Conference mixes Navajo culture, Christmas tradition

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times
Terrell Shirley participates in a string game Wednesday during the Restoring and Celebrating Family Wellness program at the Office of Diné Youth in Shiprock.

SHIPROCK — With green yarn wrapped on his fingers, Blaine Yazzie followed along to instructions for completing a "big star" pattern during a lesson about Navajo string games.

As the video showed the intricate patterns, Yazzie occasionally double checked the placement of the yarn around his fingers.

The lesson about string games was among the activities presented during the winter conference by the Restoring and Celebrating Family Wellness program today at the Shiprock Youth Complex.

The annual conference is sponsored by a coalition of Northern Agency organizations that focus on improving communities and strengthening family values.

Yazzie said he remembers his maternal grandmother taught him about string games, and about the patterns that replicate stars and animals, while growing up in Sanostee.

Beth Troxell of the Farmington Public Library participates in an exercise with her colleagues Wednesday during the Restoring and Celebrating Family Wellness program at the Office of Diné Youth in Shiprock.

"I know some but I need to refresh my mind on how to do it. It's been a long time, about 15 years, since I done it," Yazzie said.

Margaret Lee volunteered to lead the session about string games, traditionally played during the winter.

Lee said string games teach children to be patient when learning and to pay attention to details.

"I like it because it's a good quality time (and) teaching time for kids and families," she said.

For Terrell Shirley, learning about string games adds to his cultural knowledge.

Shirley, 11, said he knows to place the knot in the middle of his hand and to tell the Holy People that he will play the games.

"I know what to do and what not to do," he said.

While a large portion of the conference was devoted to sessions that centered on Navajo culture and Christmas traditions, event organizers also talked about using storytelling to share traditional knowledge and family history.

Teachings like introducing one's clans can be carried through storytelling, said Marge Bluehorse-Anderson, a member of Healthy Native Communities Partnership in Shiprock.

Jody Mike-Bidta,h a project coordinator with Capacity Builders Inc., gives a presentation on healthy snacks Wednesday during the Restoring and Celebrating Family Wellness program at the Office of Diné Youth in Shiprock.

"Because anywhere and everywhere you go, you represent your family," Bluehorse-Anderson said.

As part of the session about storytelling, participants drew pictures of items that made differences in their lives, then told stories about the images.

Shiprock resident Aljuandra Teller shared her drawing of the blocks on the symbol for Navajo Head Start.

Teller told the audience she enrolled her daughter at 11-months-old in the program.

By doing that, it helped her daughter, now 10-years-old, develop interest in education.

"She's a cheerleader right now. She's advanced in her math, reading and science," Teller said.

Teller added she is studying early childhood education because watched her daughter excel in school in part to Head Start.

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