With worn hands and warm smiles, the matriarchs of Black Mesa weave a tale of Navajo tradition persisting vibrantly through the onslaught of technological and environmental change. The youngest three of nine siblings in the Chíshí Diné clan, Lena Henley, Edith Simonson, and Lorraine Herder are experts in carding and spinning wool yarn. They shear the wool from their own sheep and dye it with native plants such as wild carrot, prickly pear, and sagebrush. “It’s an art that’s fading away,” Edith explains, “Only three or four families still spin and dye their own wool.” The final product of her labor, an exquisitely patterned shawl, warms her shoulders. “It’s a long process, but I enjoy doing it.”
Living without running water or electricity, the Chíshí clan sisters make do with what they have: a beautiful place to call home, tight-knit family, and a deep intimacy with the land. In traditional Navajo culture, the women stay and head the clan while the men leave to join their wives. Thus Lena, Edith and Lorraine have lived on Black Mesa since they were born, their memories stretching back to times when springs still flowed abundantly on the mesa and summer rains were frequent and gentle. Now, as they face a water table depleted by coal mining and the erosion caused by more intense monsoons, the matriarchs of Black Mesa represent the fabric that holds their community together, weathering the changes with warm wool and warmer hearts.
By: Thomas Meinzen