I was impressed with how calm you were in the show. How do you maintain this calmness?
I get it from my grandfather, Kady Gonna Begay, who was a gentle giant. Everything he did during his life here on earth had such calmness about it, yet he was a husky big-boned person standing at about 7 feet tall. I hear lots of stories of him taming the wildest of horses with the help of my mother, Mary K. Clah, who also has a very calm spirit and soul. Being raised by these two very important figures in my life made me who I am today. The other sources are my spirituality, which gives me my faith and healing of the mind, spirit and soul. The environment that I occupy with my sheep is also a calm, surreal and harmonious place.
There was a great sense of community when I watched the show. How do you ensure that this exists?
First, by being the example and using what I was taught by my grandparents and mother: be wholehearted, loving and always have respect of oneself and others. I was also taught that you must not just look at a situation, you should help where help is needed and always stop and lend a hand. I was also taught the meaning of “whole community”, where everyone, including the animals, plants, air, water and rocks is an important ingredient of our existence. The creation stories we tell in the winter months have those teachings embedded in them, and are our reflections of life. They teach us our purpose here on earth, which is to live together to the fullest on the pollen trail of beauty.
How do you get the younger generation interested in what the older generation has to teach and say?
By being involved, and making sure that there is communication between both generations. A couple of years ago, with the help of a wonderful Navajo Grassroots Organization, Diné be’ iinÃ¡ Inc., I was able to commence a wonderful summer Youth Sheep Camp program, high on the Carrizo Mountain, where we pasture our livestock in the summer months. At this camp I bring both generations together so they can be immersed with each other in stories, hands-on workshops, and learn about traditional sustainable ways of life. They also learn simple things such as cooking, basic survival skills, herding the sheep and maintaining the land, collecting medicinal herbs for healing, and most of all finding their inner soul and connecting with that for self-identification. I’m always finding new ways to bring the two generations together. Most recently, through my new political role as our Teec Nos Pos Chapter President (which is like being mayor of a town), our community established a Youth Council and I appointed a wonderful gentleman, Christopher Francis, to organize it so that the youth have a voice in their government again. It’s been a huge success. I feel that I’m put here on earth to be the bridge between the two generations, and to provide them with the leadership and support that they need
Food is a big part of your culture – do you cook yourself?
Oh yes, I love to cook. Just ask my family and co-workers at the Chapter House. I’m always bringing food that I’ve cooked to our meetings and cooking the main dishes for our family gatherings. I also enjoy using spices, herbs and other ingredients that are not traditional to us. I like to experiment with them and using them in our traditional dishes. I could be the Navajo Jamie Oliver (Roy Oliver), and it would fit, because his last name is a common last name here in our community. When he cooked for us here, he used some of our ingredients the same as I have before, but after tasting his recipe, I have to alter mine now because I liked his balance.
Had you heard about Jamie before he visited?
I’d seen a couple of his food shows on TV before, but I wasn’t a fan yet. So yes, I had heard of him but only a bit, as I don’t watch a lot of TV.
Had you heard about the work that Jamie has done with Fifteen Foundation and also his plight to ensure with School Dinners here in the UK?
I hadn’t, but when he was here he told me about his wonderful work with the foundation. It’s similar to my line of work because I’m totally dedicated to these types of causes. They are important to me as well. I’d love to set up a similar program, teach Navajo culinary arts and open up a wonderful restaurant here in our community with a similar program to the Fifteen Foundation. I’ve been talking with a culinary school in Scottsdale Arizona about this as they have a wonderful Native culinary program in place. Jamie has a lot to do with this idea because he has given us the inspiration and motivation to follow in his steps. I’d like to ask him for his assistance in making this dream come true.
Are there any similarities between Jamie’s campaigns and your goal to get the younger generation interested in Navajo food and culture?
There are many similarities. When Jamie was here he totally connected with the youth. During his short visit with our local school he was able to convince some of the students about fun healthy cooking and eating. In fact we are already moving towards certifying our chapter’s kitchen, so that we have some after-school cooking programs for the youth and the community members.
Has there been any change in the young people’s attitude since Jamie visited?
Many positive changes have occurred since Jamie’s visit. The youth have formed their council and are proposing some wonderful changes here. They were involved in many causes this summer and united to beautify their community.
How is the greenhouse project coming along?
It’s coming along well. Our sister school from Colorado were here this summer to help us complete the greenhouse. They spent some days working with the dorm students to plant a garden for the summer. We still need some minor work to complete the greenhouse and I’ll be working with the local school to plant a winter garden for themselves and our local senior center. But overall, it has totally transformed our community farmers. For example, in spring 2008 we had four people who farmed, this year we had 18 successful farmers. It’s a new beginning and it feels so good!
How can people find you if they are interested in learning more about Navajo traditions?
You can visit our family’s website at www.dinewoven.com. Other websites on Navajo culture that I recommend are www.navajolifeway.org, www.navajo.org and www.discovernavajo.com/culture.html.
What do you think the future holds for you?
To continue on the pollen trail of beauty into old age, living life to its fullest, loving, caring, and being an agent of change for the next and all generations to come, also exploring new places that I haven’t been to, of course herding sheep and weaving rugs, those are my passions, and taking it day by day, whatever the day brings me, but just enough to live on, and not taking advantage of my life giving’s.
Anything else that you would like to add?
I hope the show gives the audience new meanings of living a life that is full of happiness, caring for the earth, each other, loving one another unconditionally and taking time to reflect on your life, to always give thanks for all the sacrifices of species that we incorporate in our food cycles. I especially want to thank all that made this show possible. Jamie’s crew was fabulous, as were the people in my community that came out in the cold to be a part of this special show. I love all of you! And to Jamie may you always walk with the warmth and protection of the woven blanket and grounded by the connections of your moccasin here on earth, in beauty forever more may we all walk in beauty…