Hastiin Tłʼa

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Hastiin Tłʼa (sometimes written as Hosteen Klah) was a master Navajo weaver and medicine man who was instrumental in preserving records of traditional rituals through his contact with anthropologists and pioneering work in translating the sacred art of sandpainting into other media. Although sources seem to disagree on whether he was gay or intersex, Tłʼa fit into the broader category of nádleeh (“one who changes”) and was permitted to learn both weaving (normally for women) and singing (normally for men). He became a master of both, and was invited to host an exhibit at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

Because of the difficulty he experienced in locating suitable apprentices, Tłʼa took to preserving his chants and sandpainting by integrating the symbols into his weaving and permitting outside observers to draw and paint them, a practice that was – and still is in places – considered heretical. Much of his work is stored with the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, which he helped co-found.

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