The Navajo People—or “Dineh”— have inhabited the southwest region of the United States for nearly 1,000 years. Deeply connected to the land, wildlife, and each other, they carry a rich cultural heritage passed on in their handcraft.
Sáanii Dahayóó Igíí means “Women of Strength” and is comprised of Navajo women who have come together to preserve their ancestral craft while also breaking barriers to employment and opportunity. With their deep cultural value of communal care, many of these women are the providers for not only their children, but also for aging parents, grandchildren, and other family members in need.
Fair pay hours provided
Women provided employment
Valerie learned the beauty of handcraft from her náli, paternal grandmother, who sheared, dyed, and wove her own wool in order to dye and weave intricate traditional blankets. Now, Valerie has carried on her grandmother’s legacy by giving women in her community opportunities for employment in forming the native handcraft group, Sáanii Dahayóóígíí, which means “Women of Strength.”
Valerie gave birth to her first child at age sixteen, hurling her into adulthood. Her husband battled alcoholism, but Valerie was vigilant and vowed to break the cycle of addiction for her children and future generations.
Valerie’s sister Sheila, who helped found the group, has a calm and dignified presence about her as she carefully crafts each piece of jewelry. As a teenager, Sheila turned to alcohol to cope with the turbulence in her life, a habit which turned into a deep addiction for several decades. She is proud to speak of how far she has come in her two years of sobriety, with the wisdom and strength found from overcoming years of addiction and abuse.
Valerie and Sheila’s mother, Ella, taught her daughters these traditional handicrafts that she learned from their grandmother, Nez. Ella, planned to carry on the traditions her mother taught her, but found herself in an abusive marriage at a young age to a husband suffering from severe alcoholism. Sheila and Valerie, her daughters, recall the comfort of escaping their troubled home life to visit their shenali (paternal grandmother), Nez, on the reservation. They remember watching her haul water from town because there was no running water at her home, and lighting oil lamps as there was no electricity.
Ella’s mother, Nez, lived nearly her entire life on the Navajo Reservation in a hogan—a traditional dwelling made of packed earth and wooden timbers--with no electricity or running water. After giving birth to 10 children, she lost her husband in a tragic accident, leaving her a single mother for the remainder of her life