With this series, The Independent wants to create a spotlight on important community leaders the small towns and cities we cover, including, as this week, a young up-and-coming leader. Is there somebody you think would be a good candidate for this series? Let us know! It could be an elected official, someone who works in local government, a pastor, or another young person. Contact me at email@example.com with suggestions.
In this profile, I talked with Moriarty native Zeke Argeneas. Zeke wants to be known for preserving his Navajo culture and making sure the oral stories and traditions aren’t forgotten, and has been featured in The Independent before about his Eagle Scout project. Continue reading to see how exactly he plans do to that.
The Independent: Starting off, do you have any nicknames?
Zeke: Yes, most common nickname I have is Zeke. That’s what I usually get called a lot, even though my first name is Ezekiel.
Where are you from?
My bloodline, I actually come from Albuquerque but my bloodline a come from Chinle, Arizona, which is in the heart of the Navajo Nation. Yeah, that’s where I come from.
What kind of activities did you do as a kid or in school when you were younger?
When I was in school, I was, I still am an art fanatic. Art was my go-to all the time. I started out with drawing and then I progressed onto moving to different mediums such as trying out weaving and painting. It was just pretty much drawing and then just whatever a kid would do, you know playing and such.
What type of activities did you do in high school? Did you stick with the same ones?
Yeah, I stuck with the same ones. I continued with my art career. I was thinking about doing a sports related activity, but I did not do that. Instead I just stuck with art throughout high school.
Your mom said you just graduated last spring?
Yeah, it was last spring, last year of 2019.
What are you doing now that you’re out of high school?
I started college at Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, IAIA for short, and I am a beginning freshman. I’m studying museum studies. I’m having a major in museum studies and I’m taking a minor in a studio arts.
What do you plan to do with that?
In the future I plan to hopefully pursue my dream of becoming a museum director. First, as a museum curator at some kind of museum, and then after I reach that goal then I will progress to becoming a museum director, I guess running a museum.
Are you doing any extracurriculars now that you’re in college?
Not as of now.
Are you just going to school or do you have a part-time job?
I don’t have a part-time job, but I kind of have a part-time job. I have my own business. Part of my art is I make traditional jewelry of my Navajo people. All lot of times we are known for silversmithing, but I don’t do much silversmithing. I kind of reflect on the jewelry before silver was introduced to my people. It’s all with shells and the stones and primitively making them by hand. With that business I sell traditional jewelry: earrings and necklaces and different kinds of items including ceremonial items.
It seems to me that your culture is very, very important to you, and for good reason. Is that kind of why you want to be a museum director when you get older?
Yes. Getting involved with my culture and tying that in with the museum studies is all related to preserving it. With the youth today, I am noticing that people my age are starting to take up initiative in learning about our culture. As well as not only Navajo culture, but you have these individuals who are learning about their own culture from different backgrounds, and I see that as a strong point to where I can reinforce that and kind of, make sure that all of that still continues to happen. It’s all about the honoring our ancestors and that’s kind of what I’m focusing on.
Awesome. These next questions are kind of more rapid-fire, quick answers. What’s your favorite TV show?
I would probably say “Seinfeld.”
Do you watch a lot of older comedies?
I do, I do watch a lot of older comedies. I guess I’m an old school kind of a person.
What’s your favorite movie?
That’s a good one. Hmmm, can I come back to that one?
Sure. Favorite musical artist?
Favorite musical artist is DJ Nez. He’s a traditional Navajo composer.
Favorite sport or team?
This one’s a two-part question: what is your favorite food and where is your place to eat out?
My favorite food is a burger, and I like to have my burgers at The Shed in Santa Fe.
What is your favorite hobby as of right now?
As of right now, my favorite hobby is again, jewelry making. I do enjoy it, it’s a good pastime for me as well.
What is your worst fear?
My worst fear, I have two of them. One is losing our culture, and if you want to get like a little more, I guess, psychological, it’s antigravity.
I’ve had so many dreams in the past where our culture would be forgotten, and there is a saying that some of our elders say that yes, it will be gone. There will be a day where it will all just die out, and then some day it will come back like brand new, and we will learn the culture again. So, I guess that’s kind of a fear that I am over. But the antigravity fear is kind of like, I just don’t like imagining myself floating off in space and then disappearing.
If you could travel to any period in time where would you go?
I would go back around the 1600s, and it’s to learn what my people did back in the past, and how much our culture was different than it is today.
What makes you laugh the most?
I don’t know, sometimes I laugh at stupid stuff, like little stupid memes. I like to just hear jokes that are told in our culture, especially in our language, that makes me laugh the most.
I know some things in Spanish don’t directly translate to English, so is it kind of the thing of like, oh it’s funnier in Navajo?
Yeah and when you get to the meaning of the roots, I guess it gets even more funnier, and just the way some of the elders even tell jokes too is really funny.
Go-to karaoke song?
I don’t have one.
If you were a superhero what power would you have?
I would probably have the power of telekinesis.
I don’t know, sometimes I have these really lazy days where I’m like, I just sat down and I want to grab the remote in the meantime, so I just wish I could move my remote next to me, or to write my essays out.
So, tell me a little bit more about your culture. What sparked you to want to preserve your culture? I’m sure you probably feel like a lot of young people that are a part of the Navajo culture don’t really care, or they don’t want to learn, but was there a specific instance for you that you were like, ‘wow this needs to be preserved?’
Yeah, so I have much love to my elders, and me being an old-school person, I love hearing them tell the stories. With some of my family members who are out on the Navajo Nation, when I was younger they would talk to me and they would say, “Okay, you see all these elders that are talking to you, and even me when I’m teaching you the stories, if you don’t pass these on and preserve them, they’re going to die out and we’re going to take them to the grave. We’re going to start forgetting each important segment until there’s nothing left of us.” After hearing my family members’ words, it’s kind of just sparked me to start in collecting stories and oral traditions and such.
Why do you think it resonated so much with you and not with other young people?
Oh, that’s a good question. I would say that with the other young people, you know technology nowadays, how you can be so immersed into it. With me, I am a victim of that, but at the same time, I’m using technology as a way to tell those a lost stories and traditions. There’s people in Canyon de Chelly, which my bloodline comes from, Canyon de Chelly National Monument, where all the old folks, they’re the only ones left in the canyon, and there’s no young people. They all moved to the top of the canyon or moved in the city and they don’t wanna do any of the traditional things we do. So, they’re just leaving grandma and grandpa down there, and they’re starting to pass on. I think it’s kind of like a way where I can kind of see myself different in certain areas.
I know you said you wanted to be a museum director, and you wanted to preserve your culture, my next question for you is if you had unlimited amounts of money and resources, how would you do that?
I would say that, if I had so much money, I would start by bringing back the objects that were stolen from our people, that were taken over by museums outside of the country or are being sold in auctions. There’s a lot of those objects that have a lot of meaning to us, and are very, very, sacred, so I would repatriate those objects back to our people, and also, with the money, I would also donate to the elders too. That’s kind of outside museum related, but our elders are in need of help too.
Do you have a specific museum that you want to work at? Do you have your dream job place?
Yeah, so I plan to hopefully work at the Navajo Nation Museum. It’s located in Window Rock, Arizona. That’s a place where I can sprout my knowledge and bring together people.
So, back to your favorite movie, did you figure it out yet?
I was thinking about it. I would probably say the one movie I’m thinking about now would have to be “Once Upon A Time in Mexico.” That’s a good movie.
I’ve never seen it, but I will have to check it out. Tell me a little bit about your family.
I am adopted. My family, they are what we call “bilagáana,” or anglo. My dad, he comes from a Greek background, and my mom, she is mixed German and Italian. For them, even though many people have come up to me and said, ‘Oh how is he going to tie in his culture with a non-native couple?’ That was a very good question that many people had until my mom and my dad started getting me active in my traditions and such. I would say they’re a very outgoing family. They’re very inspirational, and they’re very hardworking. I’m very proud of that, and also for them, for me to tie in my roots, which is something that I never would have thought would happen.
To me, it seems like adopted children don’t usually know where they come from. But for you, you know where you come from and then some, so tell me a little bit more about how that happened.
For me, I didn’t know I was Navajo probably until I was 10 years old. That’s when I started learning the simple words like “yá’át’ééh,” which is hello. I wanted to know more of my language, I wanted to know more about what my people did, religiously, and traditions and such, and so when I was adopted by them, my mom and my dad already had a relationship with the Navajo people. They saw that as a good chance as a, “We can learn together process. We can help our child learn and grow from his people.” I started learning about my language, and I also started learning about my religion. I am traditional Navajo, and I have a big role in the different kinds of ceremonies we have. I help a lot with religious items, with the wood carvings and stone works I do that we use. They’re really happy for it, and they’re really outgoing with it.
You are very involved in your culture now, but I can only imagine that the Navajo tribe isn’t really welcoming to outsiders. Was there a process that you had to go through you prove you were Navajo?
There was. The funny thing, well I wouldn’t say it’s funny. The amazing thing about it, is yeah, there’s Navajos that can be, hostile is a harsh word, but they’re not really welcoming to many of the outsiders. But with my mom and dad, and I’ve been told this by many different elders and medicine people, that what we believe in as the holy people, we don’t have gods in our culture, we have holy people. The medicine people told me and my parents that they say that holy people saw my parents as Navajo. They have the skin of bilagáana, but then deep inside they have the Navajo roots. It’s really amazing about how many Navajos interact with my parents. With that, there was a really hard struggle in the beginning with me requiring my CIB. That’s the certificate of Indian blood. There’s was a long struggle with my mom. My mom was, I guess, a very great warrior when she was fighting for my CIB. For me, to sell my jewelry, or my arts and crafts, you have to have a CIB to prove you can sell the item as authentically Indian made. The Navajo Nation was in a fight with my mom, they said, “We can’t do that, it’s impossible.” It was just constant fighting until finally I got my CIB. There wasn’t really much of another struggle after that trying to fit me or my family into the Navajo people. They were very welcoming to us.
I guess that was kind of one of the biggest struggles that I saw. But there was also a struggle of me learning my language because I didn’t grow up speaking Navajo. Now I am a fluent speaker. My parents asked one of my grandfathers, “Is it possible for him to actually learn the Navajo language, because of how old he is?” I think I was probably around 15, and my grandfather said, “No, the Navajo language is very hard. It’s one of the hardest languages in the world. He won’t be able to master it. He’ll know a little, but he won’t master the whole thing.” Now throughout the whole thing, through years of hard work, I have come to the point where I’m not incredibly fluent, I learn new words here and there, but I can carry on conversations with my elders and friends and family. I’d say that was another struggle that I had because before people thought that I wasn’t Navajo. People thought I was Pueblo, Mexican, or this and that. So, kind of fitting into that, when I started growing out my hair, and when I started doing all these different things to, I wouldn’t say make myself stand out as Navajo, but to honor my traditions, that’s also when they kind of realized, and they see my parents too and they’re like, “oh my gosh his parents are really accepting of our culture and they’re letting it happen.”
I have one last question for you. If you died tomorrow, how would you want people to remember you?
That’s powerful. I would probably want people to remember me, I don’t like to brag about myself, but for this, I’m going to have to say that I would like for them to remember me as a bridge from the past to the future. With me connecting the old stories and the old way things were done, I’m trying to bring them back into today’s nowadays. I would like them to remember me as kind of an old soul, almost. I was taught to not talk about that stuff much, but that’s kind of how I want to remember myself.