Thumbnail image for this story (this will show up on the stories page of the site):
Relevant issues for this story, separated by commas (eg. war, race, gender):
Poverty, Gender
Geographical region for this story (eg. Africa, Middle East, Southeast Asia):
North America
Relevant key words for this story, separated by commas (eg. Africa, Hurricane Katrina, Mother Teresa):
Aging, USA, Navajo, Native American, Women
A short summary for this story that will go on the stories page (1-2 sentences):
This project documents the strength of Native American women, senior women, young mothers, artists and entrepreneurs, struggling to maintain a sense of their ancient culture, capturing moments in their daily life that convey the essence of their environment, their culture, their isolation, their choices and the aspect that we are not able to see and know through books.
Elena Fava Emerson

2000 — student award of excellence

I started to work on my personal project, in progress, about American Indian life. This is the project I decided to develop as my Master’s thesis. The purpose of my projects is to understand what is the real aspect and the meaning of native American people, beyond what books have analyzed and described.

My stories will record moments in their daily life, that will capture the essence of their environment, their culture, their isolation, their choices and the aspect that we are not able to see and know through books.

I am deeply involved with these photostories because they summarize and fulfill my idea of photojournalism. Above all, I prefer black and white photos, because they emphasize moments, feelings, and they capture the reader s attention through the emotions that the photographs exuded.

In black and white photos, lighting is more relevant than in color photos because it allows the visual understanding of the mood without the distraction of the bright hues.

The theme of my photostories will be focusing on the strength of native American women in a variety of settings including senior women, young mothers, artists and entrepreneurs struggling to maintain a sense of their ancient culture and possible activists campaigning against oppression in their community.

One community I would like to focus on is the Navajo community struggling to live on their reservation with a better quality of life. Because of harsh conditions, many Navajos have been moved into local towns where they struggle to pass their culture on to their young.

Many Navajos struggle to maintain a sense of the ancient culture, though they have incorporated many of our “modern” ideas, both positive and negative. In a positive light, the Navajos have created a non-profit organization with the purpose of serving the needs of the elderly within their community.

A major part of my project will be a series of candid talks with women about their current lives and what they hope for in the future. These talks will be tape recorded, transcribed and distilled for clarity. In combination with historic research, I will show the evolution of Native American women, the main protagonists of my photostories.

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Dorothy helps George to get into the Hogan. He became blind, due to an accident that occurred when a horse kicked him in the face and impaired for the rest of his life. Elena Fava Emerson/Alexia Foundation
At dusk with no electricity on the reservation the only light available is an old oil lamp. Dorothy did not attend school she was the  oldest daughter and she took care of  her siblings and  family herding their  sheep.  She never traveled, she never left the reservation. Elena Fava Emerson/Alexia Foundation
Dorothy still retains part of her strength. She is the only person who can take care of their home; she keeps busy cooking, feeding the dogs and chopping wood. Elena Fava Emerson/Alexia Foundation
Ashiikee, 80 year-old Navajo man, met his wife Yil Ni Bah on the reservation. The 85 year-old Navajo woman takes care of her husband in their one room house, in New Mexico. Despite her age, Dorothy, is the one who takes care of the household tasks. An old woodburning-stove, placed in the center of the hogan is the main source of heat. Elena Fava Emerson/Alexia Foundation
She wakes up early in the morning, with George, at sunrise and the Navajo songs on the radio accompany them all day long. The radio is their only connection with the outside world. News about the Navajo reservation and other Native American communities keep them informed. Elena Fava Emerson/Alexia Foundation
She used to card and spin wool by hand and weave rugs. “She was a very good weaver,” George said. “Oh, I don’t remember how many rugs I weaved, just too many!” she exclaimed, going back to her cooking. Elena Fava Emerson/Alexia Foundation
Dorothy gives a slice of cake to George. He attended a boarding school in Ignacio, Colorado. One day his father went there on a wagon and  took him out of school, before George could graduate. After working as a shepherd he went to work for the railroad. He was called to join the Marine Corps, during World War II. He was a code-talker  stationed overseas in Japan area for three years. When his term ended he dedicated his life and work to the farm. Elena Fava Emerson/Alexia Foundation
There is no running water on the reservation. At one time, the only water available was rain water. They have no utilities, and to this day they use only a small tank of butane gas for cooking, placed near the stove, and water for all purposes is stored in barrels and jugs inside the hogan. Elena Fava Emerson/Alexia Foundation