Inside all of us is the power to make a change,Amy Yeung, a proud Diné woman and the founder of Orenda Tribe.
In a bid to reconnect with her Navajo heritage, she traded in a career designing fast fashion to found her own label, which specialises in sustainably made, handcrafted and repurposed vintage textiles.
Her focus has shifted somewhat this year, as COVID-19 wages disproportionate devastation on Dinétah and the Diné people. Through the Dził Asdzáán Command Center, the Orenda Tribe has helped to provide meals, reusable masks, PPE and hand sanitiser for its Diné relatives. Yet Yeung's work doesn't end there; as an advocate for America's indigenous communities, she's on a mission to uplift and empower Native youths and artists, and reclaim land for cultural practices.
She lets us in on her "soul journey" towards reconnecting with her Navajo heritage and how we can support the US's indigenous communities from home.
Introduce yourself in your own words.
Yá'át'ééh, shí éí Amy Yeung yinishyé, ákót'éego diné asdzáán nishłį́. I greet you with the universe, between Mother Earth and Father Sky. I'm Amy Yueng, I am a proud Diné woman and the founder of Orenda Tribe.
Tell us about your Navajo heritage.
I am the daughter of a full-blooded Navajo, and my family comes from the region around the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness Area and Chaco Canyon. My mother was taken from her mother at a young age and relocated to in Ohio in the early 60s as part of a US government initiative to move young Native Americans off of their reservations. When she became pregnant, adoption was her only option; she had no support and her family was never told. I was adopted into a non-Diné family and only learned about my heritage later on in my life.
What impact did this have on you?
I grew up separated from my culture. I only found my mother through the internet after my daughter was born - I wanted her to know where she comes from and who she is.
Reconnecting has been a long, often hard journey for me; working and establishing kinship with other Indigenous womxn has been an important part of my experience. I'm thankful that they supported and nurtured me through this process. They have become my sisters and my mothers. Every day, I learn new things about myself and my culture, including our language and traditions.
Tell us about Orenda Tribe.
Orenda Tribe is my soul journey. I believe that there is power in our choices, and that all of us can make change for good. After a career spent designing fast-fashion clothing destined for landfill, I arrived at a place of creating with consciousness. I have long believed in sustainable design processes - handmade, restored and repurposed vintage, one-of-a-kind upcycling of textiles. Orenda Tribe is built on these tenets and fuelled by my desire to honour my indigeneity, to protect our sacred lands and to help others.
What is the Orenda Tribe mission?
Recently, we have focused our efforts around aiding our Diné relatives. The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly affected Dinétah and continues to threaten the Diné people. In response to the pandemic, Orenda Tribe founded the Dził Asdzáán (Mountain Woman) Command Center, a collective of Diné matriarchs that has provided meals, reusable masks, PPE and hand sanitiser for our relatives.
How did SPREAD LOVE + SHINE LIGHT evolve?
Orenda Tribe is about fostering indigeneity and community; we couldn't just wait for others to help when we had the resources and connections to do so. SPREAD LOVE + SHINE LIGHT is an ongoing auction, from which 100 per cent of the proceeds support the work of our Dził Asdzáán Command Center.
Dinétah is disproportionately affected by COVID-19. In addition to the Dził Asdzáán Command Center's relief efforts, what other initiatives are you working on?
The Diné has been one of the hardest-hit tribes during the pandemic, with the number of positive cases per capita surpassing those in New York and New Jersey. With the support of our sister Jewel, our current initiatives include the Children of Nááts'íilid project, which delivers care kits to Diné children and for which we hosted the Voices of Siihasin Benefit Concert in July - artists who participated included Sia and Wesley Schultz of The Lumineers. We also offer continued support for domestic abuse shelters on Dinétah, including the Amá Dóó Áłchíní Bíghan shelter in Chinle, Arizona. In the future, we want to invest in projects focusing on reclaiming land for cultural practices, including gardening, uplifting our relatives and inspiring Native artists.
How can we help?
Share and amplify the Dził Asdzáán Command Center's work on social media and within your network. Purchase something from the SPREAD LOVE + SHINE LIGHT auction, and if you're an artist, consider donating something to the auction for others to purchase. Donate to our Children of Nááts'íilid heart project here- it only takes $15 (£11) to fund one care kit including pantry staples and produce. You can donate to the ADABI shelter directly or purchase a ADABI shirt from our auction.
What future do you envision for the Navajo people and cultures of the Southwest?
Continuing to work on the inequalities between on- and off-reservation communities is important. My daughter grew up in California with so many more opportunities than our young relatives from Dinétah. They are dreams are hindered by the lack of representation enjoyed by our communities. We want to continue to support and uplift our youth, including their creativity and their passions. Our work with the Tohaali Community School was birthed out of this love as well as the Children of the Nááts'íilid project. We envision a brighter future for them, a world in which they feel the possibility to be everything they want to be.
Indigenous artists to follow:
Organisations to follow:
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