Changing Woman, Part Five: The Healer

Published: Wednesday, September 12, 2018 - 5:00am
Updated: Thursday, September 13, 2018 - 5:28pm

Like thousands of other Navajos, Haley Laughter was raised Mormon and had to seek out her people’s spiritual teachings. Today she bridges that cultural gap that so many young Navajos are trying to leap across.

Jackie Hai/KJZZ
Five.
The Healer

Part 1: Kinaaldá

The first episode of Changing Woman focuses on the Navajo coming of age ceremony for girls, one of the most important and sacred rituals is experiencing a resurgence today. We’ll hear parts of the songs and the rituals from the kinaaldá and learn how powerful an impact it can have on a young woman.

Part 2: The Historian

We’ll meet Navajo historian Jennifer Denetdale. Through her story and the book she wrote about her great-great-great-grandparents, we will better understand how women’s power has been repressed.

Part 3: The Leader

Navajo Council Delegate Amber Kanazbah Crotty, whose middle name means “warrior,” has started her own #MeToo movement without the hashtags. She’s confronted her colleagues and has written policies about the violence against women that pervades her culture.

Part 4: The Mother

Jeneda Benally is making music that empowers indigenous youth because she wants her daughters to grow up in a world where they feel strong and powerful. She and her brother just released an album called “Fight Like A Woman.”

Part 5: The Healer

Like thousands of other Navajos, Haley Laughter was raised Mormon and had to seek out her people’s spiritual teachings. Today she bridges that cultural gap that so many young Navajos are trying to leap across.

Part 6: The Rockers

The Nizhoni Girls are redefining what it means to be Navajo. They're shaking down their assimilated ways in their songs and holding onto key Navajo beliefs in their activism.

Haley Laughter often sings Navajo songs and tells stories during her yoga classes. But these cultural traditions weren't part of her upbringing. She’s a self-taught Navajo who grew up in Salt Lake City.

“I was raised in a Mormon family, Mormon influenced,” Laughter said. “My mom went to the Mormon placement program and my dad went to boarding school. So not really a lot of culture because one, living in the city and two, because historical trauma influenced our home.”

For over half a century, Mormon families took thousands of Native children from their homes to teach them the Latter Day Saints life. The children adopted new identities, often hundreds of miles from home. When they finally returned to the reservation they felt they didn’t belong. Three generations of Navajos — and their kids — are now left to deal with these cultural and psychological consequences. Haley Laughter is one of them.

“Living in a city being a Native American and not really knowing your culture, it actually drives you or makes you feel like you’d — one, you don’t belong and number two, it drives you to want to find out where you come from,” Laughter said.

Haley Laughter
“Yoga happened at the same time that I was questioning who I was and where I come from.” Haley Laughter

When she was 17, Laughter found a sweat lodge in Salt Lake and started attending. But she missed out on traditional Navajo ceremonies like the kinaaldá, the coming of age ceremony for young women we heard about in the first episode of Changing Woman.

She was too busy being a mom, a teenage mom. Then at 20, Haley had three more children, but she said the relationship with her kids’ father stunted her growth.

“As the relationship was crumbling, I was putting my energy into my yoga practice,” Laughter said. “Yoga happened at the same time that I was questioning who I was and where I come from.”

Many Navajos say they’re caught between two worlds — a traditional Navajo culture and a contemporary western world — spurred on by systemic historical trauma. As we’ve heard in this series, the list of the attempts to wipe out culture is long. Many Navajos turn to drugs and to alcohol to cope.

“I held onto a lot of anger,” Laughter said. “My mom died when I was 8 years old. And I grew up with alcoholic parents and a chaotic childhood. And so we can use that emotion, the fire, to either destroy and hurt ourselves and others, or we can use that fire to promote growth.”

Laughter said if you don’t break the cycle of historical trauma, it will be passed onto the next generation. So she chose growth.

Laughter started posting pictures of herself in yoga poses on social media.

A yoga demonstration by Haley Laughter at Church Rock, New Mexico. Jackie Hai/KJZZ

“The pictures that I would post of me in these awesome asanas, I’d have my moccasins on,” Laughter said. “And the first time that I did that, people were like, 'Wow, I didn’t know Native people practiced yoga. I thought it was for the rich elite white.'”

At 30, Laughter moved to Gallup on the edge of the Navajo Nation, and opened the first-ever yoga studio there. As she started learning more about her Navajo culture, she weaved it into her yoga classes.

Laughter started International Yoga Day with the hopes of helping other indigenous people through yoga, people like Waylon Pahona, who has taken Laughter’s classes.

“At the time I was actually going through some stuff myself,” Pahona said. “So it was very powerful. It had a deeper connection for me to understand and be in tune with myself.”

Pahona doesn’t really consider himself a yogi. But he said Laughter’s classes aren’t like other classes.

“It’s not just some way to exercise or relieve stress,” Pahona said. “It’s a lot more than that. She has a very unique way of incorporating the culture into her classes. Incorporating traditional teachings it becomes something more. It’s part of us. It’s part of us, as a culture. It’s part of us, as a people.”

For non-native seekers, Laughter has been an ambassador for Diné culture. And for Navajos like herself, who may have lost their traditions along the way, she plugs them into the source.

Haley Laughter has been an ambassador for Diné culture. Jackie Hai/KJZZ

“There are people who grew up here on the reservation they still don’t know anything about their culture,” Laughter said. “I’m trying to bridge that gap between — you are sacred, you are special.”

Laughter’s partner, Anita Lara, helped organize Indigenous People’s Day.

“When we decide to take charge of our body in such a powerful way, it not only empowers our body physically, but it empowers our mind and it helps us heal internal generational trauma,” Lara said. “It helps us walk that balanced life between the contemporary and the traditional.”

As Laughter said, it’s all about hozho — a Navajo word that means harmony.

 

 

Part 1: Kinaaldá

The first episode of Changing Woman focuses on the Navajo coming of age ceremony for girls, one of the most important and sacred rituals is experiencing a resurgence today. We’ll hear parts of the songs and the rituals from the kinaaldá and learn how powerful an impact it can have on a young woman.

Part 2: The Historian

We’ll meet Navajo historian Jennifer Denetdale. Through her story and the book she wrote about her great-great-great-grandparents, we will better understand how women’s power has been repressed.

Part 3: The Leader

Navajo Council Delegate Amber Kanazbah Crotty, whose middle name means “warrior,” has started her own #MeToo movement without the hashtags. She’s confronted her colleagues and has written policies about the violence against women that pervades her culture.

Part 4: The Mother

Jeneda Benally is making music that empowers indigenous youth because she wants her daughters to grow up in a world where they feel strong and powerful. She and her brother just released an album called “Fight Like A Woman.”

Part 5: The Healer

Like thousands of other Navajos, Haley Laughter was raised Mormon and had to seek out her people’s spiritual teachings. Today she bridges that cultural gap that so many young Navajos are trying to leap across.

Part 6: The Rockers

The Nizhoni Girls are redefining what it means to be Navajo. They're shaking down their assimilated ways in their songs and holding onto key Navajo beliefs in their activism.

If you like this story, Donate Now!