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Oprah Visits Navajo Nation

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  • Oprah Visits Navajo Nation

    Oprah Visits Navajo Nation
    Talk Show Host Films TV Segment Due to Air This Fall

    The Associated Press - 1 June 2006

    WINDOW ROCK, AZ (CBS/AP) -- Oprah Winfrey visited the Navajo Nation this week to gather footage for an upcoming episode of her show, tribal officials said.

    Winfrey toured the Navajo capital of Window Rock, Ariz., on Wednesday and watched children perform a powwow dance, according to a statement released by the tribe.

    "It was a real honor to have such a celebrity grace us with her presence, especially on sacred ground right under the Window Rock," Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. said. "She's a very likable person, of course, very honorable."

    The Window Rock is a geographic feature that gave the community its name.

    Priscella Littlefoot, the To'Nanees' Dizi Chapter coordinator who organized the event, said in the statement that "Oprah is our key to let the world in."

    "Hopefully, Oprah's visit will portray that while we do have social problems, we're still rich in our heritage, our culture and language," she said.

    The Navajo Nation said in a statement that Winfrey was shooting her first Native American segment for the show and that about 450 Navajo, Hopi and members from other tribes were present for the visit.

    The appearance was a surprise, according to the statement, and Oprah visited with the people of the Navajo Nation for 44 minutes.

    During that time she visited a jewelry vendors booth, learned the significance of a powwow dance and sampled a Navajo tortilla. She also took lots of photos and mingled with the people.

    "I think her desire was to find out who we are," Littlefoot said in a statement.

    A publicist for "The Oprah Winfrey Show" told that the talk show host is filming an episode that's due to air this fall.

    "Be good, be kind, help each other."
    "Respect the ground, respect the drum, respect each other."

    --Abe Conklin, Ponca/Osage (1926-1995)

  • #2
    That's Great

    That's Great!

    She is such a warm hearted person. She will hopefully do the people of all native nations good. I have learned alot throught the years by watching her show. She doesn't mind showing her vulnerabilities and problems. I think she will cover everything in a very positive way. I would be quite surprised if she doesn't. Maybe, this will facilitate her visiting other native nations, as well.


    • #3
      DORREEN YELLOW BIRD COLUMN: Oprah missed an important chance
      Grand Forks Herald - Grand Forks, ND
      Posted on Tue, Jun. 06, 2006

      I've been a fan of Oprah Winfrey for many years. I've laughed, cried and examined issues I didn't know were issues. So when Oprah and her Harpo companies (that's "Oprah" spelled backward) visited the Navajo reservation at Window Rock, Ariz., on May 31, I figured this hero of television would be a hit.

      They were a hit all right, but they also caused concern among Navajo people. They were stereotyping Navajo people and creating misconceptions about Native Americans.

      The major complaint by the Navajo people is that the powwow tradition is borrowed. It belongs mostly to the Plains tribes, and the Navajo people tried to explain that to Oprah's company. But the Harpo companies insisted that a powwow be a part of their taping and couldn't be persuaded into anything else, the people said.

      Even more important, the company seemed to miss the real Navajo culture.

      In Indian country, we do borrow and exchange traditions. When tribes met with other tribes and non-Natives, they exchanged goods and trade items. Through the years, we've also exchanged gifts such as the Sundance, ceremonies, regalia and powwows, but we almost always know from whom the borrowed tradition came. That's an unwritten understanding in Indian country.

      Today, you'd find fewer Native people who are full blood than you would mixed bloods. We have exchanged more than trade goods: My nieces and nephews are Navajo and Sahnish (Arikara), for example.

      As I mentioned, Harpo missed some of the truly beautiful traditions of the Navajo people and instead will have the entire country believe that powwows are a Navajo tradition. Some of what they missed is the Navajo rug-making art, the hogan ceremonies in which sand paintings are used for healing and the importance of the land, sheep and people.

      I know it's a rich culture. Years ago when I graduated from high school, my mother sent me to Navajo country to help my sister, who had three children. My sister and her husband both were working and needed a babysitter for the summer.

      I had little choice and took a bus to Gallup, N.M. I arrived in that predominately Navajo town about midnight and was told to walk to the local Catholic mission. A priest in his nightclothes answered my pounding on the mission door. He found me a place in the mission school, and I slept among school desks and chairs that night. I fell asleep looking at a blackboard and a teacher's desk.

      My sister picked up a rather irritated teen the next day. I was not a happy camper.

      But it was the beginning of an adventure into an old culture I wouldn't forget.

      While there, the family drove us way out on a dirt road into the desert of New Mexico. We traveled for miles over rough terrain. Finally, we came over a hill, and there among a circle of several bonfires was a Navajo traditional dance.

      It was unlike those I'd experienced on the Plains. No one spoke English, and the dances were strange and unique. I stared like some gawking newcomer.

      I don't remember when it ended; the uniqueness of the experience washed away the little details.

      A few weeks later, we drove to a ceremony that was being held in one of the districts. It was some distance away. We drove along the main highway, and when it got dark, we pulled off the road, set up camp, made a fire, cooked and ate, and slept there - right on the main drag of this paved highway.

      We arrived at the outback. Under the homemade shades of poles with shrub tops, women in long skirts were roasting lamb, making mutton stew and frying the most unbelievably delicious fried bread. It also was different from Plains tribes: It was less "bready," pulled to a dish size shape and fried golden brown.

      It was dawn and beginning to get light, but the sun hadn't come up when I could see runners in the distance - bringing fire, I think. When the runners were settled and a ceremony completed, the women came into the area and scattered candy and fruit in the desert area for the children.

      I learned to enjoy the taste of roasted lamb and mutton stew, but mostly the fried bread was the best. I never could duplicate it, even though the families tried to teach me.

      Later, I attended one of their district meetings held out in the desert. Their government is as large as their nation. They have more than 17 million acres of land in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah - the largest reservation in the United States. The reservation is about the size of West Virginia and has a population of about 180,363.

      They're not Plains tribes. Their ceremonies and ways are different. Their language is distinctly unique and rich. The Harpo companies missed some of the beauty and wonder of this culture; the executives were guided, I suspect, by their own stereotypes.

      "Be good, be kind, help each other."
      "Respect the ground, respect the drum, respect each other."

      --Abe Conklin, Ponca/Osage (1926-1995)


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