Beyond Accessory, the Legacy of Jewelry  

It’s Native American Heritage Month! Here in New Mexico the Indigenous population makes up 10.6% with 22 distinct American Indian tribes calling this beautiful state home. Jewelry is a large part of Native culture, traditionally used to display wealth, identity, clan and tribal affiliation and more. All of us here at Team AW are blessed to be immersed daily in the inspiring designs and culture of both traditional and contemporary Native jewelers. Many southwestern and Native American jewelry styles have been incorporated into our own collections, such as the Sleeping Beauty, Boho and Native American collections, which could never have been possible without the guidance and blessings of our Native American peers.

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So for us, November is a time to say “thank you!” to all of our Native friends and family for the immense contributions they have given not only the jewelry world, but all facets of American life, from farming to the creation of our Constitution. Did you know that the Founding Fathers were inspired by the Iroquois Confederacy’s form of democracy? Well now you do!

As a Navajo woman, jewelry is more than just beautiful accessories. For the women and men in my family, our jewelry is a way of showing the world who we are as Diné people. To adorn ourselves in our Navajo jewelry when we leave our homes is how we present ourselves to the world as children of Changing Woman. We wear turquoise to connect us to and remind us of Dinétah, our homeland between the four sacred mountains. As women we wear turquoise to honor our men, and coral to celebrate the power and strength of the divine feminine. We wear the abalone shell to remind us of White Shell Girl who grew up to be Changing Woman and our primary deity. We treasure every gemstone because we remember the story of when she married the thunder and moved to the north where she because lonesome and homesick and created the stones for companionship.

In my family, like so many others, jewelry is passed from grandmother to granddaughter, from mother to daughter, from sister to sister, from aunty to niece, from cousin to cousin. Jewelry is how we share our stories as women with one another and remember who we are as a people. At American West, we recognize that every piece of jewelry carries with it a legacy, and just as our Native American neighbors to the north, south, east and west have been doing for centuries, we hope to contribute to every man and woman’s personal legacy through each piece of jewelry that we so lovingly handcraft here in Albuquerque.

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Ungelbah Davila is American West’s blogger. She is Navajo of the ‘Áshįįhi Clan, as well as a native New Mexican of Spanish, Irish, and Sephardic ancestry. Her name, which in English means a woman who has returned from war to fight again, was passed to her from her maternal great-grandmother and is a source of personal power that influences the unique narrative she brings to her many art forms. 

The photos within this blog are of her grandmother, Gladys Denetclaw Daniel, 92, a traditional Navajo weaver and American West fan.

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