“I live in Arizona (Tempe) but am from the Diné (Navajo) Nation in Tuba City, Arizona. I travel to many different Native American reservations throughout the nation typically to photograph and visit friends and family. I am full-blooded Diné so let me properly introduce myself (translation to follow) –
Shí éí Danielle Williams yinishyé. Kinyaa’áanii nishłí. Ta’neeszahnii báshíshchíín. Tł’ízíłání dashicheii. Tódích’íinii dashinálí. Tónaneesdízí dęę’ naashá. Shimá dóó shizhé’é éí Rose Marie dóó Daniel Williams wolyé. Ákót’éego éí asdzáa Diné nishłí. My name is Danielle Williams. I am of the Towering House clan, born for the Tangle People clan. My maternal grandfather is of the Manygoats clan and my paternal grandfather is of the Bitter Water clan. I am from Tuba City. My mother and father are Rose Marie and Daniel Williams. In this way, I am a Navajo woman.
The purpose for “Old Love” was to restore balance because I was taught that love is the most powerful and beautiful gift of all. We know this because of the Love that the Holy Ones have for us to have made the sacrifices they made for us. My tribe, Diné (pronounced Dineh also known as Navajo), like most Native American tribes have a Creation Story about how we came to be as humans in this world.
The Holy Ones are what could be translated as spiritual beings and gods. Our stories are very sacred so without giving too much away, let’s just say these spiritual beings are the grandparents who fought monsters and created humanity, language, elements, laws and laid the foundation of how to live a life of Hózhó (which means harmony and beauty). Our spiritual beings, like our grandparents, loved us so much and passed on these important teachings. It is with these teachings we survived genocide and diseases, and strive to live a balanced life. They showed us through their sacrifices of how much love they willingly gave, which we are responsible to carry out today. Love amongst people, love for our children and elders, and love between a man and a woman.
I found inspiration for this series in my own personal experience. I fell in love with a man who I could not have imagined living a day without. When we grew apart, I felt something that I had never felt before – grief. It is taught that the greatest enemy is ourselves because our thoughts are very powerful and we must be careful with our thoughts. You know when they say, “you are what you eat.” Well same applies here, “you are what you think.”
In today’s society, you hear songs of name-calling and slashing tires on the radio and you see slandering former spouses on social media as the norm but in my tribe, we are taught to be respectful – to have respect and give respect. I didn’t want what I was feeling at that time I was grieving to become bitter and angry toward the man I once loved or to any other man for that matter. So I sought hózhó through my tribal teachings and during the time of healing, I chose to pursue something that always made me happy and that was to create meaningful photographs. There are many people out there whose hearts are unsettled and who may also need healing, which is why I chose to bring back the old traditional courtship and love stories to show how the old ways could help influence goodness today. The “Old Love” series is about the special bond between a man and a woman.
Long ago, a man was taught to demonstrate his responsibilities as a man by showing his suitor’s family that he could provide for and protect her. The man would have to prove his worth through hunting, taking part in or leading war parties, moccasin making, vegetation yielding, and so much more (varies for each tribe). Sometimes he would also serenade her with his flute, drum, or voice and present gifts like fabric, jewelry or horses to her family. The woman, too, would have to demonstrate her worth through cooking, sewing, beading, quilling, weaving, and many other responsibilities (also varies for each tribe). And when the fire ignited between the two, they’d walk hand in hand and become One. They were taught through ceremony and by their elders to listen to each other and pray for each other. They were expected to take care of each other because they may create a family one day and their children would be nearby watching and listening. Nowadays, it is rare to find these kinds of teachings in someone but it is not to say that they do not exist.
While working on this photo series, I connected with so many people about these old teachings and learned so much about other Native American tribes as well as my own. My favorite experience was with my parents. I constantly communicate to them the projects I am working on and I thought it was only appropriate to include them. My mom was on-board right away whereas my dad took a little convincing. It took months before he agreed and during the photo session, I told them to remember what it was like when they first met. “How did he win your heart? How did he prove himself to grandma and grandpa? Did he serenade you?” They couldn’t help but laugh. My dad, as usual, made a funny face and said “Old Navajos weren’t romantic. They had arranged marriages back then.” And we all laughed again.
I knew our tribe had arranged marriages but I also knew that we had tribal social and seasonal gatherings that demonstrated courtship. We have old serenading songs that my mom remembered my grandpa singing when she was a little girl. She shared that as my grandpa was making moccasins, he would hum and sing to my grandma who was sitting nearby weaving a rug. You can’t help but smile about these old stories and wonder how those old responsibilities can be applied today. This is what I share with others when I ask couples to be a part of my “Old Love” series. It helps to give them a real-life example and most of the time, it creates dialogue and an exchange of old tribal teachings. Hopefully it gets us to apply them to our lives and keep that good medicine strong.“
087/100 of #100DaysofConfessions Instagram Project