Youth learn to
create hózhó through art
FLAGSTAFF, AZ When sung, traditional Diné believe,
Navajo songs have the powerful ability to attract hózhó
and positive events into a person's life.
10 youngsters belonging to the Morning Star Leaders Youth Council,
a Native youth organization, based in the Phoenix metro area, the
Navajo songs they shared over the weekend blessed them with a unique
opportunity to spend a day learning and creating art with legendary
Navajo artist Baje Whitethorne, Sr. at his homestead in Flagstaff
Early that morning, amid the cacophony of horse whinnies and
dog barks on Whitethorne's ranch, youth council President Megan
LaRose, 15, explained how the youth council members came up with
the idea of organizing the art workshop they decided to call "A
Morning with Baje."
"Originally, we met Baje, and we really liked his artwork,"
said LaRose, of their meeting back in March at the Heard Museum
Indian Market. "We started talking, and we put together a workshop
with him. He's going to teach us to do watercolors and how to draw
It just so happened that Whitethorne and Art of the People,
Inc. - a group of Southwest regional Native American artists that
most recently have adorned the Twin Arrows Navajo Casino Resort
with vibrant pieces of Navajo art - were in need of Navajo songs
sung by children to be featured in an extension of the group's promotional
video that initially premiered at the casino's VIP grand opening
on May 22.
Needless to say, a partnership was made: Whitethorne would teach
and the youth would sing.
Armed with five pieces of drawing paper, the kids began the
morning workshop with instruction on how to create rough sketches
of simplistic Navajo landscapes for which Whitethorne is well-known.
"Take your fingers to the edge of the paper, and draw a frame
around your picture," Whitethorne instructed. "Sometimes there is
a little bit of discomfort at home, and this is your space."
Birds punctuated the air nearby with enthusiastic chirping.
"Are you ready?" Whitethorne asked. "Now, do as quick as I can."
Encouraged to practice drawing by doing and not thinking too
intently on what they were to draw, the kids drew - as fast as they
could - the landmarks of quaint Navajo life that Whitethorne quickly
First, it was the Mittens of Monument Valley, then rolling hills
in the foreground, followed by juniper trees, a brightly shining
sun, clouds, a log Hogan, a sheep coral, a shade house, water barrels,
and crows flying high above the land.
"Tsiilo!" Whitethorne prodded gently. "We're not trying to make
it perfect, we're just trying to work quick."
The youth council members, along with parent volunteers, giggled
excitedly as they guided their Sharpie markers hastily all over
their drawing paper.
At the very end, everyone was instructed to write "Hózhó"
at the top of their drawing frame, along with their names at the
"Jo hozho nitsaakees," said Whitethorne, explaining in Navajo
that one's thoughts ought to be rooted in beauty and positivity
when creating anything.
the first round of drawing, the group repeated their landscape drawings
four more times. On their third attempt, however, they were told
to slow down and to focus on basing their new landscape drawing
on the one finished previously - only more detailed.
As Whitethorne guided the group's third and fourth renderings,
he also became an increasingly descriptive storyteller.
"You need to draw a tall door to the hogan because our chi who
lives there is really tall, and he has really tall sons with long
legs who play basketball for Monument Valley High School," Whitethorne
narrated as the kids and adults both drew.
After the fifth and final round of drawing, the message of practice
makes perfect was shared, which resonated well with Skylar Yazzie,
"I like how Baje said repeating a drawing can make you perfect
it more if you keep practicing - kind of like sports," Yazzie said.
Megan LaRose echoed Yazzie's sentiment, adding that by the end
of the final round of drawing, she could tell the stark difference
between the early rough sketches and the final detailed drawing.
"It showed me how practice can actually help," LaRose remarked.
After lunch, the kids engaged in a group acrylic painting
lesson atop a huge canvas drop cloth spanning at least 5 feet by
Ten-year-old Nizhonie Denetsosie-Gomez, who loves to draw horses
and sketch traditional Navajo designs for her dresses, said this
was her favorite part of the workshop.
She liked it so much in fact that when the workshop drew to
a close, she gave Whitethorne three giant hugs with a huge grin
on her face each time.
"Art is a universal way to communicate, said Whitethorne. "There
are no languages, just visual."
By simply showing them a process of creating art, which is "calming"
in itself, Whitethorne said that now kids can recall what they learned
later, and possibly create art pieces to raise money for their projects.
Debbie Nez-Manuel, co-founder of the Morning Star Leadership
Foundation, Inc., which assists with the affairs of the youth council,
said Whitethorne's "heart was in such a good place" when he invited
the kids to hold the workshop at his home.
Nez-Manuel, who is Tsénjíkiní from Klagetoh,
Ariz., co-founded the Morning Star Leadership Foundation, Inc. in
February after a couple of years of planning with her husband Royce
Manual, a member of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community
near Scottsdale, Ariz.
The Manuels, along with youth advisor Amber Brown, helped organize
the youth art workshop in an effort to reinforce cultural identity
through an experiential learning process.
When asked what was significant about the workshop, Nez-Manuel
remarked, "It's a connection between people. One of the most important
values we have growing up is kinship."
In addition, the youth learn to recognize their cultural heritages
- whether they are Navajo, Choctaw, O'odham, or Mexican, but also
that they are all one people, she added.
"We often will tell the kids stories about the historical times
where people were just considered human beings before anything,"
Nez-Manuel explained. "Then came a time in history where the government
had to put us in different places for different reasons, but before
that we were one people, and we all supported one another in different
ways. We may have exchanged food, goods, skills, but we worked in
Nez-Manuel says the foundation is currently working on obtaining
their 501(c)(3) non-profit organization certificate by the end of
the year, and in the meantime she encourages all interested Native
youth to join the Morning Star Leaders Youth Council.
The mission of the youth council is to create educational, cultural,
and social development opportunities for tribal youth as "today's
leaders" to foster their own personal and civic leadership growth.
The youth council holds meetings on the last Thursday of every
month in various locations across the Phoenix area.
They hope to have an official website launched in early August,
but for now can be reached at their Morning
Star Leaders Youth Council group page on Facebook for more information.
Baje grew up on the Navajo Reservation near Shonto, Arizona. As
a child, he was first drawn into the world of storytelling when
he and his brothers would make up stories on the way to their grandmother's
house. His talent for art was apparent even in grade school, and
his teachers were all supportive of his gift.