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'Native Voices' radio program, podcast explores issues shared by Native artists


Venaya Yazzie says hosting program has helped her mature as an artist

FARMINGTON — It’s been nearly a year since Navajo painter and poet Venaya Yazzie began hosting the “Native Voices” radio show on San Juan College’s KSJE-FM, and in that time, she has heard a lot of the same stories from the other Native artists she has featured on the show.

The experience has reinforced for her how deeply ingrained art is in the culture of Navajos and other Native people, she said.

“Most of them say, ‘I learned it from a family member. I had a mother or grandmother who did weavings and would go sell them to make money for the family,’” said Yazzie, whose show airs on the third Thursday of each month on KSJE. “So this is real hands-on learning, and a lot of them even have their tools passed down to them when an elder dies. Our art is based on the daily culture of Navajos or other Native Americans in the community. A lot of them don’t have a formal arts education, it’s just passed down.”

In Native culture, she said, art is more than a hobby or vocation. It’s a way of relieving anxiety and stress, and achieving balance in a chaotic world.

“Art isn’t a separate part of our lives,” she said. “We’re raised to be creative.”

Yazzie’s show is devoted to exploring such themes, as well as many of the issues Native artists face. She said it has become clear from the things her guests have told her that the COVID-19 pandemic had a major impact on the ability of Native artists to sell their work, since so many of them rely on face-to-face opportunities such as festivals or open-air markets to reach customers.

“They’re not really acquainted with online selling,” she said, adding that even now, with the pandemic continuing to recede, many potential customers still shy away from such face-to-face situations because of a lingering fear of the virus.

Yazzie launched the show in April 2022. A graduate of Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, she said she had only limited broadcast experience when the show began, having hosted a Native music program during her college days.

But she has quickly warmed to the task. Flo Trujillo, the president of the Northwest New Mexico Arts Council, which sponsors the program, said the program dovetails nicely with her organization’s mission.

“One of the things we want to do is highlight Native artists,” she said. “We already work with the San Juan Jazz Society, which features indigenous musicians, so we thought it was also helpful to support our visual artists.”

Yazzie didn’t have to sell herself to Trujillo when she came to her with the idea for the program. The two have known each other for the better part of 20 years, and Trujillo said Yazzie’s background made her the perfect choice to head the project.

“She’s always been an advocate for the arts,” Trujillo said, noting that the two also are working on recruiting students to submit work for a book of poetry at Navajo Prep.

Yazzie also has led periodic jewelry-making workshops for the arts council, Trujillo said, another sign of how diverse her creative background is.

“She’s pretty awesome,” Trujillo said.

Yazzie said the experience of hosting the show has been rewarding for her.

“I love meeting the people,” she said, explaining that being able to talk to other artists about their work has helped her mature as an artist herself. “I now understand that as a female in a matriarchal society, my role is to be an educator.”

She said she also has embraced a degree of rootlessness in her life, given the nomadic lifestyle many Navajo people once led.

“We still have these traditional migratory tendencies,” she said. “A lot of artists are always going places for different shows. I’ve started traveling to different places now that I’ve taken up photography, and I’m working some of that into my paintings. I’ve done a lot more landscapes lately.”

Yazzie’s next show will air at 9:30 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 19. Her guest will be Alyssa Begay, the owner of Bluehorse Real Estate who has dedicated much of her career to creating inspirational spaces and celebrating Native American women artists. The February program will feature Shaun Beyale, a Bloomfield comic books and graphics artist whose work has appeared in Marvel Comics.

After each episode airs on KSJE-FM, it also can be heard as a podcast on most major streaming platforms, she said.

Yazzie said she encourages Native artists from throughout the Four Corners area to reach out to her if they are interested in appearing on the show. She can be reached at manyhogansgrl@hotmail.com.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription: http://bit.ly/2I6TU0e.