Navajo A-listers introduce their culture at Flagstaff museum

By Krista Allen
Western Agency Bureau

FLAGSTAFF, August 8, 2013

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(Times photo – Krista Allen)

TOP: The Jones Benally Family performed a series of dances Saturday evening during the 64th annual Navajo Festival of the Arts and Culture at the Museum of Northern Arizona.

SECOND FROM TOP: The Dineh Tah' Dancers, a group of young people from throughout the Four Corners region, performed during the 64th annual Navajo Festival of the Arts and Culture on Saturday and Sunday at the Museum of Northern Arizona.

T he bilagáanas tried to wrap their tongues around the acute accents and the long, high tones in the word "yá'át'ééh," meaning "Greetings," or literally, "It is good" in Navajo.

"Aah! Yaah-aah-t'ééh. Aah-tééh. T'ééh," instructed comedian James Bilagody, the emcee for the entertainment portion of 64th Navajo Arts and Culture Festival at the Museum of Northern Arizona Saturday. "OK, some of you are saying 'te-eh.' It's not te-eh! It's not te-eh! It's t'ééh! T'ééh! Put your tongue above your teeth. And when you make the sound, release it."

Perhaps it was the Navajo language's intricacy of syntax that made it incomprehensible for the nine individuals who were tested after a short lesson on how to say yá'át'ééh.

"Yá'á'te-eh," said a lady that was put on the spot.

"OK, C minus, C minus," said Bilagody as he evaluated her pronunciation.

"Yaah't'ééh," said a man confidently.

"A!" shouted Bilagody as the crowd cheered.

The audience was tantalized by Grammy-nominated Aaron White's flute sound. His powerfully evocative instrument was enhanced by the elaborate violin, an arrangement by Emilio Vazquez, 19, of the Chandler Symphony Orchestra in Chandler, Ariz.

"We embarked on this collaboration of Native American flute and violin," said White, Diné and Ute, whose music has been heard everywhere from "The Tonight Show" and film soundtracks like "The Doe Boy" to the presidential inaugural ball.

Meanwhile, the Dineh Tah' Navajo Dance Troupe from Albuquerque drew in more spectators as they carried out the traditions of Diné Bikéyah through their performances of dances, including the sash belt dance.

A puppet show based on the book "The Goat in the Rug," a nonfiction story about a Diné weaver who decided to weave her goat into a rug, took place at noontime to provide children with a basic understanding of the fundamentals of cloth production, as well as its importance to the Navajo culture.

There is no better word to describe brother and sister duo Clayson and Jeneda Benally than "Sihasin," which means "hope," said Clayson, who is better known as the drummer in the punk rock band Blackfire.

"Because that's something that can never be taken away from any of us," said Jeneda, noting that "Sihasin" reflects hope for equality.

Grammy-nominated singer Radmilla Cody stood glamorous as an Oscar statuette later in the afternoon as she sang songs from her album, "Shi Kéyah."

Cody sang the national anthem with her songbird voice in Navajo by request and received roaring cheers thereafter.

The Jones Benally Family performed a series of dances that possibly brought the rain and thunderstorm at the end of the day.

Children of all ages enjoyed making bow guards, sheep puppets, and dream catchers throughout the day in the Creative Corner.

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