'Somebody stole my girl'

Bilagáana student masters Diné singing and dancing

By Candace Begody
Navajo Times

PINON, Ariz., June 7, 2012

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(Times photo - Candace Begody)

Ian Meade, a third grader at Pinon Elementary School, sings a Navajo song as Vanessa Gene holds the microphone during his performance at the Cottonwood Day School's eighth grade promotion.

I an Meade would not take "no" for an answer.

After seeing the Astaa Native Club perform on stage, Meade, a bilagáana who moved to Piñon when he was three years old, was determined to do the same.

He pleaded with the club's advisor, Andrea Charlie, to join the club to learn about Diné culture.

That was two years ago.


Lighting a fire for culture

Today, Meade, a third grader at Piñon Elementary, is the heart of the club and serves as an example of what can be accomplished with hard work and determination.

"He wouldn't take no for an answer," Charlie said of Meade. "Since he joined our Native club last year, he has been learning how to dance.

"Last spring, he came up to me and wanted to learn a song," she said. "He started practicing it at home and he learned it. This year he wanted to do his introduction - his clans, where he's from."

Meade is the only bilagáana in the club of about 20 members. Spearheaded by Charlie, the club focuses on promoting Navajo language and culture.

Only a few times has Meade introduced himself and sang solo in Navajo to an audience. May 17 was one of those days.

Meade and the rest of the club members were invited to perform at Cottonwood Day School's eighth-grade promotion near Piñon.

In front of about 200 people, Meade, who performed solo after other club members performed as a group, held his hand drum in confidence and sang his song.

"It's about somebody who stole my girl and I tried to get her back," Meade said. "It took quite awhile to learn that song. My teacher taught me."

Despite joining the class with absolutely no background in the language or Navajo ways, Meade is learning at a rapid pace, according to Charlie.

In fact, Meade is already being awarded and recognized for his efforts.

Earlier in May, Meade earned first-place honors in the solo-singing category at a Navajo song-and-dance competition in Rock Point, Ariz., for the same song he sang at the promotion.

"I felt good because it was the first Navajo competition I've ever been to and I was surprised I got first place," Meade said. "I got a first place before but not in a Navajo thing. It was in baseball."

His teammates also took home awards.

Of her son's drive to learn the Navajo culture, Pamela Meade said, "He has a really strong desire to learn the culture and it was really heartwarming not only to see him perform but that the community at large is accepting of him. He just wants to learn and people are acknowledging him.

"For me it was heartwarming that he took it upon himself to make it his own and ask if he could get more teachings," she added.

Of course, Charlie's efforts did not go without acknowledgement.

"One thing he said to me that I will always remember is, 'I'm not Navajo but thanks to Ms. Charlie, I have Navajo culture,'" Pamela Meade said. "There are 500 kids and not many that are Navajo and this was a way he felt included.

"And he's not just learning the language but the culture too," she added. "He's worked very hard to do it appropriately."

Despite Meade's hard work, Charlie said there are critics.

"I do have people who are not supportive of him doing it," Charlie said. "They say things like, 'Why are you teaching him the songs? Those are Navajo songs.'

"But I like using him as an example to the whole Navajo Nation," she added. "To let them know that if this kid, who is very fond of Piñon and the Navajo people, if he can do it from nothing, then you guys can too. I think he is an inspiration to a lot of people."