Miss Navajo commemorative shawl honors all Diné women

By Alastair Lee Bitsóí
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, Aug. 30, 2013

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When Miss Navajo Leandra Thomas and Navajo Arts and Crafts Enterprise unveiled the special edition Miss Navajo Pendleton Shawl to the public on Friday, the more than 100 people in attendance whispered "ohhs" of surprise and offered their applause.

They were astounded by the colorful Pendleton shawl, which is officially called "Naabeeh— Asdzáá Bééhániih" in the Navajo language.

"Ayoo shil bahozho," said Thomas in Navajo about the first-ever specialty shawl manufactured by Oregon-based Pendleton Woolen Mills.

The shawl, which is dedicated to all Navajo women, consists of maroon fringes and on the front of the blanket tells the story of primordial creation with solid stripes of black, blue, and yellow representing the three underworlds in Navajo Creation.

The six sacred mountains of Diné Bikeyah-- Blanca Peak, Mount Taylor, San Francisco Peaks, Hesperus Peak, Gobernador Knob and Dzil-Na-O-Dith-Hle - are also embedded into the blanket and depicted by six geometrical maroon designs commonly found in Navajo rugs across the blanket.

The shawl, which comes with a description tag like most Pendleton robes and shawls are adorned with when purchased, has a white background representing the present Fourth World, or "Glittering World."

In the center of the shawl is the official logo of Miss Navajo, along with some elements of the Navajo Nation Seal Ð the rainbow representing sovereignty and arrowheads for protection and the 50 states in the United States.

Around the seal of Miss Navajo are two corn stalks, and according to Thomas, the shawl is dedicated to the sacredness and beauty of all Navajo women.

On the description tag, Thomas wrote, "This blanket symbolizes the sacredness and beauty of a Navajo woman. The Miss Navajo logo is placed in the center because she personifies two female deities in Diné culture.

"White Shell Woman and Changing Woman are also represented by the white shells. Surrounding the logo is a rainbow, which represents sovereignty of the Great Navajo Nation, with an opening to the east, the direction in which the Diné greet the morning sun.

"The six sacred mountains are embedded; the arrowheads act as shields of protection and also represent the 50 states of the U.S.A."

On the reverse side of the blanket, the design is similar with the only difference being a turquoise back ground with a white and turquoise Miss Navajo logo in the center.

Thomas, along with her sister-in-law, Candace Jim-Thomas, designed the blanket's motif over the last 9 months with NACE Marketing Director JT Willie and Pendleton Woolen Mills, famous for designing textile Native American robes for men and shawls for women.

Buyers like Michael J. Belgrade, of North Dakota, were present to purchase one of the 100 specialty blankets that Thomas signed. These exclusive shawls with Thomas' signature sold for $429 plus tax.

"I like the four worlds even though the colors are very basic," Belgrade said, whose girlfriend is a cousin to Thomas. "It's very instrumental to the blanket."

The special edition shawl is sold exclusively to the NACE Window Rock store, according to Willie. He said the shawl is the second Navajo blanket endorsed by Pendleton and the first specialty shawl ever designed by the textile company.

The first blanket was a robe called the Navajo Nation Seal.

More Miss Navajo shawls without Thomas' signature are also on stock at NACE but at a lower price than the 100 special edition ones signed by the 61st Miss Navajo.

For more information on this story, pickup a copy of the Navajo Times on Sept. 5.

Contact Alastair L. Bitsoi at 928-871-1141 or email at abitsoi@navajotimes.com