Spring is one of my very favorite times of the year, as the trees begin budding and flowers begin showing their delicate faces to the world. Mother Earth is emerging from her long winter slumber, and is beginning a new journey around the sun.
From the dawn of time, man has marked this time of the year with different celebrations. The Chinese, for example, use Lunar New Year to mark the start of the new journey with cleaning their homes to sweep out the bad luck that may be lingering, giving red envelopes containing small amounts of money to friends, acquaintances, and family for prosperity, and holding dances and shooting fireworks to mark this auspicious event.
Native Americans have many similar traditions and rituals. Often a corn dance is held at the planting of the corn crops, as the tribe or pueblo seeks favorable growing conditions for this extremely important crop. The dances are held by tribes throughout North America, with variations for each group. Sometimes the dances are restricted to members of the tribe or pueblo because of religious content, but others are open to everyone else who wishes to celebrate or observe. These dances, in which dancers construct elaborate regalia, often utilizing drumming or singing in the native language to convey their prayers or messages. It is always best to check with the tribe or pueblo before showing up at a dance, just to make sure it is open to the public. Bring a folding chair and water – often these dances have multiple groups of dancers and last for hours. Usually they are in the main plaza or plazas of the pueblo or in the ceremonial grounds of the tribes.
One aspect of spring that I truly enjoy is the spirit of renewal and hope that flows through all of us. One can’t help but take a look at the wonders that Mother Earth is unveiling for us once again, smell the fresh spring air, or listen to the twitter of the birds as they go about making nests and starting new families.
This is also a great time for us to renew our commitment to each other. The isolation from the winter season is past, and we are now gathering together again to renew acquaintances and share stories. One form of commitment that I favor is giving assistance to those who have struggles with their daily lives.
There are many programs to help us in this endeavor. I support, among others, the Adopt A Native Elder program (anelder.org) out of Salt Lake City. They work with the Navajo Nation to aid elders who live in remote hogans on the sparse Navajo Nation lands to provide food, clothing, medicines, and firewood. Often these elders live alone far away from others, with no utilities like running water or heat, other than what they can bring in. Each sponsor gets to connect with a specific elder, and the sponsor’s cash donations to ANE become goods that go directly to that elder. In the spring and the fall, the ANE organization makes food runs to the different Navajo chapters, and distribute the food, clothing, medicines, and firewood that the sponsor has selected for their elder. Additional contributions such as clothing or blankets are always appreciated.
Other programs are oriented around education and scholarship, which also resonates strongly in my heart. As a lifelong educator, passionate about extending knowledge to young people, I love organizations that orient some of their efforts to encouraging and lifting these young people, helping them to set and achieve goals of success. At the same time as the Heard Museum Indian Market in Scottsdale (this year it is March 7 and 8), across the street the Hopi Education Endowment Fund (hopieducationfund.org) is holding a lovely silent auction and artist reception on Friday evening, March 6. The HEEF was started in 2000 by the Hopi Tribe with a $10 million donation from the tribal coffers, and today awards cash scholarships to members of the Hopi Tribe as part of their post-secondary education program.
Other organizations focus on supporting artists and their communities. Renewing the communities through revitalization of small businesses is important to this effort. Often, this involves teaching artists how to be successful business people in addition to showcasing their artistic talents.
The Zuni pueblo has a MainStreet Festival and art walks that spotlight and celebrate not only the Zuni culture, but also the excellent artists in the pueblo. Museums, such as the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture (MIAC) and the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, host frequent events with dances, exhibitions, and even art sales to encourage Native American artists to continue the artistic traditions of their cultures going back hundreds of years. The Native Treasures show in May is a new one on my calendar, held this year in Santa Fe up on Museum Hill, will be Saturday and Sunday, May 23 and 24. An artist reception, at which a new Living Treasure artist will be announced, is held the Friday evening before the event.
Spring is a wonderful time of year, so filled with renewal and hope. It is a time for each of us to reach out and embrace the wonder that Mother Earth is giving us, doing good things for others, and giving back in appreciation for all that we have received in our lives.