Jessica Carranza Pino | El Defensor Chieftain
Dandolph Apachito shows the progress he has made on his basket.

Violet Lucero concentrates on the delicate manipulation of sumac fibers as she weaves a basket as part of a workshop at the Alamo Community Wellness Center.
The group is three weeks into the workshop.

“It’s the first time for all of us,” Lucero said. “I’ve done baskets with yarn and I weave, it’s not that easy, but we are learning, and our teacher is very patient with us.”

The process of traditional Navajo basket weaving begins with harvesting sumac between October and March.

Pruning the bush earlier in the year results in straighter, more manageable stems. After they are harvested, the stems are tediously split, peeled and boiled in dye.
“You don’t know how blessed you are to be living here in the middle of all this sumac,” Berdina Yazzie, basket weaving instructor said.

Yazzie travels nine hours from Kayenta, Arizona to teach the class in Alamo and said she travels three hours from her home to harvest sumac.
During the pandemic lockdowns and restrictions, she began a Facebook page to teach others different traditional skills and started to share her passion for Navajo basket weaving.

“A lot of our native people say that we are getting away from our traditional practice as far as talking about our language, our philosophy, our history,” Yazzie said. “For me it’s important to continue to educate our younger kids.”

Yazzie was hit by a city bus in 2007 and while she was recovering, she had a vision that she would become a basket weaver and help others.

She said that basket weaving is used for healing and purifying the body and mind.

Jessica Carranza Pino | El Defensor Chieftain
Berdina Yazzie with the sumac that grows by the Alamo Community Wellness Center.

It’s a therapeutic practice that can be used for those suffering from depression and alcoholism. Yazzie said that it’s important to follow the traditions with the patterns and colors, because everything has cultural meaning behind it.

Once the baskets are sealed with piñon sap, they will be able to hold water and can be used for traditional ceremonies.

In just the last month, the Alamo Community Wellness Center offered youth basketball, adult volleyball, a Valentine’s bizarre, a Sweetheart fun run/walk, cooking classes, weekly exercise classes and also hosted a basket weaving and art workshops to help guide artists market their work.

“We offer amazing programming here and really have a lot for the community, we wish more would take part in it, but there are wonderful things going on. February was a huge month.” Laura Hartung, RDN and Diabetes program coordinator at the Alamo Health Clinic and Wellness Center, said.

The Alamo Navajo community wellness center strives to support the community with free programs with a focus on health. Over the years it has become an especially popular hangout place for the youth.

“I think it’s impacted more of the youth. The youth always come, they are always willing to participate in any programs we have here, and we provide a place for them to be hang out, to exercise and to learn new skills.” Wanda Apachito said.

Apachito started as the administrative assistant when community center opened in 2006, she now serves as the Alamo Community Wellness Center Director.

Getting the adults involved is a little bit more challenging, said Apachito, but they continue to organize and promote activities and even offer babysitting to allow adults to participate in programs.

Jessica Carranza Pino | El Defensor Chieftain
Violet Lucero weaves the processed Sumac into a basket.

“We try to offer traditional or cultural activities to help people learn their cultural traditions.” Apachito said.

She said they host Navajo shoe games, Navajo basket weaving, weaving and moccasin making classes occur regularly along with camping and fishing in the summertime.
“It’s really so great. And then of course the cooking classes,” Hartung said, “It’s so fun with the kids. I just love getting them in the kitchen and you know, they’ll eat their vegetables they love vegetables. Especially if they prepare it.”

The wellness center has a gym with weights, spin bikes, an aerobic room, it’s complete with a rock-climbing wall and court where people can play basketball, pickle ball and volleyball. They even offer one to two hours of childcare for parents who want to attend classes. This month they will start and three-month exercise boot camp.

“Everyone is welcome, we even have our local county and state police officers that take advantage of programs.” Apachito said.

Violet Lucero Jessica Carranza Pino | El Defensor Chieftain

The wellness center has a full staff including four certified fitness instructors, supervisors, a maintenance manager, security and part time childcare worker. They are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday thru Thursday and Friday 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. For updates, please follow their Facebook page.