Alibi V.26 No.37 • Sept 14-20, 2017

Wonder Women

Grownup Navajo: Traditions and Personal Growth

Writer and entrepreneur Jaclyn Roessel talks community and Kinaaldá ceremony

Jaclyn Roessel AKA Grownup Navajo
Jaclyn Roessel AKA Grownup Navajo
Hannah Manuelito

Weekly Alibi: Let’s start with you. Would you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Jaclyn Roessel: I was born and raised on the Navajo reservation in the northeastern part of [Arizona] called Kayenta, which is a really rural part of Arizona. Growing up, so much of my experiences and identities centered around living and engaging with my family, who are a very traditional Navajo family. I grew up learning a lot of our teachings and stories, and a lot of that really solidified when I had my Kinaaldá ceremony.

The Kinaaldá ceremony, what’s that?

The Kinaaldá ceremony is a four-day ceremony for girls entering puberty. A family will have a Kinaaldá for their young ladies when they have their first period. Over the four days, there is a really strong protocol that the young girl follows. These rules are really meant to purify her in a sense. There’s both a physical and spiritual reverence that we're challenging the girl to adopt during this four day period. So each day, before the sun comes up, she runs to the east, and then at noon she runs further. It's this constant challenging of yourself, it's about going farther and trying harder each time. So the community recognizes and celebrates this young girl entering this period of womanhood in which, if she chooses to, she could have a family. Through her, our people, our bloodline and our community can continue. It's about preparing her for her journey ahead so that she'll be strong enough.

Tell us about Grownup Navajo. When did you start the blog? What was the impetus?

I launched GN five years ago. It was originally a process of grieving, because I had just lost my paternal grandmother. Being the oldest granddaughter, I spent so much time with her, and through her there was such a formation of my identity both as a Navajo kid and as a woman. Then she got sick and passed really quickly, and I didn’t really have time to reckon with it. I felt really shocked. I thought, "How am I going to continue to learn about my culture?” I realized that there was still a lot that I didn't know. And it really hinged on the Kinaaldá ceremony. When I decided that I was going to write what is now GN, it was going to be really centered on that idea: What does this ceremony mean, how has it shaped me now as an adult? At first it was just my parents reading the blog and giving me feedback, then over time more and more people began to find it. And then it began to grow to be not just about the Kinaaldá, but about how at the time I was living in Phoenix, this big metropolis, and navigating how to be a traditional Navajo woman balancing my identity in a place that was very much in conflict with what I find my spirit to thrive in: a sense of peace and connection to the land. One of my friends explained it best by saying that being Navajo today is often centered on a perpetual homesickness. I have this longing to be in my homeland and be in connection to it, and that was something that I was able to write about in a lot of different ways, and that a lot of people related to.

Now, GN is a company that shows the integration of Native American teachings through three means: Number one is consultation—primarily with museums, arts and culture non-profits, and similar organizations. A lot of that is working from a cultural competency and sensitivity lens. Number two is the development and curation of creative projects, and then number three is youth development.

What are some things you’d like to do with GN in the future?

Well, since I just moved to Albuquerque not too long ago, I’m still very much in the making connections phase. I want to work on finding the women in the community who are making and doing important things. I’d love to make a Grownup Navajo zine, and publish more of my poetry.

What do you have coming up that you’d like to plug?

I’m working on an event for women entrepreneurs called “Elevate!” We’ll have a planning meeting on Oct. 11, at Accion (2000 Zearing NW) from 6-8:30pm. I’m a member of the grassroots planning committee coordinating this endeavor. The actual summit will be held in early 2018. We are inviting women in business and interested in starting their own endeavors to attend and help us put together the event.

You can find Jaclyn Roessel online at grownupnavajo.com and @grownupnavajo on IG/Twitter.