Meet Shawna Shandiin Sunrise: Turquoise Skies Producer/Educator/Artist

I am the third daughter to Bill and Pearl Sunrise. My mother is Pearl Sunrise, Weaver, Educator, Diné Historian …my father was Bill Sunrise Architect, Jeweler, Community Organizer in Cultural Arts & Performance from the Pueblo of Santo Domingo. When people ask me where I grew up, it always makes me laugh because all I can think is “I was raised traveling in the back seat of a Delta 88 Oldsmobile between the Navajo Nation /Albuquerque/Santo Domingo Pueblo”, literally.

It was in a world that I believed many people shared, but in all actuality it was quite unique. Both my parents believed we had two educations in life:

  1. Formal education = Public School
  2. Tribal education = Tribal dance, language, arts community, family

From an early age I remember my father taking me to 1st grade to meet my new teacher. He was fearless. He walked up to the teacher with a very serious and direct look and placed his hand on the top of my head. And he said these words, “This is my daughter Shawna she will never have perfect attendance,” teacher’s eyes bulging out in astonishment, “because she has two educations in her life, the one this school is providing and two her Native cultural education. She understands this and will always keep up with all her school work,” as he would look down to me and smile. This was the statement I heard every year to each new teacher. It was amazing to hear him speak these words each year. I was so proud but also a bit curious how each new teacher would react. Imagine being this teacher being told straight off the bat one of her students will never have perfect attendance; a goal many teachers are programmed for each of the students to achieve.

Both my parents were cultural performers in song and dance not to mention artists in weaving & jewelry. Before we were born and they had met and married each had a similar background of performance through tribal practices of song and dance. My mother danced with my great uncles dance group on the Navajo Nation and my father danced and sang at Santo Domingo pueblo, but also was asked to join an inter-tribal dance group while he was attending Bacon College in Oklahoma. This type of dancing was of the plains tribes of Oklahoma that was called the “War Dance” from his best friend Jack Anquoe, who was a Kiowa tribal member. Which eventually became one the styles of the Intertribal Pow-wow world today called the Men’s Fancy Dance.

Following their courtship and marriage, which is another amazing story, they had us three. We all became emerged in all they did. We danced and shared mainly Navajo (Diné) and Intertribal Plains or Pow-Wow culture at tribal fairs, state fairs, Pow-wows and special events. We marched in many parades throughout my youth. From Navajo Fair to Gallup Ceremonial to NM State Fair and eventually we travelled to Europe. On occasion we were with my great uncles and cheii (Grandfathers) that were Navajo Code Talkers, before they were recognized for their service in the war.

My eldest sister followed in the footsteps of Shima (mother) as Miss Ceremonial and Miss Indian New Mexico. When I heard certain marching band music it takes me back to preparing to march in a parade. Yes, I was that little girl that many people wanted to pose for a picture with. It all seemed pretty normal to all of us; somehow I believed that everyone else lived this life of travel and sharing of tribal performances. I even had separate friends that I always wish could meet one another. There were my public school friends and then there were my pow-wow friends who were either my cousins or like distance tribal sisters. To this day I still see them out at Pow-wows across the nation and we all refer to each other as sisters. It was an amazing way to grow up. When I think back on the years and reflect I think how blessed I was and didn’t even know it. Here is a taste of the stories I will be sharing from my life on Native Arts and Culture. I hope you enjoy the artists I will be introducing from many genres of the arts of our Native people here on Turquoise Skies!


Shawna Shandiin Sunrise

Diné (Navajo)/Kewa (Santo Domingo Pueblo)

Filmmaker, Photographer, Weaver, Educator & Community Events Organizer