Changing Woman, Part Six: The Rockers

Published: Thursday, September 13, 2018 - 5:00am
Updated: Monday, October 22, 2018 - 5:32pm

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.

Jackie Hai/KJZZ
Six.
The Rockers

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.

Becki Jones plugged in her guitar at an old unventilated storage unit that’s been converted into a practice space. Sweat dripped from her forehead, a petite punk rocker with a mischievous smile.

“I am 30,” Jones said. “We’re all 30, so we’re Nizhoni Women.”

But Jones said they don’t have any plans to change their name. The Nizhoni Girls, which means beautiful girls in Navajo, is Becki Jones on guitar, Lisa Lorenzo on drums and Liz McKenzie on bass. They call their sound desert surf.

Women-empowered rock is not the norm. But that hasn’t stopped them. The trio of sometimes pink- sometimes blue-haired feminist rebels rock hard all over Indian Country and inspire new bands to find a way out through music. 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.

The Nizhoni Girls play at the Asdzáá Warrior Fest, a women’s festival on the Navajo Nation. Jackie Hai/KJZZ

Music was about the only thing that made sense to Jones when she was growing up.

“Christianity has been pretty heavy in my family, Catholicism specifically,” Jones said. “But then we would still see a medicine man on the side, go to like some ceremonies too. It was kinda conflicting when I was younger. 'Cuz I was like, ‘Oh no, I’m going to go to hell.’”

Many Navajos, like Becki, straddle two worlds — the Navajo traditional world and the assimilated western world. To complicate matters, Jones was also dealing with domestic violence and substance abuse at home. And she lived in Flagstaff, a reservation border town, where people discriminated against her family.

“I remember driving with my mom,” Jones said. “This car jumped in front of us and my mom was trying to go. But he was like, ‘Go back to the rez.’ My mom got angry, then she started to cry. So it was hard my mom being single and trying to raise us.”

Jones said at first she internalized the racism.

“Just being Native in that town was kind of horrible, and I didn’t want to be Native,” Jones said. “But then after my kinaaldá, that was kind of like a turning point for me led me to recognize I am Native.”

Becki Jones
Becki Jones performs with her band, Weed Rat, at the Asdzáá Warrior Fest. Jackie Hai/KJZZ

It was the coming of age ceremony that was a pivotal point for Jones, who finally felt she could claim her Navajo identity as her own and be proud of it. It was around this time when she moved to the reservation to live with her aunt.

“There weren’t a lot of things to do, especially in Window Rock and Fort Defiance, so I craved going to a live show,” Jones said.

But Jones said the punk scene was also pretty toxic.

“They had songs dissing on women,” Jones said. “They would hit on young girls. So they were kind of like predators. I didn’t really recognize it or call it out because I was young. But now looking back on it, it’s something I definitely call out.”

Today Jones calls out all forms of predatory behavior and discrimination on social media, in her music, even at Trader Joe's when a cashier called her a derogatory name last spring. Jones lives her activism everyday. And that can be exhausting.

“I’m a sexual health educator with Planned Parenthood,” Jones said. “That’s my job. I am on a lot of coalitions, HIV prevention. So I do a lot of work with reproductive health ... and I’m in four bands.”

Nizhoni Girls
The Nizhoni Girls, with (from left to right) Lisa Lorenzo, Becki Jones and Liz McKenzie. Laurel Moralesi/KJZZ

Becki said her family doesn’t really understand her music. Nizhoni Girls’ bass player Liz McKenzie can relate.

“I’ve always been the black sheep,” McKenzie said. “They’re just like, ‘Oh, Liz is back from Standing Rock. I guess she’s in a band now.’”

McKenzie said after her mom died, she bounced from grandparents in Gallup to her dad’s house in Tucson.

Both McKenzie and Jones said they’re products of boarding school.

“Like my last name is McKenzie because one of my great greats was stripped away from his family and given the name McKenzie,” McKenzie said. “My grandparents met when they were in kindergarten at Christian boarding school.”

As we’ve heard in this series, there’s hardly a Navajo who hasn’t been affected by the federal government’s attempt to assimilate thousands of Native Americans. Christianity was passed down three generations in McKenzie’s family. But she’s trying to replace it with her Navajo traditions.

“It’s hard,” McKenzie said. “I don’t want to talk poorly about what they were taught and what they still believe in. But then for me it’s something I completely reject. I went through 12 1/2 years of private Christian school. Now as an adult, I don’t believe in God. I believe in the people. Our whole belief system is rooted in kinship and taking care of one another.”

Asdzáá Warrior Fest
Women gathered at the Asdzáá Warrior Fest to address a variety of issues affecting native communities. Jackie Hai/KJZZ

The band just organized Asdzáá Warrior Fest, a women’s festival, on the Navajo Nation with this concept of kinship in mind. They also perform at schools on the reservation and give music workshops to kids.

“They were dancing,” Jones said. “They were air-guitaring. And then after we were done playing they came up to us and like wanted to play our instruments. Just seeing that and them seeing a Native band perform in front of them, being women, that is why we do this.”

At a recent school event, drummer Lisa Lorenzo said she realized they’re the role models now.

“I always look back, and I always kinda wish I had a band like ours when I was growing up, just to like encourage you and like show you that you can do it too,” Lorenzo said.

 

 

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.

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