arizona, from 1990 through 1994.

FARMINGTON — Organizers of a Navajo language live theater festival planned later this year are seeking participants from Farmington and elsewhere around the Navajo Nation, and they have extended the registration deadline by several days to accommodate those who might be interested in taking part.

Norman Patrick Brown, one of the organizers of the Dine‘tah Drama Festival scheduled Dec. 8-10 at the University of New Mexico campus in Gallup, said groups of six to 10 people from communities on and surrounding the Navajo Nation are invited to participate. According to a news release about the event, they should be willing to act, direct, write and perform other functions related to live theater performance.

The original registration deadline for the festival was Monday, Oct. 31, but Brown said that date has been extended to Friday, Nov. 4. Organizers already have three groups interested in taking part and are hoping to attract another three by the deadline, he said.

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Actor Norman Patrick Brown is one of the organizers of the Dinetah Drama Festival taking place in Gallup in December.

The festival is being resurrected after originally being held in Tuba City, Arizona, from 1990 through 1994 before being discontinued. Brown said that festival was geared toward high school students as part of an effort to establish a performing arts school on the Navajo Nation.

"Our vision is, we wanted to expand this to the adult community," said Brown, a veteran stage, television and film actor who has a recurring role on the CW series "Walker: Independence." "That's why we're reviving this."

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The plan is that each group that registers for the festival will write and perform its own play in the Navajo language after being mentored by Brown and other organizers during virtual training sessions that are scheduled for Nov. 5-6. Brown said the festival is intended not just to encourage the use and preservation of the Navajo language, but to tap into the strong Dine‘ tradition of storytelling.

"It's the stories that have sustained us for centuries, even through genocide," he said.

Brown said organizers chose to hold the festival close to winter because that is when Navajo families traditionally gather indoors for storytelling sessions. It also is the time of year when many of the animals that often are the focus of those stories are hunkered down during snowy weather, he said.

"The only time to talk about them is when they're in hibernation," Brown said, explaining the Dine‘ belief system.

He described a common occurrence in Navajo homes in which families would convene around a roaring fire in a hogaan on a frigid winter night and listen in rapt attention as a grandmother or aunt related an entertaining tale about coyotes, horned toads or other creatures interacting, revealing life lessons and moral values along the way.

"You just close your eyes, and it becomes this natural visual film," he said.

The Dine‘tah Drama Festival is intended to serve as another outlet for that storytelling tradition, Brown said.

"This is an extension of those ideas and values," he said. "The idea is, how can we use our language to promote unity?"

Brown said he learned to treasure the Navajo language from his father, who was a Navajo Code Talker.

"He always said the language brings life, that it can heal the natural world, not just people."

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The festival's theme is "Dine‘ Matriarchs — The foundation and strength of the Dine‘ people." Each participating group will be expected to write a one-hour play honoring a matriarchal figure, perhaps a contemporary single mother, a historical female warrior from the 1880s or even Changing Woman, the legendary Navajo figure who was the mother to the twins Monster Slayer and Born for Water.

"These are our stories," Brown said. "These come from our people, and we are in control of our own creative narrative. These stories will not be told from a Hollywood perspective. … It's been very lucrative for non-Dine‘ entities to exploit our cultural stories and values. … This is really our first step in reclaiming our stories. We are reclaiming what it truly ours."

A concert and awards ceremony will be held on the final night of the festival with performers to be announced later, Brown said. The cost of participating is $500, but Brown said scholarships are available for those who cannot afford that fee. The Vadon Foundation is helping to underwrite the cost of the event.

To register for the festival or to learn more about it, visit dinetahdramafest.org.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription: http://bit.ly/2I6TU0e.