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A year of gains for Navajo women


Navajo women have always been the center of our culture and our families. Our clan system is proof of this.

Navajo matriarchs become leaders of whole families and keep our communities flourishing.

Outdoor portrait, wearing traditional Navajo clothing.

Navajo Times reporter Pauly Denetclah

So it came as no surprise to me when I spent the last year talking with Navajo women and girls about their extraordinary accomplishments. I talked to numerous businesswomen and entrepreneurs who are paving the way for Navajo people to enter the business world.

Ahsaki Baa LaFrance-Chachere, owner of Ah Shi Beauty, and Jenn Harper, founder of Cheekbone Beauty, inspired Shi-Fawn Chee to open her own cosmetic company called Blended Girl Beauty.

This year alone two Navajo owned cosmetic companies were brought into the market – each highlighting Navajo culture while also giving back to their communities.

We saw beauty and lifestyle influencers like makeup artist Tiffany Black and food blogger Alana Yazzie, better known as the “Fancy Navajo,” grow their social media presence in a field where not many Native people succeed.

As for our Navajo girls, Shelby Arviso was the grand champion for the middle school division for the 2018 Navajo Nation Science Fair. She did her project on water quality and what is the best method for purifying water. (Boiling is the best way.)

In the high school division, Alyssa Charley won grand champion for her science fair project. Dressed in her traditional outfit, Charley explained to the judges how high levels of radon in homes on the reservation are an issue. Her air-to-air heat-recovery ventilation system was specifically designed to be used in a hogan.

Sisters Kelly and Hailey Haven were the last two spellers at this years Navajo Nation Spelling Bee. This was Hailey’s first time making it to the competition and Kelly’s second time winning the spelling competition.

Eight Navajo women competed for the Gathering of Nations Miss Indian World title. While none of them won the crown, it was amazing to see so many Navajo women compete for such a prestigious title.

Four Navajo women were selected for Sen. Tom Udall’s Native American Congressional Internship.

This year the Navajo Nation Council welcomed two more women delegates – Eugenia Charles-Newton, first woman delegate to represent Shiprock, and Charlaine Tso, representing Mexican Water, Tolikan, Teec Nos Pos, Aneth and Red Mesa.

They will join Delegate Amber Crotty to represent all of Northern Agency.

In the Navajo Nation presidential race, three Navajo women ran for the position, with Trudie Jackson breaking barriers for Navajo transgender women and becoming the first transgendered person to run for Navajo Nation president.

Of the 10 Navajo artists selected for SWAIA’s “IM:EDGE” Contemporary Art Show, six were Navajo women.

Filmmakers Stacy Howard and Shaandiin Tome have been making their way around national film festivals with their films.

In my own newsroom, half are Navajo women – a statistic unheard of in an industry where Native women make-up less than one percent of newsrooms.

And just to brag about myself for a moment. This year, I won best news story for the Arizona Newspaper Association’s 2018 Better Newspaper Contest for my story on the state of the Navajo language.

My colleagues Ravonelle Yazzie, Arlyssa Becenti, Krista Allen and Sunnie Clahchischilligi all took home first place awards this year from the ANA Better Newspaper Contest and/or the Native American Journalist Association’s National Native Media Awards for their news coverage.

Navajo women are succeeding in all areas from education to entrepreneurship. But they continue to be underrepresented in fashion, silversmithing, Navajo government and so many other areas.

It was disheartening when neither Navajo Nation presidential candidate picked a woman as their vice-presidential candidate. I remain hopeful that our government will one day accurately reflect our culture and community. Navajo women have always led our nation.

Of the two Navajo fashion designers selected for this year’s Haute Couture Fashion Show at Indian Market, both were Navajo men.

I interviewed Neeko April Garcia, a silversmith, who talked about how silverwork is still a male dominated field but she works every day to inspire other women to try it.

Every year more and more Navajo women are doing the same, inspiring other Navajo women and their communities to break barriers. I was blessed enough to be able to write about them every week for the last year and will continue to do so for the rest of my career.
Can’t wait to see you succeed, sis.

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About The Author

Pauly Denetclaw

Pauly Denetclaw is Meadow People born for Towering House People. She was raised in Manuelito and Naschitti, New Mexico. She was the co-recipient of the Native American Journalist Association's 2016 Richard LaCourse Award for Investigative Reporting. Denetclaw is currently finishing her degree in multimedia journalism from the University of New Mexico - Main. Denetclaw covers a range of topics including genetic research, education, health, social justice issues and small businesses. She loves coffee, writing and being with her family. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram. Her handle is @pdineclah


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