One highlight of ART123 Gallery’s upcoming August Show the rugs and purses woven by students of the Bááhááli Chapter’s Summer Youth Weaving Employment Program (SYWP). Nine students, ages 16 to 23, joined the Program this summer for the chance to learn weaving techniques from a master weaver, develop positive work habits, and have a hands-on cultural experience.

The 2016 SYWP cohort.

For 10 years, the SYWP has been providing high school and college students with a unique summer employment opportunity. No other Chapter in the Eastern Navajo Agency is using Navajo Nation Summer Youth Employment Funds to promote cultural as well as economic sustainability. As artist and SYWP Intern Aaron Yazzie explains, “while students are learning meaningful job skills, they are at the same time preserving a cultural art form.”

Elouise Washburn at her loom (2005).

Weaver Elouise Washburn is the instructor in charge of passing down tradition. Washburn has been a weaver for 35 years. She learned from her mother and aunties, and is motivated to teach younger generations. “I see kids that are returning and they know what to do,” she says after many summers with SYWP. “I want to instill a legacy of weaving into them so that in the future they will be showing their rugs elsewhere.” Washburn jokes that she is committed to teaching “as long as she can walk.” “By that time,” she says, “there are some younger kids that can take over to keep it going because I’m not going to be here forever. But at least I taught some kids how to weave.”

View from the Bááhááli Chapter in Bread Springs, NM.

Bááhááli Chapter Manager Gloria Skeet deCruz recognizes that one of the most important purposes of the SYWP program is to help students “learn about their Navajo identity and culture.” Yazzie agrees. “Many Native youth today are struggling to find their identity because so much of our culture is pervaded by the preponderant and homogenizing influences of ‘American’ culture,” he says. “I believe the SYWP is successfully restoring the cultural identity of youth through Navajo weaving to reconnect and rediscover their rich cultural heritage.”

A SYWP works on a rug.

As for the students, they too value the Program not only for the skills it teaches and the income it provides, but also for the inspiration they gain from it. “[What I appreciate most about SYWP] is learning the ability to weave,” shares one student. “It has taught me to discipline myself while making beautiful creations at my fingertips.” Another chimes in, “I appreciate the fun and joy in the weaving; to make a natural design and find peaceful inspiration in the skill and knowledge.”

“There is an entire history to be learned,” Yazzie says of weaving. “I find it comforting to know culture and tradition is never static but always adapting and growing into new forms with each era,” he explains.

Come see the newest generation of Navajo weavers at The August Show at ART123 Gallery, on view from August 9th – September 2nd. Don’t miss the official show opening during ArtsCrawl on Saturday, August 12th from 7 – 9pm.