Herizon is a book dedicated to my nieces with the hope for a more inclusive, empowering future. The story details the journey of a young Diné girl as she helps her grandmother retrieve a flock of sheep aided by a magical scarf. Within the scarf’s powers is the ability to transform, which changes the girl and the world she knows.
In an age that has seen the election of the first female vice president in U.S. history and Deb Haaland being appointed Secretary of the Interior, Herizon speaks to the power of the moment and not a distant idea of what could be. It is a story that honors progress and persistence, and can relate to audiences from any background.
NOTE: Herizon is a wordless book as an ode to Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives (MMIR) and in honor of all those without a voice.
Bessie D. Vandever overlooks her herd of sheep in Haystack, NM.
Sheep have sustained the Navajo (Diné) people for centuries providing clothing, shelter, and sustenance. Early Diné were hunter-gatherers who lived a nomadic life. It wasn’t until after the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 that many Diné became more dependent on livestock, such as horses, cattle, and sheep. The family unit was the primary structure for managing economic and social life as well as caring for livestock. For the next 150 years, this lifestyle sustained Diné livelihood until 1864 when the U.S. Cavalry removed 8,000 Navajos from their homeland and marched them 450 miles east on foot to a reservation on the Bosque Redondo.
When the Diné returned to their homeland after the Treaty of 1868, they continued a semi-nomadic lifestyle but under the watchful eye of the U.S. government. Upon their return to the four sacred mountains, each family was issued a small flock of sheep. Trading posts were established across the reservation in attempt to integrate Diné into a capitalistic economy. Trading posts ultimately developed a dependent relationship between trader and surrounding Diné, and were used as centers of barter and exchange.
From 1880-1930, designs within Navajo rugs began to take distinctive shapes with the arrival of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad. Traders could send large amounts of rugs to the preference of buyers back east and they would dictate designs to weavers like Two Grey Hills and Ganado Red to increase sales. This funneled in a period of large-scale trade of wool, mutton, hides, and manufactured Diné goods. It was an economic high point for ranchers and the Navajo Nation.
Wool sheared each spring helps produce the yarn used in Navajo rugs. Traditional rugs use plants and other natural materials to clean and color each rug.
In 1933 it was estimated there were 1.3 million sheep on the Navajo Nation, or one sheep for every nine acres of land. While this phase proved an economic success, weavers became disconnected from the spiritual practice associated with the process of weaving. Weaving became commercialized and financial success drove an impersonal means of production.
The profitable era of Navajo weaving would not last as the Department of Interior imposed a grazing regulation that forced the reduction of the number of livestock on the Reservation by over two-thirds. Overgrazing and its impact on the land was the justification, which consequentially removed Diné from their traditional way of life and integrated them into an economy based on wage labor.
The weaving industry is very limited today and has given way to wage labor occupations. While raising livestock is limited and less common than decades before, many families are able to sustain a livelihood raising sheep, including my own. My grandmother was a weaver and I’d spend my summers herding her flock with my cousins developing an appreciation for the care that went into her work. The process required contributions from each member of the family to provide additional value to her rugs. That value came from the plants collected to produce natural dyes or the work that went into shearing, carding, and spinning wool. Each step contributed to the final rug and a long-history of survival raising sheep.
Herizon is a continuation of this history.
Francisconi, Michael Joseph (1998). Kinship, Capitalism, Change. The Informal Economy of the Navajo, 1868-1995. New York & London. Garland Publishing, Inc.
Parsons Yazzie, Evangeline & Margaret Speas (2007). Diné Bizaad Bínáhoo’aah: Rediscovering the Navajo Language. Flagstaff: Salina Bookshelf, Inc.
Females are at the center of Diné worldview as identity is determined through one’s mother in our matrilineal society. As such, females are sacred beings that bear life, nurture growth, and provide safety and security within the home and community. As the Navajo Nation moves forward, it is our mothers, sisters, aunts, grandmas, wives, and daughters that will help us thrive in the modern world. As a son, brother, uncle, and grandson, I lend my encouragement in supporting efforts for equal opportunities and rights.
For the sake of my nieces and the future of our people, it is my responsibility to serve as an advocate with books like Herizon.
The role of nurturer was taught by Changing Woman, a diety who passed on wisdom and teachings on how to be a matriarch. Over time these teachings, and the concept of the family unit, were systematically attacked through strategies like boarding school education and legislation that forced the Navajo people into the wage economy.
But we are resilient, and our identity and values have persisted, backed by the intergenerational strength and knowledge put forth by Changing Woman: love, compassion, and hard work. This strength is reflected in our language, songs, ceremonies, and stories. It is in this space where resilience is learned and holds hope for the future.
MORE THAN ILLUSTRATIONS
The year of the pandemic was devastating for people throughout the world, but with tragedy came glimmers of good. From Deb Haaland being nominated as Secretary of the Interior to Michaela Goade being recognized with the Caldecott medal, it was a year filled with stories of hope. Narratives forged by female protagonists with no regard for limitations.
As we build on these stories of hope we rebuild a more inclusive society that is reinforced by the teachings of our ancestors. Herizon is a resource in this movement and is intended to help in the effort to improve conditions for all.
ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR
INTRODUCTION TO COREY BEGAY
Corey Begay is a Navajo artist and graphic designer from Cedar Springs Arizona on the Navajo Nation. Corey graduated from Northern Arizona University in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in Visual Communications and currently doing contract work and collaborating with different organizations.
Corey’s current works involve murals, graphic design, illustration, and canvas paintings. I like the idea of seeing my work in as many places as possible and working with others who have the same passion in art, graphic design, and movements as I do. I’m also very inspired by culture, education, nature, expressionism, and hard workers.