GALLUP, N.M. — For Donnaleigh Dedman, the room of Navajo moccasin-makers represented a return to self-sufficiency and being self-sustaining.
“I like this room of Navajo people making moccasins,” Dedman said Nov. 8. “This is what it should be like. Not us running into town to buy moccasins from the white man. Unfortunately, I have to say that.”
There were six Navajo moccasin makers, including Dedman, in the large atrium of the Navajo Nation Museum and Library, and each them had a table where they were working on a pair of moccasins.
Their tables also showcased their finished moccasins.
The gathering of moccasin makers was part of the Navajo Nation Museum Arts, Cultural, Language Immersion, Lecture & Working Series that Clarenda Begay, the museum curator, organized.
The “Moccasin Demonstration & Sales; Celebrating Native American Heritage Month” drew a room full of people of all ages, who sat quietly as each moccasin maker talked about his or her craft and shared traditional Navajo stories about moccasins.
But as soon as the presentations were over, they moved to the tables to talk one-on-one with the moccasin makers and to buy or order a pair of moccasins.
Dedman was the only female moccasin maker and the only moccasin maker who made contemporary moccasins, which she called “moccasin racers.”
The two pairs of moccasin racers that sat on her table were a plush turquoise color which contrasted beautifully with the wide white shoe laces and white soles that were made of cow hide.
If you saw the moccasin racers from a distance, you would mistake them for a pair of high top or low-cut sports shoes.
Dedman said she created her moccasin racer for a teenager, who was part Navajo and not very traditional.
She remembered that he was wearing a pair of sports shoes that were too big for him.
“I felt bad for him and I said, ‘When I get good at making moccasins, I’m going to make that kid a pair,'” Dedman said.
She said she learned how to make moccasins during the fall last year and, so it was either January or February when she felt she was good enough to make a moccasin for the young man.
But then tax season rolled around, and the teen’s parents had enough money to buy him a pair of shoes that fit him.
Dedman smiled and said she continued working on her design and made her first pair of moccasin racers for her daughter and then she made a pair for her mom.
She said she started orders for her moccasin racers after she showcased them at the annual Navajo Nation Fair in September.
Dedman said she makes her moccasin racers in different colors and people have been ordering her racers in turquoise, purple, black and greenish turquoise, but not the traditional red.
She said she’s been waiting for someone to order a traditional red and that someone was at the museum.
Dedman said she works on her moccasin racers during the weekends because she has a full-time job, horses and family.
She’s also in the process of learning how to tan cowhide, which she will use for the soles of her racers.
A relative gave Dedman a cowhide from a cow that he butchered.
She said her uncle told her to immediately cut off the fat and meat from the cowhide, salt it and let it sit, which will create natural juices that will make the hair come off.
“So, I’m actually able to just pull that (hair) off,” Dedman said excitedly.
She said that after she pulls off all the hair, she’ll wet the hide down, salt it and stake it out to dry.
Dedman said she was invited to teach the next moccasin making class at Hunter’s Point Board School, which will probably be scheduled from January to sometime in the spring.
She said she learned how to make moccasins from a similar workshop at Hunters Point Boarding School that was organized by Alta Begay, the parent coordinator, and taught by Loretta Begay.
Dedman said the moccasin-making workshop was held every Thursday and initially scheduled for eight sessions, which were expanded to 16 sessions because it drew a lot more people than expected.
She said she decided to attend the moccasin making workshops because she loves to sew, and her mom told her that her great-grandfather, Hosteen Nez Peshlakai, was a moccasin-maker. “But no one learned it,” Dedman said. “It wasn’t passed down. Two generations passed, and no one was making moccasins until I said, ‘Hey, they’re having moccasin making. Let’s go. My mom and my aunt went with me to the workshops. And so, they learned and I learned.”
She said moccasin-making is a hard process and demands patience.
Dedman said the moccasin making sessions lasted three hours and it would her that long to sew two inches of a moccasin because she was learning.
She added that the other students were also learning and so it was a slow process.
“But as soon as I picked it up and understood it, from there it was easy, very easy to do, Dedman said. “That is how I picked up moccasin-making, and I like to say I come from a family of moccasin makers because I do have my great grandpa who made moccasins.”
The other moccasin makers that were part of the museum’s moccasin demonstrations and sale events were Ty Draper, of Tsaile; Nate Johnson, of Kayenta; Brent Toadlena, of Tsaile, Leon Wheeler, of Shiprock, and Harry Walters, of Cove.
Information from: Gallup Independent, http://www.gallupindependent.com