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Grandmother's wish puts woman on traditional path 8-07

by NATASHA KAYE JOHNSON

RED MESA, Ariz. (AP) - Throughout her childhood and into her early adult years, Andrethia Bia measured her success according to Western standards.

During high school, she was active in an endless list of extracurricular activities from being vice president of student council to being a year-round athlete. At 18, she graduated from Red Mesa High School and accepted a cross-country scholarship to the College of Eastern Utah in Blanding.

As a child, Bia was raised traditionally and spent most of her time with her late grandmother Mary Kitseally, helping her with the sheep and watching her weave. Her childhood was filled with Dine teachings and philosophy, and she grew up speaking Navajo.

When she graduated, Bia was ready to move away and start a successful life on the reservation. Thoughts of a degree that could lead to a career and eventually a two-story home and nice vehicles rested in the back of her mind. She wanted to leave to pursue her degree, but also to relieve the pressures and responsibilities of living at home.

"I wanted to move away because I felt like everybody relied on me," Bia said. "I wanted to go into the city."

Bia went on to school and work in Utah and Arizona for the next 10 years after high school. Among other things, she worked as a teacher at the Salt River reservation. She surrounded herself with other Navajos and American Indians and stayed busy with work and her two sons. But something kept bothering her.

"There was a part of me that wasn't right," Bia said.

Childhood memories, like herding sheep and picking herbs with her grandmother, stayed vivid in her memory and she yearned to be back.

"She was always in my mind," Bia said. "I wanted to live back in my homeland."

After more than a decade of the hustle and bustle of the city, she was ready to come home. The city just didn't fit anymore, and she wanted to begin relearning her traditions and teaching them to her own children.

Bia admits that the adjustment was difficult.

"There's a lot of opportunities there (in the city)," Bia said.

When Bia returned she decided she would begin weaving, just as her mother and grandmother had. But being able to weave wasn't the only thing she wanted to do. It was three years ago when she began longing for a deeper understanding of Navajo philosophy.

"Who is White Shell woman? Who is Changing Woman? What is the difference? What is 'iina'?" asked Bia, who is now 30 years old. "There was a part of me urging for that kind of knowledge. I always helped, but I never put myself into it."

She began talking to elders and decided to take classes at Dine College to learn as much as she could. She started weaving a little over a year ago and began taking weaving classes at the college.

Though adjusting to life back home wasn't easy, one night she became completely convinced that her decision to return was the right one. Her decision was reaffirmed when she had a dream about her grandmother, who was in a nursing home at the time.

Bia remembers giving her grandmother a hug in the dream and talking to her in Navajo, expressing how happy she was to see her. The dream came to Bia during a time when she was having a hard time with her loom and had to take it apart more than 10 times to fix it.

In Navajo, Bia's grandmother explained in the dream the reason she came to her.

"The reason I came to is because I am waiting for your rug," Bia remembers her saying.

Her grandmother went on to say in the dream that it made her happy Bia was learning to weave. She also told her granddaughter that she would continue her journey onto the next world once she finished the rug.

Bia said she didn't want to finish the rug because she was scared her grandmother would pass once she finished. She shared the dream with her mother and confided in her weaving teacher, who told her she needed to visit her grandmother and tell her about the dream.

Bia explained the dream to her grandmother, and then broke down, telling her grandma that she wished she would have picked up her teachings earlier.

"I felt that it was too late for me," she said.

But her grandmother reassured her that everything was OK, and as it should be.

"She massaged my hand and said 'It's OK, you're going to learn,"' Bia said as she cried, recalling the day she visited her grandmother in the nursing home.

A month later, her grandmother passed away, just shortly after Bia completed her rug. Her aunts decided that Bia would keep her weaving tools and her loom.

"For me that's a blessing," she said.

Thinking back, Bia admits thinking that Navajo culture and philosophy was of minimal importance. Now, it has become the center of her focus.

"If I don't understand, I pray about it," Bia said. "I think that's what she (her grandmother) wanted me to do."

Along with learning the traditional songs that go with weaving, she is a full-time student pursuing elementary education and works full-time for the Navajo Nation Park Service. She is also working on a business plan to start a bed and breakfast. But the best moments her day come when she can spend time with elders and her children.

"They (elders) want somebody around them to share their philosophy with them," Bia said. "I'm not embarrassed to say I started (learning) last year. You're never too old, and it's never too late."
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