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FARMINGTON — Rylee Wilkens-Clary's smile conveyed her emotions about making her own pair of moccasins.

"I was excited. I was glad to be finished and see the final product," she said after trying on the shoes she stitched by hand in a class offered by the Farmington Municipal School District's Indian Education department.

This month the department organized classes, field trips and presentations that center on Navajo and Native American culture. Between June 11-12, high school students in the school district learned how to make moccasins at the district's Career and Technology Education Center in Farmington.

Wilkens-Clary, a Piedra Vista High School student, heard about the class from her grandmother and decided to register.

"I thought it was going to be something long, but it's something I enjoyed," she said.

Janessa Benally's hands were busy sewing the left side of her moccasins, made from latigo leather and suede.

After assembling the shoes all day on June 11, Benally said she developed a newfound appreciation for the skill.

"It takes a lot of time and materials," she said adding she plans to wear hers when taking her senior portraits in the fall.

Eliseo Curley was approached by department personnel to instruct the hands-on workshop based on his experience conducting similar classes at the Museum of Navajo Art and Culture, a facility under the City of Farmington's museum system.

Curley said the goal is for each student to leave with a pair of moccasins as well as an understanding of its significance in Navajo culture.

"The whole meaning of the moccasin is Mother Nature," he said.

He further explained that the sole represents Earth while the top portion is the sky and the sinew that binds the pieces signifies lightning.

Shawl Iron Moccasin is the assistant director of Indian Education for the school district.

Iron Moccasin explained the department focuses on providing services to Native American students that assist them academically and help them recognize and appreciate their culture.

She added to accomplish this, they offer workshops and presentations for all grades that center on the sector's five core values – the willingness to persevere, compassion, building relations, avoiding potential problems and understand the value of language.

When sessions are scheduled, presenters are asked to focus on either one or all the core values and to incorporate that in their presentations, she said.

"We want our children to be able to appreciate who they are because they have to know themselves to know where they're from and where they're going," Iron Moccasin said.

The moccasin session was open to 15 students but only five registered. Since material is still available, a second class could be held, she said.

Deann Barber registered for the class because she wanted to learn how to make moccasins and about its connection to Navajo culture.

While the class has been informative, it was difficult to sew the thread into the leather sole, Barber said.

She added that her wrists were sore, but she looks forward to wearing her moccasins at home and, possibly, on the first day of school.

"I'm just happy that I made it," Barber said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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