Geri Hongeva Receives Women in American History Award for Navajo Cultural Work | Navajo-Hopi Observer
Geri Hongeva received the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) Women in American History Award in Scottsdale for the Grand Canyon Chapter on December 4 for her contributions to the cultural heritage of the Navajo Nation and to promoting tourism in the state .
Amy Casaldi, chair of the American History committee of the Grand Canyon section of the Daughters of the American Revolution in Scottsdale, said the award focused on a woman, past or present, who has made a contribution or a difference in his community.
âWomen who are or have been intellectual, educational, social, religious, political, scientific or cultural innovators,â Casaldi said.
Casaldi said one of the reasons she was named was her direct involvement in her community.
âShe won the Arizona State Society’s American Revolutionary Girls Community Service Award specifically for her work with the Navajo Hopi Honor Riders,â said Casaldi.
But, as Casaldi was more interested in Hongeva’s background, she found more reasons for the organization to give her the award.
âI have to say that after hearing her speech, so many women from the organization came after and they felt so inspired by what she said,â Casaldi said.
Hongeva is Yei Dine Tachiinii (Red Running Into The Water Clan) born for Tsenjikini (Cliff Dwelling Clan). Her maternal grandfathers are Kinlichii’nii (Red House People) and her paternal grandfathers are BÃÃh Bitoo’nii (Deer Spring Clan). She is married to a Navy veteran and mother of two.
Hongeva said her great-grandmother had raised her and was a mentor, whether planting corn, raising sheep, hauling wool, grinding corn or butcher.
âEvery little thing that is a part of Navajo life, she was my teacher, she was my inspiration,â she said. âVery, very young, I learned to work. It’s a big part of my life. I will always be grateful to her because she didn’t want us to be lazy. She is the person who made me who I am.
Hongeva said that to this day, when she is grappling with a decision or at a crossroads, she remembers her grandmother.
âI remember the things she said to me – ‘Just keep going. One step after another. One step after another. You don’t give up. You don’t give up, âHongeva said, uttering the Navajo words. âIn Navajo, it’s really different to describe. The words mean, “You must be the one taking this step.” No one else can do it for you.
Navajo is Hongeva’s first language was Navajo – she only entered the public school system in third grade. She said that her parents, but especially her father, wanted her to know her language.
“[He thought] it was the most important thing to use throughout life, âshe said. âBut I grew up in Flagstaff. In public schools, no one else spoke Navajo, even other Navajo could not speak Navajo.
Hongeva said she wondered throughout her childhood whether she would use or need to know Navajo and if only she, her parents and two brothers were the only ones speaking the language. But she found he was right in his first job, where the majority of clients were Navajo.
âWhen I first worked at Lady Foot Locker in the Flagstaff Mall at the age of 15, they hired me because I spoke Navajo very well,â she said. âThey all had the Navajo parents coming to town to buy cross country shoes or basketball shoes. They came with their grandparents in Navajo and I got to tell them about Navajo shoes and money. I quickly became one of the top sellers because I had two languages.
In 2001, Hongeva received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Visual Communication from the School of Communication at Northern Arizona University. She started working as an intern at NAU and upon graduation was hired as a full-time media specialist for the TechShare Project, which helps teachers preserve the Navajo language in elementary schools.
She was also a Creative Director for Anthropology, helping to protect sacred sites on the Colorado Plateau. Hongeva has worked for NAU for over eight years and is well versed in the preservation of Native American culture.
Hongeva worked for Navajo Parks & Recreation, Navajo Nation Fair, and the Navajo Division of Natural Resources for eight years as a media representative, where she heavily promoted travel and tourism in the Navajo Nation. She was instrumental in launching and coordinating the Monument Valley hot air balloon event for four years.
In his work now at the Twin Arrows Travel Center, his influences can be seen in the washroom signs and the non-smoking signs that are in Navajo.
âI did the translation for that,â she says. âIt’s the little way I still help with the language, even though it’s a casino. I’m still proud of it.
Hongeva’s father wanted her to use his language to help people and said that when he was in Vietnam he and other Navajo would speak to each other in the language.
âThere were only a few, but he said, ‘It’s the only thing that saved my life,’â Hongeva said. âAnd I want him to come home. The language kept us going just to hear it, everyday with these guys. And we were laughing and joking and we knew we could talk to the rest of our family later when the war was over. He said the tongue really keeps him sane, the company of the tongue, and how close the house is, even though they’re in a totally different place in such an ugly wartime space.
Hongeva said the Daughters of the American Revolution work with military families, as she does under the Navajo Hopi Honor Riders. While she did not serve herself, her husband was in the Navy for 12 years. His father served in Vietnam.
“I just wanted to thank [DAR] to be in the same room as me that day (when she received her award), âshe said. âThey could be anywhere elseâ¦ but that’s where they choose to be. And they choose to be there to do what they do and it takes a lot of work, just as much as what we do as Navajo Hopi Honor Riders.
Hongeva said her support system helps her continue her work.
âThe support system is very important,â she said. âThat’s what keeps people doing what they’re doing. If neither of us got help and we were just alone, it would be so stressful. It would be so hard and difficult.
She said her kids were her trainers as she played C3PO in Navajo Star Wars. They encouraged and helped her read Navajo – she is fluent, but does not read it. Her son trained her on how to play the character.
Her husband makes sure his bike is full and ready to go.
âI was so lucky that the people around me had the same passion as me or that they encouraged me,â she said.
More information on the chapter is at http://grandcanyon.arizonadar.org/ and on Facebook at https://m.facebook.com/GrandCanyonDAR.