From music to art, annual conference teaches Navajo young people to respect themselves

Noel Lyn Smith The Daily Times
The Daily Times

SHIPROCK — Sera Marino and Jodie Tsosie traveled from Naschitti to participate in the ninth annual Youth Conference on Tuesday at the Shiprock Youth Complex.

Marino, 22, played the guitar and Tsosie, 15, played the bass during a workshop that demonstrated music production using the computer program Ableton.

"I have a passion for music," Marino said, adding that she started playing guitar at 15.

After contributing a few notes to the project, they sat nearby and watched as another participant added rhythm to the composition by drumming the back of a plastic chair using a pen and pencil as drumsticks.

"It's getting there," Tsosie said while listening to the sound.

Kino Benally, one of the workshop presenters, said the goal of the class was to produce a song and expose the students to music composition.

"If music is your passion, you should think about recording it," Benally said.

Throughout the two-day conference, sponsored by Restoring and Celebrating Family Wellness, participants can attend various workshops that center on such subjects as arts, culture, education and health.

In the facility's art room, six artists from Art of the People Inc. were teaching a group of young people how to develop their painting skills.

Artists Keno Zahney, of Shiprock, and Baje Whitethorne Sr., of Flagstaff, Ariz., are members of the organization. Zahney said in addition to receiving instruction from renowned Navajo artists, the students were learning how to express themselves through art and how to build canvas frames, as well as learning painting techniques.

"We help them with different textures," he said while watching the students paint.

Whitethorne said the artists work together in order to share their art knowledge, as well as provide insight to the business of art.

"They actually learn how to work," Whitethorne said.

Inside the gymnasium, Tyrese Bruce, of Shiprock, was learning the basic footwork of breaking, a style of street dance.

"It's hard work. The moves are hard when it gets fast," Bruce, 12, said while taking a break and wiping sweat from his forehead.

Since there was "nothing" to do at home, Bruce decided to attend the conference and looked forward to continuing the dance lesson.

With two speakers playing Rage Against the Machine's "Renegades of Funk," the six participants showed the skills they learned during the workshop led by Anthony Benally, of Cove, Ariz.

Benally, who has been break dancing for 10 years, said he decided to conduct the workshop as a way to give back to young people and to expose them to an aspect of dance culture.

"I saw full potential in them, and they were catching on so quickly. I saw nothing but passion for what they are doing," he said after the workshop concluded.

The conference concludes today with registration starting at 8 a.m. in front of the Shiprock Youth Complex. The opening ceremonies begin at 9 a.m.

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