Two rivers meet deep in a canyon. A microphone with feathers under the words "Grand Canyon Speaks".


Grand Canyon Speaks

Grand Canyon

Welcome to Grand Canyon Speaks! We are airing live interviews that park rangers had with artists from the 11 associated tribes of Grand Canyon National Park. This series explores the lives and perspectives of people who call Grand Canyon home.


Season 1

Season 1 Trailer

Grand Canyon Speaks Trailer


Janet Yazzie: I had to believe in myself first to become an artist. Gerald Dawavendewa: Being an individual is one of the last things you are. Aaron White: You know, music is a very powerful tool. Chasady Simplicio: I really do hope one day my pieces will stay around for like longer than I am. Ranger Jonah: Hello, and welcome to Grand Canyon Speaks, an online podcast series that interviews members of the eleven associated tribes of Grand Canyon National Park. This is an experience we have in person in the park, and we are now bringing it to your ears and your home. Through this online series, we hope you enjoy the authentic representation of people who call Grand Canyon home. Noreen Simplicio: It's all going to get taken away. Well, that hasn't happened. I'm still creating. So, grandma, I'm sorry, but I think you were wrong at that. Aaron White: Bunch of crazy 18-year-olds. And then when the clubs would close out at four in the morning, people would pour into the streets. Gregory Hill: I want to combat all the negative things in the world by creating something that's going to bring joy to the world. Cassandra Tsalate: Yes. Over time, it will break, it will diminish. But when it does, that's when you know that life was its full potential. Chasady Simplicio: You're going to have to do some editing. LaShae Harris: (laughter) Start over.

Welcome to Grand Canyon Speaks! We are airing live interviews that park rangers had with artists from the 11 associated tribes of Grand Canyon National Park. This series explores the lives and perspectives of people who call Grand Canyon home.

Episode 1

Gerald Dawavendewa Speaks


Gerald Dawavendewa: As a Hopi, you're taught that being an individual is one of the last things you are. You're a member of your family. You're a member of your clan. You represent your clan. You represent your community; you represent the religious societies you belong to. You represent your village, and you represent the Hopi as a whole. And then you are an individual.

Ranger Melissa: Hello and welcome! My name is Ranger Melissa.

Ranger Jonah: And my name is Ranger Jonah.

Ranger Melissa: Hey, Jonah. Who did we interview in this episode?

Ranger Jonah: Yeah. We talked to Gerald Dawavendewa. He is a Hopi painter and a really nice guy. It was a ton of fun to talk to him.

Ranger Melissa: Yeah, I love talking with Gerald and hearing about how he uses his experiences as a Hopi astronomer in his artwork.

Ranger Melissa: Absolutely. He was just so knowledgeable, and it was really great listening to him dive into the meaning and the culture behind his work. Turns out a lot of his work is also at the Hopi house. So, if you're in the park, check out his work at the Hopi house. So, without further ado, Gerald.

Gerald Dawavendewa: Umhinsaki! My name is Gerald Dawavendewa. My Hopi name is Lomasohu. So, we actually have two names. As a side note, originally in Hopi culture, you only have one name, and then your family is part of a clan, and currently, there are probably a little over 30 different clans, and I'm a member of the Sun Clan, and then your name is usually associated with that clan. So, my Hopi name, Lomasohu, refers to a star in the constellation in the sky. Dawavendewa is translated as rainbow or halo around the sun. So, there's that association there. There are also other clans the bear, the corn, parrot, badger, and various other clans. And each one has their own history and story. The Hopis we live, what, about 60, 70 miles? Which direction? About that way. The Grand Canyon is a very large part of our history. This is the symbolic emergence of the Hopi people into this world. The Hopi believed that there are three previous worlds. The third world became corrupted, and we wanted to find a way from that world. And so, this is the symbolic entry point. There's a site in the Grand Canyon at the bottom of the Grand Canyon called the Sipapu, which is the emergence place.

Gerald Dawavendewa: And so, the Hopi came through that into this world that we called Túwaqachi. And then each group separated and went into the four directions in order to explore this world and see what was here and what it had to offer. So, each clan has their own stories that differ from others. So as a Hopi person, I don't speak for all the Hopis or have the authority to say that what I say is the defining history of Hopi. So, you'll often find other Hopis that will have other stories or other interpretations, and that stems from their own unique journeys that they took. So, like the sun clan, we traveled with other clans south. And in our migration stories, we traveled all the way down to the end of South America until we reached a large wall of ice, and then we turned back and then came back up this way and eventually came to where we are now, where we see as the Hopi center of the universe. So, all our stories are related to the areas now that we know of as Mexico and the Incas and all these other groups and places, whereas other groups had settled towards the Pacific and others towards what now is Canada and other towards as far as the Mississippi River.

Gerald Dawavendewa: Each clan, when they reached a large body of water, would turn left and then return back. So that's sort of the origin of how we're connected to this site. And we still have pilgrimages yearly from various Hopis who belong to different religious societies who come here to gather among the sacred sites and areas here within the Grand Canyon.

Ranger Jonah:So, Gerald, you are not only a Hopi tribal member, but you're also a painter that takes a lot of inspiration from the Hopi people and the Hopi culture. Now, I understand you grew up in the Hopi Reservation and I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about what it was like to grow up there and then also if you had some early inspirations, what inspired you to become a painter, to do what you do today.

Gerald Dawavendewa:I grew up in the Hopi village of Mùnqapi, which is associated with Third Mesa. There are three mesas at Hopi. First, Second and Third, which are sort of low, flat-topped mountains and the majority of the villages are built on top of these mesas. My village, Mùnqapi, is not physically on Third Mesa, but there is a village on Third Mesa called Oraibi, which today is considered the oldest continuously inhabited town in the Americas. And so, they found it Mùnqapi. So we owe our allegiance to Oraibi. And so that's where I grew up at. This was at a point where we didn't have electricity, plumbing or any of those modern conveniences TV and things like that. So, it was very much a very isolated area for us. It's a small village. At the time there were probably about less than 600 people who lived at Mùnqapi. It was sort of a transitional point where as I grew up, my grandmother's house was the first house to get electricity. So, I say it's my grandmother's house because Hopi is a matrilineal society, which means in Hopi, all the material wealth, the houses, all the items inside the house, vehicles, now the fields, they all belong to the women and the women take care of them.

Gerald Dawavendewa:So, for the men, we are in charge of the religious societies and making sure that the ceremonies are performed correctly throughout the year. And so, when a woman marries a man, in which she proposes not the man, she will have a special bread called piki, and she will make that and present it on a Hopi tray. And if he accepts that tray of piki bread, then he has accepted her proposal in marriage. The wedding ceremony takes some time to do it's usually tied in with the ceremony year, but at the end the husband will move to her village and build her a house. And so, she's in charge of that, and she takes care of that as well as make sure the fields are cared for as well. As Hopi men and family members, we ask permission from the head of the household to be allowed to grow the corn and crops in the field. And so, when we grow the corns and crop, we own the plants, or we are responsible for the plants when they are grown. So, who do you think owns it when it's harvested? The women own the plants when they're harvested and they can do whatever they want with it, but often they'll keep it and make sure that the family... So, in Hopi, not necessarily status, but the success of a home is the ability to feed the family.

Gerald Dawavendewa:And in fact, my grandmother was very proud of the fact that if anyone came by, even to ask for directions, she would insist that they sat down and ate first, and then after they finished eating, then she would ask, "why did you come here?" And so, she was very proud of the fact that no matter who came by, she was able to feed them. And that was something that she was very proud of. And so, I grew up in that area, and to me, as an artist, there's not a real profession out there in Hopi. Nobody says, oh, that's the artist of the village, or he's the best artist. I grew up with art. Everyone did art. My grandmother made baskets. My grandfather made crafts and arts that were related to the religious societies because they require certain items and objects for these ceremonies. I had other uncles and cousins who carved Katsina dolls and other family women who made pottery. And so, I grew up not knowing anybody who did not know how to do some sort of craft. So, it wasn't unusual, and it didn't seem out of place. And so, I was inspired by a lot of people there.

Gerald Dawavendewa: And in Hopi, people don't tell you, oh, you need to know how to carve, or you need to know how to draw. If you have an interest in it and they see that you have an interest, they may say, oh, here, try this carving. Here, I'll give you a piece of wood and why don't you whittle on it and see if you like that. If that's something you like or something else. So, there's never that insistence that, oh, you're going to be this and sort of try to fit you to that mold. And so, it was something I grew up with, and it was something that I enjoyed because it was a way for me to express myself in Hopi by capturing a lot of the day-to-day things. And apparently, I spent too much time on it.

Ranger Jonah: It happens to the best of us.

Gerald Dawavendewa: I actually ended up flunking first grade. I had to take it over twice, and my report card said: he's a very bright and promising student, but all he does is draw, and we feel that he could spend another additional year at this level. So, I ended up having to take first grade twice.

Gerald Dawavendewa: So, that sort of started my career. So, I've been sort of drawing all my life. And of course, my first inspirations were my grandmother and my grandfather. Watching them make things and later on being introduced to a lot of things from my aunts and uncles. And then, of course, as I traveled around the village because there are ceremonies that we do that are taken to other villages. So I get to meet other Hopis in other homes, and of course, you meet other artists. And I was fortunate in, I guess, the history of Hopi in that we were at a transitional point because my grandfather and his father in Hopi, the majority of the art was done for religious reasons. It was not made for sale. It was not made as fine art. It was made because it needed to be made for the ceremonies. Even my grandmother's baskets, those were baskets that had practical uses. There were sifter baskets. There were baskets used to carry items. There were baskets to give away as a custom. And so, everything made had a purpose and a reason that fit within Hopi culture. So, there was no such thing as I'm expressing myself or I really want to talk about my angst through this painting.

Gerald Dawavendewa: It was basically part of my father's generation and then, of course, my generation that you begin to have artists. You did have some who were famous in the past, like Nampeyo, who was a very famous potter, but her art was the pots she made. The majority were used for mixing bowls, for cooking bowls. And of course, the early tourists, especially from here, you had the Fred Harvey Company who would send out tourists to Hopi, and they discovered the pottery, and they wanted and Nampeyo became very famous. And one of the side notes for that was Nampeyo noticed that people paid more for her pots because she was touted as the famous Hopi potter. And so, she encouraged other Hopi women to bring their pots, and she would sign them because she wanted them to have... She wasn't trying to cheat people. But in Hopi, you want to be part of the community. You want to help the community rise together. And so, she signed their pottery so they could get just as much money that hers got. So, there are a lot of pots out there that she never made, but they have her name on it.

Gerald Dawavendewa: And she's actually one of the earlier Hopis that signed her work because back then, nobody signed their work. You made an item and it kind of just rotated into the culture. There are these wicker plaques that were given to the young girls during a ceremony called Powamuya. And the girls kind of used it almost like a currency exchange. As they got older, if somebody did a good deed for them or helped them out or something, they would give that basket to that person, to that Hopi person, and then down the line, that person might eventually give it to somebody else. And so, it wasn't unusual that one of my nieces would get a basket and, of course, she would give it out maybe a year later. And then five or six years later it shows up again because somebody did a nice thing and oh, I remember that basket. That used to be your basket when you were little. But that's what started it. You begin having these Hopis like Fred Kabotie who did the murals in the watchtower, you had people saying, oh, you need to sign your name. It needs to be identified. And so that didn't occur until the 50s or 60s and then that's when you begin seeing Hopis who were taught silversmithing after World War II as an occupation.

Gerald Dawavendewa: Some of them started signing, not all of them, but some of them begin signing their names. And so that began what we would, I guess, consider fine art or art for art's sake in a sense. But it still was grounded in traditional designs. Everything was very in that design. And that's what I grew up being inspired by. And then of course, later on for me, finally, there was a young group of men who, they're much older than me now, but called Artists Hopi. And they decided to really explore or push the boundaries of what Hopi art could do. So, they went through cubism and abstraction and all these other types of art forms that didn't exist in Hopi and even tried political artwork and other things. But it would all have to do with Hopi. And they inspired me because their work was so different from everything else. And so that kind of led me to feel that this was something that I could do. And so, after I graduated from high school, I eventually went to the University of Arizona in Tucson.

Ranger Jonah: So, it worked out after first grade. It's all easier from there! (Laughter)

Gerald Dawavendewa: I was basically like: I'll show you now! So, I got a degree in what was a major in graphic design and fine art. But I eventually started working in the museum field, using my graphic design. For me, the high point was I helped with graphics and did Hopi consultation for the Hopi section of an exhibit called The Paths of Life, which was a 10,000 square foot exhibit. And I invited my grandfather to come down to look at what I had done. And so, after he had seen everything, he turned to me and told me, in Hopi, "this is something worth doing." So, in Hopi culture, you don't hear a lot of praise, a lot of stuff you do, you're expected to do it. And so, to have my grandfather tell me that it was something worth doing was just the greatest compliment I could ever receive. I don't think I touched the ground for a week or so from that. And that sort of continued leading my visions. One of the challenges or one of the things that I've, I guess in a sense, placed upon myself is as a Hopi, you're taught that being an individual is one of the last things you are.

Gerald Dawavendewa: You're a member of your family, you're a member of your clan. You represent your clan, you represent your community, you represent the religious societies you belong to. You represent your village, and you represent the Hopi as a whole. And then you are an individual. And so that's the last thing. You're always taught to think about what you are doing. How does that reflect on everything else? And so, I continue to do that now in my artwork. When I do my artwork, I always am reminded about how other Hopis or how my community is going to feel about this. How are other people going to feel about the reflection of what I am showing of Hopi to them. For the most part, I do not do individual personal artwork. I'm not going to talk about maybe something that happened in my personal life or that may be considered positive or negative and express it through the art medium. But what I do is to try to instill a sense of pride towards my art. That was something that my grandfather had taught me. He constantly reminded me that our culture has a lot of great accomplishments and a lot of great knowledge and wisdom that we've gathered over literally thousands of years. That we are not simply Indians or what other people may think of us because we did not invent the aircraft or the computer.

Gerald Dawavendewa: But we have other accomplishments. And those accomplishments were made in this type of environment, in the desert. Our priority was not to leap ahead in technology, but our aim was to integrate ourselves within our environment and survive within a very harsh desert area that has very little rainfall. So, to do that, we've genetically manipulated corn and other plants to grow in a very dry desert. We've developed our own agricultural system called dry farming. And we've done other things like kept track of the movement of the suns and the planets and the moon. This is very important to us because we have very short growing seasons. We need to understand very specifically how the year goes, when it rains and when it snows and other aspects, because literally our life is dependent on it. We need to know when to grow our corn, when to grow the second crop, when to harvest and other items. We have a high level of looking out through astronomy. We see it more in a practical sense rather than a mythical or a spiritual sense. We do imply that to it, but we understand the solstices and the equinoxes and the lunar levels and things like that because that's important to us as well.

Gerald Dawavendewa: And so, he instilled in me that pride that we do have our own accomplishments and that's why we've survived for so long and we continue to survive and still try to maintain those ideas. We're considered one of the most traditional indigenous groups in the Americas. And we've been able to maintain that because we're very careful about what we want to bring into our culture. And so, I try to reflect that through my art and try to remind other people that this is a very dynamic and very successful culture that I hope that continues to continue on and survive.

Ranger Jonah: Yeah. And for those that don't know, as we talk about his art, Gerald is a part of our cultural demonstration program. So, if you come into the Watchtower tomorrow between nine and four, you can actually see a lot of his art up close and personal. And I know you brought some here today, so we're going to talk about that in a little bit. But first I just kind of wanted to dig in more into the process of actually making art. How does that process go for you? Do you see the whole thing before you start? Do you say, I want to start with these colors and then we'll see where it goes from there? Or is there some other way that that transpires?

Gerald Dawavendewa: You see a lot of this imagery, like with Katsina dances. We have these dances where we have these spiritual beings called Katsinam that appear at the villages, and they perform ceremonies and rituals. They're very colorful. They have these elaborate dances and songs and those inspire me as well. And I've been given the opportunity to speak some to the elders and they talk about different aspects. And just having heard them, it creates that imagery in my mind that I want to capture in an art form. Or there's Katsinas that you want to carve and depict them in the wooden form. If you've seen these around in the shops or like the Hopi shop or down there. They're these wooden carved images of these spiritual beings and they represent different elements of Hopi culture. They represent animal life that we depend on, elements of the cosmos and even historical events. There's a historical event where one of the villages was attacked, and one of the young women was having her hair done. And it's an elaborate hairdo. I'm sure you've seen Star Wars, Princess Leia. They were inspired by the Hopi hairdo. It's this large swirl hairdo actually represents a squash blossom, which represents the ability to give life.

Gerald Dawavendewa: And so, this young woman was having her hair done that way, and she had one up, and her mother was still combing out her hair on the other side when the village was attacked. And rather than run with all the other women and elderly and children, she grabbed her brother's bow and arrow and rushed out and defended the village successfully. And so, when she passed from this world, she became a Katsina spirit. And now that Katsina shows up to remind us about the strength that she had and the role of women in Hopi culture. There's that aspect. So, when you carve a piece of wood like that, for me, it's almost like a discovery, because you always hear that from a lot of artists, like a lot of carvers or a lot of people who do stone. They say, I'm just chipping away what's not supposed to be there. That figure is already in the stone. And I kind of feel the same way because the other thing is about the wood. It's not perfect. Sometimes it has cracks in it, sometimes it has knots in it and stuff. There are times when you carve it, you have to remove things because you know they're going to break off or you know it's going to split more that way. And in a way, it almost dictates what's going to come out. Sometimes the wood is, I guess, in a sense, perfect. And you can say, oh, I'm going to make a mudhead, or I'm going to make a snow Katsina. And other times it's just like, oh, I got to get rid of this, and I get rid of that. And then suddenly it's like, oh, it's going to be a bear Katsina. And I wasn't planning that, but it came out that way. And so there's that kind of excitement, too, that sometimes you plan. I'm going to draw or create this specific thing, and other times it's like even I don't know what it's going to become. I have to sort of share it with the elements, the object or the material I'm using. Because even the canvas or the paper or the stone or the rock or whatever I'm using, it has its own imperfections or perfections. And they do guide the creation of the artwork sometimes, even if you're not planning to go in that direction. And so that's sort of that type of thing. One of the things that I guess I'm known for, or what people seem to comment about, is that my work is very bright, and I think they're not used to seeing work with that much color.

Gerald Dawavendewa: But for me, when you see the Katsinas, what they wear with the bright parrot feathers, the pure white cotton kilts, and the red and green embroidery. It's a very colorful imagery, and I try to capture that in my artwork. But it's an ongoing process, and I enjoy it because sometimes you don't always know what you're going to get, even though you kind of try to plan for it.

Ranger Jonah: Yeah. And we also have a Hopi Katsina carver this week. So, if you come to the Watchtower tomorrow, you will also be able to see what he's talking about with these wood sort of figurines.

Gerald Dawavendewa: Yeah. And what's unusual that, if you notice, is that even though Hopi we all carve Katsinas, we all paint Hopi, or they do different baskets and stuff, they each have their own very unique style and how they go about doing that, because there are literally hundreds of Hopi carvers. But you can tell, especially some of the ones that are more prolific, exactly. Oh, that's so and so, or, oh, I know who made this just by looking at it, because they have such a distinct style, and yet they're all coming from the same point. They could all make the same bear Katsina, and they would all be different. But it's still the bear Katsina.

Ranger Jonah: Yeah. So perhaps we could bring out one of your pieces of work and talk about it a little bit. I know it's a little windy, so I could help hold it.

Gerald Dawavendewa: This is, I guess, an enlarged version of the original. I did a series of drawings, probably more than 20 of these images, and they're all drawn with ink and copper paint. They're all done on handmade Nepal paper. And this is a series there's actually a book that I eventually published, and it depicts, like, as I was saying earlier, some of the understanding the Hopis have about astronomy and how we interpret the sky. This particular design is the lunar eclipse. So, at the top, I have the sun with the face, and in the middle I have the Earth with all the life elements in it. And then below that, in the copper paint, is the Moon. So as the sun is above, I have the Earth moving in front of the sun, casting its shadow against the Moon, creating what people call like a blood or a red moon. So, we're familiar with that celestial event. And in Hopi, especially during the prehistoric times, we have Hopis who are specifically are called Sun Watchers. One of their roles is to track not only the sun's movement, but the Moon's movement as well, and maintain where the sun rises, and the moon rises and lowers. And those are used to determine various ceremonies and rituals throughout the Hopi year. And so, we're able to interpret it completely, also entirely in Hopi symbolism. Hopi has a huge collection of symbols that it uses. And in fact, I could draw a cloud, snow cloud, rain cloud, sprinkling, thundercloud, billowing cloud, a cloud about to rain. I could do a range of different weather elements because they're so important in Hopi that we've developed a lot of icons to determine what each part represents, or each element represents. It's a rich history of design.

Ranger Melissa: Yeah. So, to finish up our discussion about this piece of work, does anybody have any questions? All right, we'll move to the next one.

Gerald Dawavendewa: Well, what we do is various Sun Watchers who are located at different villages, they have one particular place that they will always stand at, and they'll either use a large geological feature, like a butte or even San Francisco Peaks as a marker, or they'll have rocks close by, and they'll track using those as points of reference. So, if you watch the sunset, like out here, and if a Hopi came here and was able to come here every day, he might use this row of rocks here, and he'll put marks into it or designs representing different aspects of the sun rising or the Moon rising. And once you do that, over literally several years and sometimes several decades, you start noticing a pattern within that. And that way you start being able to predict when things equinoxes, solstices, eclipses, and other phenomena start occurring, and you're able to plan for them, and even when certain stars appear in the sky. So, like, the women have a social dance that's translated as loosely the basket dance, and that occurs when the three stars of Orion appear. But in Hopi, we see those as three maidens from the basket dance ceremony. When they appear closest down towards the Earth, that's when that ceremony begins. And so even the position of the stars in the sky either determine a ceremony or it'll tell you when something is going to occur. So, we keep track of that as well. This one, if you're familiar, at Flagstaff, the San Francisco Peaks in Hopi, we believe that that's the home of some of the Katsina spirits. They live there. And so, this painting depicts the Katsina spirits upon the San Francisco Peaks. And in Hopi, these spiritual beings not only perform ceremonies and rituals, but they remind the Hopi how to live a proper life. There are over 400 different personalities, and each one has their own history, their own type of personalities, how they dress, what songs they sing, and what rituals they do. And we have an entire religious society that's responsible for that. And that's one of the reasons why Hopi has been able to maintain its traditions. It's not like some other tribes where you maybe have one religious person who is in charge of maybe perhaps the knowledge of medicinal, what medicines or what plants help you heal. And they may have one or two apprentices, but if he dies or those apprentices choose not to follow that, then that line ends. In Hopi culture, it's like going to college. We all specialize in different parts of the Hopi culture. There is a group that takes care of the Katsinas, which my grandfather did. And so, his entire lifetime role was to understand all these Katsinas. So, he never understood all 400, but he was pretty up there compared to me. That's their whole role. There are other societies that specialize in other aspects of Hopi culture, and that's just that part they understand. And that's how we're able to maintain our tradition so strongly, because it's not kept by just one person, it's kept by a whole group. And they're all taught all that information together. So even if one or two of them passes from an accident or something not expected, it doesn't die with them. There's a whole society that maintains that knowledge. And so, I have here a lot of different Katsinas that are coming here. I have a morning Katsina, a Katsina Mana, a Long Hair, and each one has their own personality. The Long Hair is known for this wonderful melodic song that it sings, and it brings showers, light showers when it sings. Whereas this tall one, the Shalako, which actually rises about 15ft tall. In real life, he rarely appears because he's known for causing floods. There's also a female that comes with him, so they're not often asked to come unless there's a real drought because they're known for unpredictable weather. And then there are other ones. In the middle with the big feathers, that is Crow mother or Angwusnasomtaka. And she comes during a ceremony dressed in her bridal outfit, because the story is that she had just gotten married. This was a time when the Hopis were having a hard time, their crops were not successful. As she was crossing Hopi, she heard the Hopi's prayers for help. And so, she immediately headed to the village, and she appeared as the sun rose, still wearing her bridal gown, followed by all these other Katsina spirits, bringing fresh green bean sprouts and other foods to give to the Hopis so they could survive. They also brought gifts to the children. And that ceremony still occurs every year. And then we have others. A warrior Katsina, and then we have Eototo and Aholi, they're sort of called the lieutenant and his assistant. They're involved in the Soyal ceremony. Also, when the equinox occurs, they come and perform a ceremony there to help the sun begin its longer or shorter days. So, they all have their own purposes. There's even a Katsina that shows up to remind us to clean out the springs that we depend on. So, there's even some practical aspects to it, and it's all integrated into Hopi culture. And so, I depicted that, the last one at the top, this is a Katsina that represents the power and maintains the balance of the universe. So, I have him reaching out and throwing the stars into the sky. He's a very powerful individual. When he comes to the villages, all the other Katsinas stay away from him because of his energy. So, he's one kiva or one building behind all the other Katsinas. They will not go near him. He's very deliberate. For me, everything he does is perfect. Every step he takes is very deliberate and slow and he speaks very quietly. He has a very quiet song. But I'm always amazed at his actions when he's there because everything he does, he uses the minimalist of energy and everything is deliberate. I've never seen any other Katsina like that. I've always been impressed by that.

Ranger Jonah: Does anybody have any questions that they want to ask about this particular piece?

Audience Member: I am an audience member and I have a question. The knowledge that you're referring to, is that written down or mainly just spread via word of mouth or how does that work?

Gerald Dawavendewa: It's mostly word of mouth. I mean, the society I belong to. . . there's one called like the One Horn and Two Horn Society. Their knowledge is sacred to them. So even though we're fellow Hopis, since I'm not a member of that society, he's not going to tell me what they do and I'm not going to tell him what I do. I mean, there is some information that we will give each other and there is some information we will give to the general public as a whole, but we're not going to tell anyone the most sacred or the greater knowledge in Hopi. We believe that those have to be earned. You have to go through the stages. You have to be initiated. You have to be a part of this. You have to gain this knowledge or wisdom or other aspects as you go through life. And therefore, as you get to a certain point, then you are eligible to acquire that knowledge. A lot of stuff. So, basically, a lot of the information I talk about, mostly it's what a young child would be told because they're not initiated then. And then when you get initiated, then you're given the opportunity to learn even more knowledge as you get older. We don't write that down. There is stuff that we do allow out, but to us it's very rudimentary. It's not the core of our beliefs or our religion.

Ranger Jonah: So, being a professional artist, you have to travel, or you do travel with your art around to art shows. So, I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about what an art show is like and maybe being here at Grand Canyon doing the cultural demonstration program. How that's different? How that's similar? What you maybe like or dislike about being out here at Grand Canyon and what it's like to be an artist at these art shows.

Gerald Dawavendewa: It's kind of a challenge in a way, because when I went down to the University of Arizona, I, of course, did my art and wanted to make a living off it. And as you've seen, some of my art, like the first one, it's very abstract. It's a lot of Hopi symbolism. And so, there are not a lot of galleries or a lot of shops that specialize just in Indigenous art. So, I would take it to other galleries that just showed all sorts of art, and they say, well, this is Indian. You need to take this to an Indian shop. And so, I take it to the Indian shop and they're like, this is too abstract for us. You should take it to the galleries. Because a lot of collectors or customers or people, they've kind of have this specific expectation that when you say Indian art, what comes to mind? And a lot of it tends to be art that is sort of from the 1960s or 50s on back. They have an idea that Indian art has to incorporate maybe feathers or dull colors or leather work and these certain types of things. And to them, that's Indian art. And so, if you come up with a hand-blown glass vase, which we have a Hopi artist, he was the first one to do that. He had a hard time because that's not Hopi art because Hopis don't blow glass. And so there's that challenge that a lot of galleries or a lot of collectors will tend to pigeonhole Indigenous art. And of course, there are other collectors who they know what the art is and they go after it. They find specific artists who make styles that they like. But it's a real challenge because a lot of Native art people tend to want a certain style or a certain imagery. And if you try to go outside that, then you get very few people who are interested in buying it. And so that's always a challenge. So, early on, I've just recently really stopped doing it. But there are art shows or art fairs specifically just for Indigenous artists. The Heard Museum in Phoenix has one. There's a very famous one in Santa Fe in August where it's just all Native art. And so when you go there, all the artists there are Native.

Gerald Dawavendewa: They're all Indigenous, and they come from all different tribes or nations around the country. And so that's what I used to do. And it's a challenge when you want to do it as your full-time employment, because you have to pay a fee sometimes half a year in advance. So, it's like you're throwing all this money in the air, but you're not going to see a return for six months. And then, of course, you have to build up your inventory in art. You got to book your hotel. You got to make sure your car is in good shape. You load in all your items and everything, and you drive there and make sure you get fed. And then you sit at your booth, and when you sit there, you have this imaginary money level saying, okay, it cost me $600 to enter the show. The hotel cost me this much, I spent this much for gas, I ate this much food. I have to make this much money just to break even. And then once I reach that, then it's profit. And then when the show is over, you go home and you start the whole thing over again, and you have to sign up and pay these fees, like I said, months in advance.

Gerald Dawavendewa: And then you go home, you rebuild your inventory, you start drawing more or carving or whatever you do, and then you go to the next show. And sometimes then you go to the Hopi show in Flagstaff. And then one year, I went to the Cherokee show in Tulsa. I have friends and family who'll go to shows on the East Coast. They'll go to shows up in Alaska, they'll go to shows in California and Washington state, and they'll be driving all over the place, and a lot of them drive because you can't haul a lot of that stuff on an airplane. So, it's a life. I had a cousin, he did stone carving, which was very heavy. He later switched to jewelry, which was a lot easier to carry. But one of the funny things for me when he was doing stone carving is he priced all his artwork based on how tall it was. So, if he had a carving that was eleven inches tall, it was $1,100, and if it was eight inches tall, it was $800. But he eventually switched to jewelry. But it's a full-time thing.

Gerald Dawavendewa: And if you're not at the show, you're at home working all the time, trying to get that inventory up. And if you're lucky, you get collectors who love your work and only your work, and so they constantly buy just yours. And there have been Hopi potters who show up at the art shows, and you open up at 09:00a.m., and they're done by 9:30. They've sold everything they've had because their work is so popular. I have a cousin who does very elaborate Katsina dolls, and he carves them in one piece. He doesn't add anything to it. Everything on there, the feathers hanging out and the jewelry hanging from the neck or the rattles. Everything is carved from one single piece of wood, and he attaches nothing to it. And his work goes for 10, $15,000. And he has collectors who are willing to pay that price because of the quality of the work he does. And now he's able to just stay home and carve, because now he has collectors who just order from him and say, I want this. And so, he doesn't have to go to the shows anymore. He just stays home and carves.

Gerald Dawavendewa: So, he's one of those who is a successful one, but for a lot of us it's a constant grind and it gets tiring after a while. Eventually for me, I was fortunate enough that I was able to find a way where I reproduced a lot of my art as prints and other items and then I wholesale them to various museums and gift shops. Like the Hopi shop here carries some of my items and so I'm able to do that and stay home and not have to travel all over the place. It's a challenge. It's a rarely unique style of selling art that I don't think you see that a lot with a lot of other different artists who are not indigenous. With such a constant you're going here, here, here, coming back, it's a route, it's almost like circus kind of thing. So yes, it was a challenge.

Ranger Jonah: We have unfortunately reached that time about 15 minutes before the sun sets. So, I want to ask one last question, Gerald. If you were to give everybody who came here tonight one sort of central takeaway or one thing that you wanted them to remember about tonight, what would that be?

Gerald Dawavendewa: That's a good question. Well, as an artist, I guess I just want you to really look at individual native artists and really take the time to appreciate that or look at the art. We've been doing this for a long time. And my fellow artists who does the carvings. Don't be afraid to ask questions about the art and what he makes or its inspiration or even just appreciating and understanding it. Because a lot of this art is deeply rooted into our culture, and it represents a lot of things that are important to us and mean a great deal of what represents us as a cultural group and as a people. And we're very proud to create that and to show it to other people. And we hope that you enjoy it as well. So, thank you very much for taking your time to stop here and listen to me.

Ranger Jonah: Grand Canyon Speaks is a program hosted by Grand Canyon National Park and the Grand Canyon Conservancy. A special thanks to Aaron White for the theme music. This recording reflects the personal lived experiences of tribal members and do not encompass the views of their tribal nation or that of the national park. To learn more about Grand Canyon First Voices, visit Here at Grand Canyon National Park, we are on the ancestral homelands of the eleven associated tribes of the Grand Canyon, these being the Havasupai tribe, the Hualapai Tribe, the Navajo Nation, the Hopi Tribe, the Pueblo of Zuni, the Yavapai-Apache Nation, the Kaibab Band of Paiute Indians, the Las Vegas Paiute Tribe, the Moapa Band of Paiutes, the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah, and the San Juan Southern Paiute Tribe.

In this episode, we talk to the Hopi painter Gerald Dewavendewa. Gerald is a lifelong artist. In this episode, we discuss his beginnings of art on the Hopi reservation, some Hopi traditions and customs, and the cultural influence behind his work.

Episode 2

Noreen Simplicio Speaks


Noreen Simplicio: It's all going to get taken away. Well, that hasn't happened. I'm still creating. So, Grandma, I'm sorry, but I think you were wrong at that.

Ranger Jonah: Hello, and welcome to Grand Canyon Speaks. My name is Ranger Jonah.

Ranger Melissa: And I'm Ranger Melissa.

Ranger Jonah: So, Melissa, could you tell us a little bit about this episode?

Ranger Melissa: Yeah. Our coworker Kelly interviewed Noreen Simplicio, who's a Zuni potter, on a very, very windy evening. What's great about Noreen's time with us here at the Canyon was seeing her love of sharing her pottery process with others, and especially the youth.

Ranger Jonah: Yeah. You know what, I would have never realized the role of manure in pottery without this interview.

Ranger Melissa: Yeah. Hopefully everyone will also learn that and enjoy this recording. So, without further ado, Noreen.

Noreen Simplicio: First of all, before I introduce myself, I wanted to thank the National Park Service, Kelli and Dan, for continuing the demonstration program, because the last time I was here was back in April of 2016. So that was the last time I was here. But so happy to be back here. And I'll talk more about that, but yes. My name is Noreen Simplicio. I'm from Zuni Pueblo. I've been a potter for about 40 years. And this place is very special to us, our tribe, and along with the other eleven affiliated tribes. Zuni history tells us that there's a place here, north from here, called Ribbon Falls. The way you say it in Zuni is Chimik'yana'kya Deya' is a place of emergence. Yeah. Very beautiful place. And that's why this place is very special to us, because this is the place where our ancestors emerged from the fourth underworld. So, I myself never really knew where we came from or why we settled in Zuni. But once we came out from this area, our people, well, there was a purpose for us coming out from the fourth underworld. Our purpose was Father Sun wanted somebody to be doing the offerings, a prayer stick, food, and just prayers, the offerings to give the people blessings.

Noreen Simplicio: So that's why we came out from the Earth. And once our people came out from the Earth, they went looking for the Zuni, which is now called the Middle Place. So, they made their journey towards the Zuni area. And of course, that story is pretty true, because along the area, coming here or going that way to Zuni, there's places of settlement that our people settled in. So the way they found the Middle Place was they used a water strider. The water strider spread out its legs, and it touched all the oceans in the world. And once it stood there like this, the middle of his heart is where the Middle place is. Now in Zuni. So, when I was growing up, I would ask Grandma, like, why are we here? Why did we settle here? And that's the story behind it. And I didn't know this until sometime between maybe 2017, when I was asked to work at a substance abuse program. I worked at a recovery program to teach the recoveries. I guess through my clay and through the work that I do it was therapy for the recovering people. So, once we worked with them about teaching about the Zuni culture, language, prayers, whatever, anything and everything about Zuni. We taught for, like, six weeks. Then we did a journey to Ribbon Falls, actually hiking down Bright Angel Trail and North Kaibab Trail. Like actually walking to this Ribbon Falls place. So, I had an opportunity to do it twice, and I'm glad I did. And I survived. Yes.

Ranger Kelli: Do you want to tell everybody where Zuni is and how far it is from here?

Noreen Simplicio: Okay, if any of you know where Gallup, New Mexico is, anybody know where Gallup, New Mexico is? Okay. We're like, what southwest? Like 40 miles southwest of there. So, we live on a reservation. I don't quite know how big our reservation is. Maybe 10,000, maybe more. But that's where I'm from, and that's where actually I learned my craft. I wish I could say a grandma taught me or a grandpa taught my work, what I do now. But I've been a potter for 40 years, and I learned at the high school, but I didn't learn from a Zuni person. I learned from another pueblo, an Acoma person, that was my instructor. So, I took the classes in high school, and from there I just kind of developed and perfected my techniques as I went through my years. But I consider myself a traditional contemporary potter. I use traditional techniques. Contemporary techniques. It wasn't until this past July there was another Hopi person, Bobby Silas, that was teaching a traditional class at our college in Zuni. So, I said, well, I need to take this class, because what he was going to teach was the old techniques.

Noreen Simplicio: So, I took the class, and when I first showed up in the classroom, everybody was like, what are you doing here? You're already a master. And then I said, well, I need to learn. It's always good to learn other people's way of teaching and learning different techniques. So, one of the requirements...I mastered everything. I mastered the building; I mastered the designing. The hardest thing for me was using yucca, the plant. Because that's what our ancestors used a long time ago. They use yucca brushes to paint their pots. That's why I brought this pot with me, because this is my first pot that has been done the old, old, styled way. So, I struggled a lot using the yucca, but I managed to master it.

Ranger Kelli: How long did it take you to do that?

Noreen Simplicio: It took a while because it took me a long time to actually get the feel, the feel of the yucca, because for like 35, 40 years, I've always been using paintbrushes, never yucca, because I could never do it when I was younger. So, it was my destiny. It was my like; I need to perfect this. So, I did. That's why I brought this pot with me.

Ranger Kelli: That's beautiful. And I know there are so many people who are coming today to your table, and they wanted to know what different of your pieces represent, especially the frogs. Oh, my gosh. The kids love your work. And were drawn to your frog pottery.

Noreen Simplicio: Yeah. And I brought one with me. After the session is over, you can come take a look. But everything, all the pigments that I use, I go up in the mountains and dig my own clays. Well, I actually don't do the digging. I have my boyfriend, and I bring a lot of men with me because the place where I dig the clays is pretty rugged. You have to go down in the bottom of the mountain there and dig it and then hike it back up. So, it's a workout. So, they help me collect my clays, but they're natural pigments. One of the things that was taught to me by my instructor was always respect the Earth, because the clay is very valuable. And before I actually start digging, there's always prayer involved. There's always offerings of cornmeal and food before you actually start digging. And you're digging when the clay comes out, plentiful because you literally have to dig to get to the clay. So, it's coming out plentiful and then after a while, it kind of stops coming out. That kind of tells you that's all you can have for now.

Noreen Simplicio: When I teach, like youth or children, whatever, I try to instill this in them, that the clay is very valuable, and if you treat it right and if you create from your heart; [Zuni phrase] I would say in Zuni. If you create from your heart, you'll develop or create beautiful things. So that's one of the important things that I like to talk about, especially to the young people, that when I teach, we have to respect the Earth, the clays and each other. This is what I share with the youth because I think it's important.

Ranger Kelli: When you get the clay, do you pick it out during different seasons, or do you just do it whenever?

Noreen Simplicio: Well, I can say: don't go digging clay when the snakes are out.

Noreen Simplicio: So usually in the summertime, we don't really do it. I wanted to go up there before it got really hot and before the snakes came out. So, I would probably have to go make a trip maybe sometime late August, September, when the snakes go back in because it's very rocky and they live in those rock areas. I am kind of scared of snakes.

Ranger Kelli: I second that. And I'm a park ranger out here. Definitely, because I know it was really great to hear about some of the- do you want to tell us about the frogs? Noreen Simplicio: Yeah, the frogs. The frogs. Like, I was telling Kelli the other day that I don't really know where some of my ideas come from. It just happens. Like, when I'm creating something, I don't have a plan. I don't have anything sketched out. It just happens. And I think that's the gifts that I have. I remember when I was a young girl, about maybe five or six, I remember always playing with mud. I used to make, like, little mud pots all the time. So, when I went to high school and I found out there was a class, pottery class, of course I took it, and I stayed in it all throughout my high school years, and I perfected it, and I was just a natural at it. And then after I graduated, I met up with another Acoma woman that was a potter, and she taught me marketing, and she said, you need to do this. So, I did, and I've been making pots ever since. And the frog pots, like I said, I don't know where I got my idea for the frog pots, but I do them in many different ways. If you're Zuni, you belong to some sort of clan. I'm not a frog, but I love doing frogs, so I'm a badger and an eagle, so I should be doing badgers and eagles, but I don't know how to make those, so I don't do them.

Noreen Simplicio: But frog's representation is what I would say in Zuni, [Zuni phrase]. This means a prayer for rain or water. Whenever there's water, there's life. So, I think that's why I do frogs a lot. And one of the other things that I want to really say is that within the 40 years, I mean, I've been everywhere. Well, not everywhere, but I've been at most museums and places where they have markets. I sell out my frogs. People come to my table. I always get a smile. I always make people happy with my frogs. So, I said, if I had collected $1 within the 40 years, I would be living high and mighty.

Ranger Kelli: Yeah, and that's exactly what I've been seeing the past few days that you've been here. And of course, when I went up to your table, I was like… the frogs are so beautiful. The kids were drawn to it. But you've been doing this for 40 years. I think that's a long time. Do you get tired of doing it?

Noreen Simplicio: No, because my whole life as a potter, there's never a day that I don't create. If I don't create, I don't feel good.

Ranger Kelli: Do you have other hobbies besides pottery?

Noreen Simplicio: Well, I should, but I work too much. But I like hiking. I like exercising, taking care of me. I know those are, like, crazy hobbies, but that's what I love, teaching. I love teaching my art. I love sharing my art. As a matter of fact, there's a program in Zuni. It's a youth program they've been up and running for a while now, and it's called the Zuni Youth Enrichment Program. So, I do summer camps and I teach children. I've taught in the high school. I even came here in, I think, a later part of April, to teach. Debbie, my friend, she teaches at the Grand Canyon High School, and I was invited by Debbie and the staff there to come out to the Grand Canyon High School to teach for a week. It was a blast. I mean I hadn't taught for a while, but we had such a great time. We had a showing on Friday night with what the kids created. So, it was a beautiful event, and I was really honored to be here to teach only because, like I said, the Grand Canyon is a very special place for Zuni people. And my boyfriend just said, this is our second home.

Ranger Kelli: Being here at Grand Canyon, I know you teach the Grand Canyon Kid's school, which is really important for indigenous youth to reconnect to the culture here, but also be proud of who they are. How long have you been working with the kids? Like kids in Zuni?

Noreen Simplicio: Well, actually, when my son was fourth grade in the elementary school, that's where I first got my first pottery teaching job, because the teacher asked me to. It was kind of like a parent talent day or something. So, I went in and took my clay and had the kids play with it and make things out of it. So that was actually my first but don't ask me how long ago that was because I don't remember. But anyway, so ever since then, when I wanted to go into the school, my grandma would always say, why are you teaching other kids? Why are you sharing your talent? I know that sounds so negative, but whatever talent you have, our elders always say that if you share your talent and you teach somebody, it's all going to get taken away. Well, that hasn't happened. I'm still creating. So, grandma, I'm sorry, but I think you were wrong at that.

Ranger Kelli: And what is your favorite part of making the pottery?

Noreen Simplicio: I think my frogs.

Ranger Kelli: The frogs?

Noreen Simplicio: Yeah. Because I do a pot that looks similar to this one. The frogs are peeking over, and then I also have another roll of frogs, kind of like pulling them out of the pot. And that kind of goes with the emergence story, because in the emergence story, our people lived in the fourth underworld, and they had to go through different layers to get to the top of the earth. And the way the history goes, they used different types of trees to get to the top. So, it's kind of like the Jack and the Beanstalk story. So, I think our tribe is the one that created that story. That's what I want to believe anyway.

Ranger Kelli: Yeah. And then have any of the kids that you taught, are you mentors to them today?

Noreen Simplicio: Well, I've not really made connections with them after teaching, but I always have an open door. Like, I give them my number, and I said, if you ever need anything, you need material, you need resources, you need how to do this and that, I'm always there. Ranger Kelli: Yeah. Today I did see some kids who just went up to her table, and she just gave them clay and taught them how to start making clay. And I think she's really great with our youth in this area. She's a great teacher.

Noreen Simplicio: Yeah. I love to teach anybody that wants to learn. So, I do sometimes open my studio at home and offer some workshops. Maybe if you ever want to come to Zuni and stay in Zuni and learn from me for a couple of days, you're more than welcome to do that. Ranger Kelli: And that's a lot of the questions I get from visitors. They want to visit a lot of the tribes out in Zuni, but I'm not Zuni, so is there a place where they can go to learn more about the Zuni tribe or people in that area? Noreen Simplicio: Well, we do have a visitor center, and then they have, like, tour guides, paid tour guides in Zuni, and then we have a bed and breakfast place there. Or you can come to me, and I'll take you to our mountain.

Ranger Kelli: When you were growing up, you told me that a lot of the connection here at Grand Canyon, it didn't really connect till later on.

Noreen Simplicio: Yes.

Ranger Kelli: And is some of the work from Grand Canyon in your pottery? I know you said the frog is one of them.

Noreen Simplicio: Well, not really, but just only the frog pot that I was talking about. But I think I can create things that are connected to this place.

Ranger Kelli: And these are deer, right?

Noreen Simplicio: Yeah.

Ranger Kelli: Earlier you told me about the opening of the mouth. Can you tell me about that again?

Noreen Simplicio: Yes. I always try to somewhere on the pot. The arrow that's leading to his heart is called the breath of life. So, every time I paint my deer, somewhere on the pot I leave the mouth open so that there's breath coming in and breath going out and having life. The symbol right here, where the line that goes around the pot that doesn't connect, that's a lifeline. Your lifeline, my lifeline, everybody's lifeline, or even the lifeline of the pot. So, when you create something with clay, you bring it to life.

Ranger Kelli: Wow. It's beautiful. Yeah. And I can just leave the floor open for any questions that you all might have. Does anybody have any questions?

Audience Member: The only time I've ever seen pottery made is with clay on a wheel. Right. Do you use a wheel to form your pottery?

Noreen Simplicio: No, this is what I use. I use my hands.

Audience Member: So, you're able to work the clay to the right thickness and the right density and also make it like, symmetrical, perfectly round or whatever?

Noreen Simplicio: 40 years it took me to make it. Well, when it comes to my work, I like to be perfect, but sometimes the clay has a mind of its own. If you have a plan in mind that you want a certain shape or a certain style, sometimes it won't happen. So, you just got to go with the flow and accept it. And especially if you worked on a piece and it breaks in the firing, it hits you right in the heart. But you know what? You don't stop there. You keep trying. And one of the other things that I wanted to say was that I have a story about my nephew. I saw he had a lot of talent, right? So, I kept influencing him. I said, hey, you really know how to do this really well. You should really advance yourself and start maybe doing some things in relief and things like that.

Noreen Simplicio: But he was young. And he was the type where I think I was forcing him to do it because I saw the talent. So, every time he came over to work on it, he was working on this large piece one time, he would come over and work on it, but his attitude was not good. He was either angry or something was going on with him. So, I would say, go home, get out of here, go home, come back tomorrow or something. And then he kept doing that. He'd done a large owl that he was working on, like for months. But I knew because of his attitude and the way his behavior was while he was creating that the owl wasn't going to make it through. So, when he finally finished it, I fired it. And guess what? I was so afraid because all my pieces are currently now being fired in a kiln. But with taking this class from Bobby, I learned how to do outdoor firing. So, this class when I took it, it just rejuvenated me. I can't wait to start doing everything, like the old way.

Ranger Kelli: And how does the outdoor firing look?

Noreen Simplicio: You practically build your own kiln using manure, but a very stinky process. Very stinky process.

Ranger Kelli: What type of manure?

Noreen Simplicio: You can use cow manure, sheep manure. You could use wood, but it's pretty awesome when you build your own pit, so I can't wait to try it. But I also need to do it somewhere other than my home because there's lots of neighbors around. I'm going to get the police called on me.

Audience Member: Did the owl break? Noreen Simplicio: Yes, the owl broke. One of the eyes popped off, one of the ears popped off.

Audience Member: Was he okay?

Noreen Simplicio: No, he cried. We all cried because the whole family was, like, so into it. We couldn't wait to see it, but that's what happened. But I knew. I knew it was going to happen because of his attitude. So, it's very important that your attitude is really good. Not sad, but always happy because whatever you're feeling when you're creating the energy is going into the piece. So, when the owl broke, of course, we sent it to the pottery hospital on top of a shelf, which stayed there for like two, three years. And then I kept telling him, I said, you need to do it from your heart. And he kept saying, what do you mean? So, the owl taught him a lesson and he finally got it, but he didn't create for like two, three years. And then I said, come back when you're ready, then we'll go through surgery. So, we fixed it and then somebody from Zuni bought it for their collection. But it made it, it was like good as new.

Audience Member: As a layperson, can you help me understand the difference between a yucca brush and a regular brush?

Noreen Simplicio: Okay, so all this time, since I've been a potter for like 35, 40 plus years, I've always used brushes because I could never use yucca. Brushes have a wooden handle and bristles. Yucca brushes are just little fibers and the stem of the yucca. So, it's a little bit harder to control and a little bit harder to maneuver the bristles. So, like, you're talking arthritis there.

Ranger Kelli: And do you go through a lot of yucca brushes?

Noreen Simplicio: Well, to finish this one, I probably went through four. You can make them in different sizes. You know how the yucca, the stem of the yucca is green, you scrape that off. Once you scrape off the green part, then you get your fibers.

Audience Member: You mentioned earlier you walk from like the Bright Angel Trailhead to the Ribbon Falls. So how long does it take?

Noreen Simplicio: It was my understanding it was like 25 miles round trip.

Ranger Kelli: Yeah. So, on the Bright Angel trail, it's longer switchbacks than South Kaibab trail. And Bright Angel trail is about, like, 9 miles down to Phantom Ranch. And then you also have to go up elevation on the North Kaibab Trail and then that's another like 7 miles. So, it is a pretty long hike, and it is one of the hardest hikes here at Grand Canyon especially because it's hotter in the canyon right now. But, also, she told me that she was carrying a 50-pound bag while hiking to Ribbon Falls.

Noreen Simplicio: I was determined to get there because I needed to see the place and see where we actually come from. And once we came down from Bright Angel Trail all the way down to Bright Angel Camp, we spent the night there. Then we went into Ribbon Falls the next morning and then we planted our prayer sticks there. Well, the men folk did. Planted our prayer sticks and played around there and then headed back to the camp. Next morning, we came back up. So, it was a very grueling hike, but I'm so glad that I did it, because it was just a spiritual journey for me. So, one thing I want to say about the Grand Canyon area is that because of the eleven affiliated tribes, this is my own personal thoughts. Because of the Ribbon Falls being such a very sacred place for many of the native Pueblo tribes, I feel that it should not be open to the public. Because a lot of times when non-natives go there, they damage the landscape. There's a teaching or a saying that the Elders always talk about. When you travel into the forest, into the woods area, these are homes to the bugs, the plants, the trees. So, we have a big thing about trashing the earth, which is not a very pleasant sight. So that's just my feeling on, like, it shouldn't be open to the public. It should only be open to Natives because we do our spiritual offerings there. So that's just my only thoughts on that.

Ranger Kelli: It's really hard to kind of make that connection with the native people in these areas, because spiritually, it's still alive. Like she said, there's animals there's living species that live in these areas, and because it is a living landscape, it's also spiritually alive. We're not physically here, but our connection is still there with it. So very important thing that you did say there because we're struggling as native people today to save our sacred sites, and Ribbon Falls is a very highly visited area with our visitors. So, I really appreciate that.

Noreen Simplicio: So just to be respectful, when you do visit places of sacredness or places where you want to go visit, just please be respectful of the land and the landscapes and the animals. Even like the little ladybugs. Because there were some kids today that was playing with the ladybugs, and the mom told them, go put it over there by the tree. So just things like that are very important to us Natives because we pray to the land, and we use the flesh of the land to create our pieces. So just please be respectful.

Audience Member: How many colors have you had? Or can you use?

Noreen Simplicio: Okay, so there's brown, which is the dark brown hematite stone, and the brown hematite stone is mixed with some sort of plant, like the wild spinach plant. You pick the plant, you take the leaves off, you boil the leaves, and when the spinach is done, you can eat it and save the juice and boil it down till it almost gets like a molasses type. Really sticky stuff. And you dry that, and you grind it down on a rock with the hematite stone and the spinach. So, the spinach is kind of like the glue for the paint, but you have to get the mixture right. If you add too much of the spinach, or if you get too much of the hematite when you actually do your designing, it'll peel off. Or you won't know until you fire the piece. And then the other colors are, of course, the white, the peach color, and the red. So those are all the basic colors. I do also do some other pieces. I do a lot of things. I do pottery, I do what's called sublimation, which are images that are done on the computer, printed out on cups, pillows, whatever. I do clay, jewelry. What else do we do? David and I incorporate some pieces. He's a silversmith, and I do the pottery part and we set them in silver.

Ranger Kelli: And I know you said something earlier before you came here. You're like, I'm going to put the pottery on my head. Do you do for those types of dances?

Noreen Simplicio: Oh, yes. There's a group of women in Zuni that are called the Olla maidens. Anybody heard of the Olla maidens? Yes, they're very famous and it's a group of women that go around and entertain. They carry the pot on their heads like this, actually balancing them, and they dance to music. And when I get back home, I need to do a couple because the group is going to, I believe, New York to do a performance, so I need to create some pots for them.

Audience Member: Could you tell us what other plants or something you use to make the different colors? Noreen Simplicio: The only other plants that I know of that well, not different colors, but to add to the hematite brownstone to make it sticky. So, there's the bee weed, the wild spinach and the mustard plant, I think. Yeah, but I've only experimented with the spinach plant. I've not tried the others yet.

Ranger Kelli: Looks like we are right at sunset. So, I just have one last question for Noreen. As people who are visiting these sacred areas and based on what you told us tonight, what would you like us to take away from what you talked about this evening? Noreen Simplicio: Well, just educating the public on really respecting the native lands. Respect our culture, respect who we are as native people. Let's all be friends and let's all get along.

Ranger Kelli: Yeah. Well, let's give it up for Noreen. And if you all want to see her in action tomorrow, she is going to be demonstrating at the Watchtower from nine to four o'clock.

Ranger Jonah: Grand Canyon Speaks is a program hosted by Grand Canyon National Park and the Grand Canyon Conservancy. A special thanks to Aaron White for the theme music. This recording reflects the personal lived experiences of tribal members and do not encompass the views of their tribal nation or that of the national park. To learn more about Grand Canyon First Voices, visit Here at Grand Canyon National Park we are on the ancestral homelands of the eleven associated tribes of the Grand Canyon, these being the Havasupai tribe, the Hualapai Tribe, the Navajo Nation, the Hopi Tribe, the Pueblo of Zuni, the Yavapai-Apache Nation, the Kaibab Band of Paiute Indians, the Las Vegas Paiute Tribe, the Moapa Band of Paiutes, the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah, and the San Juan Southern Paiute Tribe.

In this episode, we talk to the traditional Zuni potter Noreen Simplicio. A strong advocate for youth empowerment, Noreen discusses the Zuni connection to Grand Canyon, her story of learning traditional pottery, and the value of respecting the landscape.

Episode 3

Janet Yazzie Speaks


Janet Yazzie”: So I was, okay, I'll do this. I think I can do this. And I kept hearing from my family, you can do this. You're really good at it. I was like, okay, fine. Okay. I'll do it. I'll do it. But then I just I had to believe in myself first to become an artist and to embrace this gift that I was blessed with.

Ranger Melissa: Welcome to Grand Canyon Speaks! My name is Ranger Melissa.

Ranger Jonah: And I'm Ranger Jonah.

Ranger Melissa: Hey, who did we interview today in this episode?

Ranger Jonah: Yeah, in this episode, we talked to Janet Yazzie. It was a really unique program in person. We had to initially cancel because of lightning, but by the time the program came around, the weather cleared, a big rainbow came out, and it was just a beautiful evening.

Ranger Melissa: Yeah. We actually moved under a shade structure by the parking lot to get away from that extra rain that was just ending. And we had a great time talking with Janet. It was good to hear about her life and how she only recently labeled herself as a full-time artist after taking some really big leaps.

Ranger Jonah: Yeah. Even though we were by the parking lot, and this was actually one of our first programs, I was really happy with our conversation. So, without further ado, Janet. Hello!

Janet Yazzie: Hi.

Ranger Jonah: Well, Janet, thank you so much for coming to the program today.

Janet Yazzie: Thank you for having me. I'm excited.

Ranger Jonah: So, my first question is, where are you from?

Janet Yazzie: I am originally from the Navajo reservation called lower Greasewood. It is like 100 miles away from here, northeast, but I live in Flagstaff, Arizona, currently.

Ranger Jonah: A little bit closer. Very nice! And so, you are an artist. And how did you start your career? Could you kind of tell the story of when you first decided that this was what you wanted to do?

Janet Yazzie: Okay, well, it took me a long time to get to where I'm at right now and to figure out that I wanted to be an artist. I did start as a child. I remember working on something in my class when I was in the third grade, and it was a bluebird and I entered it into a contest. From there on, I decided that I felt like I could draw but I didn't really take on that I could really draw. I doodled along the way with pencil, charcoal, not knowing that that was my medium yet, or I couldn't find what I was really interested in. I did woodwork, I did ceramic. I did a lot of craft art. And then somewhere along the way, I started working with acrylic. And acrylic seemed like it was a little bit hard to do at first.

Ranger Jonah: Sure.

Janet Yazzie: I did buy some canvas and paint, and I just kind of storaged it away and then didn't look at it for a long time because I went to school. You get busy with your life. Went to college, had various jobs. And then even when I was in high school, I took art class, and I found that it was pretty interesting, just art itself, and some of my art teachers, they would get us to do different projects. But then again, I didn't think, oh, art, should I do art? When you're a kid, you don't know that's the way you want to go, to be an artist. So, I just left it as that. Still had my canvas and my paint storage away, and then took some classes in college and then took an art class for an elective because it was, like, the easiest class to take. And I just kind of coast right through it because my teacher wasn't challenging enough for me. And she used to put, like, just still life items in front of us, and then she's just like, okay, you guys draw this. And yeah, I did it. And it was like, okay, what's next? So that wasn't challenging enough for me. And still, it didn't click, being an artist. But I did meet my husband in art class.

Ranger Jonah: Well, you should’ve known right then and there!

Janet Yazzie: Yeah, that wasn't what I was looking for at the time. And my art teacher paired us up, and we did a project together, and we became best friends. Since then, we've been inseparable. We got married. We had four kids. And then I got busy with this, you know. Well, that happened a bit later, but I did have my first job at the Heard Museum. And I used to be around all this amazing art, a bunch of different artists from all over the reservations around me. And it was kind of amazing just to be around all that art. And I thought, I could do that. I could do this. But I was like, no, I don't know. And then I had my family. I was busy. And still didn't figure that I could be an artist. And then somewhere I started doing commission, like, just painting. But I did it for my family, people that knew me. I did, like, little pieces, then I'll just gave them as gifts. And then I decided, okay, in 2019, I'm going to do a mural. So, I did a little mural for one of the churches that I go to, and it was pretty small, so I did that first. And then within that time period, the people that I knew there, they wanted me to illustrate a book for them. So, I was like, okay, this is a big step, illustrating a book.

Ranger Jonah: Certainly.

Janet Yazzie: Can I do this? It was kind of a scary thought at first. I was like, all right, I'll try it. And I did a sketch, and I did the painting, and they loved the cover. So, I illustrated my first book in 2020 during the pandemic, when it was just starting. And then I just kept painting, and I did murals, another mural. Then I did another mural, and then I started working on more pieces. So, the whole year of 2020, I was painting, and I was trying to figure out, okay, is this what I want to do? So, I was like, okay, I'll do this. I think I can do this. And I kept hearing from my family, you can do this. You're really good at it. I was like, okay, fine. Okay, I'll do it. I'll do it. But then I had to believe in myself first to become an artist and to embrace this gift that I was blessed with. So, I was like, all right, I'll paint something, and I'll see what it'll come out to be. It took me a long time to get to realize that all right, I should be an artist. It wasn't just like, instant. I had to really think about it.

Ranger Jonah: You had to build the confidence?

Janet Yazzie: Yeah, I did. I had to build the confidence. And then I had to figure out what art really meant to me before I really started painting. And then I was like, okay, I'll just go ahead and start painting. And then what year was it? Right when the pandemic was over, the Heritage Festival put up their first show in July of 2021. And I thought to myself, should I do this? I was so scared.

Ranger Jonah: And your friends and family, I'm sure, said, "Yes! Please!"

Janet Yazzie: Yes so, I had to submit images, and I filled out the application. I waited, and I was like okay, I can do this. All right, I'll just do it. So, I sent it and that same evening, they responded to me, and they said that you are accepted as an artist. So, I was like, okay.

Ranger Jonah: A very quick turnaround time.

Janet Yazzie: So that was a really big step for me. So then from there, I figured, okay, I can do this and be an artist. I had to really think about what I was about as an artist. I know people, when you ask them, what inspires you? What made you get into this? It took me a long time to figure out what I really wanted to do with my life and what I really wanted to be.

Ranger Jonah: Certainly. But it came together.

Janet Yazzie: It came together. Once I figured it out, all the opportunities and everything opened up.

Ranger Jonah: All the doors show up right when you're looking for them. Absolutely.

Janet Yazzie: It's been amazing. And I'm not done. I just got started!

Ranger Jonah: Yes, certainly. So, the first big projects, the mural, the book, those were really what launched you into your career. But you were just talking about inspiration. Was there someone in your life, perhaps when you were growing up that maybe encouraged you more, that you took a lot of inspiration for? I know that you have your grandmother in a lot of your art. How did your grandmother encourage you?

Janet Yazzie: Okay, so I grew up with my grandmother. I was the first-born child on my mom's side, and she used to drop me off with my grandma when I was little, so I spent a lot of time with her. And I remember we're did, like, planting. We did a whole cornfield. We did sunflowers, and she was a weaver. And there's just like, all these memories that I created with her, and she was really special to me. It was kind of like a language barrier, too, because I wasn't really super fluent in Navajo, and she passed away when I was a junior in high school. She used to always wear purple. All these little things that I paint in my artwork, like the cornfield, the sunflowers, and the sheep, these are all the memories that I keep of her, to keep her alive. And it's kind of nice, too, when I do these paintings, a lot of native women are just my Diné people. They'll come to me and they'll remember stuff that they used to do with their grandmas.

Ranger Jonah: Yeah. So, they take something for themselves.

Janet Yazzie: Yeah. And then sometimes when people come and look at my work and they'll start crying, they're like, oh, I miss my grandma. She used to always wear purple. These are the things we used to do. I like to capture that kind of stuff and kind of share it with everybody. That was very special.

Ranger Jonah: It makes the career all the more meaningful, right? Because your art really affects people.

Janet Yazzie: Yes, it does. Yes. So, I think just the colors themself, the work I put into it. Everything that I do in my work, it means something. Just people looking at it, inspired by the colors. I think my work has done its job by just them looking at it.

Ranger Jonah: Absolutely.

Janet Yazzie: Yeah.

Ranger Jonah: So, you kind of already mentioned the colors as some of the symbolism, perhaps, of personal significance, and then how it has a way of connecting with people. What are some of the other symbols that you like to use in your work?

Janet Yazzie: Let me see. I do windmills. I do the windmill. I grew up around the windmill, so hauling the water when I was young, we took many trips hauling water for my grandparents, and water didn't come easy because you have to use that for the livestock, for the crops, and just even washing clothes. So, the windmill plays a lot in my artwork, and I like to change the scenery as well and just kind of work it in my artwork.

Ranger Jonah: But it's a lot of scenery that you remember as a child, these memories that come back to you. Which brings up another question that I have. You talk about how these scenes are from various points in your life and how the colors are inspired by various things that you remember. So, I was wondering if you could talk a little bit more about the process of actually creating a piece of work. When you are beginning perhaps an acrylic painting, for example, do you see all that in your head right when you begin? Or do you just say, I'm going to start with a lot of different types of orange, and then we're going to see where it goes from there.

Janet Yazzie: Usually when I start a piece, I already know what color it's going to be, and I already see it. So, I'll start with the background first, and I kind of play with it. And then once I like the background, well, I don't make it too dark. I make it light enough where the colors are light but bright. And then I put the main idea on there. And then when I have the main idea there, I'll go back to the sky and I start working on that, and I'll start detailing it and then comes out to something that I don't know what it's going to look like at the very end.

Ranger Jonah: Right.

Janet Yazzie: Sometimes I'll step back for a moment and I was like, oh, wait, I don't like that there. And I'll fix it, go back and forth. And then to me, a painting is never done because I can go back to it and add something or kind of detail it some more. But yeah, most of the time I already know what it's going to look like.

Ranger Jonah: Do you consider yourself a perfectionist when you start and then you're sort of completed? How do you know when you're done? Because I imagine there's always a feeling that maybe it can be tweaked just a little bit more.

Janet Yazzie: I try not to be a perfectionist.

Ranger Jonah: I'm sure that helps.

Janet Yazzie: I know when I did one of my like, my favorite piece. It was called the Arrow Head Cheíí. This one was a pain to do just because when you get the front texture of the scale, I wanted to make it look really sharp and colorful. That one was the one that I was wanting to be like perfection. But of course, you can't get perfection.

Ranger Jonah: Just depends on how you define it!

Janet Yazzie: I just wanted it to look really nice, and it came out beautifully when I was done. Yeah, I would have kept that one. It was really nice, though. Yes.

Ranger Jonah: And you talked a little bit about this, but windmills and the sky, I mean, you have a very distinct style. So how do you feel like your style may be unique compared to some of your contemporaries.

Janet Yazzie: I do a lot of night skies. I change up the colors. I got really good at it. From my first piece when I did the night sky in 2020, I compared it from then to now. It is completely different. I look at my work from a while back to now, and I can just see all the practice that I've done in my blending up until now. Oh my gosh. I didn't realize my technique has changed so much, and just the way that I look at the sky, and I really pay attention to it. I always pay attention to my surroundings. When you're taking a walk, you take a look at the sky, and a cloud isn't just white. There are other colors in it. So many different colors. So people will just paint, like, a white. It's not white. I think the cloud was kind of hard for me to do at the beginning. Now it's not I can get it and just make it a little bit different, the way I want. That's the same as the night sky. So, who knows, maybe I'll get a little bit better as the years go by. I'm not perfect yet. I'm still practicing as I go along.

Ranger Jonah: Doing the night sky, is there a direction? Perhaps you see your style going. Is there something that you've wanted to tap into that you haven't had the time or focus to get to yet?

Janet Yazzie: Yes, I have this huge canvas. It's really large.

Ranger Jonah: Going back to the murals

Janet Yazzie: I don't know how big it will be. I'm not sure what the size is. This canvas was donated to me. I'm going to put a huge night sky, and then I'm going to put all our Navajo Nation monuments on it. So, this thing is going to be big. I just haven't had the time to do it, but I already know what it's going to look like. So, in the future, I will do that.

Ranger Jonah: That's very exciting. We'll have to keep tuned. So, of course, being an artist who sells their work, you have to go to shows. So, what are some of the shows you go to and how did you get started with them.

Janet Yazzie: Okay, so my first show was the Heritage Festival in Flagstaff. That was my very first show. And it was amazing because I got to meet a bunch of artists. From there on, I did a bunch of local shows in Flagstaff. I did, like, the art walks. I've gone to various little shows here and there just to be comfortable with doing shows. But the bigger shows that I wanted to do as an artist was the Heard Museum and do the SWAIA, the Santa Fe Indian Market. Well, I got into the SWAIA last year, and then this year, I did the Heard Museum in March.

Ranger Jonah: And you worked at the Heard Museum?

Janet Yazzie: Yes, I used to work at the Heard Museum.

Ranger Jonah: So, it all comes back.

Janet Yazzie: It was a great experience, and it was unbelievable just to be around all these amazing artists, and I just couldn't believe I was within all these amazing artists.

Ranger Jonah: Absolutely. And I'm sure you learn all sorts of tips and tricks and people help give advice. Was that really important to your development in the last few years or so?

Janet Yazzie: Yes. So, I'm part of an organization called Art of the People as well. And they're a bunch of male artists, and they're more like my mentors. And they kind of give me tips on everything. What a good size canvas is to take with you, for example. If you go on the road, they'll tell you, don't take huge 30 x 40 canvases because you have to lug this thing around in your vehicle. They're like, okay, Janet, take something that's a good size to pack because you have to wrap them. So little stuff like that I learned. Good tips from the yeah, I learned that too.

Ranger Jonah: Do you have a favorite show that you've been to or one that was really a moment of just, wow, I cannot believe I'm here. I didn't ever think that I'd get here.

Janet Yazzie: I think the SWAIA was the one for me.

Ranger Jonah: And SWAIA is?

Ranger Jonah: Santa Fe Indian Market. Yes. In Santa Fe, New Mexico. Yes. And then I made the 100 Centennial for that one.

Ranger Jonah: Oh, wow.

Janet Yazzie: Yeah.

Ranger Jonah: What a perfect year.

Janet Yazzie: I know, that was cool. That was cool. It was kind of funny because me and my sister visited the SWAIA in 2018. I had no idea they had the SWAIA for Native artists. Yeah, I had no idea as an artist. I had no idea. But we went just to go as visitors, and I saw all these amazing artists. My sister says to me, you should do this. I'm like, I don't know. And then when I started painting, I applied, and then I got accepted. I was like, what? This is crazy. Yeah, so I was just honored to be there. And then I was on the magazine, too. I was like, wow.

Ranger Jonah: Have you seen your own work? It makes sense! So, what are some of the other hobbies that you enjoy doing outside of art?

Janet Yazzie: Let me see. What do I do? I do a lot. I spend time with my family. They all ride dirt bikes. They all ride dirt bikes. So that's what we used to do before I started doing this.

Ranger Jonah: And that is street biking or motorized biking.

Janet Yazzie: Dirt bikes. Yeah, they compete. We do Arizona Nationals, California Nationals. And my kids, that's all they grew up on. And that's what I used to do, too, when they were little, and we'd ride mountain bikes. So that's like the other part of me. That's my family. So, while they're racing and going to Farmington for a race, I'm over here doing art shows, and I'm by myself. So, I had to learn to unpack, put my panels up and just learn to be by myself and do this. Because my husband's like, 100% supportive. He's like, "Honey, go out and do your art. This is what you can do." I was like, okay, I'll do it.

Ranger Jonah: And you've done it.

Janet Yazzie: Yeah. And I used to be their pit crew all the time. Gassing them up and doing whatever they need. But now that my husband's retired, he does that for my kids now.

Ranger Jonah: Yeah, right on. And you go to art shows.

Janet Yazzie: Yes, I do art shows now.

Ranger Jonah: Very nice. Well, so one of I don't know if we could call this a show, but one thing that you've done is come to the Grand Canyon and be a part of our cultural demonstration program. So, I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about the program and whether you've enjoyed it?

Janet Yazzie: Yes. I've only heard of this place, the cultural demonstration from other artists, and they would talk about it. Saying it was amazing. I'm like what? How in the world can I be a part of this? I don't understand. And then my friend Jonah, he says, Janet, you need to go online. And I was oh, okay. There's this guy. He does it, Dan. He's all I was like, who?

Ranger Jonah: Ranger Dan!

Janet Yazzie: So, I didn't know you were a ranger. I was like, okay. And then I got busy, and just lo and behold, winter market came at the museum, and then these people show up my booth, and I was talking to everybody else, and Dan introduced himself, and we were talking, and then he started talking about the program. I was like, what? I heard about that program. I was like, yes, I will do it just the way some of the artists talked about the program. And I was like, yeah, I definitely want to try it, because this will be the first for me and to get my work out there, show people what I can do, share my colors, what I'm about, and showing people that I'm a Navajo woman coming from the Navajo reservation, and just the life experience that I went through.

Janet Yazzie: I want to share with people what I come from, what I see, the colors I see. I want to share all my background; I want them to know that this is my perspective as a woman. So that's what my work was about.

Ranger Jonah: Absolutely. And we're all very grateful that you came and shared your perspective. Has there been any visitor interactions or interactions with visitors that were particularly like: wow, that was really cool!

Janet Yazzie: Yeah, I met people from all over the world these couple days. People from Germany, a lot of people from New Hampshire, Chicago. Yeah, and they bought my work. They wanted to share this stuff. And then I give them the story of what my art is about, and they're just blown away. And then I talk about my clans. My clans are that I am Kinłichíi’nii, Mą’ii Deeshgiizhinii, Tséńjíkiní, and Tł’ízíłání. So that is my mom's clan, my dad's clan, my grandparent’s clan, and then my father's parents clan. So that's how I identify myself as a Navajo woman. So, when we introduce ourselves, that's how we introduce ourselves, by our clans. And I kind of told them about how our clan system works because it goes by our bloodlines, and some of the people are like, whoa, what? You have to remember all those four clans. Yes, you do. Yes. And it's kind of crazy because when you first introduce yourself and you're a single woman, you can't just go and meet that person, say, oh, yeah. We have to introduce ourselves and see if any of those four clans match. If one of them is the same, you cannot date this person. Yeah, it's just like, one of the rules. So, it's just like a blood rule. Bloodstream kind of thing.

Ranger Jonah: An easy topic to bring up in art class, I am sure!

Janet Yazzie: You know what? That's kind of funny, because when I met my husband, we're, like, talking, and then instantly we're like, what's your clan?

Ranger Jonah: It works. It's a good pickup line.

Janet Yazzie: But my experience here at the Grand Canyon has been amazing. I mean, just the view itself, holy cow! I mean, who knew I was going to be in the Watchtower painting? And just the experience of people coming over, wanting to know who I am, interested in what I do, from all over the world. Yeah, it's great. It's great.

Ranger Jonah: Absolutely.

Janet Yazzie: I definitely enjoyed being here.

Ranger Jonah: And I understand that you have recently started marking your work with the Red House logo, so I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about the significance of that.

Janet Yazzie: Okay. So, when I first started off, I didn't think about it. When I first did my artwork. But as I started painting, I decided, you know what? I need some kind of logo for myself. And then I created the Red House art. So Red House is Kinłichíi’nii in Navajo, and that's my mom's clan, and that's identified as me. I'm a red house. I'm a Kinłichíi’nii. And so, I made a logo, and I designed it as my own. And then right above the logo, I put my Janet M. Yazzie. So, every time when I complete a canvas, I stamp my canvas in the back of it, and then any of my prints, too, I stamp, and I sign it. So, if you own any of my work, it has my special stamp on it. Very cool to show that it is mine.

Ranger Jonah: Well, I have saved my last question to be the very hardest question that I'm going to ask tonight. So, what is your favorite food?

Audience Member: The people want to know!

Janet Yazzie: Oh, my favorite food. Gosh, I have so many. I like potatoes and Spam.

Ranger Jonah: A dark horse! Did not expect that one.

Janet Yazzie: With hot tortillas, but I try not to make it too much. Yeah.

Ranger Jonah: Well, thank you so much for doing this program. I would love to turn to our audience now and ask if there's anybody in the audience who has a question that they would like to ask Janet.

Janet Yazzie: Sure.

Audience Member: Apologies, I came late. So, if this was already asked, I'm sorry. You spoke a little bit about how with that large canvas you were making, you already know what it's going to look like.

Janet Yazzie: Yes.

Audience Member: I'm curious, when you're painting, how close does your kind of initial vision of what your painting is going to be come out in terms of what the end result is? Is it close or does it deviate quite a bit from what you imagine?

Janet Yazzie: It kind of changes in between. Maybe like when I'm maybe in the middle processing, because sometimes I know when I look at something, I don't want it dark just because it's a night sky. Because I know this canvas that I'm going to be doing, it's going to be a night sky. I prefer it to be a little bit brighter. I'm thinking maybe it could be a little bit green. I'm going to throw some purple in there. So somewhere in between, I will change that. But I think maybe later when I start it, I might add something else to it, too. Yeah, who knows? But just like the basic idea, just thinking about it. I kind of already have an idea, but then when I go into it, it changes, but it comes out beautifully at the end.

Ranger Jonah: Yes.

Audience Member: Oh, I have two questions. Do you use oil paints, and do you use the reference photos?

Janet Yazzie: I use acrylic.

Audience Member: Oil paints are really hard.

Janet Yazzie: Yeah, I find acrylic a little bit easier to work with. You just use a lot of water. And what was the other question?

Audience Member: Oh, about reference photos?

Janet Yazzie: Oh, so, I do both. I can look at something. I mean, I don't have a photogenic memory, but if there's something that I remember or something that I see and I want to do something like a really nice, really nice tree or the sky, I'll take a picture and I'll put it away. And then if I have something in mind that I'm going to put together, maybe I'll use that or maybe I won't. But there's this one I'm working on. It's a hogan. That one was just kind of like a memory thing. So, I can do both. I can do both. It just depends on how I'm feeling that day. I don't know. And sometimes I can work, like, on four canvases. One of them could be an image that I saved, and then one of them is a memory. I think with doing those kinds of exercises I can do both. Yeah.

Ranger Jonah: Does anybody have any more questions for our artist?

Audience Member: Yes, I have two. How many paintings do you usually paint like a month? And then do any of your kids do art? Are they going to follow in your footsteps?

Janet Yazzie: Okay, so right now, currently, I am working on six canvases. They're all different sizes. I love to do tiny art, so I do like those little three x three canvases that come with the little easels. I can finish those- in an hour sometimes. Sometimes I'll start something, and I'll just put it aside. And I hate to use this word, and I tell my kids not to use this word- bored. But if I don't want to do one anymore, I'll move it aside and then I start on something else. But I use different colors, and I have different color palettes sometimes for certain canvases. But yeah, right now I'm working on six, and it varies depending on how big they are. Maybe I can finish one in three weeks. I can finish one in two weeks. I can finish one in a week. There's just one I did two weeks ago at the Coconino Community College. There was a canvas that I worked on. It was like 24 x 30, and I did a night sky. I started on Thursday. It took me a week to finish because that's all I do. All I do is paint twenty-four seven, and I can stand there for hours and just paint. But I was doing like a fundraiser thing for this, so it was like a must do to finish. If there is a deadline, I will finish it. So it just all depends on the situation. I have a show coming the end of June. I will be ready for that because I need bigger canvases, so I'm going to get more out. And I push myself, but I don't want to push myself to where I'm not going to like it anymore because I start cramping in my hands. So, yeah, it just all varies. But most of the time I can do like two weeks, a week, a month, and if I want it to look really good, I just kind of take my time on it. And then my son, the youngest one, he is actually painting right now. He paints, but he's kind of into anime. But I do encourage him. My daughter, she paints too, but she's into crocheting. Yeah, she's into crocheting right now. So, I hope they do follow my footsteps. And I have parents that come up to me and want me to be the mentor for their kids. And it's totally fine. It's like, sure, yeah. I do hope they follow my footsteps.

Audience Member: Do you name your paintings?

Janet Yazzie: Yes, I do.

Audience Member: What's that process involve?

Janet Yazzie: So, there's one that I did. It's called Homeward Bound. It's a 24 x 30 3D gallery wrap canvas. And I used a lot of pink and orange and yellow in this because the clouds are massive. And that one I call Homework Bound because the sheep are coming towards you. And that's like a sunset. And that was, like, my favorite because that's when the sheep come home. And that was like, one of my favorite images because my mom raises sheep and it's just like the clouds themself were my favorite. And I didn't really use any black in this painting. I used like really dark brown with dark purple to make my darkness on there, but oh my gosh, that one is my favorite. So, if you ever look at my Instagram or Facebook that's on there.

Ranger Jonah: Yes. Could we get the Instagram and the Facebook?

Janet Yazzie: It's janmyzzi_artwall, and it's both on Instagram and Facebook.

Ranger Jonah: Well, Janet, you will be in the watchtower tomorrow from nine to four. So, if anybody would like to see her work, she will be displaying that between nine and four. I was wondering if you had one final takeaway, maybe one thing that if you'd like people to know, this would be it.

Janet Yazzie: What do I say?

Ranger Jonah: No pressure. Just being recorded.

Janet Yazzie: I would just like to say thank you so much for loving my art. People that have come in the past are still coming to look at my work. You have no idea how much it means to me that people really enjoy my colors. It means a lot. And I didn't know I was going to be here as an artist. I think it took a lot of courage and I had to really look at myself and figure that this is what I want it to do with my life and I'm glad I'm sharing it. So, thank you for having me be here. This is definitely an honor and always my first at everything. I'm very grateful just to be here.

Ranger Jonah: Yes, well, I think we could all use a little bit of courage in our lives no matter what we are doing. And with that, thank you so much for being part of Grand Canyon Speaks. Thank you, audience, for being here a part of Grand Canyon Speaks in such a unique setting.

Ranger Jonah: Grand Canyon Speaks is a program hosted by Grand Canyon National Park and the Grand Canyon Conservancy. A special thanks to Aaron White for the theme music. This recording reflects the personal lived experiences of tribal members and do not encompass the views of their tribal nation or that of the national park. To learn more about Grand Canyon First Voices, visit Here at Grand Canyon National Park we are on the ancestral homelands of the eleven associated tribes of the Grand Canyon, these being the Havasupai tribe, the Hualapai Tribe, the Navajo Nation, the Hopi Tribe, the Pueblo of Zuni, the Yavapai-Apache Nation, the Kaibab Band of Paiute Indians, the Las Vegas Paiute Tribe, the Moapa Band of Paiutes, the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah, and the San Juan Southern Paiute Tribe.

In this episode, we talk to Diné (Navajo) painter Janet Yazzie. We talk with Janet about how she developed the courage to be a full-time artist, the inspirations for her work, and her favorite parts about her job. Janet even did the art for this very podcast!

Episode 4

The Zuni Youth Enrichment Program Speaks (part 1)


LaShae Harris: I think it presents itself as, like, just giving kids an outlet to even experience these art forms, because I know without ZYEP, I would have probably never touched embroidery or gave it a second thought.

Ranger Jonah: Hello, and welcome to Grand Canyon Speaks. My name is Ranger Jonah.

Ranger Melissa: And I'm Ranger Melissa.

Ranger Jonah: So, Melissa, could you tell us a little bit about this episode?

Ranger Melissa: Yeah! In this interview, we hear from two Zuni Youth Enrichment Program alumni, Chasady Simplicio and Lashae Harris.

Ranger Jonah: Yeah. And this is actually the first of two episodes we have with alumni from the Zuni Youth Enrichment Program.

Ranger Melissa: Yeah. What's really cool about this episode is that we're hearing from the voices of youth that come from our tribal communities. They're only 18 and 24, if you can believe it. Our coworker Dan had the pleasure of interviewing with them.

Ranger Jonah: Well, it sounds very exciting. So, without further ado, Chasady and Lashae.

Ranger Dan: We'll get this program started. This is good. This is one of the more interesting interviews that we've had here. Not because the people aren't interesting or, uh, this is a terrible way to enter. (Laughter)

Chasady Simplicio: You're going to have to do some editing.

LaShae Harris: Start over.

Ranger Dan: We are going to start over. I'm giving space on that so we can actually get this going. Well, thank you for coming out to Grand Canyon and being part of the cultural demonstration program here. It's a great honor to have ZYEP Zuni youth enrichment program out here and having you two as some of the representatives for the program, and especially as your first time here as cultural demonstrators at Grand Canyon. So, I would love to have you both introduce yourself and yeah, thank you. Our three beginning audience members here. So, I'd love for you to introduce yourself, where you're from, how old you are, and what is your discipline here that you are specializing in as a cultural demonstrator.

LaShae Harris: Okay, I'll go first. My name is LaShae Harris. I'm 24 years old from the Pueblo Zuni. And my discipline here is pueblo embroidery or traditional embroidery.

Ranger Dan: Cool. Thank you.

Chasady Simplicio: Okay. Chasady Simplicio. I'm 19 years old, and I'm also from the Zuni pueblo, and my discipline here is pueblo weaving.

Ranger Dan: Awesome! We've got embroidery and also weaving. So, two things that really complement each other very well. There's similarities and differences to these different art forms, which is awesome. What about the medium that you practice of embroidery and weaving drew you into pursuing this? And it's only been about a year or so for both of you for your art form. So, what drew you into starting down this path of embroidery and weaving?

LaShae Harris: Well, for me, I was looking for something that was other than some kind of art form, other than drawing or painting. I just felt like I hit kind of an artist block for a long time where I felt like I couldn't create anything. I just didn't know what to create or what to draw or anything. So, when I saw the opportunity to have the embroidery apprenticeship. I applied, hoping that I would get in, and I was selected for the emerging artist apprenticeship. And I like that it kind of got me out of this sort of rut that I was in, because it's very methodical with the planning and mapping out your design, and it's like you follow a kind of method. So, I kind of like that. You can still be creative with it, but it's not so much pressure to draw something new or paint something new. It's just kind of the designs are there and just replicating the designs and creating your own project.

Ranger Dan: Awesome.

Chasady Simplicio: Okay. So, for me, at first, I kind of wanted to help out my family in some way or excel at some sort of art form. I tried painting and drawing, but it never really was as good as I would want it to be. So, then, I joined the class in my sophomore year of high school for weaving, and I learned some things here and there. I was able to excel to a certain point, but once I saw the apprenticeship for pueblo weaving, I was like, I really got to get in there. Maybe I can learn something new. Especially since one of my friends had taken the previous apprenticeship before he took two, and he learned a lot of the historical background of it. And it got me wondering, what would the historical background of weaving be? So, I decided, well, I'll just give it a shot. So, I applied, and when I got the call that I was accepted, I was so excited. And after learning all the things that I've learned down from the symbolism of the designs and everything, it felt like I just excelled at an abnormal rate, I guess, because as soon as I learned what the designs meant, it was like the designs just kept popping up in my head, one right after another. And I guess I really got to thank the teachers that were there. They helped a lot.

Ranger Dan: So, a great influence from the teachers for both of you have helped out with excelling in your artistic form.

Chasady Simplicio: Yes.

Ranger Dan: Cool. That's great. And it's a traditional art form, right? Yeah, these are art forms that have been around for hundreds of years, right? This is like, specifically Zuni too, right? Or, like, the styles?

LaShae Harris: Pueblo styles. Yeah. I think a lot of the pueblo share different elements, and we kind of, I guess, adopt one another's styles, especially over history and throughout time. We've adopted various ways of dressing and different styles of clothing from other pueblos, as well as, like, pottery designs too, even jewelry styles. So, it's a lot of sharing going on within the pueblos. But what is uniquely Zuni is the language. We're an isolated tribe, an isolated language. So only Zunis speak the Zuni language.

Ranger Dan: Okay, very cool. I've noticed over the years there are some similarities, some to, like, Hopi a little bit, but there isn't that full crossover. Like you say, Zuni is its own specific language, which is very interesting. It's your own area, it's your own thing. But then branching out from there, this textile work is, like you say, there's similarities to different Pueblo areas across the Southwest. And what is a big influence has Zuni in some of these, the work that you do, like, I know we have a bit of an embroidery here. This is from Elroy, and you've got some belts that you have made over there. And so, what about your pieces kind of sticks out as more Zuni than potentially other Pueblos.

LaShae Harris: I think maybe the way that we interpret our designs and what we consider them to, like, all the colors have meaning. The different shapes and styles have meaning. And I'm not too sure if they translate to other Pueblos or if they're the exact same or not. I know that there are some similarities in the shapes and styles, but I'm pretty sure they have different ways of taking those designs and patterns into different ideas.

Chasady Simplicio: I guess the same would kind of translate over into weaving as well. The one that I have right here, this is not one that I made. It was purchased from Acoma by Elroy, and it's made from wool. But you can still see the different kinds of symbolisms in there. So, the ones that I made, they're like rolling clouds. And I guess you would say this one is like fraying clouds. Like, you know how the ones that kind of streak into the sky kind of like that. I think a lot of that kind of translates into all different types of Pueblos. I'm not sure if they have other meanings too, but I'm pretty positive that other Pueblos are able to add in some things that we are unable to add, such as animals.

Ranger Dan: Okay.

Chasady Simplicio: We're not able to, I guess, put in animals in our sash belts, because when the dancer wears the sash belts, whatever is on the sash belt is what they pray for. So, if, let's say there's a frog on a sash belt, instead of rain coming, frogs are going to come. And I guess the reason why also, from what I was told, was Hopis, they put animals on there, such as, like bears and stuff in order to, I guess, get more game throughout the year. But I do know there is several differences between Pueblo belts and Navajo belts. There are several differences, such as... One thing that you will notice is how long their fringes are. Their fringes are very long. As from Pueblo belts, they're really short.

Ranger Dan: Okay. Very interesting. Like you're saying, there's a lot of symbolism involved with both of your work and also within Zuni culture. What about this art form for both of you makes it worth it for both of you to pursue this path of embroidery and weaving?

LaShae Harris: For me, I think it's the idea that these pieces are going to be around for a very long time. They're not just like, wear it a couple of times and then you're never going to touch it again. A lot of the times, like, kilts and traditional clothes are handed down between families and generations. So, it really makes me happy to know that these will be around for the long term. And who knows? There's so many traditional textiles and stuff that are held in museums and stuff. And I bet the creators, when they were making it, weren't ever expecting them to be held up in museums or to be around for as long as they've been around. And so I guess that's my hope, to create pieces that are here to stay longer than me.

Ranger Dan: Definitely.

Chasady Simplicio: I would have to agree with what Lashae said. A lot of the stuff that we make, it gets handed down, or as somebody passes on, they do take it with them. And I really do hope that, like her, I really do hope one day my pieces will stay around for longer than I am, or like I will. And I don't know, I guess for me, there's something about it. When you work on your pieces, there's just something about it. It's like with weaving, it's like you're creating life. In the beginning, it was only males that created sash belts because of their inability to create life. Unlike women. It wasn't until Western immigrants came over that they taught women how to do other types of things, like crocheting and all of that. I believe it wasn't until then that females were able to create sash belts. And in other words, your artwork is technically like your child, so you kind of want to talk to it and treat it like it is a living being, because that is how we see our things being made.

Ranger Dan: Yeah, it's a creation in and of itself. And you get to watch the piece grow as you're making it, and then it goes to someone in your family, someone at Zuni, and you can then watch it have its own life in that form with everyone, which is a really beautiful way to look at it. It does have its own life. And that piece, like you say, can potentially outlive yourselves. And we all create stuff like that that we can be remembered by and live on through as well. So that's beautiful. And so, it's like that feeling that you're getting from it, like a little bit of joy, some happiness, and maybe just a feeling that almost maybe can't be described when you get that piece ready and are working on it.

LaShae Harris: Yeah. And they definitely teach us to work when you're in high spirits and to put your best into the work, because they say it kind of draws in the energy that you have while you're creating it or while you're creating that piece. So you want to be happy and not get so frustrated. And they say your work will kind of reflect your mindset, and your pieces just won't work out if you're not in a good mental state and you're trying to create stuff.

LaShae Harris: Yeah. There's a lot that goes into it, even with embroidering, like how we're talking about the pieces living on beyond you. I was taught not to really get my sweat or my DNA into the piece itself, because it's like taking part of your soul, your spirit with it. Kind of, in a sense. And I was taught that when you pass on, you could potentially be haunting through your work because it's got some of you tied into it. You really have to be careful with your pieces, and there's a lot that goes into it that you don't even think about until you start really thinking about it. Okay. Yeah.

Ranger Dan: All right.

Chasady Simplicio: Yeah. And I think it is the same with weaving, and I believe also with embroidery. It also teaches you a lot of patience. You got to learn to be patient with your work, because everybody's first time making a piece isn't going to be perfect, and you just can't get frustrated. It just teaches you a lot of patience because you'll make mistakes. I don't know, it'll make you feel a little uncomfortable with how unforgiving weaving and embroidery can be. I've tried embroidery, and I can say, it's not my cup of tea. I can't do it. I can do weaving, but I tried embroidery, and I was like, no, I can't do it. I can't do it.

Ranger Dan: They're similar, but yet so different in a way where I know we were talking earlier today, Lashae, about where a piece begins, and if you're off by one square, which is a count on your piece, and then, say, you get, like, five inches away, and then realize that five inches backwards is where you went wrong. And you've got to redo everything. And that's got to be a little frustrating.

LaShae Harris: Yeah, it can be. And it definitely plays tricks on your eyes, too, when you're just staring at the same piece of cloth for quite a while. All the counting, it's tricky. For those who don't know, there's tiny squares on here, and you have to count kind of, like, cross stitch, and with huge pieces, you're, like, counting the thousands. Thousands of squares,

Ranger Dan: Both of you are new with your art form, and you've had influence through ZYEP, which is the Zuni Youth Enrichment Program. Can you talk a little bit about what that program is and the goals that are associated with it?

LaShae Harris: Yeah. So ZYEP started in 2009, and from my knowledge, it started out as just a simple camp for, like, ten youth, because that's all they have funding for, and it was just a summer camp to keep youth busy. It's since grown. They celebrated their 15-year anniversary this year and they now can serve over 200 youth in the summer for the summer camp alone, which gets filled up on the first day as soon as applications open up. It's in such high demand. They have a waiting list all summer of kids just wanting to get in. But they've also started to encompass other ways of enriching youth lives in Zuni through the art department, and there's a food and nutrition department. They push for a lot of cultural activities as well as decolonizing your diet and kind of reviving ancient recipes or utilizing old recipes to create new, modern ones. Which is really cool, because then youth get a chance to not only experience food that was eaten a long time ago, but they also get to try it in new ways. And they come up with crazy menus all the time and it's so delicious, all their food. And the art department, they started these apprenticeships where youth apply. There was a painting, pottery, embroidery, weaving, and I think a digital art as well.

LaShae Harris: So, they got to teach youth how to draw on iPads and create their own and market themselves as digital artists. So, they're teaching a lot of stuff to the youth and really bringing all the outside opportunities that us reservation kids didn't have before. They're really giving it to the youth. They even have sports camps and stuff too now with football and soccer and T-ball. So they're covering the whole nine yards when it comes to things for kids to do on the rez. So it's really nice. It's a good program.

Chasady Simplicio: Yeah, I know they did have like, T-ball and stuff back when I was a kid, but I believe it stopped after a while. But I do know that they did recently bring it back and I saw the Facebook page and just seeing all the little kids having fun. Just so cute, walking around, laughing. It is adorable.

Ranger Dan: Yeah, it's a very enriching program.

LaShae Harris: It is. They bring a lot to the community and they have a lot of outings where they just invite the community into the park to just do things as family. And I think it's what the community really needs to come together and to spend quality time together. And they really push for no sugary drinks and eating right and stuff, which is also very influential on youth and just kind of showing them that they can get hydrated in other ways that aren't like soda and Gatorade.

Ranger Dan: Yeah, that's tough. Yeah, that's a hard habit to quit. It's great. So, both of you went through apprenticeships, right? How long are your apprenticeships and is it under one artist in the community or are there multiple mentors that you have in the apprenticeship?

Chasady Simplicio: The apprenticeship usually takes about eight weeks and if Elroy and Kandis know the art form, they most likely will teach it themselves. However, I do believe with pottery, they did have other teachers come in to teach them, I guess, the traditions and cultural meanings behind everything. So, it would really depend on what art form it is and if they're able to find a teacher for it.

LaShae Harris: They do utilize other artists that are a part of the Arts co-op in Zuni, which is this cooperative that was started with a bunch of artists who just kind of wanted a place to sell their artwork at a store. And then also there was two apprentice programs. I don't know if she went through the same two, but there were two apprentice programs that I went through. The first one was Emerging Artists, and it took about six to eight weeks, and it was from youth 12 to 24. Out of that, I was selected for the Advanced Artist Apprenticeship, which was six months. And then I was working one on one with Elroy to kind of get a little more in depth with the embroidery and take on more challenging projects. So altogether, I've only been working with him for about a year now.

Chasady Simplicio: I've only gone through the eight-week apprenticeship. I'm not sure if the six month one was chosen yet, but I've only ever gone through the eight-week apprenticeship, and that was the most informational eight weeks I've ever been in. I've learned a lot of new ideas and new art forms and new influences. It gave me the push that I needed and the courage to, I guess, excel more. It was kind of like, you won't know how to do it, and you can't grow unless you make your mistakes. And it takes time and it takes mistakes in order for you to get as good as other artists out there.

Ranger Dan: Yeah. It's kind of hard to remember that everyone had that beginning, right?

Chasady Simplicio: Yeah.

Ranger Dan: Because you see them at a different point in their career, in their life. But it sounds like ZYEP has really grown from the original, like, ten kids 15 years ago to over 200 now that are active in the community. And it just builds up right away like a Taylor Swift concert. So, are you seeing a really good pass down of traditions in these art forms to the younger generations that are there?

Chasady Simplicio: Yeah, definitely.

LaShae Harris: What I really like about ZYEP, and this isn't like traditional art forms, but what I like about ZYEP is a lot of the youth who went through the camp or were like children participating in the sports camps often go back to work with ZYEP as camp counselors or to work as staff at ZYEP. They work as staff there. And so, I see a lot of people going back. But I think it presents itself as just giving kids an outlet to even experience these art forms. Because I know without ZYEP, I would have probably never touched embroidery or gave it a second thought just because it seemed, I guess, out of reach or like I wouldn't be able to find somebody to sit down and teach me how to do something. And it seemed like before, a lot of the times, only youth would get involved in an art form if it was either taught at school or if they had parents who were doing that art and they passed it down to them. So now it gives youth a chance, youth who don't have that kind of personal influence in life, to seek it out at ZYEP and to be able to get connected with other artists and find their little niche and what they can present to the art community.

Ranger Dan: Very cool.

Chasady Simplicio: Yeah, I got to agree with that, too, because I've seen a lot of people that were my age, and I see some of them starting to work with ZYEP, and it's just really cool to see. I think it opens up an opportunity as a job and stuff like, it opens up that opportunity because in Zuni, there's not much job openings that youth can take a part of. And I believe it's kind of hard for some youth, especially if after they graduate, they don't want to pursue college. They kind of just want to get a job, but they got to go out of town to get that job. And I really think ZYEP opened up that, opened up the curtains for them and invited them in, like, hey, you can work here. You can work here. You can mentor other younger generations and stuff like that. It's just really cool to see a lot of the staff being so young, and it's more inviting that way, I believe.

LaShae Harris: Yeah, it's refreshing.

Chasady Simplicio: Yeah, you see at other places, you see a lot more older people rather than young, and ZYEP just has that freshness in there.

Ranger Dan: Yeah, it seems like it's creating a generation of artists and individuals who can relate maybe to the kids in the program and help guide them along on those right paths, especially for those sugary drinks and the diet there. (Laughter). But it sounds like an amazing mentorship that's available through the program, and a very important one at that, yeah.

LaShae Harris: It's a really good program. I just look back fondly at ZYEP and all the things that we've done through the organization and all the opportunities they were able to present the youth. And it's nice to see a lot of younger individuals now selling their artwork and marketing themselves as artists. And it's really cool because then there's just so much talent in the youth and to see I'm just blown away at some of the things that these young kids create and how they're able to market themselves and start building their name as artists while they're young. So that way when they get older and start entering art shows and stuff, they'll already have that credibility behind them.

Chasady Simplicio: I would say the same thing like Shae said. There really is a lot of talent in the community. A lot of it is through drawing. And I believe kids, kind of like the younger youth, kind of only see, like, oh, I can only ever be if I'm good at drawing, then I'll be a really good artist. And they don't really think about the other types of art forms that are out there. It's like it's either I'm good at drawing or I'm not, because I was like that at one point. And then after finding a new art form and having ZYEP expanded more on those art forms and different types of creation. It really opens the door to more artists. And it really is nice seeing younger generations starting to sell their stuff at art shows. It's just really nice.

Ranger Dan: And you've only been doing this for a little while, but I see a lot of talent in what you've both created. So, what are your goals with your art forms, and what do you hope to see yourself doing with them in the future?

LaShae Harris: I really want to find my specialty or to find my signature thing in the art community. I feel like all the well established artists have their own style that is uniquely them. Even with the limits of creating traditional art, there's just certain styles that these artists have, and I really want to find mine and to just be able to create things that when I see them or when other people see them, they'll be like, oh, yeah, that's something that Shae created. That's something that she made. And I had mentioned that I was in a sewing apprenticeship, so I was learning how to sew traditional regalia as well. So I'm trying to find a way to merge the two and create my own pieces. So hopefully, if I come back, if I ever come back, I'll have some pieces that are uniquely mine.

Ranger Dan: We'll bring you back. Everyone back. Yeah.

Chasady Simplicio: For me, I kind of just want to provide something for my community. I grew up in a very religious household, and I feel like a lot of people don't have that. And especially with weavers, they're really hard to find. And when you do find a weaver, they're just backed up on orders. They're just like one right after another. They have orders that they have to fulfill. And knowing that I and the other people that took their apprenticeship with me, just knowing that we can take at least a small load off their back while there also still being business for them. I just want to lend a helping hand. And again, like Shae said, I want to create something that's uniquely mine. I'm not sure how I would do that, especially with weaving, since it's a little restrictive on what I can put on there and how thick your belt can be. But I do believe I can find something. I also kind of want to learn the signatures of all other weavers. If you take a look at my purple belts, you can see three dots, and that's my signature. So, if you see one like that, like, oh, Chasady made that.

Ranger Dan: That's awesome. Yeah. We will gladly help along this journey for you. And this is your first time here at Grand Canyon being demonstrators, and I definitely see it not being the last at all. ZYEP. Everyone is welcome to come back and partake in this program. I want to kind of close it out here with kind of a takeaway message. So what would you have the visitors here at Grand Canyon take away about your art, about Zuni or about the program? What would a takeaway message for folks be?

LaShae Harris: My takeaway message is, well, I want to give thanks to ZYEP for all the opportunities that they've presented over the years, not just this year, and to thank my instructors as well, because it's a lot of time and energy that they put into all of these events and the projects that they start up. But ZYEP is overall a very great program that has had a lot of influence on my life and as well as other youth in the community. And I'm just barely starting my embroidery craft. It's been a year long journey, but it's been great. I'm still trying to work up the courage to take on bigger pieces because embroidery tests your patience all the time, but it's fun. And it's a good way to stay connected to your community or to Zuni community. And just knowing that my pieces will be around for a while makes me feel good about creating them and not really like creating them for monetary gain, but as Chasady said, more to help the community. These pieces are very rare and hard to come by, especially authentic hand embroidered pieces. They can be created with much simpler, faster ways. But when people find actual hand embroidered ones, they are cherished a lot more. So definitely working to create bigger, better pieces and to improve my embroidery skills.

Chasady Simplicio: Again, like Lashae, I would want to thank ZYEP and our teachers. They did put a lot of time into making sure that these apprenticeships were set in stone. How the apprenticeship was going to go, what week things we were going to be doing, and stuff like that. And it really does take a lot of time, as well as going through all those applications, since only select few get chosen. I really am thankful that they did help me improve my craft, and it did give me a really big appreciation for art and just how long it takes for embroidery and weaving to be done. And it's just a whole new appreciation for a lot of things. And it's like so many and I can't name them all off at once. It's really amazing just to see what a group of people can do and how much they can provide to their community, all because they care.

Ranger Dan: Yeah, that's a very special thing. And I see a lot of care in both of you for your community and expressed through your craft as well, not just in your voice. So it's a great pleasure having both of you out here at Grand Canyon. Ever since we coordinated with ZYEP, everyone in the office has been excited to have all y'all out here and participate at the Canyon. We've been looking forward to this for, like, two months. It's been great. And so, again, thank you very much for being here, LaShae and Chasady, for coming out to Grand Canyon.

LaShae Harris: Thank you.

Chasady Simplicio: Thank you.

Ranger Dan: Would you care to take a couple of questions if folks have any?

Chasady Simplicio: Sure.

Audience Member: First question, do I have a limit on how many questions I can ask?

Ranger Dan: There's no infinity symbol.

Audience Member: Well, my first question is for Lashae. You mentioned that the embroidery has a meaning for different colors, and I love the green in that piece. What does that mean or represent?

LaShae Harris: So, this piece was created by my instructor. I'm not nearly as skilled yet, and I have not worked up the courage to take on such a big project because I've seen him work on it from start to end over the year that I worked with him. But the green would be representative of vegetation and growth, and then the black kind of represents clouds and the dark storm clouds. And I was taught that the patterns and the symbols are all in active prayer while you're creating it. So it's like praying for rain and growth of your crops and vegetation. And then the designs, these would be like, rain clouds. And this is actually a rainbow, the stripes in between. So, yeah, there's different meaning between it. I believe this was a sunfade or the butterfly.

ZYEP Instructor: Yeah, it can be seen in different ways. It's either a sunflower or a sunrise, or it's pretty much a sunrise during the raining time. That black part is my rainbow part, and it's just to signify: "don't rain so much to where it floods."

LaShae Harris: So, yeah, it's an active prayer when you're creating, and there's quite a bit that goes into the creation process. And as I mentioned before, it's a lot of counting. As with weaving, it's a lot of counting.

Audience Member: My next question is for Chasady. So, you mentioned that the fringe is shorter in Pueblo sashes than in Navajo. Is there a reason for that, or is it just that's how it is?

Chasady Simplicio: Usually, Navajos will have their fringes a lot longer. The core reason I'm not too sure on the reason why. It comes with money. The more wool that you have, the more money that you'll bring in and stuff like that. That's why their fringes are very long. As with pueblo belts, it's really not the case. It's more I guess it's like a tie thing.

Audience Member: Cool. Thank you so much!

Chasady Simplicio: You're welcome.

Ranger Dan: Well, I know we probably want to beat this storm that might be rolling in here before we get completely soaked here. So, thank you once again for coming and partaking in our Grand Canyon Speaks program and we will see you tomorrow!

Ranger Jonah: Grand Canyon Speaks is a program hosted by Grand Canyon National Park and the Grand Canyon Conservancy. A special thanks to Aaron White for the theme music. This recording reflects the personal lived experiences of tribal members and do not encompass the views of their tribal nation or that of the national park. To learn more about Grand Canyon First Voices, visit Here at Grand Canyon National Park, we are on the ancestral homelands of the eleven associated tribes of the Grand Canyon, these being the Havasupai tribe, the Hualapai Tribe, the Navajo Nation, the Hopi Tribe, the Pueblo of Zuni, the Yavapai-Apache Nation, the Kaibab Band of Paiute Indians, the Las Vegas Paiute Tribe, the Moapa Band of Paiutes, the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah, and the San Juan Southern Paiute Tribe.

The first of a two-part series. In this episode, we talk to two alumni from the Zuni Youth Enrichment Program, Lashae Harris and Chasady Simplicio. LaShae is an embroiderer, while Chasady is a weaver. This conversation explains the Zuni Youth Enrichment Program, how each artist decided which art to pursue, and the value of keeping traditional art alive.

Episode 5

The Zuni Youth Enrichment Program Speaks (part 2)


Cassandra Tsalate: Yeah. And the thing, too, about pottery is, yes, over time, it will break. It will diminish. But when it does, that's when you know that its life was its full potential.

Ranger Jonah; Hello, and welcome to Grand Canyon Speaks. My name is Ranger Jonah.

Ranger Melissa: And I'm Ranger Melissa.

Ranger Jonah: And, Melissa, this is the second part of our interviews with alumni from the Zuni Youth Enrichment Program.

Ranger Melissa: Yeah. This one is with Cassandra Tsalate. She goes by Cassie. Really cool Zuni potter, only 21 years old. Really fun interview, hearing about her connection to community through art.

Ranger Jonah: Excellent. Can't wait to hear it. Without further ado, Cassie.

Cassandra Tsalate: Hi, everybody. My name is Cassie Tsalate, and I'm from the pueblo of Zuni, and I am 21. This is my first time here at the Grand Canyon.

Ranger Melissa: Yeah, and we're excited you're here. You're here with some other folks in the audience representing the Zuni Youth Enrichment Program. You're alumni of that, which is really cool that you're out here, especially you've only been doing this for how long?

Cassandra Tsalate: For at least a year and a half.

Ranger Melissa: So not too long. And your work is already, like, mind blowing how good it is.

Cassandra Tsalate: Thank you.

Ranger Melissa: My first question is how did you get into pottery, and how did you find pottery as you found that talent and that inspiration?

Cassandra Tsalate: Well, as a kid, I've always found an interest in art, basically drawing. I used to draw all the time. But one thing that got to me was seeing how pottery, the symbols, I've always wanted to see what they meant, because my family, they're jewelry makers. And sometimes I will ask them, what does this mean? What does that mean? Sometimes they will give me an answer, sometimes they wouldn't. And so, I grew up with them being more of my inspiration, jewelry makers, but not just jewelry makers, other artists as well. Yeah. And so, with pottery, I recently became an intern at the A:shiwi A:wan Museum. And so, as an intern there, I got to take a look at the older pieces, pieces that were there that were made in the 1600s. And so, with those pieces, I got to really just kind of observe them. And then there was pieces that were coming through that were from the early 1900s, and I got to actually look at those ones.

Ranger Melissa: Oh, cool. Yeah, like, actually handle them?

Cassandra Tsalate: Yeah, I got to actually handle them. Where I even got a chance to look at some candlesticks and a water jar that was made in the 1920s.

Ranger Melissa: Oh, cool.

Cassandra Tsalate: Yeah.

Ranger Melissa: Is that what's inspiring the candle jar you're working on right now?

Cassandra Tsalate: Yeah. So with the candle...

Ranger Melissa: Do you mind if I show everybody? Talk about it?

Cassandra Tsalate: Yeah. So, about the candlestick holder. Candlesticks weren't introduced until the Spanish arrived, which is the 1600s. And then moving forward into the 1800s, they were made mainly for the art market or possibly for the churches, because we do have Catholicism in our tribe. And so, moving forward, candlestick holders weren't being made, really, because then electricity came into our village and so nobody really makes candlestick holders. And so, I decided maybe I'll bring them back.

Ranger Melissa: That's cool. I like how you're kind of seeing these things that you're looking at in the museum and then trying to bring it back or revitalize some of that culture. What is your favorite part about being inspired by other artwork?

Cassandra Tsalate: My favorite part is the dedication. The dedication it takes for people to work from piece to piece. And it takes a lot. And the cool thing about every artwork is that it's not just one person. It takes a whole family; it takes a whole community to be involved. Like jewelry. Some people have their husbands working on a certain thing. Some people have their wives working on a certain thing. Same thing goes with pottery. And so they just inspire each other to work hand in hand.

Ranger Melissa: That's really cool. So, it's like communal artwork, almost.

Cassandra Tsalate: Yeah, communal, definitely.

Ranger Melissa: It's like everyone's putting in part of it, and then you get this beautiful piece of artwork at the end.

Cassandra Tsalate: Yeah. So, everybody's involved. Kids, even the youth, all the way to the elders.

Ranger Melissa: That's really cool.

Cassandra Tsalate: Yeah.

Ranger Melissa: You were saying you like looking at the designs and find the meanings. Do you have a favorite design that you have given meaning to?

Cassandra Tsalate: Yeah, so one of those pieces is not really here, but my favorite designs here would be like, the rainbird. So, the rainbird is this bird that has this hatching on it, and so it represents the rain falling. And so, on this part, like the whole piece, you have here the spiritual world at the top, at the neck. And then you have the middle, which is the present world, and then the bottom, the black part, which is the underneath worlds. And so, my design for the rainbird is that this rainbird touches the water, and it goes into bringing the rain. And through the top part is the spiritual world. And so, the rainbird is going to the left, which it means that the rainbird is going to meet our ancestors. And then through the present world, the rainbird is coming back to bring the rain.

Ranger Melissa: Oh, cool. It's like a cycle.

Cassandra Tsalate: Yeah, it's like a cycle. And then we have here also prayer sticks. Prayer sticks. And of course, the mountains on the rainbow itself that show the heavens and a river that goes in between. Yeah.

Ranger Melissa: That's really cool. What parts of your art are traditional versus contemporary? And how would you define the two of those? For those who don't know what that means.

Cassandra Tsalate: Yeah, so traditional would mainly consist of the actual form. So, for instance, the black on white here, these are more made from the prehistoric times, which our ancestors, the ancestral Puebloans they would be making the black on white, such as this corrugated. And so that was made way back like hundreds of years back.

Ranger Melissa: Corrugated?

Cassandra Tsalate: Yeah, corrugated is a cooking vessel. It holds the heat in and it's very sturdy too, so it prevents it from overflowing.

Ranger Melissa: Have you tried cooking in it?

Cassandra Tsalate: No, I haven't. With this one I haven't. So that's my next project. And so throughout the years, then you go moving forward to things like this, the rainbird, the water jars, which are more from the 1800s and then going on to more the recent stuff, which is like the 1900s onto today.

Ranger Melissa: That's cool.

Cassandra Tsalate: Yeah.

Ranger Melissa: Do you have parts of the art that are only in your work? Like, I know that is a Cassie original? Do you do anything like that?

Cassandra Tsalate: Yeah, I do. For instance, this owl. So, this owl here. Well, owls were actually made 100 years back, but the difference between my owl compared to others is usually owl's beaks will be connected, but mine is different. And then its wings don't expand, it's just kind of tucked in. It's tucked into its side. And then so this is the owl. The owls functioned as seed jars. And these seed jars, they would hold the seeds. A long time ago, when our village would get raided by the outside communities, the nomadic tribes, they come in and would steal the seeds. But in order to protect the seeds, our people then made the owls. The other people, they didn't want to even touch the owls because it was taboo for them. And so, in an innovative way, they put these to hide them. And so, this is how this owl came to be.

Ranger Melissa: That's cool.

Cassandra Tsalate: Yeah.

Ranger Melissa: Do you mind if I show that one too?

Cassandra Tsalate: Yeah.

Ranger Melissa: Cool.

Cassandra Tsalate: And so other things too, that I make that are different are in the designs. I really want to get more into knowing what the designs mean, to interpret it for myself. We really don't know what some of these designs mean and so we're trying to get back into knowing what these designs mean. And so, I come up with things like I call this bird's eye view, which is this abstract version of the sun and then the bird kind of flying into the sky. And then these triangles kind of depicting this geometric figure of a bird flying in the sky.

Cassandra Tsalate: So, they're all different. They all each have their own meanings along with this candlestick. Through all these different designs, there's things that represent the wind forming, which is always like a swirl. And so, the swirl always depicts wind or sometimes water. So, you have that and then you have the earth, which is the black bottoms. But the crazy thing is I never really found out what the symbol for fire really is. And so maybe it's hidden, maybe it's there, but we really don't know. And so, with this candlestick holder, I decided that this part is supposed to be red, so I'm going to paint it red. And then this will mean like, the fire. And this is the clouds. So with fire, sometimes we need fire. And the fire is what also keeps our pottery cooked, so in that way it forms the full life. Yeah.

Ranger Melissa: Oh, cool. That's kind of fun, where you have some symbols to work off of, but some symbols where there is nothing defined.

Cassandra Tsalate: So, then you improvise.

Ranger Melissa: Yeah. It's kind of cool that you can combine both of them to create these different pieces like you have up here. When you were learning how to do pottery and become a potter, what were some things you noticed from that process of learning the skills from your teachers? And what was all of that like, and what did you really gravitate towards?

Cassandra Tsalate: Yeah, so the people I have to thank the most are my teachers, who would be Bobby Silas, Hopi potter and Zuni potter, Gaylon Westika. Bobby does more of the traditional, so he does Zuni pottery and his Hopi pottery traditional. He's trying to revive his own work of Hopi pottery. And then Gaylon, he does traditional and contemporary. And so, they taught me how know make the forms, even just like making a big water jar like this, which I struggled in the beginning, I still struggle now. It feels really good to finally see my pieces come together. The other people that I would have to thank would be this pottery class I was taking at the A:shiwi College. And there was a Tesuque potter. There was the famous Noreen Simplicio. And there was Anderson Peynetsa and all these other potters that were barely beginning, but then they excelled as the weeks went by. They were the ones who inspired me as potters. Then we kind of just helped each other work together. They taught me some different techniques, like different coil techniques, different ways of doing things easier. Cheating, I guess you could say so, yeah. They taught me cool tricks.

Ranger Melissa: That's cool. Earlier, we were talking, you collect your own clay, you make your own pigments. Did they show you all of that too? Is that something they taught, or did you have to learn that on your own?

Cassandra Tsalate: No, I always had help from someone. We went as a class to go with ZYEP to go get clay. And then with A:shiwi College, we also did the same thing. We went to go get clay, get slip. We got some pottery shards that was given to one of my teachers from a museum to actually use them, which then kind of made it all the more real within our pottery. And so, we each taught each other, like, this is the best clay deposit to go to. Oh, you should go to here. Even my family members, those who are potters, they even said you should go here and there to show me the places to pick them.

Ranger Melissa: So it goes kind of back to that communal learning, growing, sharing knowledge. That's really cool.

Cassandra Tsalate: Exactly.

Ranger Melissa: It doesn't just go into the artwork itself, but how to get to this. It's every step of the way.

Cassandra Tsalate: Yeah, exactly.

Ranger Melissa: That's cool. When you were learning pottery, the role of being a potter in Zuni, can you talk a little bit about that history and how you see your own identity into that role?

Cassandra Tsalate: Okay, so the role of pottery is that a lot of people say that there's not a whole lot of potters, but I would say that there is a lot of potters. Like every family has had a potter or will become a potter. And so being a young person, it really makes this kind of pride that we are trying to bring it back. And so, my role, for me, is to actually make this pottery to use, to actually use the pottery for ceremonies, for everyday use. And so that's what I want to get to. To that point, to get back to how it all started, which was where we actually used the pottery,

Ranger Melissa: Not just putting it on like a mantle, you're like actually putting it in the kitchen or taking it with you and putting seeds in your owls and stuff like that.

Cassandra Tsalate: Yeah. And the thing too about pottery is, yes, over time it will break. It will diminish. But when it does, that's when you know that its life was its full potential.

Ranger Melissa: Oh, cool.

Cassandra Tsalate: Yeah. So it's a cycle.

Ranger Melissa: I like that. And you even said earlier, taking the shards to maybe make new art, new pottery.

Cassandra Tsalate: Yeah, exactly. So it's a circle of life.

Ranger Melissa: That's cool.

Cassandra Tsalate: Yeah.

Ranger Melissa: Earlier we were talking about kind of like women empowerment too. What is that like, being a potter in Zuni? How does that help your empowerment as a woman?

Cassandra Tsalate: Well, as a woman, well, way back into prehistoric times, it wasn't just women, it was men and women, I would say. And there are some archeologists who have found that men's DNA was on the pottery.

Cassandra Tsalate: It was communal. So, it was very communal because they had to help each other to survive. And so, they worked hand in hand. And then years later, it became more like the women could stay behind while the men went out to go hunt, fish, gather. And so, the women having more of that patience, I guess you would say that they kind of work more on the pottery, even basketry. From there, then it shifted into this part where in the 1800s where gender roles were really established. And that would be where the men know what their work is, and the women know what their work is. And so, the women being the potters, they really worked into their designs, to their meanings, because the men could participate in more of the ceremonial events, whereas the women, they couldn't. And it wasn't to push them back or anything, it was to protect them as well, because women were looked up as very sacred as well. And so, the women, they would put their prayers, their designs, like the deer in the house, and all these different designs, this was their prayers. Asking for the men to have successful hunt, to have their life roads be long, for everyone to be rich in crops and things like that. And so, it was their prayers. And so, as a woman now it's like that idea that we want to bring that empowerment, that it was the women, this was their work, this was their meaning to the community that they were asking for. So it was from through them that we are sustained and through life.

Ranger Melissa: Cool.

Cassandra Tsalate: Yeah.

Ranger Melissa: Thanks for sharing that. Yeah. I really love seeing your pottery and what you're kind of saying, it sounds like full circle in a lot of different facets. And one of them, by putting those prayers and thoughts into your pottery, but creating these things that are also used in the ceremonies and then also used outside, it almost feels full circle in that way too. It's like the woman's empowerment is everywhere when you're thinking about the pottery.

Cassandra Tsalate: Yeah, exactly.

Ranger Melissa: That's really cool. Do you have any inspirational women in your life that are potters?

Cassandra Tsalate: Well, yeah, there are famous potters back home. The most well-known, those would be my grandmothers. I didn't really know their names, but I knew that they made pottery. And so that just kind of inspired me to learn more. Like who were they? How did they work? How long did they work? When did they work? What made them decide to take on this full-time job? So, it was them who inspired me. So, basically, everybody's grandmother was a potter.

Ranger Melissa: That's really cool. So, it's kind of like also pottery is a connection to your ancestors.

Cassandra Tsalate: Yeah.

Ranger Melissa: That's really sweet. When you are making a design or a piece of art, how does that image come into your brain? Does it, the clay once you start working the clay that comes into mind? Or is it before you even go and gather material?

Cassandra Tsalate: Well, for me personally, it kind of comes afterwards. Once I've made the pot and I've whipped it, polished it and everything, it takes me a while to come up with my own design. But there are designs that are already known, the most well-known, like the deer in the house, the rainbird design. But when it comes to trying to not really copy, but to make a slight variation, I think it's only more respectful in that way. And so, I try to put it in my own image, and so it's not until afterwards where I kind of draw it on the sketchbook, and I'm like, oh, yeah, okay, this one looks pretty good. And then I look at my pod, and then I start working on it.

Ranger Melissa: I like that. You said earlier you get inspiration from jewelry makers and other painters. Are there aspects of the different crafts that are across the Zuni Artisan Network that you're more drawn to in terms of trying to make a pottery version of that?

Cassandra Tsalate: Oh, yeah. Okay. So, for me, the arts that I'm inspired by are the arts that, like you said, you're going to use. That are actually real from the heart. So that would include jewelry, and basketry, pottery. And so, from that, you get these things that are going to be used. Even weaving, embroidery, those things are real. They're going to be passed down from, as they say, from generation to generation.

Ranger Melissa: And when you're thinking about passing knowledge down, what plans do you have for your own future to that communal artwork? Do you have plans to do anything like that?

Cassandra Tsalate: Yeah. So, my plan is to possibly get into teaching. Even learning through this program, I was able to teach my family and other community members, even the adults themselves, they didn't even know some of these things. And so it's really that teaching moment that I really wanted to be a part of, to really teach my community, and so kind of to pass the word, like, what we're really asking for when we're making these pieces. And so that's what I want to do, to get to that point. And then to also then, like I said, teach how to actually start using the pottery, because the pottery, as I say, it's all of our riches. It's all of our life that made us survive all these years. And so, this is where I want us to be. In that mindset. That this is precious. And so that's where I want to stand.

Ranger Melissa: Cool.

Cassandra Tsalate: Yeah.

Ranger Melissa: Just curious, was teaching ever a thing you thought you were going to go into, or is it the pottery that really brought that out in you?

Cassandra Tsalate: Well, with teaching, I've kind of wanted to be more like a counselor or more so a park ranger. Yeah. And that really came into my head when I was sort of doing the museum guide thing back at the museum. And I really enjoyed it, just getting to talk to these people and really teach that. But it became even more significant talking about these things with my community, with people that I knew, people that I've known for a while who didn't even know these things. And then I would tell them, and then they're so surprised. "I didn't know you knew that!" So, it kind of helped to get them educated and to also get myself educated, because then it opened conversations to where we talk about the past, and then we're actually, okay, let's actually do it. Let's bring back what needs to be brought back.

Ranger Melissa: Yeah. So, this passion of yours. Not only are you discovering this really true talent you have, but you're also finding this other benefit to making pottery, which is you're bringing your community together. But then you're also learning together to kind of revitalize some parts of your culture together.

Cassandra Tsalate: Yeah.

Ranger Melissa: That's so special.

Cassandra Tsalate: Yeah, that is special.

Ranger Melissa: That's awesome. In terms of your next steps, what do you want to do then to continue on this path?

Cassandra Tsalate: So, my next step is to really work with the museum.

Ranger Melissa: Cool.

Cassandra Tsalate: I want to actually get to look at the older pieces and to work at just being able to handle them, to respect them, and to share that with other potters as well. Because it's that connection. It's always about the connection. And so, I want to, someday, work in the museums, possibly even donate a couple, and then bring all that what I've learned, and then bring it back home to where I get to teach other artists and to teach my family and then even the children.

Ranger Melissa: Yeah, keep it going.

Cassandra Tsalate: Yeah, to keep it going.

Ranger Melissa: That's great. Keep the line of women in your family making awesome pottery.

Cassandra Tsalate: Yeah.

Ranger Melissa: Do you have pieces from your great grandmothers? Your grandmothers?

Cassandra Tsalate: Unfortunately. No, I don't. Just pictures.

Ranger Melissa: Cool.

Cassandra Tsalate: Yeah, just pictures. The other thing about this, too, is the thing I want to do is to make pottery as gifts. So, I want to make enough pottery. I want to be that potter where they just make them all the time to where you can just give them away to the people that meant the most. That mean the most. And so, I want to get to that point to where I give it to them, because, again, it's about giving back. And so, I want to get to that point, of giving them.

Ranger Melissa: Your heart is so kind, and it's great to hear your perspective on everything and how you're bringing your community together. And just it's cool to think about pottery as a way to just build more and more connections with people in and out of your own community. Being here as a demonstrator, it's really fun to watch people come up to everybody and talk about what they're seeing and really make that human-to-human connection.

Cassandra Tsalate: Yeah.

Ranger Melissa: It's just cool to see all the work you're doing around all of that. I have one more question, which would be for everyone here. What would your takeaway? What would you want us to leave this space together, knowing in this world?

Cassandra Tsalate: Well, I would like to say that we're still keeping our arts alive. We're still here. Our ancestors would be proud of us right now. Our ancestors who've descended from the Grand Canyon and who've left their legacy behind, who left their arts and things for us to learn from, and that we're still being empowered, that we still have a voice in this, that we're still going to continue this, that our art is going to keep us together as people and to survive. And so that's what I just want people to know, that we're still empowered and we're always going to be.

Ranger Melissa: Awesome. Thanks. Well, thanks so much for coming out. And if anyone wants to come up and take a closer look at any of the work, just be careful. Some of these tables are not stable but thank you so much and hope to see you back here and keep seeing your progression of being a potter. Just get even more cool. It's just fun to see your stuff.

Cassandra Tsalate: Yeah.

Ranger Melissa: So thanks.

Cassandra Tsalate: Thank you.

Ranger Melissa: Yeah. Round of applause. Even from the back!

Ranger Jonah: Grand Canyon Speaks is a program hosted by Grand Canyon National Park and the Grand Canyon Conservancy. A special thanks to Aaron White for the theme music. This recording reflects the personal lived experiences of tribal members and do not encompass the views of their tribal nation or that of the national park. To learn more about Grand Canyon First Voices, visit Here at Grand Canyon National Park we are on the ancestral homelands of the eleven associated tribes of the Grand Canyon, these being the Havasupai tribe, the Hualapai Tribe, the Navajo Nation, the Hopi Tribe, the Pueblo of Zuni, the Yavapai-Apache Nation, the Kaibab Band of Paiute Indians, the Las Vegas Paiute Tribe, the Moapa Band of Paiutes, the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah, and the San Juan Southern Paiute Tribe.

The second of a two-part series. In this episode, we talk to an alumnus of the Zuni Youth Enrichment Program, Cassandra Tsalate. A potter, she discusses how she connects to her community through her art and the empowerment she gains through her pottery.

Episode 6

Aaron White Speaks


Aaron White: You know, music is a very powerful tool, and I'm just glad to be a part of it. I'm just a little part of it in a very big world that we live in.

Ranger Melissa: Welcome to Grand Canyon Speaks. My name is Ranger Melissa.

Ranger Jonah: And my name is Ranger Jonah.

Ranger Melissa: Hey, Jonah. Who is this episode with?

Ranger Jonah: Yeah. So, in this episode, I talked with Aaron White. He is an award winning and Grammy nominated musician. He also plays and builds the Native American flute, which is what he did when he came out here to the canyon.

Ranger Melissa: Yeah. And this interview is for your ears only. It was actually rained out in person. Inside this area we lost power that day for several hours and had to use flashlights to illuminate the space that we recorded with Aaron at. His music, though, is absolutely beautiful and mesmerizing. He doesn't even need electricity for his acoustics. But hearing about his life story while talking to you, it felt like it came straight from a rock and roll magazine.

Ranger Jonah: Yeah, absolutely. And Aaron also does the theme music for this very podcast series, so we were really honored to have him come speak as well. So, without further ado, Aaron White.

Ranger Jonah: Welcome everybody to Grand Canyon Speaks. This is one of the more unique programs that we've ever done. We were unfortunately stopped from our regular program time due to lightning. So, we are currently sitting in a living room doing this recording, and we are doing this recording because we have such an amazing presenter today. We are talking to the Diné musician and artist, flute maker, among many other things, Mr. Aaron White.

Aaron White: Hello. Good evening.

Ranger Jonah: Well, thank you so much for coming out and doing this. It is certainly the weirdest of the ones that we've done so far, but I think we're going to have fun with it.

Aaron White: I think we just got to take it with a grain of salt.

Ranger Jonah: All right, well, I guess my first question is, where are you from?

Aaron White: Well, I'm from the Northern Ute Reservation, where my mother's from, but I'm also from Kayenta, Arizona. My father is Diné, Navajo. My mother is Northern Ute, but I grew up on and off the reservation, northern California, the Bay area. I was born in Oakland, California, grew up in Niles, California, which was home to the first Hollywood. And I just recently found out I grew up right across the street from the Charlie Chaplin studios where they filmed one of their silent pictures called The Champion, which was black and white. It was a silent picture back in 1915, I think it was. It was a Charlie Chaplin film. But we lived right across the studios, right across the road.

Ranger Jonah: And you never got into filmmaking?

Aaron White: That never happened.

Ranger Jonah: You never got into making talkies?

Aaron White: No. How about that?

Ranger Jonah: So you were a touring musician for 13 plus years. So, how did you first get into music? Did you grow up with it. Was it always around? Of course, in the Bay Area I imagine you had some music around.

Aaron White: Yeah, I grew up with it as far back as I can remember. I was always doing plays, doing live performances. I did one of my first performances with a gentleman by the name of Roy Rogers who had a horse named Trigger. He came to our school and we did a performance for him in Roosevelt, Utah, and this was near the Ute Reservation. And I did a lot of performances as a kid with plays and things like that, but music, as far as I could remember, has always been a big part of my life.

Ranger Jonah: So when you were growing up, was that primarily flute music or guitar? Piano? What was your introduction instrument wise?

Aaron White: It was a little bit of guitar. I remember taking guitar lessons from a gentleman when I was probably, like, around six or seven years old. I first learned basic guitar and how to use my voice. I remember the first song I ever did was probably (How Much Is) That Doggie in the Window? Which is an old American classic. And then I was doing a song by a gentleman named Glenn Campbell. Galveston was a piece that I had done, and my mother used to take me to a restaurant in Roosevelt, and I would sing for tips when I was just a little kid.

Ranger Jonah: So you really have been working as a musician since the early days?

Aaron White: Yeah, I never saw any of that money. (Laughter)

Ranger Jonah: Where did all that happen to go? So you've always grown up with music, and then, of course, your main touring group was Burning Sky, right?

Aaron White: Yeah. My first professional, I guess, gig was when I was in the military. I was 17, and I had a band called Excalibur, and I just recently had been in contact with an old drummer friend who was part of the group. And we were a military band that was based out of Schofield Barracks, Hawai'i. And we played at all the EM clubs. Kaneohe Marine Base, Pearl Harbor, Hickam Air Force Base, Barber's Point, around the island of Oahu. Then we also did some clubs in Waikiki and Pearl City and around the island, and we were only, like, 18 years old. We were playing in a rock band.

Ranger Jonah: Having a good time, I imagine.

Aaron White: Yeah, it was great. That name is Homero Chavez, and he got a hold of me through Facebook and found out he made a career out of music as well. So out of all the members in a band, two of us chose to have music as a career.

Ranger Jonah: Are you expecting a future collaboration to come out soon?

Aaron White: We talked about it; you know. He's out in L.A. He worked with a lot of different groups and recording artists, and we just kind of compared where we were at, and we met in Southern California. We were actually on a vacation going back to Hawai'i. And so, we stopped in and had dinner with him and his wife. So, kind of a little, you know, I was looking at old photos that he had of us, and I mean, we were just kids.

Ranger Jonah: Just rocking out!

Aaron White: Just having a great time and serving in the military as well.

Ranger Jonah: Well, so you're serving in the military. You're starting with these sorts of rock and roll bands in the beginning, and how does that develop from there? What's the next step?

Aaron White: Well, I had always played music, like I said, learned from a lot of different people. And being in the Bay Area, we were always surrounded by music. I remember seeing the Escobedo family playing at this place called Lake Merritt in downtown Oakland. The Escobedo family being Sheila E. And her family. Her father was a pretty well known musician and was playing with different groups. Malo, which was a very big band at the time. In the 70s, we'd see a lot of different groups that were up and coming. Some of the bands that came out of the Bay Area like Journey, Santana, Craig Chiquico from Jefferson Airplane, Jefferson Starship. Just so many different people in the Bay Area. Such a big influence. We'd have bands come to our high school during lunch and they would play for the students. And one of those bands in the beginning was a gentleman by name of Brad Gillis, who went on to play with Night Ranger and Rubicon. I was always surrounded by music or musicians, and great musicians at that. Yeah, being there when people were first starting out, it's a pretty big influence.

Ranger Jonah: So how did they influence you? Did they influence you from a touring life perspective as you sort of saw them develop and grow, or from a musicianship perspective?

Aaron White: Just seeing them performing and them having showmanship and good songs and things like that.

Aaron White: Well, good songs do tend to help. Makes the music process a little bit easier. You know, you grew up with all of this different influence. What was the kind of music that you were listening to?

Aaron White: I listened to everything. I mean, I listened to everything from Tower of Power to Weather Report to Sammy Hagar, Black Sabbath, ACDC. Growing up, my father listened to a lot of country. Waylon Jennings. Just no matter where I was, I was always surrounded. Like I said, with music, music was just something that was always there.

Ranger Jonah: So did you tend to connect with one sort of genre more than another?

Aaron White: Probably. Rock music was a big thing. And being a singer fronting a band at the age of 18, it was an experience, you know, facing people. We played at some pretty historic places. The old Haleiwa Theater in Haleiwa on the north shore of Oahu, opening up for different people that came to the island, or playing in clubs where places would just be packed with people. There'd be two or three bands playing in one night, and in Hawai'i, the clubs back then would stay open until four in the morning and the legal drinking age was 18. So people who graduated from high school on the mainland came to Hawai'i to celebrate their graduations, a bunch of crazy 18 year olds. And then when the clubs would close down at four in the morning, people would pour into the streets and stuff. It was just pretty amazing time.

Ranger Jonah: Wow. Yeah, I'd say. I'm not sure where you can find that these days. So, what are your next steps? The group that was playing in Oahu that was named Excalibur? Where does Excalibur go? When does that start to phase into the next group?

Aaron White: Well, we all were finishing our military service, so we all went our separate ways and then I did a lot of solo things. I mean, I was playing.

Ranger Jonah: So, at the end of Excalibur, you knew that you were going to be a musician, this is what you were doing.

Aaron White: Definitely.

Ranger Jonah: You were filling the clubs till 4:00 A.M.

Aaron White: Yeah, and I moved back to the mainland after being in Hawai'i for a while. And then I got home to the Ute reservation, and I just started doing local gigs working with performing arts center in Salt Lake City. They had a big celebration for songwriters and things like that. So, I would go know, and it was a two-hour bus ride, so I would take my guitar and go out to Salt Lake City and do gigs every now and then with festivals, and then I would go back. And I knew that staying on the reservation, there wouldn't be any opportunity to play music live or anything. So, I moved to Salt Lake and started just gigging around different places, playing places for tips and things. And then I moved from there to Oklahoma City where my dad was living, and I was playing music there. I had a couple of bands that were just kind of just bouncing around playing music and everything. Then I moved to Southern California, and back to Northern California, and then I moved back to Arizona where my father was from and that's where I met my wife Marilyn, and she actually got me my first solo gig in Arizona.

Ranger Jonah: Oh wow. So where was the first place that you played in Arizona?

Aaron White: It was up on the Hopi Reservation. And my wife was a producer slash person.

Ranger Jonah: She had connections?

Aaron White: Yeah, she had a gentleman with Jacob Coyne that she had worked with. She was doing productions for models. She was doing some modeling herself down in Phoenix and she had done a production called It's Our Time and so that was kind of a big production that she had done. And she had moved back to Northern Arizona from Phoenix, and we met.

Ranger Jonah: It worked out?

Aaron White: She liked my music that I did. So, she got me this gig through her friend Jacob Coyne and then from there it just went off and we did our thing.

Ranger Jonah: Right on. So, during this time, are you still just playing acoustic guitar? Have you started to play the flute or has that not come into the picture yet?

Aaron White: No. We got married and we had kids, and I was just kind of milling around. We'd moved to Flagstaff, and I was milling around, and I had gotten a job working for Coca Cola Bottling Company and I had been playing on the side up on the reservation in Chinle, Arizona. And I was playing in Gallup, New Mexico at some of the clubs, just doing like some solo acoustic stuff. And then I was playing with a few people. And then when I finally just got tired of working the corporate life, I was going back and forth between Flagstaff and Chinle and I decided that if I'm going to do this, I'm going to do it. So, I went and got somebody together, did a demo and had an idea of creating music around the Native American flute. So, I had mentioned to a friend of mine what I was trying to do and so he had directed an individual to myself named Kelvin Bizahaloni who was a flute player. And so, he came over to my house and we sat and I had him play some lines on the flute and kind of try to figure out what keys that the Native American flute could possibly be played along with guitar accompaniment.

Aaron White: And so, we did a demo and then we went to a place called Mudshark Studios in Flagstaff and we cut a two-song demo, a vocal song and a flute song. And so, there was a vocal song I had written a while back that I had recorded, and I thought probably be kind of neat to do it with a Native American flute. So, the flute he had was kind of based between an F sharp and an E minor. And so, I figured out the chord progression in what the scale was for a pentatonic scale. And then we went in the studio, and we did this recording and a friend of ours, a mutual friend, had heard the demo and took it down to Canyon Records and had played it for a gentleman named Robert Doyle and we ended up getting a record deal from it.

Ranger Jonah: Wow. So, you know, I think that leads straight into, you know, whether it be that demo or the work that you would go on to create later, what does the process for you look like to create that kind of music? To create music incorporating the Native American flute?

Aaron White: Well, for me, melodies always seem to come naturally and hearing each note that's played, whatever scale a flute is in, I always kind of imagine and can feel it and hear it and be able to express it in any sort of mode or shape or form musically. And the first record we did was self-titled Burning Sky. And all the songs on that basically were based around the guitar. So, the flutes, the percussion, and all of the music that had been done on the first recording had basically been coming from a couple of tours in California. The first gig we did was the Native American Music Festival. And the first gig we did as a duo was at this thing called Stars in the Desert in Tuba City. And then we were asked to do the music festival in Oakland, California. And then while we were in Oakland, we got a call from somebody because no one had really heard that music at that time in 1992. The only other person I think that was doing music similar was probably our Carlos Nakai with guitar and flute. And so, we flew down to Malibu and we did this festival up at this place called Wright's Ranch, which was Frank Lloyd Wright's place, the architect.

Aaron White: And so, we were there, and I think we had done that first show with Melissa Manchester and a couple of other artists that were pretty big in the 70s and 80s. We met a gentleman there by the name of Michael Bannister, who at the time had just finished a recording with a gentleman from a band called the Plimsolls. And he was from Buffalo, New York. And the gentleman's name was Peter Case. And the Plimsolls were kind of a big group, sort of like a 90s new wave or an 80s new wave band. And we met him at the festival, and it was just me and Kelvin that were just playing, so it was just flute and guitar. And then this gentleman just happened to be moving to Flagstaff, so we met him, and he was a really good drummer. I mean, he had played with Lucinda Williams, he had played with a lot of well-known musicians. And so we got together with him and I showed him the songs that we were doing and we added the percussions to it. And that's basically how the trio of Burning Sky was formed, right. Just from traveling around, meeting people.

Ranger Jonah: Wow. That's how all great things happen, right? There needs to be a little element of spontaneity.

Aaron White: Yeah.

Ranger Jonah: So, when actually you've got this group together, how do you guys begin to write your music?

Aaron White: Well, like I said, a lot of it was based around the guitar, so I would come up with the melodies and the different changes, and we would just add the flute and kind of direct the flute player through.

Ranger Jonah: Now, was this the same flute every time or did they use a different flute?

Aaron White: I was using different flutes, A minor flutes and Bs and different modes. Anything that the native flute was based off in those pentatonic scales. And so, we just began to just create. I mean, we did the first record, Burning Sky. We did the second record, which was Blood of the Land. And so, we had done six recordings with Canyon Records, Burning Sky, Blood and Land Creation, Simple Man, Spirits in the Wind. And we did another one for a bigger label called Rykodisc, which was Enter the Earth. And we had a lot of influences that came along with Spirits in the Wind. We had John Densmore from The Doors who did some percussions on it and did a spoken word on the recording and that was the one that we were nominated for a Grammy for. And then Enter the Earth we did with Justin Valenzuela from the Gin Blossoms and so he did some guitar tracks. And the second recording, Blood of the Land, we had rerecorded a song that was written by Bruce Cockburn called Indian Wars and we ended up doing that with him at the Verde Valley Show with Jackson Browne and a bunch of other musicians. So we were starting to really build momentum of playing in a lot of different places and collaborating with a lot of different people.

Aaron White: And what was kind of cool about the Jackson Browne Festival was Jackson had heard our music and Bruce Cockburn had told him about us and thought it would be great for us to open up the festival. And then after we got done with that, Jackson Browne ended up coming to us afterwards and offered his studio in Santa Monica and gave us like three days of free recording time at his studio. So, we did that and ended up recording a bunch of stuff at his place.

Ranger Jonah: That's incredible.

Aaron White: Yeah, it was a lot of fun.

Ranger Jonah: I bet. So, in terms of the music that's on these albums, how much did improvisation play? I mean, you're talking a lot about how you needed to form these songs around the flute, around these pentatonic scales, which for those on the recording that may not know what that means, it's sort of a simplification of a major scale or a minor scale. It allows for a lot of different variety because the notes flow together very easily. So, you are writing these songs. Does improvisation come into your songwriting at this point, or do you know what you're going to do and then put it down?

Aaron White: Yeah, I think the improv happens before. Because you're gathering ideas. Like I'll sit at home, and I'll tune my guitar to standard tuning, or I'll tune it to maybe a different tuning, open tuning, drop tuning, drop D, open G, even doing slide work with slide guitar. And I'll just come up with all these melodies and just work and I can hear what the flute is going to do with the chords that I'm playing. So, I'm basically feeling my way around it first in the writing process and then I'll come in with the flute after I lay down my guitar tracks and I'll just kind of direct if I'm working with another flute player. This is what I would like for you to do. I would like you to maybe play very slow here, let it drag out, play a little bit of fast here, maybe draw these lines and weave in and out of the notes and things like that. So, when I'm creating the music, I hear it all in my headfirst. Right. And then I start kind of just maybe improvising with myself. And then by the time we get to the studio, I already know what I need to do. And hopefully the people that I'm working with.

Ranger Jonah: Just lay it down. Don't want to waste Jackson Browne's time.

Aaron White: Exactly. I won't be wasting studio time or nothing. And the people that I'm working with, hopefully they'll consciously connect with that and stuff and it'll all come together.

Ranger Jonah: Right. And I'm sure that takes a lot of trust between a band to have a cohesive unit.

Aaron White: Yeah. You have to really feel it. You have to feel your way through it. It's almost like you just have to become... You have to have the same vision. In the recording process, there was a recording we did, which was the third record, and we did a piece for a winery in Santa Barbara, California, called Zaca Mesa Winery. They wanted us to do a theme of how they grew grapes. So, they grow grapes using earth, wind, sun, rain. So, there were four elements that were involved with it. And so, we created this thing, this…

Ranger Jonah: Tune?

Aaron White: Like a bouquet of songs. We put together the first intro, which was Earth. So that was the first time I ever used the synthesizer. I used the synthesizer to sync everybody together. And then we started with the flute with the synthesizer, then brought in the percussions, then brought in the guitar. And then after we finished that piece, we did a piece called Wind. And so, with that, we opened up with just the flute and brought in the percussions. And then I added some bass lines and then guitar. And then we did rain. And so, we created a piece that would have to do with a storm or something that would be a representation of water and moisture and things like that. And then we did sun, which was basically about growth and nourishment and all this stuff. And we put these four pieces together and we did like 15 minutes of each song, and we just went with this whole theme and we played it for the company. They loved it and they were selling it at their winery for their customers and stuff. So, it was a commissioned piece to do and then the record label ended up releasing it and that was probably one of our second best-selling recordings.

Aaron White: Wow. And all from the growing of grapes.

Aaron White: Yeah.

Ranger Jonah: The beginning of any great story. So, when you're putting this feel into the music, you're sort of looking to articulate the rain or the sun or the soil or the earth. What is the process for that? Is it just sitting down and saying, how can I represent this, or is there a more detailed sort of approach?

Aaron White: I think when I'm doing that, the themes that I come up with, with the music. What recording were you guys listening to?

Ranger Melissa: All of them.

Ranger Jonah: Yeah, we listened to quite a few. I think we listened to most of Simple Man.

Aaron White: Okay, so Simple Man didn't have any percussion in it. It was mostly just guitar, bass, and flute. And then there was a vocal piece at the very end, which is self-titled Simple Man. And so, what I did with that was I spent a lot of time using alternate tunings for some of the songs. And when I do alternate tunings, you have to go into a whole different frame of mind of using strings, drone strings, coming up with interesting chord structures, but yet it still has to play into the part of how's the flute going to adapt to this? What's it going to do with the flute? How is it going to change? Because the modes that you're using with the flute, to me, the Native American flute becomes like a chameleon. It shapes. When you take theory, there's a thing called a circle of fifths. So, you connect minor modes, sharps flats, quarters, eight, just different shapes of notes. And so, you want to keep it within that. But then also you let the voice of the flute kind of take hold of whatever structure that you're doing with chord progressions or lines that you're drawing, going from maybe a minor to a major and letting it just feel its way through, if that makes any sense.

Ranger Jonah: Sure.

Aaron White; But you really have to have an open mind and you really have to listen when you're doing it and making sure that it just really has a good flow, a really nice groove to it.

Ranger Jonah: Definitely. So, what role as you're developing this music, and clearly a lot of it is inspired by theory. The circle of fifths, the understanding of the flute through the pentatonic scale. How does Western or sort of the Western notation system interfere perhaps with your music? Do you write your songs down? Is there tablature for the flute or is it sort of just the base of understanding and then you work from there.

Aaron White: It's kind of just the base of understanding. I mean, I've seen transcriptions of my music and the time signatures, you know, that we're creating these into. You always want to try to not be redundant in what you're doing because sometimes in pop music, majority of chord progressions that are used in pop music are like two to three chords. It's very repetitive. And you don't want to do that with the flute. You kind of want to always expand and create space. You want to create a mood. And you're speaking without words. You're making somebody feel something without words. And it's basically through the melody and through the progression of how the song is and time signatures play a big part of that. Whether it's fast, whether it's slow, whether it's very soothing, whether it's very aggressive, however you want it to be right? All of that is creating a feeling and a language all its own.

Ranger Jonah: And it allows the musicians to communicate.

Aaron White: You play off of one another and everything and it all just falls into place.

Ranger Jonah: Absolutely. So, in terms of Native American flute music, as an instrument and as a culture perhaps around the instrument, the music the culture around the music. In a lot of genres, you have sort of the same tunes get played again and again. In Jazz, you have the Big Book. In Bluegrass, you have sort of a pretty set canon that people know and bring to the table. In the world of Native American flute music is it just individual artists writing their own songs and bringing it to the table or is there perhaps a culture or canon that everybody kind of relates to, songs that everybody knows?

Aaron White: Well, I think in Native American music you have your traditional set songs like, say, for instance, Zuni Sunrise is a common song that was played amongst a lot of different flute makers or flute players. R Carlos Nakai did it. There’re the older flute players that were Doc Nevaqueya. You had Howard Rainer, you had Red Ute, who was Eddie Box Sr. You had Sonny Tonikov White from Oklahoma. You had a lot of these old flute players, and they were very familiar with the traditional songs. Kevin Locke from the Lakota Nation. Robert Tree Cody. You had a lot of these guys that knew these traditional songs and they would play them in their live performances. And Nakai recorded Zuni Sunrise. And there's prayer songs, there's healing songs. There's songs of meditation and songs of love. Songs of compassion. Songs of a loved one passing. There are so many different meanings and different expressions of how a flute player would approach creating a flute song and courting songs. The Lakota Nation, the Plains Indians, even Navajo love songs. Zuni songs. Pueblo, Hopi. I mean, Apache. There's so many different types and genres of the native flute using a five hole, a four-hole, six-hole, three-hole flutes. There's so many different facets and I think what connects all of those is the social songs that are played. Or someone hears somebody doing one thing, they'll maybe change a little around and add their own little thing to it. Get inspired. Be inspired. And the traditional songs, they remain traditional songs. They're not changed in any shape or form.

Ranger Jonah: Right.

Aaron White: We were talking about the Hopi Flute Society. Up on Hopi. They have old traditional songs that are played only during the time when the Kokopelli deities come around during the home dances in the summer. Or you have the maiden songs, you have the sunrise songs, you have songs for harvest or birth and a lot of different meanings. And these songs that are played amongst the Hopi people, they're kept within the village. They're not played outside of the village or anything like that because they're considered very sacred. And then you have your improvisation. People just get up and feel inspired or something, and they just go with it. But there's just so many different genres of music within Native we're just talking just Native flute music. I mean, there's drum songs and rattle songs, bird songs, sundance songs, bear dance songs.

Ranger Jonah; Hard to define different genres.

Aaron White: Yeah, different for occasions. People don't realize how big or how much music there is amongst Native American music. I mean, I'm just talking southwest right now.

Ranger Jonah: Right.

Aaron White: You go northeast, west, whatever. There's just so much.

Ranger Jonah: Right. One of the things that you would later go on to do is actually start building these flutes. So, how did the transition go? Did you come off the road before you started building flutes?

Aaron White: Yeah, we had taken a break between recordings, and I'd always been curious on how the flute worked, how the tone was. And playing with Kelvin, I was always wanting to, you know, figure out different ways of expression. You know, for a flute musician to be able to play with accompaniment, whether it was piano, whether it was guitar, whether it was just percussion, and flute or bass and flute and even experimenting with harmonica and flute, saxophone, and flute. There are all these different ideas that I would have. And the only way I would figure out how it would work was by making them.

Ranger Jonah: Doing it yourself! Just like from the very beginning, you got to get out on the road and get it done.

Aaron White: So, I started just experimenting in my garage and creating the instrument. And the first ones I did were straight through. They weren't like the standard flute with the block or the bird on top. They were just like a little notch, kind of like a quena flute from South America. And so I just got what I had available, and I figured it out. I looked at the flute, and I thought, you know, I could figure this out. And so I did it, and just through trial and error, started creating it. And then after creating it and getting down the basics, then it came time for, well, I can make it sound better. I can make more clarity. I can make it to where it's not as wispy as some flutes were, that you had more wind and you could hear a person blowing, it'd be very wispy. And my whole thing was clarity. And so, I got to the point to where I was able to make it sound even louder, and you can make it sound really hard, you can make it sound really soft. You could do all these different things. So, it was a process. But after years of doing it and creating it, I went from making single flutes to making drone flutes. And the drone flute thing was strictly by experimentation. I don't think there was very many people at the time when I started making drone flutes that were making drone flutes.

Ranger Jonah: Could you define a drone flute?

Aaron White: A drone flute is two flutes in one, which basically you have one flute on one side, which is five hole or six hole. And the first notes have to match, completely match. Otherwise, there's a little wavering. It has to sound like one note. Then when you lift off your finger to form the second note, then the drone note kicks in, which is basically the lowest note of the flute. And then when you blow a little harder, you can kick up to an octave higher, which would be the highest note of a flute. So, you have that five note, that five scale notation. So, you had your lowest and your highest note, and everything in between would basically match what that drone would sound like, and it would give it a whole different sound. And, I mean, drone flutes have been around since the time of the Mayans and the Aztecs, even going back to the Egyptian Roman Empire, 300 BC. They were putting two reeds together from the Nile and creating, experimenting with dual sounds, dual tones and everything. Then the Mayans and the Aztecs were making clay flutes that were multi-chambered instruments, maybe a high pitch whistle on the side or a bird whistle, and then a deep sounding flute, and then a mid-range sort of tone that they were creating out of clay flutes and things like that. So, it just came from being inspired by wanting to create more sound.

Ranger Jonah: Definitely. And putting that pentatonic scale on the bass note. It allows for a variety of different sort of sounds and modes. I was wondering if you could give us an example of maybe sort of the diversity in sound, perhaps the different kinds of expression that you could get from just a few small tweaks.

Aaron White: So this is really interesting. So, we're talking like a drone flute. So, you have two flutes in one. One on one side plays like a standard flute. The other side plays that one drone note, whether it's low drone or a high drone. So, if you play the two together, I'll play the single note of the flute first. (Flute plays)

Aaron White: So, the bottom with the two together sounds like one note. It's a single flute by itself, both of them together. So, when I release that first finger, the first hole. (Flute plays) So you have this second note, and you have the drone, which plays the bottom. (Flute plays) Then if I blow a little harder, I could go an octave higher. So, it sounds the same as the highest note, two notes in one. So that's what you have.

Ranger Jonah: Well, I imagine that building one of these to make those notes sound, they have to be perfect.

Aaron White: They have to be perfect. And if you make a mistake, it's just firewood. (Laughter)

Ranger Jonah: Start again!

Aaron White: Yeah.

Ranger Jonah: So, when you first started building these flutes, you first started building them for yourself, obviously, like, something like this would be very calculated and making sure that all the measurements are right, right?

Aaron White: Yes.

Ranger Jonah: So, is that the same for the single chamber flutes?

Aaron White: Yeah, it's the same with the single chamber. For me, tone is everything. So, you have to have a really good tone. You have to have a really good sound. And when you're creating a flute, say, for instance, you have it really wispy sounding, so it sound like this. (Flute plays) But if I move the block back, I can make it a little sharper. (Flute plays, sharper.) So, you hear the wind a little bit in that. But when you are making it to where the pressure of how you're blowing doesn't become more of like a swooshing sound, you get more of a clear note.

Ranger Jonah: And you're all about that clear, that tone.

Aaron White: Yeah. The clarity to me is really important. The old traditional flutes, they were very wispy sounding because they were made with two pieces of wood, like a tree branch split in half. Then the inside was either carved out or burned out with hot embers from a fire. And then they would put it back together with tree sap. Then they would tie it off with leather straps all the way across. So, if you look at old photos of flutes, like from a collection, like maybe the Smithsonian or something, you always see strands of hide tied every so far apart. That's basically the clamps holding it together. Because tree sap would only last so long. Because you got so much moisture blowing through the flute. I mean, your body temperature is what, 98.6? So that's pretty hot, especially with moisture coming out of your out of your body. So that moisture has to dissipate somewhere. So, it would either dissipate through the walls of the wood, or it would just flow through. And then whatever's left, you have this leftover condensation and everything. So it's going to seep into the wood, and you have that enough times, your base is going to fall apart if it's not put together very well. And so the old flutes, they tied all those strands along the body so that would hold the flute together, and you wouldn't have as much seepage through it. And I'm sure somebody figured it out through trial and error, that the best way we can do this is you do it. Or some of the old flutes would split after a while from the moisture because they weren't maybe treated or sealed inside, or maybe they were still kind of green and then dried out a little bit or something. So there's just a lot of different factors that go in. But moisture plays a big part of how long a flute is going to last.

Ranger Jonah: Definitely. And you mentioned this before we started doing this taping about potentially using the human body to measure these flutes out.

Aaron White; Yeah, you know, there were so many different theories going back to the time of our ancestors, the anasazi. I was told through an old flute maker that using the hand and using the arm, the length of the arm played a big part on how the notes were formed and shaped. Using a fingers width between each hole, whether it was four, five, six hole flute, that the finger measurement between each hole would be consistent. And that's how you were able to create more or less close to a pentatonic scale by doing that, and then maybe a measurement of a whole hand's width to the very first hole, and then however long you wanted it to be from the stem, from the block. So that's the old method of creating them. Now, of course, you just measure it off and, you know, how far get the holes need to be out. Yeah, but, I mean, again, if you want to talk about old tunings of them, there was really no tunings. It was basically, however, people felt that the flutes were made and everything, so that played a big part in how the sound would be. Lakota flutes were five hole flutes. Plain's flutes were five hole flutes. Six hole flutes didn't really come around until maybe European influence during the time after the 1400s and going into the 15th, 16th century, 17th century, the 18th century, I think, really started to change because there was more Europeans coming to the Americas. And their influence, the theory of music, of western music and things like that. You know, they were taught to maybe Native people that maybe had a talent that they saw, and they were more fascinated by the music than anything. There was a lady by the name of Francis Densmore who was an ethnomusicologist for the Smithsonian from 1910 to about 1932? 36? And she basically recorded any music that Native American people were making. So she traveled around the country with the Edison machine, horseback, buggy, train. She hiked into thick wooded areas to see a medicine man or a medicine woman to record a song. She was the only, maybe, white person that was able to attend a ceremony because they knew that she was doing something of importance by recording it. And so the term was people singing into the can or the flange, whatever. And she would use the old black cylinders, and she would hand crank, and then she would take them back and catalog them at the Smithsonian.

Aaron White: She would transpose the rhythms and the patterns onto sheet music so American composers could use them in creating new works of orchestrations and things like that. So she played a big, vital part in preserving a lot of music. And so, as the years went on, I think the Smithsonian, somebody went back to the archives, and they wanted to pull out one of the wax cylinders and found out they were deteriorating, so they had to digitize as much as they could. Smithsonian Folkways did a great job. And you can listen on and listen some of the old recordings. You can hear the crackling of the wax cylinders and things like that. And I think the first Native American flute song that was recorded was 1932 or 34 from a gentleman from Montana. Very simplistic in his delivery of how he played the song. He thought out the notes that he would choose to play and everything. And there's just so much history that's based around a very simple instrument.

Ranger Jonah: Absolutely. And who knows the sort of unsaid or untold influence that those recordings would go on to have over the course of the entire world's music. So you're making these flutes today. What are these flutes made of?

Aaron White; The flutes I was doing today were made out of river cane. So I had come up with an idea of resources. I mean, wood is getting more expensive now. Price of things are going up. So I had gotten a couple of pieces of river cane from a friend, and he wanted me to see if I could make some flutes out of them. And so I had a guy that sent me some stuff from Florida, sent me some cane, and I thought, what could I use? What could I create out of these? And how could I go about doing it? And again, you know, I just figured through seeing some old flutes that were old Hopi flutes. And I actually repaired a ceremonial flute that the museum of Northern Arizona had in their collection. So I repaired it, and I was looking at it, I'm thinking, oh, this would be kind of cool. And you could tell it was carved by a knife with the holes and everything. And it had a gourd at the very end, like a sunflower. It was a ceremonial flute, it had some eagle feathers tied to it. And I repaired it and gave it back to the guy the gentleman had brought it over from the museum. And so I just got the idea. Nobody's really making cane flutes. I've run into a few guys that were doing them, and I asked them, how did you go about doing this? Sometimes they won't tell you what they're doing.

Ranger Jonah: Secrets of the trade.

Aaron White: Yeah. So I figured it out, and I started getting cane. And I was invited to do a flute making workshop down on the Yavapai Apache reservation. And so a gentleman by the name of Don Decker had invited me down, and I went and harvested some river cane, and I made some very small flutes for a bunch of kids in the community. And it was a summer program, so I just started from there. And then I kind of was playing music a little bit more, so I kind of put it on the shelf for a little bit, and then I came back to it. And the first ones I made were basically really different than the ones I do now. And so, I started thinking about how can I make it simple to where people could actually do a workshop?

Ranger Jonah: Right.

Aaron White: And so I just kind of went from there and started making them the way I make them now. And was able to make them a little faster, make them to where they sound good and everything. So people who take my flute classes, they see a plain piece of river cane, and then it's really funny seeing the expressions on their faces when they hear the first note being played out of something that they were helping shape and form.

Ranger Jonah: Which to them was just a plant they picked out a few minutes before.

Aaron White: Yeah, exactly. So, it just all went from there. And this is what I do today.

Ranger Jonah: So, you've gotten off the road, you're not touring right now.

Aaron White: I'm kind of on and off, not completely off.

Ranger Jonah: So, you're on and off the road. Where do you teach these flute classes?

Aaron White: I do a class five days a week at Clear Sky Resorts, which is over in Valley, and it's like an eco-dome glamping resort.

Ranger Jonah: Sure.

Aaron White: And then I do them at the Heard Museum. I get commissioned to do some flute classes for students from the surrounding communities. Gila River to O'odham, Maricopa. Tribes that are down there in the valley. Or I'll go up to Crazy Horse up in South Dakota. I'll go to the Southwest Museum in Tucson. The Petroglyph Museum in North Phoenix. Wherever people that want to do the workshops, I'll go there.

Ranger Jonah: Like the Grand Canyon!

Aaron White: Yeah, spend a couple of days and do things.

Ranger Jonah: Thank you so much for doing this interview, for coming to the Grand Canyon, for showing off your flute making, your playing, your instrumentation, and telling your story here, even when the weather doesn't maybe cooperate with the kind of program that we want to give. For our audience at home, I wonder if you have one final takeaway or one thing after listening to this that maybe you would like people to walk away and remember from having heard this.

Aaron White: I think preservation of cultural instruments is very important. Preserving the culture is very important. I think no matter what culture you come from; language is important. The history, learning and knowing who you are in this world and wearing it like a badge of honor, your culture, some people search a lifetime to find out who they really are. Sometimes you discover it through music, sometimes you discover it through literature. Sometimes you discover it through lost family members, loved ones. Sometimes you just discover it on your own. And to me, all of us are indigenous to this world, in this planet. We all have a purpose, and we all have the power to preserve what is here. For us to preserve and to preserve for the next generation and the generation after that. We all are indigenous, we all walk under the same sun, we walk under the same earth, we all live under the same sky. And to me, music is medicine. Music is a blessing, and it brings people together. It breaks down walls and barriers of race and color and language when you play a note. And it's something that connects with another human being. That, to me, is probably the first step in communication with people that are maybe different, but maybe not so different. Music is a very powerful tool and I'm just glad to be a part of it. I'm just a little part of it in a very big world that we live in. And coming to places like this, like the Grand Canyon to share with people from all walks of life, from different countries around the globe, it's a beautiful thing. And I thank you guys for letting me be a part of it.

Ranger Jonah; Yeah, well, thank you for coming and thank you for being a part of everything here at Grand Canyon. We really appreciate it.

Ranger Jonah: Grand Canyon Speaks is a program hosted by Grand Canyon National Park and the Grand Canyon Conservancy. A special thanks to Aaron White for the theme music. This recording reflects the personal lived experiences of tribal members and do not encompass the views of their tribal nation or that of the national park. To learn more about Grand Canyon First Voices, visit Here at Grand Canyon National Park we are on the ancestral homelands of the eleven associated tribes of the Grand Canyon, these being the Havasupai tribe, the Hualapai Tribe, the Navajo Nation, the Hopi Tribe, the Pueblo of Zuni, the Yavapai-Apache Nation, the Kaibab Band of Paiute Indians, the Las Vegas Paiute Tribe, the Moapa Band of Paiutes, the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah, and the San Juan Southern Paiute Tribe.


In this episode, we talk to Grammy-nominated and award-winning Diné, or Navajo, musician Aaron White. The program was cancelled in person by lightning, so this is an online exclusive! Aaron discusses his career, growing up with music, and how he came to be a musician. Later, the discussion turns towards the Native American flute, which Aaron both plays and builds.

Episode 7

Gregory Hill Speaks


Gregory Hill: I turned to making these because I just want to have that feeling in the world, there's just so many crazy things happening, like now. And I want to combat all the negative things in the world by creating something that's going to bring joy to the world, you know?

Ranger Jonah: Hello. Welcome to Grand Canyon Speaks. My name is Ranger Jonah.

Ranger Melissa: And I'm Ranger Melissa.

Ranger Jonah: So, Melissa, you did this episode. Who did you do this episode with?

Ranger Melissa: Yeah, I interviewed Gregory Hill, who's a Hopi toy maker. I really enjoyed this episode because he dives into this concept of work leading to play and how we all should learn to be more playful in our adult lives and reach into that inner child, which he called kid magic. It was really cool giving this interview because even during this talk, he was actually making toys while we were talking to the audience. So, it's kind of cool and you might actually hear that in the recording today.

Ranger Jonah: Yeah. So, in fact, one of the things he talks about is how the toys that he makes are traditional, but recently they haven't really been made. They sort of stopped being made. It was sort of a forgotten toy. And Greg has a lot of passion for bringing this toy back, and that is just so cool.

Ranger Melissa: Yeah. He even said that by making these toys, other carvers in his community are also looking to bring these toys back, which is super exciting. So, I really hope everyone enjoys this episode. Without further ado, Gregory Hill.

Ranger Melissa: All right, everybody. Well, it's that time, so we're going to get started and I'm sure people will mosey on over. But my name is Melissa, I work here at Grand Canyon National Park. We have Gregory Hill right here. He is a self-proclaimed nerd I found out earlier today. He is also a twin which we just found out, which is really cool. He's from Hopi and he also makes tops. How do you say it in Hopi?

Gregory Hill: In Hopi, we call it patukya.

Ranger Melissa: A patukya.

Gregory Hill: Patukya. The actual spinning motion of it is called riyanpi. So, riyanpi is like that spinning motion that we make. Like if you stood up and start spinning- riyanpi. But this is the toy. It's called a patukya. So, the actual toy thing is called a patukya.

Ranger Melissa: Which is really exciting that we are exploring this because I also really enjoy Gregory's influence in terms of the power of play, really trying to bring play into art, which is really cool. We're going to explore this through a pilot program or a program we call Grand Canyon Speaks here where we invite people from the eleven traditionally associated tribes of Grand Canyon to share their voice and authentically be themselves with visitors like you all to Grand Canyon National Park. So, we will get started and I will start asking fun questions. And then at the end, I'll open the floor up for questions from y'all. And so, we'll kind of work through that together. My first question is, we keep saying Hopi, but could you explain where you're from and where that is located for people who might not know?

Gregory Hill: Gee, where are we at now? Okay, so Flagstaff, right? The San Francisco Peaks? Hopi would be due east right here, like, maybe 63 miles. You'd come upon a place called Tuba City. So, Tuba City is, like, on the Navajo reservation, but that's, like, the edge of the border for the Hopi and Navajo Reservation. So, highway 89 runs to Tuba City, but on this side of the road is the start of the Hopi Reservation. So, you'd come upon a village called Mùnqapi. So, if you keep going east on highway 264, you'll come, like, maybe 45 minutes further east, you'll come into another village called Hotevilla. And that's situated in an area that's called, there's three mesas that the Hopi live on. So, the Hotevilla and Oraibi and the village at Kykotsmovi, those are all on the Third Mesa, which kind of juts out. So, you got, like, Hotevilla and then Oraibi, then it's like a mesa goes down. And below it is Kykotsmovi. And then, so the road goes up further into, like, maybe another 10 miles up, you'll start going up into another mesa, that's Second Mesa. So, there's three villages situated up there in, like, rocks. From afar, it looks like a mountain. You get close, you start seeing houses and stuff in there, so it really looks like a big mesa. So those are the Second Mesas. And you go further down, you get to the first mesa, which resides the consolidated villages of Polacca. First Mesa consolidated villages. Hano, Walpi, Tewa, Sichomovi. The lower villages. This village is, like, totally on a big, giant, narrow strip of rock that goes up probably like 100 ft, at least. So, I'm from the village of Kykotsmovi, which lies in, like, a valley above the village Oraibi, which is one of the oldest continuously inhabited villages in the United States.

Ranger Melissa: Yeah, thanks.

Gregory Hill: But yeah, you go that way. That's where I come from.

Ranger Melissa: I like it. When you think of home, are there any certain sounds, sense of smell? Anything that brings up memories of home for you?

Gregory Hill: Yeah, the rain smell after it rains, that wet earth smell. Mostly things that I encounter in nature remind me of home. Like, there's certain bugs that I encounter that only come out up there, know, that you don't see in the southern part of the state where I live in Scottsdale. So, there's things that I see down there that I miss from home because it's like a whole different mentality. In the city, it's like every man for themselves. But out in Hopi, it's like a community, and people help each other. Everybody come eat. It's not like, oh, you can't come eat because there's whatever. If there's not enough, we'll make enough., But yeah, there's a lot of things that remind me of home. When I was in my apprenticeship, as a butcher, I used to live in Albuquerque, so I'd get like homesick because that was like one of the first cities that I moved to as a grown up. So, I would miss home but the pueblos around there, they have ceremonies and dances and stuff and feasts. So, if I missed home a lot, I'd just go to one of the pueblos and eat and watch the dances and whatever and that really took me home. So, I didn't have a lot of angst and all of that from missing home and whatnot.

Ranger Melissa: It's like a sense of community.

Gregory Hill: Yeah, exactly.

Ranger Melissa: That's awesome. Yeah. When you talked about your apprenticeship with being a butcher, that was before you started doing your tops.

Gregory Hill: Yeah.

Ranger Melissa: So, what made you switch from your long stint as a butcher to becoming an artist?

Gregory Hill: I never imagined that I would be a toy maker. Artist, toy maker. It was more like a hobby to me doing this. Because butching is my passion. I can do the whole aspect of it. Nowadays there's meat cutters. So, a meat cutter is just basically cutting this muscle that's coming already separated in a big box full of other same kind of mussels. You're just cutting it up into steaks. I know how to do the whole thing from the slaughtering to the processing to doing that part of it, taking the steaks apart. So I never thought I'd be doing anything else in my whole life. I had plans for opening up like a butcher shop and like a mobile butcher shop for people that are like game hunters and whatnot. So I had big old plans for that. If I wasn't doing this, I would have been like a successful butcher shop owner right now. But this started off as a hobby. But for one thing, my OCD won't allow me to stop making them because they all have to spin exactly right. And even if I have this right now, it's like I'm not going to stop until it spins. So that's one of my problems that I have with this, making these. Because I can't stop. But I always told myself that, okay, you can be an artist for a little while, but then it's not going to be really lucrative. And it's like I'm finding that out. Yeah. It's like I have to work twice as hard as I ever would as a butcher. I work 8 hours as a butcher. I work 23 hours as a toy maker. But before it was just like something to do. But then, now as I'm learning and evolving as an artist, it turned into something different. It turned into something that I'm creating. Something that's going to bring like, mirth and joy, happiness. Like a childlike wonder is what it is. That little kid magic that we all possess, but sometimes we lose as we grow up because we stop playing. So I turned to making these because I just want to have that feeling in the world. There's just so many crazy things happening, like now, and I want to combat all the negative things in the world by creating something that's going to bring joy to the world.

Gregory Hill: I think that's like a good mission to have. My mission is to recreate a dying toy and encourage the childlike mirth and others. So, I think that's like a good mission to have. I use my art to promote different conservation efforts like at the Grand Canyon. I work with the International Crane Foundation. I use my art to promote knowledge about the Whooping and Sandhill cranes, which are on the endangered species list. I work with a group that works with turtles, like the endangered species turtles into hatchings and whatnot. So, it turned into a good business for me. I started winning awards for my work. I thought that once I'm going to win an award, then that's it. I always told myself that over the years as I'm doing this. And I finally won an award. And it was funny because my brain shut off to doing this because that was it. And I couldn't think of ideas to carve for maybe three months. I was just like blank. I had like, artist block. And to me, I was like, well, you're finished, so why keep doing it? But then I had to challenge myself again, like, okay, well, you'd win this award, try to win first place. So right now, I got 1st, 2nd and 3rd place awards in my category, which is traditional arts. And I got two honorable mentions in fine art and a sculpture division. So that's different for me because I never think of this stuff as fine art or sculpture. But some of the ones that I really carve out really could be like, fine art and sculpture. My new challenge to me as toy maker and artist is to try to win more awards, like bigger awards. So that's my personal challenge. I could stop and not do it anymore. But at the same time, yeah, I'm setting my pedestal higher for myself right now. For one show that I've been attending for the past six years, I got 1st, 2nd and 3rd place. So now I just want to win the best of show, which is like the top prize. So that's my new goal as an artist, is to try to win more awards.

Ranger Melissa: Right. When we were talking earlier, you said one way you have done that is, you've passed on some knowledge of how to make this with your daughter. Do you want to talk through how that came about? How did you get her interested in what you're doing? What's that like doing a father and daughter duo?

Gregory Hill: Yeah. That's cool. Because this all started as a project for my little girl when she was in kindergarten. So, she would have been six, around there. She came home one day with the note and a little piece of cottonwood root. The note said that she had a pen pal in Zuni, New Mexico, which is east of us as well. As a way to share culture, the parents were instructed to create a patukya, carve out a top. At that point, I think I was into my journeymanship as a butcher, so I never carved wood before, you know? I was just carving meat all the time. But my twin brother, Jonah, he was a Katsina doll carver as I was a butcher. So, I had to go to him and borrow his carving knife. And I already knew what a top looked like in my mind because I'm a nerd and I know different toys and whatnot, but I didn't know anything about carving wood. Son my first top was really rough. I just used the knife for the whole thing and carved out the tip with this and then made a handle for it. And it was a top, but it was really rough and everything. I didn't know about rasps and files or anything like that. So, it spun, but it spun like this. It was wobbly. Yeah. And me as a nerd, I know that when a top spins, it spins straight up and down on an axis, giving enough torque to make it spin like that. So I'd be standing there cutting meat in the daytime and whatever, and just sitting there and then standing there cutting meat. But in the back of my mind, it's like it bothered me that that thing was spinning like that. So OCD kicked in, I guess. And I went back to my brother and asked him, can I learn how to carve wood from you? Nobody really knows how to make these anymore because at that point they were kind of extinct. I remember them, but I remember them when I was like a real small child and I couldn't go and ask, like, hey, man, how do you make a patukya? Because there was nobody to ask. So, what I did was went to the village and asked all the elders about them, learned that way, then took all of that knowledge and my knowledge of science, angles, height to ground ratios and all of that and put it into this.

Gregory Hill: But my daughter, she was the one that really evolved from it because when she was little and I got to a point where I started being able to sell them, which I didn't really know how to do because I wasn't an artist at that point. So, we go to these different shops and my daughter, she was the demonstrator. So, she would demonstrate the method of play with using a stick and a string with the Hopi style tops. I think I can probably do it right here in the sand. Should be able to.

Ranger Melissa: Ouu, a challenge.

Gregory Hill: So, a Hopi style top is, like, a really simple shape. It has a tip. I learned that we had to go to a rock, like a sandstone, because that's all there is here. And grind, grind, grind, grind, grind, grind, grind. I tried that one time when I was first starting out. It took me a day just to barely get, like, a little bit of a tip on there. That's why I only used hand tools, is to keep myself rooted to that aspect of it, where they had to work in order to play. But to me, it teaches craftsmanship, attention to detail, all of those good things. So, my daughter would be doing this. She'd be demonstrating. I don't think it'll work (in the sand).

Ranger Melissa: Maybe get some rocks out of the way.

Gregory Hill: Yeah, there you go. Yeah. She would demonstrate the method of play for the spinning top, and then nine times out of ten, that would be. . .

Ranger Melissa: Could you do it on the chair?

Gregory Hill: Yeah, I can do it on the chair. Yeah. So, my daughter grew up doing this, what I'm doing right now. I had to relearn how to play because we all stop playing as we grow up. So, it took me a couple of weeks to be able to learn how to play. So, you hit it and you hit it with the string, and it keeps it spinning. So, imagine like, a dozen kids all doing this at the same time. That's what I remember when I was a little kid. So, yeah, my daughter grew up, and now she's 23, she's going to be 23 in November. And I was having some health issues within the past couple of years. I think I had a detached retina, so I thought I was going blind. Everything was blur and I couldn't see anything. It was scary. I thought I was going to have to quit doing this because I can't see. So, I started teaching my daughter how to carve wood. And in the Hopi, it's taboo for the ladies to carve the Kachina dolls, so I had to go and ask and see if it was okay for her to learn how to carve wood.

Gregory Hill: They're like, well, as long as it's not a Kachina, she should be okay because there are women carvers. I didn't bring any of the real small ones, but the real small pieces that I have are her work. So, she does a lot of the real small stuff now, and I'm free to do the award-winning tops. If I wanted to, I'm comfortable to leave her at a show or whatever, whether it be a demonstration show or art show, like the Santa Fe Indian Market, something like that. I'm comfortable leaving her alone with the booth, and she'll do everything.

Ranger Melissa: That's cool.

Gregory Hill: Yeah. So, she grew up doing this. And she knows business sense and how to market, advertising, all of that cool stuff. So, I'm trying to make her go back to school to learn more about it, because one thing I hate to do is, like, paperwork, and I'm trying to get her to be my paperwork gal.

Ranger Melissa: Earlier when we were talking in the watchtower, you were saying at the beginning you'd split the profits 80 20, and then it was like 30-40.

Gregory Hill: Yeah, now we're 50-50. So, she grew up learning a sense of how to use money and how to earn money. Because we'd do a sale, and I would make like $100. She'd be right there. Where's my $20? And she'd be growing up every time that she started knowing when I promote her or whatever, that she'd do the math and everything. And as soon as we get done, where's my cut? She was on it. Now, for a while, she was kind of taking it for granted, automatically going to start making this much money and whatnot. But then now as an apprentice, I do it based on her production and everything and how much time she takes in doing what she's doing. If I set her a task, like that much, and then she'll say, oh, well, I want half. I'll go like, well, how much did you do? How much work did you do? I'm putuk-ing as a business, and she's like, my employee now, so I got to make sure she's doing the work. Otherwise, she's going to be lazy, and I have to carve out 60 tops, and she's going to want half of that when she only does maybe, like three. So, I'm going to teach her that. To be responsible in that way and set her goals and all of that.

Ranger Melissa: Right.

Gregory Hill: Yeah.

Gregory Hill: I think one day she's going to be doing what I'm doing right now.

Ranger Melissa: That'd be awesome.

Gregory Hill: Yeah. She'll carry it on, which is cool for me because that's one of my goals, is to revitalize and keep this thing alive.

Ranger Melissa: Yeah. And I'm excited she's going to start making more tops. And then you get a shift more into your creative brain and doing more intricate work. Could you explain where your ideas come from and your inspiration for what you're going to design on your top?

Gregory Hill: A lot of my tops and my top designs, they come from childhood memories, like things I experienced in nature as a child or things like conquests and even defeats and stuff like that as a kid. I'll carve it into these tops, and that way it lives on, not only in my memory, but as a way to keep my memory fresh. But a lot of my designs nowadays come from conservation efforts. I believe that much like a turbine can create an energy; a top will create an energy as it's spinning. So, now a lot of my designs are in hopes that these things I'm putting into and on my tops are going to materialize in this world somewhere. Like the bees are becoming extinct, so we need more pollinators. So, I'll put bee tops that are totally carved out with bees and hives, honeycombs, and flowers and whatnot. So, I'll do tops like that and that's where my ideas come from. Things that I want to materialize into this world by using this spinning energy. But yeah, for one of the rangers a couple of maybe five years ago, she liked butterflies. So, I created a top that was totally carved out, butterfly up here and the bottom part was like a lady, like a maiden. Like the butterfly was landing on top of her head. It was like really colorful and everything. And another ranger was part of the turtle group, and I made her a really cool, colorful turtle. Like the sun was shining through the water and hitting that turtle shell and all those mosses and stuff that grow on it. And it made it like a burst of color. So, when it spun, it was like really colorful and everything.

Ranger Melissa: Yeah. In terms of designing a top, there's two parts to it, right? You're not only thinking about what it is going to look like, but also what's it going to look like when it starts to spin. How do you decide or how do you even think like that? That is blowing my mind, because today you were even talking about like, oh, I'm going to use blue and red to design a top so that when it spins, it makes a purple color. How do those ideas come into your mind, too? Like the color play that you can do when it's in motion versus not?

Gregory Hill: I'm sure a lot of artists, especially painters, they have what's called a color wheel. So that shows you which colors are going to do which or whatever. So, I kind of like have a mental color wheel in my mind. And it's like I can't look at things now normally. Every time I see something in my mind, it's doing this.

Ranger Melissa: It's like spinning?

Gregory Hill: Yeah. So, I always wonder, like, well, what colors go with this color? But as I'm carving it like this right now, what I'm carving, I think I'm going to carve, like maybe a grasshopper or something. That's what I see is a grasshopper sitting right here. So, this is going to be like the back legs, the front legs, the head right here. This is all going to be cut away, and then it's going to be sitting maybe on a flower or something like that.

Ranger Melissa: On the flat part?

Gregory Hill: Yeah, it's just like a lot of times I don't want to make these things. It's what's inside the wood that I see. It's what the wood wants to be. So, yeah, a lot of times I just use my imagination and what the wood wants to be. I can't force it. And when I do try to force a design, they're never balanced. They won't spin at all. So, I know I'm going to change it then into something else, and then it works. It starts spinning again.

Ranger Melissa: That's cool. And speaking of the nerd inside you and the way it spins. Being able to teach this to someone, what's involved in learning how to make a top? Because it feels like a lot of art, but also a lot of math.

Gregory Hill: Yeah, it's math, its science, it's attention to detail. When I first started doing this, like I say, I'm a nerd. So, I was taking a lot of time to figure out the angle of the tip, 45-degree angle or like a 30-degree angle for best height to ground ratio and all of that. So, it was hard teaching my daughter all of that because she's not a science buff. And new math nowadays is crazy. It turned out to be really technical. Like using a compass and everything and a lot of different tools. Somehow, it evolved in my mind and in my hands that instead of doing all of that, like getting a ruler and trying to see if I have the right angle, whatever, it's all feel. By feel. I'm feeling the wood, and I'm feeling like if there was a little see, it's not even right here, right? It goes up, it goes down. You can feel it. Do this with it. Yeah, turn it in your hand. All those bumps and raises and everything. You guys want to check it out? Yeah, everyone feel it. Rather than being yeah, just get it and turn it in your fingers and you'll feel all of those bumps and raises and everything.

Gregory Hill: And that's what I kind of take away. Right, but now, yeah, I don't even use hardly any math or whatever. It's just all what I feel. But then only time I use math is when I inlay natural stones, like turquoise or opal or any of the natural stones. Sometimes I'll inlay them into the top, and then I got to use math because I got to take the weight of that stone counterbalance with the weight of the other stone that I'm using. Sometimes I have to use like two or three stones on this side to counterbalance that weight and then make the top so it'll spin using those stones for more momentum, for forward momentum. So, when I start to spin it, the weight of that stone will push the other weight of the stone and it'll cause a longer spin. So, then I got to figure out how many kilograms or micro kilograms. I got to figure all of that out. The most stones I've ever put on a top was 26 pieces of turquoise onto a top. And that spun for a really long time, because all that weight and the way I made it was shaped like a heart. So, all of the stones that were on this part of their heart counterbalanced these stones on this heart and made more weight as it spun. So, it was like kind of pushing it.

Ranger Melissa: It pushed itself, yeah.

Gregory Hill: And if it wasn't for friction, that probably would have spun for like half an hour. But yeah, it's always the friction that the two surfaces are touching that slows down a top as it's spinning. So, if there wasn't friction, theoretically a top would spin in perpetual motion, but there's friction, and that causes heat, and heat slows it down.

Ranger Melissa: Kind of like the world. Cause we keep spinning.

Gregory Hill: Yeah, exactly. The world's doing this right now. It's supposed to be spinning like this, but it's spinning like this, kind of an axis. So, it's like a wobble. It's doing like a wobble. I think it's like a 26-degree wobble. So right now, the North Pole used to be like this, but now the North Pole is more towards the British Isles. So, in the Hopi, we have a story about that, about what the Earth is doing. It has to do with twins. The twins control the poles of the Earth, and then when it gets to a point in time when the Earth is going to end, the twins go opposite and then they make the Earth shake and it gets wobbly, and then the Earth will crumble. So, I think that's what's happening now is because the Earth is doing that wobble. It's been wobbling since 2011, I think. So, my next really big, my best of show top that I want to do, is going to be like an eight-inch diameter top that's going to explain that story, and the twins are going to be on there. So then when it spins, it's going to like all tops that spin, they wobble when they slow down. But what's cool is that when a top does like a wobble, when it's slowing down, it's going even faster than when it first started. So it's all that energy that's going to build up, and then as it wobbles, it goes boom. It's like a burst of energy. So when it wobbles, it's going even faster.

Ranger Melissa: That's going to be really cool to see.

Gregory Hill: Yeah. So then that top, when it's going to stop, it's going to be like, the twins are making that wobble happen and the Earth is going to crash.

Ranger Melissa: That's cool.

Gregory Hill: Yeah.

Ranger Melissa: Will you have that done by Thursday? I'm just kidding.

Gregory Hill: In my mind, I'm carving it right now. Yeah, I'll have it done probably for the Heard show. That's the one I want to win. It's the Heard.

Ranger Melissa: At the Heard Museum down in Phoenix?

Gregory Hill: Yeah, that's the one I want to win.

Ranger Melissa: That's awesome. You know, we're kind of winding down on my questions, but I had one. We were talking earlier about tops and how you didn't really know how to appraise yourself, like, how much should these actually cost? And it was like bringing an idea into my head where we've had many cultural demonstrators come out and there's all this love and positive energy that goes into all this different art. But then when people buy that art, it kind of just sits on a wall or sits on a shelf. And I really appreciate your artwork because you play with it, you actually utilize it. You're not just admiring it from a distance, you're bringing out that positive, that kid energy, like you were saying, but it's also this very beautiful thing that you have just thought up in the wood. How do you envision yourself in that scope? Of trying to figure out the worth of what you're creating when you have so many more dynamic interactions with your clientele?

Gregory Hill: That was my biggest problem as an emerging artist and all of that. I didn't know the value of my own work, which is, I think, a lot of problems for a lot of artists and people that make crafts and whatnot. What am I going to price this at? What's somebody going to pay? When I first started out, these things were like $5, $10 like this.

Ranger Melissa: What?

Gregory Hill: Yeah. I didn't know that. I didn't know what it was worth or whatever. I was happy to be able to sell that for that much. But I'm a nerd and I'm a smart man. I have an associates in business, so I started using that towards what I'm doing now. I'm running a business; I'm not going to be giving things away. I put x amount of time into doing this, whether it's going to hunt for the wood, bringing it back, curing it, cutting it, making it into something that's going to work perfectly. In my mind it has to, or else I'm not going to sell it. So, I started learning about commerce and I looked how much a man-made, machine-made top was. Mine aren't machine-made. I put more effort into it. I put that into account, so started bringing my prices up and everything and I'm running a business now. But, the other side of that is I'm not greedy for money or whatever, you know? You saw yourself, I've given away tops here today, at least three or four today, because to me, it's not about the money. Sure, I can make money doing this, and I do make money doing this. But the feeling that somebody gets when they see this. Like an old person that hasn't seen a toy in 80 years is going to see this thing. And mine is going to go back to that time when he was a child. He or she was a child. And their faces change, their demeanor changes, they light up and they get this energy every time. It's like an energy; they stand up straighter. One time I had an 80-year-old gentleman come, and he said he used to play with the stick and a string top, and it took him, like, 14 times to get down enough to actually spin the top. But he did it. And as soon as he did it, his whole body just loosened up, and he was whipping it and playing with it. And it was cool to me to see that. So that kind of thing is like, the reward that I look for, and that's my reward for doing this. It's not about the money sometimes. A lot of times, yeah.

Ranger Melissa: And I think that brings a huge point. The pure joy that your art brings is kind of almost invaluable. Like even today, I know I was playing with your tops, and I forgot I was working.

Gregory Hill: Yeah, right.

Ranger Melissa: It was so much fun.

Gregory Hill: You were talking about something that sits on the mantle or whatever on the shelf. A lot of my award-winning tops do that, which is sad to me, because I make them, no matter what the shape, size, whatever, they're all made to spin. And a lot of my big-time collectors that buy my big ones, they'll just sit there on their shelf or whatever, and I ask them five, six years later, do you guys play with your top? Oh, no. It just sits on the shelf. I was like, can you please spin it like one time?

Ranger Melissa: Release that power!

Gregory Hill: Get some energy going.

Audience Member: Get the dust off.

Ranger Melissa: For the dust to fly off.

Gregory Hill: Yeah. One of my biggest collectors, she has a big bowl, has, like, maybe 15, 16 tops in there. She keeps it out for people to come and play with them and whatnot.

Ranger Melissa: Awesome.

Gregory Hill: Yeah.

Ranger Melissa: My last question before we throw it to the audience is, if you had one takeaway for all of us here in this community tonight, what would that be?

Gregory Hill: Never stop playing. The art of play is something that's dying out in the world thanks to these things (phones). You're hunched over. I'm playing. Don't bother me. Go do the dishes. I can't, I'm playing. That's crazy. To me, that's crazy. Because I grew up playing outside, running around, climbing rocks and doing all this stuff, getting into trouble and danger. So, when we stop playing, there's synapses in our brains that go dormant, and those synapses in our brains that are associated with play are also associated with memory. So, if you stop playing, those synapses are going to stop moving and stop firing off. So, you're going to start forgetting things. You're going to start having memory lapses. And it's a proven fact that the art of play, as well as music, is the most beneficial thing for your brain to do. No matter if you're 9 or 90, we all have a little kid inside. Never stop playing. You're never too old to play, no matter how old you are. So that's one thing I want everybody to take away is just to remember that little kid inside of you.

Ranger Melissa: I love that. Never stop playing. And I thank you so much for coming to our demonstration program, which will be in the watchtower tomorrow from nine to four, as well as on Thursday. So, if you want to see Gregory making more tops or ask more questions, you can visit there. But it's really great that you're here, and I'm happy to have met you because I also really appreciate the idea that you're bringing this back, like, bringing something that was close to being kind of forgotten back to life. And that's just really cool. How you're doing that through art.

Gregory Hill: It's cool to me because I noticed, like, a lot of Kachina doll carvers are starting to make patukya now.

Ranger Melissa: Oh, cool.

Gregory Hill: But I think I got it to a point where there's a patukya and then there's Hilltops. So, I kind of made myself higher in skill level and all of that. But it's fun to me to see that the carvers are making these, because, like I say before, when I first started this, nobody was making them, but now it's coming back, so I'm revitalizing it, which is my goal.

Ranger Melissa: That's so cool.

Gregory Hill: Yeah.

Ranger Melissa: I'm going to throw it to the audience if anyone has any questions, too. Thanks so much.

Gregory Hill: Oh, you're welcome. Thank you.

Audience Member: What type of wood do you like to collect and use?

Gregory Hill: Okay, so the wood that I use is the root from the cottonwood tree. So, the cottonwood trees, they normally grow, like, near a body of water or a river. So, the root system, it grows into the water. The water, when it's flowing, it'll break it off. Sometimes, I get 20, 30-foot lengths, and the water helps to straighten them out. So, I'll go and hunt, like, near rivers and whatnot locally and around. And I'll go hunt on the riverbeds and find these pieces of wood. I'll drag them out of the water, haul it back and take it home, dry it out, and cure it. And the better stuff, I can always tell because I'll put my thumb into it, and if I can really put it in there, then I know that's, like, soft, good, soft wood. But that's my favorite piece of wood only because it allows me to really carve into it and stuff. But I've used teak, ebony, ironwood, a lot of the hardwoods, because the more the top weighs, the more it'll spin, the longer it'll spin. The heavier the weight, the longer the spin. So those tops that I've made from ebony antique, those ones spun for, like, maybe five minutes.

Gregory Hill: The ones that I'm trying to make from ironwood, that's metal. So that one's taking me a while, but that one's going to probably spin for a very long time, too. There's a tribe down in Mexico called the Seri. They have lady carvers, and they carve nothing but ironwood. And, geez, they carve, like, flamingos and pelicans from one piece of wood, and they make it look like it's like butter. So, I don't know what kind of magic they're using, but.

Ranger Melissa: Women power.

Gregory Hill: Yeah, exactly. Wonder Woman power. But it's fun watching them. I was at a wood carving convention in San Diego, like, in 2015, and all these little noises that I make with the wood, it was, like, amplified by a thousand because there was, like, five hundred wood carvers all in the same room working. Yeah. So that was a big kick for me.

Ranger Melissa: That's cool. Any other questions?

Audience Member: Curious to know, how did you pronounce it?

Gregory Hill: The patukya.

Ranger Melissa: The patukya.

Audience Member: What's been the longest amount of time that you've worked on one particular one?

Gregory Hill: Oh, the longest time I've worked on one. Three and a half months.

Ranger Melissa: Oh, wow.

Gregory Hill: I won first place at a show. I carved a hummingbird. So, the hummingbird was kind of like this shape, but then the wings came out like that, and then the head was dipping into a flower, which I carved. This whole part was a flower, so the hummingbird head was dipping into it, and its wings were, like, fluttering like that. And that one was inlaid with spiny oyster shell, red coral. I think it was bisbee turquoise.

Ranger Melissa: Wow.

Gregory Hill: It was all kinds of flowers carved around the side of it, too. And on the bottom was, like, pottery designs that were hummingbirds. So that took me, like, three and a half months because every little feather was carved out, every little overlapping feather. From the wings to the body to the tail and all of that. So, yeah, that took me three and a half months for that one.

Audience Member: How much time do you envision dedicating to the eight-inch top that you're going to be working on?

Ranger Melissa: Oh, yeah. The one that you're going to make with the twins, how long do you think that'll take?

Gregory Hill: I've been carving that in my head for three years now, so I'm looking for the piece of wood that's perfect for it. I have some good diameters. I'm looking for eight inches or more because I'm going to carve it down because it's going to be a lot.

Audience Member: Has it happened to you where, for instance, you're dedicating 15 hours to a top and then it splits in half?

Ranger Melissa: Oh, does it ever split or break?

Gregory Hill: Yeah, handles break a lot of times because the handles are carved out of one piece of wood. And I find that when I'm disturbed or preoccupied, my tops don't get balanced. So that's how I know I'm bothered about something. Yeah, I've carved tops where I've carved wings and everything out of a butterfly. And then I'm getting to that last point where I'm burning and I do it wrong or something, it pops off. But I've learned that every mistake is an opportunity. So, when I break something, I can turn it into something else. And I'm the only one that knows about the mistake. So, I used to be really hard on myself about mistakes until I realized that, one, I'm the only one that knows about those mistakes, and two, nobody else knows that it's a mistake.

Ranger Melissa: I love that. Yeah, I'm going to take that home.

Gregory Hill: Even in different things that I'm not carving, when I make mistakes in life, I know it's opportunity because I can learn from it and not do the same thing again. Yeah, you got to be more extra careful being a butcher and all of that.

Audience Member: That's ribeye steak!

Gregory Hill: Yeah, right. And I learned the old school way where it's all hand cut. We really used to saw and everything. So, everything was all the different types of knives that we used to debone, to slice, to cut, to make roasts and everything.

Ranger Melissa: Yeah, all ten fingers.

Gregory Hill: I got a good scar, though. I got a really good scar from a cut, but that's my initiation. I took it like that, like initiation. So, I never cut myself after that. Same thing with woodcutting. I cut my finger really good when I first did it because I didn't know what I was doing, and that was like, my lesson learned. So, I cut myself every once in a while, but it's not a big thing to me. Put some superglue on it and get back to work.

Ranger Melissa: Keep going. I love that. Any other questions?

Audience Member: Where do you get your carving tools from?

Gregory Hill: These are actually my grandmother's tools. She was a wood carver, so a lot of my files and rasps are hers. This is my carving knife. It's a brand called Opinel. It's a French made knife. Before, I used to use the old Henry knives. You know, the old folding knives. Those were like the number one wood carving knives back in the day because it was high carbon steel. They stayed sharp for a long time. But nowadays, if you see wood carving knives like the Kachina doll carvers and whatnot, they'll have probably an Opinel knife. You get these, like, on Amazon or whatever. In France, I heard they're like, only $2 or whatever. Here they're like 16 to 25, I think. But they got different sizes. Like, the blade sizes go up and down. So, this is a number eight. I have a number six as well. I use a number six for finer detail work, like really small, carved out stuff I haven't had to buy. Yeah, he uses the same kind. This is the kind I cut myself with the first time, but not this one. Yeah, but all of my rasps and files, they're all my grandma's tools and whatnot. She probably got them from wherever hardware store was around back in the 70s, probably. Yeah. So, it's fun to use her tools, especially a little mallet that I have, because I can feel her energy in it, she's used it for so long. And when I know I'm not holding it right, I'll look at it and, oh yeah, this is how she was holding it. And it works a lot better. So I can feel my grandmother's energy in the tools that I use. And I like that because her carvings are nothing but ironwood and it's like really cool intricate carvings and I'm glad to be able to use her tools for what I do.

Ranger Melissa: Well, thank you so much for coming out. Did you have one more question?

Audience Member: You talked a lot about the tops today, but what about the other pieces you have?

Ranger Melissa: Oh, the pieces out front?

Gregory Hill: Okay. Yeah. Well, being a butcher, I never had time for art at all, but I used to like to draw a lot, like a really good draw. I used to be a tattoo artist in my 20s.

Ranger Melissa: Oh, cool. Should have talked about that. (Laughter)

Gregory Hill: Yeah, right. I'm currently going through hemodialysis because my kidneys are jacked up. So, when I'm at dialysis, this arm just like sits there. And before I was carving there, but then this arm just sits there. So, this arm is free, and I get bored. So, I bought a sketch pad. All of the designs I put on my tops; I never draw them beforehand. It's always just what I see in the woods. So, I don't have any sketches of stuff. But now I started drawing in that sketch pad. So, I've been getting those doodles pretty much. I get it and then I take it home and kind of build up on it. So, I started making relief style carvings with this. So, all of my ideas from dialysis are turned into wall hanging art. Cool. Yeah. So, I call them my dialysis doodles. But yeah, it's like fun for me for doing something different when I want to do something different besides tops. So, yeah, I've been winning awards for my flat pieces, too, so yeah, those ones are pretty neat.

Ranger Melissa: Well, thank you all for coming. The sunset will be nice.

Gregory Hill: It should be a good one.

Ranger Melissa: Get a good spot.

Gregory Hill: Thank you, guys, for coming!

Ranger Melissa: I appreciate it.

Gregory Hill: Yeah, come check it out. Yeah.

Ranger Melissa: If you need the parking lot, it's behind you.

Gregory Hill: If you come tomorrow, I have like 40 more, I think. And these are all going to be carved into tops by the end of Thursday.

Ranger Jonah: Grand Canyon Speaks is a program hosted by Grand Canyon National Park and the Grand Canyon Conservancy. A special thanks to Aaron White for the theme music. This recording reflects the personal lived experiences of tribal members and do not encompass the views of their tribal nation or that of the national park. To learn more about Grand Canyon First Voices, visit Here at Grand Canyon National Park, we are on the ancestral homelands of the eleven associated tribes of the Grand Canyon, these being the Havasupai tribe, the Hualapai Tribe, the Navajo Nation, the Hopi Tribe, the Pueblo of Zuni, the Yavapai-Apache Nation, the Kaibab Band of Paiute Indians, the Las Vegas Paiute Tribe, the Moapa Band of Paiutes, the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah, and the San Juan Southern Paiute Tribe.

In this episode, we talk to Gregory Hill, a Hopi carver and toymaker. The conversation revolves around Gregory’s efforts to bring back a forgotten toy, the Patukya. His toys work to bring adults back to feeling childlike wonder, and Gregory’s efforts have even encouraged other carvers to start creating tops!