Colina Yazzie

Colina Yazzie

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My clan is Tótsohnii. My father's clan is Ta'neeszahnii and Táchii'nii báshíshchíín dóó Tódích'íi'nii dashinálí. My mother is originally from Piñon, and my dad was from Steamboat, and raised around Ganado and Steamboat area.

I was born November 26, 1959. My mother said she had me, I think it was on Thanksgiving Day. She was in the hospital and she remembers the nurses bringing her food with turkey and a Thanksgiving meal she had.

One of the things that stands out in my mind about my mother talking about when I was born was there were nurses working in the hospital who had names. A lot of the Navajo ladies weren't able to give their children names, so the nurses assisted in picking out names for the children, more modern names that could be pronounced by teachers-I guess making it easier for the future, because we were expected to go to school….

My mother's name is Mary Sadie.... Her maiden name is Johnson. Her last name is Gorman. And my father's name was James Gorman, Jr….

As a little kid, I remember living out in Steamboat near my grandfather and my grandmother's place, which was near the Balakai Mesa. I remember having brothers and sisters, so I spent a lot of time with my-it seems like more time with my brothers than I did my sisters-of course, probably because I avoided the household chores. So I spent a lot more time outside with my brothers, riding horses and climbing up on the mesas and doing different things. A lot of times my brothers would get into the waterhole and go swimming. I don't remember ever doing that, but I remember them getting into the waterhole and swimming. But I did ride the horse a lot, and had to ride it out to the watering hole to water them. Didn't herd sheep a lot, but my grandmother always had sheep. And my mother did have-her and my dad split up when I was about eleven years old. She then started her own herd, and she still tends her herd, and she still does her weaving.

Everyday life, you know, you had to have groceries. There were trips to the trading post: when my mom finished a rug, we would go to the trading post and sell the rug and bring groceries back and things like that. My dad raised horses and he also broke horses. So as soon as those horses were trained enough or broken enough, then he would let us ride and ride and ride until they were used to having people on their back, and I liked that.

Our first home was a hogan, a very small hogan. I had four brothers: two older brothers and two younger brothers. I had three sisters, one older and two younger. I do have a much older half-sister, but she has a different mom, and we both have the same dad. But all of my mother's children, we lived in one hogan together when we were children. Our first school was going to the boarding schools. The first school that I went to was Kinlichee Boarding School, up until I was about third grade.


Cole: Where was that at?

Yazzie: Just southeast of Ganado, maybe about ten miles. I remember when I first went to school, I was so excited, but I never knew that I was going to get really homesick. (laughter) I got really excited about going to school, and then later on found out that my mom wasn't going to be back for quite a while. I've always been really close to my mom, and never wanted to be away from her for long. But that first time I was away from her for quite a while I really missed her. I think she dropped us off maybe in August, and when we were allowed to go home for a longer period of time, she would come back and pick us up. When she did, that was like Thanksgiving, the short vacation. I remember her wearing a Pendleton blanket when she came in. I started crying and I couldn't let go of her.

When my mother and my father split up when I was about eleven, my mother sent me on the placement program, which was in Utah, and I lived with foster parents. They still are like natural parents to me, and their names are Joyce and Kay Clark [phonetic spellings]. They live in St. George now. At the time, they were living in Provo, Utah. Then I had to go away every year to go back up for school, and I really missed my mom a lot. When I came home, as big as I was, I used to sleep with my mom all the time.

After my mom and dad split up, life really changed for us. My dad was no longer with us, and we moved out of the area where we lived for years, and moved to Steamboat. When I was twelve years old, I started working for the Steamboat Trading Post part-time. A guy named Jerry Foutz was operating-he had the trading post at that time, and I worked for him just cleaning and doing different things. On Saturdays I would go in half the day and help out. And I did that, that first summer when I was twelve years old. That was probably the first contact that I had with really working with a trading post, besides my mom taking her rugs to the trading post.

Cole: And what trading post did your mom take her rugs to before you moved to Steamboat?

Yazzie: Oh, she took her rugs to Ganado, the Hubbell Trading Post. At the time, Bill Young was managing the store, and it was always fun to go there. It's a beautiful place, because where we lived, there weren't any trees for miles. So when we went to Ganado, there were all these cottonwood trees, and it was so beautiful there. I always enjoyed going there with my mom. She would buy food, and we would get snacks that we didn't get every day. It was nice. We then had to go home and take food home to our families.

I tried to help her to prepare her rugs. Every time I asked her, you know, "I need ..." something, she would tell me, "You'd better start carding wool, then." That was the job I didn't like (chuckles) but I had to do it. She would give me raw wool, and I would comb the wool out. There's a lot of dirt that comes out of it. I would pile them up in the box and she would later spin it and use it for her weaving.

When I got out of high school, I moved to Dallas, Texas, where I was supposed to take training to work with the airlines. When I completed the training and was ready to go find a job, then I came home to visit my family and I missed them a lot. One of my brothers told me, "We haven't seen you in a long time, and we missed you. As Navajo, we always stay close to our families, and you might think about coming home and working close to home." I really thought about it a lot, and I did miss my family, so maybe it was about a year later after that, I moved back to Ganado and Steamboat and started working at the Hubbell Trading Post, where I've always liked being. Whenever I went to visit, it was such a beautiful place, and I did my work in there. The only few places that I guess where I could use my experience and training, working with the airlines, had to do a lot with customers, and just relations-you know, how you do business with customers. And so I started working there when I was about twenty years old.

When I first started working, I was just a sales clerk, and slowly got promoted to… I would go out and do interpretations, like interpreting what the rugs were, and designs, and how to care for them, and how they're woven. And visitors who came to the trading post would really enjoy that. And then I did another one on Navajo jewelry, then Zuni jewelry, and Hopi jewelry. And then all combined. And I would go out, and that's the next step. They gave me a promotion to being an interpretive aide, and I worked as an interpretive aide for about two or three years, and then got promoted to assistant managing-Bill Malone's assistant-and worked there as assistant manager until I left the trading post. That was about five years ago now-over five years ago, almost six years ago.

And all during that time I had three children. My oldest son is Scott, and the next one is Felicia, and the youngest one is Christopher, who wasn't born until we moved here [Gallup, New Mexico], and he's five years old now. As soon as we moved here, my husband always talked about maybe we should start a business, because we have the knowledge and we know about the art. It was a hard time to start, because I had just had the little one, and then we just made a big move from Arizona to here. But he decided, well, we're just gonna do it!

Our first business location was up on Hill Street, which is just about four blocks south of where we're at now. We started slowly. We just only had a few, maybe one showcase of jewelry and some rugs that were on consignment from different places. We didn't get many customers, it was very slow there. But we traveled to a lot of different shows and we met people and found out during the year when business was slow, they still called us and wanted things. So if it weren't for them, we wouldn't be in business right now.

And Bill Malone really helped us out a lot, too. Every time we needed assistance, needed to sell something, we always went to him and he was very kind to help us, and always purchased something from us.

And then later I worked.... Since the business was very slow, then I worked with the Richardsons, just down the street from here, for about maybe a couple of years. That was a part-time job for me, and we still had the business and still sent things out through the mail. About last year was when we really-you know, the kids were a little bit older, and they really didn't need a lot of the attention they needed when they were smaller. So we decided we were going to try to do it full-time, and it turned out we still needed to do shows, and still needed to go and take care of the kids. And so the business, our family came first. If we had to close to go for appointments or go travel somewhere to sell something, or do shows, we'd just close the store and went. And every year has been a little bit better, a little bit better, business has been building. So this year, since we moved here, changing our name from Yazzie Trading Company, to Yazzie's Indian Art, and then moving to this location where we've always wanted to be, we expect business to be even better. So we're thinking about opening full-time, and the kids can come in and run the business with us, now that they're a little bit bigger and don't need a lot of attention. They can just kind of be here when we're here. It works out for us. [I get] a lot of support from my husband, because he's the one that when I first told him that I would like to have a store, he said, "Well, let's just do it!" And I'm really glad that we did, and we hope to have a successful business and things continue to get even better, as they have within the last five years.

 

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Cole: When your mom used to go sell rugs, describe how that.... Did you ever watch how the trade was transacted?

Yazzie: A lot of times when she went in to sell her rug, she would show it to them, she would lay the rug out, the trader would look at it, and they would always.... At that time, we didn't really need money for light bills, electricity bills, and things like that. Most of it, a lot of the things that we needed were there at the trading post. So my mom would just-the trader knew that she would need food, groceries, whatever, so what he offered was, "I'll give you a certain amount in cash, and then the rest, maybe you can go in and buy what you need." And that's the way the trading took place back then. But now, she still does the same. She goes into the trading post at Hubbell's and Bill will let her buy food, and he'll still give her cash whenever she goes to sell her rugs.

 

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Cole: How do you feel like you and Raymond have been accepted as traders?


Yazzie: I like the idea, because we're able to help our own people, Indian artists, to sell their work. And at this time, it's needed, there's people that need to be there, stores that need to be there to help these different artists that want to sell their work. Every day we have Zuni people. Now that we're living in Gallup, we have Zunis even come in to sell jewelry and their carvings and fetishes; and a lot of Navajo people who come in and sell their work. We don't trade like we used to years ago. They have bills to pay. Like I told you years ago, it was basically you didn't have water bills, electricity bills, and different bills that had to be paid. Now they're wanting more of cash, just to pay those bills. So when somebody brings something in, we don't do any trading, unless they ask. We just give 'em cash for what they've made.

Cole: And it sounds like you also do some consignment?

Yazzie: We do. We have friends, we have artist friends that we've met through the years.

 


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Cole: So when you think back through your years involved with trading and Indian arts and crafts, what are some of your favorite memories?

Yazzie: One of the most exciting things for me is to meet the artists who make the pieces-especially pieces that are very well made. I think when you see something so beautiful, you want to meet the person, you're curious how they look, how they speak, just anything about 'em, what kind of personality they have. It's one of the things that really I enjoy. We had a guy come in yesterday. I bought this barrette. I can't remember where it was I bought this barrette a couple of years ago, and I thought, "Wow, this is really, really nice work, and I would like to meet the artist." Yesterday he came in and I just, "Wow! I would like to buy some of those barrettes that I've seen for years. I'm really happy to meet you, and I would like to carry some of your pieces." That's one of the neatest things about being in the Indian art business, to meet the artists. I really enjoyed that, and it's a big thing for me. Clarence Lee and Ray Tracey and a lot of artists… Ray has a real good personality, and Clarence Lee is kind of quiet, but a lot of his personality comes out in his jewelry with traditional storyteller bracelets and rings and things like that. The jewelry, the way it's made, it tells a lot about the person too. And when you meet 'em, they're really kind of what you thought of the person.

Cole: So what do you see as the future of trading or the Indian art business?

Yazzie: I have to admit that I think the old-time trading is really gonna fade out, because of all the computers and everything has just become more modernized. Having Indian art stores and galleries, I think it's very good. Every day, the weavers, the artists, are doing better all the time, and even Indian artisans are going into business on their own to sell their work, and they're doing very well. I think it's very good.