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Heritage and history: Native American educates Q-C about culture
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More photos from this shoot
Photo: Gary Krambeck
Regina Tsosie, cultural coordinator for the Native American Coalition of the Quad Cities, plays a drum at a recent Unity Fest in Davenport.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Gary Krambeck
Regina Tsosie, cultural coordinator of the Native American Coalition of the Quad Cities, plays a drum at a recent Unity Fest in Davenport.
MOLINE — Regina Tsosie believes her heritage is a gift.

"I would not be who I am if not for my ancestors, my elders, great-grandparents, grandparents, parents, all those who have gone before me, because they are the ones who have held onto our culture, traditions and teachings," said Ms. Tsosie, a member of of the Navajo Nation.

"Without being exposed to the teachings and the practices, without the mentoring and sharing, I would not be who I am today," she said. "That is the biggest thing that shaped me and allowed me to know who I am."

Ms. Tsosie is cultural coordinator for the Native American Coalition of the Quad Cities.

She was born on a reservation in Arizona and grew up in northern Utah, where her parents worked as interpreters at a Navajo boarding school. Ms. Tsosie said she would return to the reservation every summer and reconnect with her relatives, culture, traditions and ceremony.

She moved to Moline in the fall of 1983 and the next year attended the annual Labor Day powwow at Black Hawk State Historic Site in Rock Island. Her goal was to meet other Native Americans.

"There was a need at that time for native people to connect with each other. We have a commonality of being indigenous people, being the first nation of people of this land. Even though we have different traditions, culture and language, there is a connection we feel," Ms. Tsosie said.

One connection is the deep respect Native Americans hold for the natural world, which each nation honors in its prayers and ceremony.

"Even though we have different ways of expressing it, we share this commonality of the respect and sacredness we hold for the natural world, Mother Earth. I think that is what brought us together," Ms. Tsosie said.

The Native American Coalition, of which she also is past-president, became a non-profit in 2008. It followed several other organizations that previously formed, then dissolved. Ms. Tsosie said the same people were involved in each organization because they all wanted to share and educate non-native people.

"I have found in areas with a low population of Native American people, there is misinformation, myths and a lot fiction in the community about native people. I think through the organizations and coalitions, we are working to dispel the misinformation and let the public know we are here, not dead and gone. Our cultures and traditions still thrive even though we are not as populated as we once were," Ms. Tsosie said.

She said people in the Quad-Cities have a desire to learn. "They enjoy going to the powwows and learning our history. They show an interest in our ways of life and our spiritual ways."

Ms. Tsosie has two daughters, Ashley, 27, and Cydney, 20. She said they grew up bicultural, and she did not want to force the Navajo heritage onto them. She thought the best way to teach them about their Native American culture was to have them live, hear, taste and experience life on the reservation.

Ms. Tsosie took them to Arizona, to her great-grandmother's land along the Black Mountain area, whenever she could. "They would just run around. It's very isolated because you are far away from cars, the city, all hustle and bustle. Your nearest neighbor is about two miles away," she said.

"My daughters were amazed at night because there were no lights. We could look up in the sky and see diamonds and sparkles," Ms. Tsosie said.

There was no electricity or running water, and the bathroom was an outhouse. "It was just a very, very simple life. There was really nothing harsh about it because that was the way of life," she said.

It likely was an adjustment for her girls to switch from the conveniences they enjoyed in the Quad-Cities to a more natural way of living, Ms. Tsosie said. "I wanted them to learn not to take things for granted and to appreciate what they have."

Ms. Tsosie is on the board of Citizens to Preserve Black Hawk Park, is a member of Save Our Ancestor's Remains & Resources Indigenous Network Group and a past member of the Quad-City League of Native Americans and the American Indian Council of Illinois.

She is a para-educator in the Moline School District and sales associate at Von Maur.

Ms. Tsosie was honored by the coalition in 2009 for 20 years of active advocacy in the community.

Her heritage continues to be a source of pure pride. "I can say I know I am related to all those who came before, to the beginning of when we were here."

Navajo Nation
-- Location:The Navajo Nation extends into the states of Utah, Arizona and New Mexico, covering more than 27,000 square miles.

-- Population: More than 250,000.

-- Language: Navajo.

Source: Navajo Nation website,navajo-nsn.gov.

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