KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. --
“Awéétsʼáál,” people responded from the audience, confirming the Navajo words for “cradleboard.” They were responding to Dr. Casey Church, the featured presenter at a Native American Heritage Month event at Sandia National Laboratory Nov. 30.
Church’s question came during his teaching of the cradleboard, a traditional baby carrier and integral method of raising young children in some Native American cultures. Church, a former U.S. Marine, is a member of the Pokagon Band of the Potawatomi from the upper Midwest. For Church and his wife Lora, an Albuquerque native of Navajo origin, using cradle boards with their children was part of recapturing their culture.
While the Pokagon word for cradle board, tikinagan, is indicative of the distance between the languages of the two peoples, much of the cultural significance of the cradleboard is shared.
“Our culture was taken away from us—assimilation caused the loss of our language. But tribes have won more sovereignty and are getting back to life ways,” Church said. “We decided to bring our language and culture back as part of our family life. We wanted to get back to our life ways and using a cradleboard was an important part of that.”
Through the process of rearing five children with cradleboards (in use for the child’s first eight months of life), Church became an expert in making them and the culture content inherent in the cradleboard. Soon, he began making them in different styles (according to varying Tribal customs).
In addition to his expertise in the cradleboard, Church talked in-depth about his journey as a Native American, an academic and a missiologist. He now writes and teaches Christian missionary work in a Native American cultural context.
“Everything in life is ceremony,” he said. “I help people that want to minister to promote a better way of life.”
Like Church, four other featured guests shared their Native American culture and experience at events across the month of November. This year, Kirtland joined with SNL to celebrate Native American Heritage. Events ranged from keynote addresses at the Steve Schiff Auditorium to a walking remembrance at Hardin Field.
Danielle Redhouse, one of the observance’s organizers at SNL, said she was pleased to see people sharing their cultures.
“One of my favorite things about the presentations has been the willingness of people to come up afterward and start a conversation,” she said.
While Church was making his fourth visit to Kirtland for Native American Heritage Month celebrations, Redhouse was in her first year as an event organizer and will be leading SNL’s observance in 2019. The nuclear engineer now in her sixth year at SNL traces her roots to the Navajo Nation and the four corners area.
“I really like the openness the events bring about and the sharing between people,” Redhouse said.