- Weaving Worlds
The worlds woven in this pivotal documentary by Bennie Klain are Navajo Nation weavers in the United States whose weavings are an interconnected life force and the “Anglo” traders and buyers whose connection to Navajo weaving is product-based, determined by the market value of the woven object. The interplay of this relationship is witnessed through several generations of Navajo weavers, who (speaking Dine’) relate their histories through the wool sheared from their own sheep herds. Knowledge of how to rear and herd sheep is an older knowledge system based on self-sufficiency, a value shared by Navajo who continue to abide by the cycles of the land and livestock, according to the weavers in the film. The animals too, says weaver Zonnie Gorman, have their relationship with the land in order to stay healthy. Featured in the film is the intensive labor required for tending livestock and the preparation of wool to be woven with Navajo symbols and images that are the archetypal forms of their identity. The weavers themselves become as metaphorical cornerstones of an older practice of Navajo self-sufficiency and vitality.
The film transitions between the Navajo weavers’ lives to those of the trader and the “Anglo” buyer of Navajo rugs, creating a stark contrast. The weaver/trader relationship significantly feels artificial and unnatural despite the efforts of one trader, Elijah Blair, whose nickname is “Little Ears.” He converses in Dine’ to several Navajo who recognize him upon his return to the community at Rocky Ridge, where he once owned a trading post. (He sold the post and moved to Page, Arizona.) The history of the trading post system within the Navajo Reservation is revealed in the film through the shared experiences of the weavers without an obligatory linear historical timeline. It gives viewers an opportunity [End Page 280] to develop our own understanding of this system of “trade” as an unorthodox practice that remains intact today, reflected in the film’s narrative.
An insular narration in the film is shared by a younger weaver named Nicole Horseherder, who has returned home to her family’s ranch to take up weaving and caring for the livestock. In her analysis she speaks about what the weaver/trader relationship represents for her when she says, “It’s a business with a lack of infrastructure on the reservation that allows the [trading post] system to take place,” though the perspective of Perry Null, owner of Null Trading Post in Gallup, New Mexico, is different; he believes he is “an important part of the Navajo culture because a lot of people depend on him to buy these rugs.” The film illustrates this tenuous relationship by not setting weavers in direct opposition to traders; instead, it represents a new generation of weavers who have been college educated and are returning home and who face reservation realities. Among them is Nicole Horseherder, who earned a master’s degree in linguistics and seeks to use her degree to benefit her community while simultaneously being with the land and raising livestock in order to keep the older Navajo values alive for herself, her husband, and her children. She says, though, that she has found less time to focus on weaving because of more pressing issues facing the Navajo Nation such as the long-standing concern for corporate-owned coal mining and the losses incurred by the people, livestock, and plants relative to the mining.
The coal-mining issue, raised in the film, amplifies the sense of unregulated capitalism on the reservation that has not remotely profited the Navajo people but more significantly contributes to diminishing Navajo ways and culture. If films are about observation, it occurs to me that Bennie Klain and his film associates have used their highest skills of observation to raise a hugely important discussion among Navajo people by producing this film. When the “Anglo” trader proudly says in the film that he didn’t “come out to Navajo territory for altruistic reasons, he came to do a job and make money and service the people...