Visiting artist shares Navajo traditions with Eagle Academy students

As lights were turned off Wednesday, Tony Redhouse began playing his flute.

He interspersed drums, chimes and some homemade instruments to set a mood of tranquility in the fourth grade classroom of Lisa Loritz-Kieffer at Eagle Academy in Golden Valley.

"Allow the sounds and tones to go through you and be aware how they affect you," Redhouse said.

Pupils joined in with an assortment of "indigenous percussion" instruments Redhouse brought along that simulate the sounds of the ocean, rain forest and other habitats.

They represent tones and rhythms of many cultures coming together in a spirit of unity, he said.

Redhouse, a member of the Navajo Indian nation, is wrapping up two weeks of cultural enrichment at Eagle through an artist in residence grant Loritz-Kieffer submitted to the Arizona Commission on the Arts.

He also is sharing the Navajo traditions, crafts and artifacts with Kay Jacobs' kindergarten class, Susan Christner's third-grade class, and Kerri Dixon's seventh-grade class.

Loritz-Kieffer said she wrote the grant application to include her fellow teachers with an interest.

Music, dance and art all are included.

"I use art to help students become aware of their own personalities and uniqueness in the universe," Redhouse said.

"They play a part in the world around them and all are connected and help the universe have balance."

Loritz-Kieffer's pupils made dream catcher hoops and gourd rattles during the week.

Redhouse also demonstrated several dances.

The Horsetail Dance explains different gaits of the horse incorporated into Navajo dance and also honors the horse for being a faster means of transportation, Redhouse said.

The Eagle Dance relates the journey of a young eagle leaving its nest.

It helps pupils realize they must take responsibility for their own lives and risks so they can grow and develop like the eagle once it leaves the nest, Redhouse said.

The Hoop Dance creates symbolisms of his own life cycle, Redhouse said.

Pupils participate in an interactive round dance that unites children and adults of all cultures to the heartbeat of the universe and teaches respect, he said.

Redhouse has been sharing Navajo culture with young audiences around the country for 30 years.

His visit to Eagle culminates Friday with an interactive performance with all four classes.

"If children believe in themselves, they can achieve anything," Redhouse said.

"I try to get them to believe in the world around them from African cocoons to South American pods to rainforest bird whistles.

"They're things that represent all cultures coming together in unity."