Dine’tah Theater Festival taps into the Navajo tradition of storytelling

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  • The Dinetah Drama Festival is scheduled for December 8-10 on the University of New Mexico campus in Gallup.
  • Groups of six to 10 people from Navajo Nation and surrounding communities are invited to participate.
  • The festival is resurrected after originally being held in Tuba City, Arizona from 1990 to 1994.

FARMINGTON — Organizers of a Navajo-language live theater festival slated for later this year are looking for participants from Farmington and elsewhere around the Navajo Nation, and they’ve extended the entry deadline by several days to accommodate those who might be interested in participating.

Norman Patrick Brown, one of the organizers of the Dine’tah Drama Festival scheduled for Dec. 8-10 on the University of New Mexico campus in Gallup, said groups of six to 10 people from communities across the nation Navajo and area are invited to participate. . According to a press release about the event, they should be willing to perform, direct, write and perform other duties related to the live theatrical performance.

The original entry deadline for the festival was Monday, October 31, but Brown said that date has been moved to Friday, November 4. Organizers already have three groups interested in participating and hope to attract three more before the deadline, he said.

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The festival is resurrected after originally being held in Tuba City, Arizona from 1990 to 1994 before being discontinued. Brown said the festival was for high school students as part of an effort to create a performing arts school in the Navajo Nation.

“Our vision is that we wanted to expand that into the adult community,” said Brown, a veteran stage, television and film actor who has a recurring role on the CW series “Walker: Independence.” “That’s why we’re reviving this.”

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The plan is that each group that signs up for the festival will write and perform their own Navajo-language play after being mentored by Brown and other organizers in virtual training sessions scheduled for Nov. 5 and 6. Brown said the festival was not only about encouraging the use and preservation of the Navajo language, but also tapping into Dine’s strong storytelling tradition.

“These are the stories that have sustained us for centuries, even through the genocide,” he said.

Brown said organizers chose to hold the festival near winter because that’s when Navajo families traditionally gather indoors for storytelling sessions. It’s also the time of year when many of the animals that are often the focus of these stories are crouched down in snowy weather, he said.

“The only time to talk about them is when they’re in hibernation,” Brown said, explaining Dine’s belief system.

He described a common event in Navajo homes in which families gathered around a roaring fire in a hogaan on a freezing winter night and listened with rapt attention as a grandmother or aunt told a story. entertaining story about coyotes, horned toads or other interacting creatures, revealing life lessons and moral values ​​along the way.

“You just close your eyes and it becomes this natural visual film,” he said.

The Dine’tah Drama Festival is intended to serve as another outlet for this storytelling tradition, Brown said.

“It’s an extension of those ideas and values,” he said. “The idea is, how can we use our language to promote unity?”

Brown said he learned to cherish the Navajo language from his father, who was a Navajo code speaker.

“He always said that language brings life, that it can heal the natural world, not just people.”

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The theme of the festival is “Dine’ Matriarchs – The Foundation and Strength of the Dine’ People.” Each participating group will have to write an hour-long play honoring a matriarchal figure, perhaps a contemporary single mother, a historical warrior from the 1880s or even Changing Woman, the legendary Navajo figure who was the mother of the Monster Slayer twins and Born for water.

“These are our stories,” Brown said. “These are from our people, and we control our own creative narrative. These stories won’t be told from a Hollywood perspective. … It’s been very lucrative for non-Dine entities to mine our stories and our cultural values…. This is really our first step in reclaiming our stories. We are reclaiming what is truly ours.

A concert and awards ceremony will take place on the final night of the festival with performers to be announced later, Brown said. The cost to attend is $500, but Brown said scholarships are available for those who cannot afford the fee. The Vadon Foundation participates in the financial support of the event.

To register for the festival or find out more, go to dinetahdramafest.org.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or [email protected] Support local journalism with a digital subscription: http://bit.ly/2I6TU0e.

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