Program's workshops carry on Navajo art, cultural knowledge

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times
Johanna Sandoval became interested in the Navajo Cultural Arts Program class after seeing a flyer at Diné College's south campus in Shiprock.

SHIPROCK — Darrell Yazzie Jr. ironed out ribbons of various colors before assembling an intricate pattern to adorn the tobacco pouch he was sewing on Friday.

Yazzie traveled from Klagetoh, Arizona, to learn how to make the small bag during the latest class from Diné College's Navajo Cultural Arts Program.

After seeing information about the lesson on the program's Facebook page, he immediately called to reserve a spot for the class held inside the Sen. John Pinto Library at the college's south campus in Shiprock. 

"I wanted to see how to go about it," he said adding that he could build on the lesson to sew more pouches to give as gifts or to sell.

His point of view is one reason the program provides these types of workshops on the first Friday of each month.

The sessions rotate among the libraries at the college's campuses in Tsaile, Arizona and in Shiprock and Crownpoint. Previous classes focused on sewing ribbon pillows, aprons from Blue Bird flour bags and ribbon skirts.

There is no fee to participate and materials are supplied by the program.

Sheryl Benally is the program assistant. She said the classes are part of the program's focus to provide community outreach by sharing cultural arts knowledge between generations.

For Benally, it is gratifying to watch participants enter the class with limited knowledge about the topic then leave with a new understanding and ideas to enhance it.

Participants learned how to operate sewing machines during the Navajo Cultural Arts Program session on Friday at Diné College's south campus in Shiprock.

Attendance for Friday's session was limited to seven participants. The small size allowed for one-to-one interaction between students and instructor, Andrea Sekayumptewa, who also taught the February workshop that focused on sewing ribbon pillows.

Workshop instructor Andrea Sekayumptewa, center, shows a tobacco pouch made during the Navajo Cultural Arts Program class on Friday at Diné College's south campus in Shiprock.

Sekayumptewa was ready during class to explain the next step in the tobacco pouch making process or when participants needed help operating sewing machines.

This was Fernando Tsosie's first-time sewing felt and fabric by machine.

After watching Sekayumptewa thread the machine and listening to her instruction, Tsosie tried his luck with success until he noticed the thread on one side of his pouch didn't align as planned.

He chuckled at the error then started to remove the thread.

"I wasn't sure what I was getting into, but it was a good experience," Tsosie said of the class.

Debra Teller-Tsosie will graduate from the program's certificate cohort on May 10.

Teller-Tsosie was a third-grade teacher in Chinle, Arizona, before starting in the program last year.

Darrell Yazzie Jr. irons a ribbon for the tobacco pouch he was making on Friday at Diné College's south campus in Shiprock.

She enrolled because she wanted to enhance her teaching skills by learning more about incorporating Navajo arts into the classroom.

"I think our cultural arts belong to us," she said.

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

Philmena Howard uses fabric glue to fasten together material for the tobacco pouch she was making on Friday at Diné College's south campus.