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September 3, 2015

Badass Ladies You Should Know: Jaclyn Roessel

Kate Hart

Museum curator. Podcaster. Blogger. Hand-lettering artist. 2013 Arizona Humanities Rising Star. One of the Phoenix New Times's 100 Creatives for 2014. Board of Directors member for the Arizona National Endowment for the Humanities. Hiker, runner, yogi, philanthropist, auntie, and advocate... is there anything that badass Jaclyn Roessel can't do? Generous with her time and spirit, Jaclyn is even offering a giveaway at the end of this interview -- scroll down to enter!


Kate: Describe your career(s) and/or current projects. What path(s) and passions led you there?

Jaclyn : I am interested in challenging people to re-think who American Indian people are today. This is a common thread in the work I do. I have built a career in the museum field working at the Heard Museum in Phoenix. It's a place which has nurtured my curiosity and drive for American Indian art. I am interested in how museums, and other quality of life institutions, can impact positive change in communities. Growing up my Nalís (paternal grandparents) were involved in many community building endeavors and used Navajo culture and language as the catalyst to realize their vision. As a result, I grew up with a strong understanding of the power that lies in traditional knowledge. My work in the arts and through educating non-Native people is driven by the fact there are many misconceptions people have about Native people. I want people to see what Native culture looks like and how its richness is a result of the strong roots of tradition in Native nations. I love working toward this goal and I use the arts as the medium to communicate. Art is filled with power to make the un-relatable tangible. I call it “soulspeak,” a universal language not dependent of words to communicate.

In my role as education and public programs director at the Heard Museum I am currently focused on building our Native + You First Friday series whose goal is to cultivate new audience supporters every month. I will also be curating my first exhibit this year. Confluence: Inter-Generation Collaborations, set to open February 2016, will pair eight “mentor” artists under the age of 40, with eight “emerging” artists between the ages of 16-20 years old. Each pair of artists will collaborate on an art piece or small series of work, depending on medium, focusing on the theme of what being a young Native leader looks like in Native communities. It is dynamic work as no day is the same and I get to surround myself with people who are creative and full of vision.

Kate: Do you have any creative outlets? How do they influence/affect your main work (if at all)?

Jaclyn : I love to write. In addition to journaling daily, I blog for Grownup Navajo and presence 4.0. Each blog has their own flavor but centers on the same theme of reflecting on the surrounding world and how Native values, teachings and culture interact with American society. The daughter of a photographer, I also spend time taking photos, it helps me to be more observant. I co-founded a podcast, schmooze: lady connected and our conversations are so inspiring and help me be creative.

Since I operate an insanely full schedule, I have been focused on taking more moments to slow down. I meditate, hike, run, and do yoga. My best friend once told me I am not good at sitting still so I constantly work on having time to breathe. Being well is critical to my ability to be positive and productive in my life so this has become a key principle.

Jaclyn with her paternal
grandparents on her high
school graduation day.
Kate: What's your favorite inspirational quote?

Jaclyn : “If it is to be, it is up to me.” This was my late Granddad’s favorite quote and the other words from my partner, “Be your resilience.” He shared this on a hard day and it’s stuck with me reminding me of the spirit of “survivance” I have innately in me because of the people I come from. Both quotes’ fiery spirit move me.

Kate: What's your biggest challenge?

Jaclyn : I am a recovering perfectionist. I am challenged constantly by needing to do everything and am not particularly gentle with myself when I’m not able to do it all. I am constantly working on this.

Kate: Tell us about a time that you bounced back from failure.

Jaclyn : I once applied to a prestigious internship program and was declined. I was devastated. The news lead to weeks of self-pity and lots of ice cream. In the process of healing from the heartbreak it allowed me to think about what I wanted to do next. I was able to move away from the news and cultivate new interests and career goals.

Jaclyn's mom Karina adjusts her moccasin
during her Kinaaldá - puberty ceremony
Kate: What's the best compliment you've ever gotten? 

Jaclyn : The compliment I carry with me is that my “cake tasted good.” This came from many of my family members after I had my Kinaaldá. It is a Navajo puberty ceremony which occurs over four days when a young lady has her first and then later, her second, menses. The ceremony is meant to challenge and prepare the young lady for her life ahead. There are dietary and physical demands as well as her task of making a cornmeal cake. We believe all the effort she puts into this cake will be tasted when it is finished. She works in service of her family and community during this time acting as an ideal Navajo woman being helpful, hospitable and respectful to those around her.

The reason this compliment means so much to me is as the young woman having the ceremony you are not allowed to have any of the cake yourself. It is considered an offering to all those around you. We believe the young woman’s effort and heart can be tasted in the cake. In Navajo culture you never want to be called lazy or selfish so the act of making this cake in sacrifice of yourself as you start your life as a young woman is an important and a pivotal moment. To this day I don’t know what my cakes tasted like so this compliment reminds me no matter how hard a day is, my life has already been prayed into existence as a result of this ceremony.

Portrait of the Artist
As a Young Badass:
"belly laughing, the only thing
she has perfected in her life."
Kate: Did you have any defining moments that galvanized your understanding of and/or commitment to feminism? How does it inform/inspire your work?

Jaclyn : I come from a matriarchal and matrilineal society. I never had a hard time understanding women’s power as leaders in the community growing up. That is until I saw how different American society views are in comparison. Today, I have a strong interest in seeing how American society has distorted the views Native people have about women. Not that it has changed it but that it consistently threatens and challenges the value we have innately placed on women.

Personally, I reflect on how traditionally, there are gender roles which I can find difficult to accept because I am influenced by more modern ideas. For instance, I work a lot and find it challenging to make time for cooking. However, in Navajo culture, women are supposed to be savvy in the kitchen and the nurturers of life. I want to do better but my cooking still relies heavily on a lot of pasta and water boiling. But, I find these observances fascinating to explore because my culture is fluid and despite my calls to question the notions of who a Navajo woman is supposed to be traditionally, I call myself a modern Navajo feminist because I can choose the ideal woman I want to be, for myself knowing that in any case I will positively impact my community.

Kate: What are the best ways to support other women?

Jaclyn : To lift up each other’s work. It is important to remember as we move up in positions and organizations the many women who are doing great work but aren’t at the table. We have to encourage, praise and share the work we are doing so others can see how remarkably badass we are. This also challenges us to be a part of our communities. You have to show up to know who is working on what causes, projects and passions.

Jaclyn in her hometown
of Lukachukai, Arizona

Kate: What is your advice to aspiring badasses?

Jaclyn : Shine love. I am self-proclaimed lovetarian and work daily to exude a love for life and respect for others. I believe love is the action that can change the world – love of ourselves and others.


From Jaclyn:
I started a greeting card company called the Naaltsoos Project: Putting Navajo to Paper. Naaltsoos is paper in Navajo. It combines my love of letter-writing with the beauty of Navajo words. I have a special four-pack of cards which use the phrase for “What are you doing?” or the colloquial “What’s up?” in Navajo.


Born and raised on the Navajo Nation, between the communities of Kayenta, Round Rock and Lukachukai, Arizona, Jaclyn Roessel is a philanthropist and American Indian advocate. Roessel has a BA in Art History and a Masters in Public Administration, both from Arizona State. She is the owner of the greeting card company Naaltsoos Project. She founded and co-founded two blogs, Grownup Navajo and presence 4.0. Both aim to create an understanding of who American Indian people are today. Her work as an arts and museum professional cultivated Roessel’s belief in the value of utilizing cultural learning as a tool for developing communities and engaging community members. The oldest of four and a proud auntie, Roessel remains connected to her family and community by monthly trips home and various volunteer projects. In her free time Roessel cultivates her skills as a photographer, hikes, and performs random acts of kindness.

Learn more about Jaclyn at:  //  //

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  1. Yay! I won the cards and now I get to put them to use. I will be mailing a card to family members back home and also to promote Naaltsoos Project through social media. I'm hoping my followers will see it and buy!! Thank you for posting this super cool article about Jaclyn! Much love and positivity.


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