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home : features : features May 23, 2016

2/19/2013 10:57:00 AM
White Shell Woman Workshop for Navajo girls and young women March 23
Event to focus on Navajo culture and traditions
Girls learn a traditional Dine’ song in Marilyn Help Hood’s 2012 White Shell Woman workshop. Photo/Colleen Keane
Girls learn a traditional Dine’ song in Marilyn Help Hood’s 2012 White Shell Woman workshop. Photo/Colleen Keane
Six Navajo girls at the 2012 White Shell Woman workshop. Photo/Colleen Keane
Six Navajo girls at the 2012 White Shell Woman workshop. Photo/Colleen Keane

David Yankus

Miss Navajo Council, Inc. presents its White Shell Woman Workshop March 23 at the Henderson Fine Arts Center at San Juan College in Farmington.

The workshop is for Navajo girls and young women ages 8-24. On-site registration is from 8-9 a.m. the morning of the workshop. The workshop takes place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Registration is $10 for students and $15 for adults and lunch is included.

Former Miss Navajos organize and teach all Miss Navajo Council workshops. Many former Miss Navajos have gone on to join the military or to become doctors, teachers, nurses, professors, authors, educators, filmmakers and mothers.

"In Navajo tradition the women are usually the teacher, they are responsible for not only their own family, but the whole community," said Sarah Luther, president of the Miss Navajo Council. "A number of us believe in that still. We wanted to hold a workshop where we could enhance what our grandmothers taught us throughout the years. We wanted to capture not only the oral traditions, but also how to apply it in today's society."

Attendance at the annual White Shell Woman Workshop, which started in 2007, has increased every year since its inception.

"Originally it was to help girls who wanted to enter pageants, to develop their skills, build their confidence and to encourage them to go into the world," Luther said. "They had to know that they had the potential to meet any goals and desires they may have in life."

Luther, a former Miss Navajo herself, estimates the first White Shell Woman Workshop drew less than 40 attendees. Today, they average more than 300 students and nearly 100 adults.

Luther said the Navajo Nation Oil and Gas Company is now the main sponsor of the workshops. This will increase the budget for the workshops, allow for more advertising and allow the workshops to accept more participants.

Additional sponsors of the Miss Navajo Council workshops include Ways of Life: IINA Curriculum, the Native American Center at San Juan College, and Miss Navajo Council, Inc. San Juan College got involved in 2009.

"That's when San Juan College and the Native American Center became our co-sponsor," said Luther. "Michelle Peterson [from San Juan College] told us, 'come use my facility and I will help you as far as cost for the facility.' And that helped us a lot because we have always operated on limited funds, most of our funding came through our membership."

According to Luther, she and her fellow Miss Navajo Council members are trying to help young people connect with their identities so they can become mature, well rounded, responsible and outstanding citizens when they become adults.

The White Shell Woman Workshop's primary focus is the cultural teachings of the Navajo people. Instructors, educators and speakers at the workshops stress language, the culture, and the traditional aspects of the Navajo person.

"We incorporate teachings such as: how to prepare for college, taking care of the environment, using the Native philosophy as well as modern concepts and mixing them together and how to use both in conjunction with one another," Luther said. "For example, we have a math teacher who uses his Navajo philosophy to teach math so students can have more interest in the educational side of their lives. We also teach them proper nutrition, how to take care of their health, and how to prepare nutritious meals for themselves and their families."

Other topics at this year's White Shell Woman Workshop include Kinaalda, singing, environment, cooking, financial literacy, injury prevention and image development. A tribal judge will also be on hand as a keynote speaker.

Originally, the workshops took place in the summer months, but members of the Miss Navajo Council decided to move them to winter.

"Many of the participants wanted to hear more about the oral traditions and some of the stories that are told in the wintertime," Luther explained. "We wanted to be able to help them understand that, and then help them to be really proud of who they are through self identity with their traditional heritage."

Luther went on to say that eventually the group hopes to have multiple workshops taking place each year spread out all across Navajo lands, even reaching Phoenix, Salt Lake City and other urban areas. The Miss Navajo Council is also looking to plan workshops to combat childhood obesity.

"It's exciting to be able to transform these young people to become responsible adults, and that's our main goal," said Luther. "We focus on literacy, we touch on language, some of the oral traditional stories, we touch on etiquette, leadership, public speaking, and everything that you can imagine to make a person a successful and responsible individual."

More information about the White Shell Woman Workshop and other Miss Navajo Council sponsored events are available online at or by calling Geraldine Gamble at (928) 209-5993.

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