Sharing traditions

A successful song and dance at Whiteriver proves it's not just for Diné

By Cindy Yurth
Tséyi' Bureau

WHITERIVER, Ariz., April 5, 2012

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(Special to the Times - Donovan Quintero)

TOP: Grandma Nellie Chee dances with her granddaughter Emily Clah, 6, Sunday afternoon in Whiteriver, Ariz.
SECOND FROM TOP: From left, Kaia Aiello, 7, Latrisha Honie, 5, and Rauni Esperanza Holguin, 7, dance in the song and dance at the old Alchesay High School in Whiteriver, Ariz. Honie is Navajo and Aiello and Holguin are White Mountain Apache.
THIRD FROM TOP: Fernanda Clay, left, and Marilyn Hume, both from the White Mountain Apache Tribe, lead the song and dance held at the old Alchesay High School in Whiteriver, Ariz., on Sunday.

A Navajo song and dance to raise money for Miss White Mountain Apache Junior?

Not such a strange idea once you meet the perky 17-year-old.

"I'm a Navapache," declared Christina Lynn Carroll. "There's lots of us around."

Chistina means her mother, Stellyn Carroll, is a full-blooded Navajo from Ganado, of the Tsénjikiinii Clan. Her dad is of the Apache Bear Clan.

Christina is enrolled as an Apache, but she sees no reason not to celebrate both her cultures. Especially when it comes to raising money, since her grandfather, Steven Kinlichee, happens to be a member of the popular song-and-dance troupe, the Navajo Nation Swingers.

The Swingers were happy to swing by, even though it meant a six-hour round trip.

"This is what we do," said founding member C.J. Franklin. "Most of our performances these days are for free, raising money for youth who want to travel and do good things."

Christina wants to journey to the Northwest this summer and make appearances at powwows and other tribal events.

"One of my main goals as Miss White Mountain Junior is to raise awareness of our tribe," she explained. "Outside of Arizona, not that many people know about us."

Inside Arizona, more specifically inside the gym of the old Alchesay High School building, Navajos and Apaches were literally rubbing shoulders as they did the halting step of the song and dance around a table loaded up with donated raffle prizes.

"It's a mini-Gathering of Nations," Franklin declared. "We have Navajo tacos and Apache burgers. The hot dogs ... well, I guess they're just hot dogs, unless someone can tell me what an Apache hot dog is."

Swingers fans had come from as far away as the Four Corners area to the north and Mesa to the south, with a good contingent of Diné from Round Valley, happy to hear the old Navajo songs again.

Demure White Mountain royalty sparkled in their beaded crowns, along with Christina's Apache relatives and some local folk who admitted they were just plain curious.

"I just wanted to see how it was," said Jackie Austin of Whiteriver. "I've never been to one of these before. It reminds me a lot of our Sunrise Dance, except we do it for a whole week when a girl becomes a young lady."

Two little Apache cousins, Kaia Aiello and Rauni Esperanza Holguin, both 7, sandwiched even tinier Diné Latrisha Honie, 5, as they marched around the ring.

"She's showing us how to do it," explained Kaia.

Then it was the Apaches' turn to lead the way, as the Swingers relinquished the floor to a local group, who led a rousing dance that went in toward the center and back.

In the end, said Christina, Navajos and their southern cousins aren't all that different.

"We each have our own language, dances and traditions," she declared, "but we both eat fry bread."

Christina, a junior at Blue Ridge High School in Pinetop, Ariz., says she intends to study nursing once she graduates and come back to work on either the White Mountain or Navajo reservation.

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