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Reporting from the St. George area focused on local government, public lands and the environment, indigenous issues and faith and spirituality.

Hand Painted Ornaments Represent Utah Navajos At the White House This Winter

two ornaments with different designs hang from a tree branch. One is a starry sky and the other is turquoise and says “take pride of being indigenous” with a red handprint beneath it.
Kate Groetzinger / KUER
Ornaments by Kiley Scott (L) and Carthania Yazzie (R) tell different stories of life on the Navajo reservation. Scott went with a starry night sky, which is a prominent feature in Montezuma Creek, while Yazzie went with a symbolic message.

Twenty-four custom ornaments made the trip from Montezuma Creek to Washington, D.C. to adorn a Christmas tree across from the White House this holiday season. The tree is part of the ‘America Celebrates’ display, which includes the towering National Christmas Tree, and 56 smaller trees, representing every U.S. state and territory. 

Every year, the Utah State Board of Education picks a different school to decorate ornaments for Utah’s tree. This year, the board chose Whitehorse High School in Montezuma Creek, which is in the Navajo Nation in San Juan County. 

Almost every student at Whitehorse is Diné, or Navajo. Students decorated the ornaments with stories and symbols that represent their Native culture. 

Their work ranged from a blood red handprint representing the missing and murdered indigenous women crisis to the red rock formations of Monument Valley. The ornaments are on display on the White House grounds through the end of December.

five ornaments with different designs hang from a tree branch.
Credit Kate Groetzinger / KUER

Art teacher Georgiana Simpson chose her best students to decorate ornaments for the National Christmas Tree display. The only instruction she gave them was to reflect their Native culture through designs and stories.

a girl uses a marker to write her name on a turquoise ornament.
Credit Kate Groetzinger / KUER

Junior Carthania Yazzie painted two ornaments: one is a symbol of Indigenous pride; the other shows a starry night sky. Yazzie said the red hand stands for the missing and murdered Indigenous women crisis, and she painted it in honor of her two missing relatives.

a girl holds two ornaments with different scenes painted on them.
Credit Kate Groetzinger / KUER

Sophomore Leyonah Endischee painted four ornaments for the tree. Here she shows an ornament of Monument Valley at night, and an ornament depicting a typical winter scene of a Navajo woman gathering wood.

a girl looks down at an ornament with a red zig zag pattern on it.
Credit Kate Groetzinger / KUER

Sophomore Heidi Thomas painted her ornament with a traditional Navajo pattern. She said she chose it because it appears on everything from blankets to bowls, and because it reminds her of the red mesas on the Navajo Nation. 

a boy holds two ornaments painted with stylized circular faces outlined in black.
Credit Kate Groetzinger / KUER

Junior Xavier Martin decorated his ornaments with a traditional technique called sand painting that he learned from his father. He said he painted one ornament with a Navajo god, and the other with a Zuni god, because his mother is Navajo and his father is Zuni. 

a girl holds two ornaments, one with a starry sky and the other with an orange, red and black Navajo design.
Credit Kate Groetzinger / KUER

Sophomore Mercedes Lansing painted one ornament with a Navajo design she created and another with a dark night sky. She said she titled the latter “Reminder” because she goes outside at night to look at the stars and reflect on life. 

A woman in a red velvet shirt and Navajo turquoise necklace holds a clipboard and points.
Credit Kate Groetzinger / KUER

Georgiana Simpson started teaching at Whitehorse High School in 2015. In the past five years, she’s grown the arts program’s reputation around the state and Four Corners area by entering her students’ award-winning work in competitions. 

Kate joined KUER from Austin, Texas. She has a master's degree in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin’s Moody School of Communication. She has been an intern, fellow and reporter at Texas Monthly, the Texas Observer, Quartz, the Texas Standard and Voces, an oral history project. Kate began her public radio career at Austin’s NPR station, KUT, as a part-time reporter. She served as a corps member of Report For America, a public service program that partners with local newsrooms to bring reporters to undercovered areas across the country.
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