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The Adopt-A-Native-Elder Navajo Rug Show & Sale: Supporting Indigenous Weavers for 32 Years

The story of the Adopt-A-Native-Elder program and the annual Navajo Rug Show & Sale is a story of love for Navajo weavings and the Navajo elders who weave them. Join the story on November 12th!

C. J. Robb Nov 5, 2021 - 6 min read

The Adopt-A-Native-Elder Navajo Rug Show & Sale: Supporting Indigenous Weavers for 32 Years Primary Image

Zonnie Tsinijinnie at the loom with her Heart Rug. Photos courtesy of Adopt-A-Native-Elder.

Join the Adopt-A-Native-Elder Virtual Rug Show & Sale, on November 12, 2021, at 6:00 p.m. Mountain Standard Time on__ anelder.org. *You may find a rug you love and you will be helping to support a Navajo elder at the same time. - Susan *

Adopt-A-Native-Elder began supporting traditional Navajo elders in the 1980s. The program started by delivering nonperishable food and everyday necessities directly to elders in need in the most remote reaches of the northern Arizona reservation. Then, in the late 1980s, one of the traditional elders, Katie Furcap from Big Mountain in Arizona, showed up to the food delivery with a Navajo rug that she had recently finished. In an act of pure trust, she handed the rug to Adopt-A-Native-Elder founder Linda Myers, who was also a fiber artist, and simply asked Linda to sell it for her. Linda returned home to Utah and used her list of contacts to find a buyer for Katie’s rug.

At the next food delivery, Linda gave the money from the sale of the rug to Katie, and in return Katie gave Linda two more rugs to sell on her behalf. When Linda returned to the reservation with the proceeds from the sale of both of Katie’s rugs, she was again presented with two more rugs to sell for Katie, along with two rugs from each of Katie’s sisters: Mae Shay, Elsie Shay, and Ruth Benally.

With eight Navajo rugs to sell and four Navajo elders counting on the income from the sales to sustain their traditional lifestyles, Linda created the first Adopt-A-Native-Elder Rug Catalog to feature the beautiful Navajo weavings created by the elders. She sent the catalog to her contacts as well as weaving groups and museums. Linda was able to sell the eight rugs for Katie and her sisters and give them 100 percent of the proceeds from the sales.

Word of Linda’s ability to sell rugs on behalf of the weavers spread, and in 1989, the first Adopt-A-Native-Elder Rug Show & Sale was held in Park City, Utah, featuring a dozen Navajo weavers. The Adopt-A-Native-Elder Rug Show became an annual event in Park City for the next 30 years, culminating in a 30th-anniversary show at Deer Valley Ski Resort’s Snow Park Lodge in 2019.

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic began ravaging the world and taking a particularly heavy toll on the Navajo Reservation. Plans to hold the annual Rug Show were canceled. Navajo weavers, isolated and devastated by the pandemic, still needed a venue to sell their incredible works of art to sustain themselves in their traditional way. The Rug Show moved to a virtual format, featuring the weavers and their rugs online to facilitate sales to a global audience, while the weavers themselves isolated in their homes. The first Adopt-A-Native-Elder Virtual Rug Show & Sale was a huge success, selling more than 200 rugs on behalf of more than 80 traditional Navajo weavers.

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Ruth, Katie, Elsie, and Mae at the Rug Show.

Adopt-A-Native-Elder has grown considerably in nearly four decades of serving the Navajo elders. Today, the program supports 850 elders over the age of 75 and represents more than 80 traditional weavers who rely on their weaving to continue living in their traditional ways. In addition to providing a market for elders to sell their rugs, Adopt-A-Native-Elder distributes traditional wool warp and weft yarns to weavers to ensure that they have the supplies needed to continue weaving. By providing yarn to the elders, Adopt-A-Native-Elder also works to keep the traditions and culture of Navajo weaving alive for future generations. For those who may not be able to purchase a Navajo rug, donating $50 to the Adopt-A-Native-Elder Yarn Fund provides six skeins of yarn and warp to a traditional weaver, enough to weave a three-by-four-foot rug.

This year’s Adopt-A-Native-Elder Virtual Rug Show & Sale, titled “I Have a Voice,” will go live to the world on November 12, 2021, at 6:00 p.m. Mountain Standard Time on anelder.org.

The show will feature hundreds of rugs including special “Theme Rugs” created just for the rug show. Rugs available at the show range from large one-of-a-kind works of art to smaller, and sometimes imperfect, rugs woven by older elders in their nineties. The imperfect rugs are affectionately known as “Heart Rugs” and are often woven out of necessity. One weaver, Zonnie Tsinijinnie, wove a small and imperfect Heart Rug when she was in her late 90s; Zonnie asked $200 for her rug because that was the amount overdue on the payments for her refrigerator. It is common among the weavers to price their rugs based solely on the needs of their family.

A rug purchase at the Adopt-A-Native-Elder Rug Show helps to sustain the traditional lifestyle of this generation of indigenous people in the United States. For many weavers, this is their sole means of support for their families. In addition to supporting an elder, you may find an incredible rug to pass on to future generations of your own family while helping keep time-honored Navajo rug-weaving techniques alive.

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