On the night of Thursday, Feb. 16, the gym at the Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute (SIPI) came alive with song, stories of the ancient ones, traditional foods and hard-fought Késhjéé’ (Diné shoe game) matches.
Raymond Jim Redhouse, a retired professor from Dine’ College and Navajo Technical College from Teec Nos Pos, opened the event in prayer and then began to teach. “This event we call the shoe game evolved from a ceremony known as the moccasin ceremony. ... I can’t tell you when it first was played, but we know it has been with our people for quite a long time.”
He related the story of the Nighttime and Daytime creatures setting up a competition to see if night or day would reign. They hid a yucca ball in moccasins, using trickery and deception to keep the other team from guessing where the ball was hidden.
Young and old alike share in the fun of the Késhjéé’.
“The ceremony represents the fundamental law of our Dine people: thinking, planning, life and reverence,” said Redhouse to the crowd of more than 100.
Prior to this event, no Késhjéé’ has been held in Albuquerque in recent memory, and the organizers—SIPI, First Nations Community Healthsource (FNCH), Native Health Initiative (NHI) and Native American Professional Parents Resources (NAPPR)—hoped it would bring people together and serve as way to learn the ways and stories that are too often forgotten.
“I am really excited for this to be happening here in Albuquerque,” reflected Lorenzo Jim, son of Mr. Redhouse, and an Hataalii with First Nations Community Healthsource in the International District of Albuquerque. “I think this event reminds us that we can talk about culture and tradition; but to learn something, we must practice it, we must do it. Tonight was a night to show many of our young people what the Késhjéé’ is all about.”
The Nighttime team has fun hiding the yucca ball behind the curtain
Indeed, most of the SIPI students and youth related that this was their first time seeing Késhjéé’.
But the learning was intergenerational. Seeing groups of the young children, many of whom were dressed in traditional Dine’ clothing playing the game alongside elders, who enjoyed trying to trick them in the tradition of the Késhjéé’, was a beautiful sight. One family shared that when they got home from the event, their grandmother began to sing the shoe game songs and share her stories with her children and grandchildren.
Carl Little, a SIPI student and volunteer with NHI who’s known for his ability to weave the traditional and modern ways through his art, created a piece just for the event. “I wanted to show the night versus day in the piece, and to keep it simple,” he reflected.
David Jim and Jack Jim also traveled the five-hour drive from Teec Nos Pos to serve as singers for the event, and by their smiles it seemed that the long trip was worth it. Jaron Kee, an NHI volunteer and a BA/MD student at UNM, also helped out with the singing.
So who won? In a tightly contested competition that lasted two hours and went down to the last rounds, the South team (representing the Daytime creatures) pulled out a victory.
“We will get you next year,” one little girl smiled from the North team.
And that sentiment, that this was just the beginning of bringing traditional events such as Késhjéé’ to Albuquerque, was shared by all.