We Made Our $10K, 120 Guest Modern Navajo Wedding Our Own


These moccasins were made for walking (down the aisle)

Arizona; Wedding; Photographer; LeahAndMark & Co.; Navajo; Cameron Trading Post

Brenda, PE teacher and grad student & Donovan, network specialist

Sum-up of the wedding vibe: Respectful and happy mix of traditional and modern cultures.

Planned budget: $7,000

Actual budget: $9,800

Number of guests: 120

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Where we allocated the most funds:

We spent most of our funds at the venue—buying hotel rooms for the wedding party, the officiant, photographer, and ourselves. We also spent a good chunk of change on the catering and cake. We wanted to make sure that everyone was comfortable and provided for.

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Where we allocated the least funds:

Decorating. The most expensive decoration we had to purchase was the garlands, roughly $125 a piece. The rose petals were bought at the grocery stores for $12.99 and spread all around. Otherwise, the Pendleton blankets and chairs were items we already had. The rest, like the tulle and the long pieces of fabric, came from Goodwill at the price of $10 total. The ceremonial items for the altar were also items we already owned. Mother Nature took care of the rest!

My dress was incredibly inexpensive as I spent less than $200 to buy and make alterations. My moccasins were a gift and the jewelry were family heirlooms that I wore in honor of my grandmother.

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What was totally worth it:

The makeup artist! I could not believe the amazing job he did with everyone! We do not wear makeup on a regular basis so it was a relief to see that he knew how to make us look great for such an amazing day.

Arizona; Wedding; Photographer; LeahAndMark & Co.; Navajo; Cameron Trading PostArizona; Wedding; Photographer; LeahAndMark & Co.; Navajo; Cameron Trading PostArizona; Wedding; Photographer; LeahAndMark & Co.; Navajo; Cameron Trading PostArizona; Wedding; Photographer; LeahAndMark & Co.; Navajo; Cameron Trading PostArizona; Wedding; Photographer; LeahAndMark & Co.; Navajo; Cameron Trading PostArizona; Wedding; Photographer; LeahAndMark & Co.; Navajo; Cameron Trading PostArizona; Wedding; Photographer; LeahAndMark & Co.; Navajo; Cameron Trading PostArizona; Wedding; Photographer; LeahAndMark & Co.; Navajo; Cameron Trading Post

A few things that helped us along the way:

A wedding coordinator was definitely needed as my family had never gone through a wedding of this fashion before. We were mixing traditional Navajo elements with a contemporary wedding, and we needed someone to guide us through the logistics of how it should look. She took care of things like helping us choose a cake, a makeup artist, and a florist and negotiating with the venue to ensure our needs were met. In a traditional Navajo wedding, there is no talk of any of that, as most weddings are performed at the homestead with everyone pitching in. In this case, we needed guidance, and she did a great job!

Our hardworking and caring family was instrumental in getting our wedding set up. The venue would only make sure it was clean and free of weeds. The rest was up to us. My family then took it upon themselves the day before the wedding to show up and set up late into the night to make sure we didn’t worry about it on the wedding day itself. They also provided the appetizers during our social hour and picked up our wedding cake in Flagstaff, Arizona, which was fifty minutes south of Cameron. We also had a trusted family member with lots of knowledge of Navajo tradition officiate the wedding. Then there were all the little details like the game we played, and someone to coordinate the packing and unpacking of everything we brought to the venue—chairs, decorations, tables, etc. The wedding would not have gone as smoothly without their help. Anything is possible with family!

Arizona; Wedding; Photographer; LeahAndMark & Co.; Navajo; Cameron Trading PostArizona; Wedding; Photographer; LeahAndMark & Co.; Navajo; Cameron Trading Post

My best practical advice for my planning self:

Invite more people than what you have planned for. I wish I had sent out more invitations than I originally did. I invited exactly sixty people in my circle of family and friends and thought they would all come, and they didn’t, which meant there were some empty seats I could have filled with others. Lesson learned: invite more people than you planned for; it’ll work out in the end. Also, ENJOY IT! I was so consumed with making sure others were having a good time that I forgot that I was supposed to have a good time too. In hindsight, the wedding was beautiful, but I didn’t realize it till the end.

Arizona; Wedding; Photographer; LeahAndMark & Co.; Navajo; Cameron Trading PostArizona; Wedding; Photographer; LeahAndMark & Co.; Navajo; Cameron Trading Post

Favorite thing about the wedding:

The wedding vows. We wrote our own and I felt that meant more to me than anything. We looked each other in the eyes and nothing mattered. To hear my husband tell me how he felt was an incredible feeling! Also, right before we cut our wedding cake my nephew-in-law and my son sang a traditional Navajo blessingway song. As the song progressed, my family and friends joined in and it was soon a chorus of young and old singing to bless our marriage in a good way. I was overwhelmed with love and happiness that I started to cry. It was then I felt so proud to have the culture that I do and to share it with my husband from that day forth.

Arizona; Wedding; Photographer; LeahAndMark & Co.; Navajo; Cameron Trading PostArizona; Wedding; Photographer; LeahAndMark & Co.; Navajo; Cameron Trading Post

Other Notes:

Some people asked us why we didn’t have a true Navajo wedding, and the truth was I had already been married in that way. In Navajo tradition, you cannot marry twice out of the Navajo wedding basket so we had to get creative. I love my heritage but also respect the laws of it, and I wanted to marry in a way that was respectful but also reflected both our faith and culture. The wedding could be described as a mix of both Navajo tradition and Native American Church (NAC) practices in a contemporary format. With permission from my mother and aunts, we took what we could from our culture such as the washing of the hands and the exchanging of the dowry and incorporated prayer and blessings done with NAC paraphernalia (hawk feathers and burning of cedar) and then added the contemporary elements like my dad walking me down the aisle and the exchanging of the rings. The result was a wedding that had such deep meaning for both of us.

Arizona; Wedding; Photographer; LeahAndMark & Co.; Navajo; Cameron Trading Post


The Info:

Photography: Leah and Mark | Location: Cameron, AZ on the Navajo Nation | Venue: Historic Cameron Trading Post | Brenda’s Dress and Bridesmaid Dresses: Camille Lavie | Moccasins: City Electric | Ties, Flower Baskets, and Ring Pillow: Touch of Tradition | Wedding Coordination: Yvonne Chavez | Makeup: Shonie Secody | Hair: Northern Arizona Glam Squad

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  • Lisa

    I am absolutely in love with this wedding. It’s completely unlike anything I’ve seen on APW before but still similar at the same time. Reading about the blessingway song made me think of one of my most vivid memories of my own wedding (hearing my vocalist friends singing a hymn and raising my voice to join theirs), and it reminds me that all of our weddings are more alike than they are different.

  • Sarah

    How beautiful. I didn’t know anything about Navajo/Native American Church weddings and this was very informative.

  • Erica Klein

    This is so beautiful I can’t even stand it.

  • EF

    this is so amazingly great. I got to attend a wedding on blackfoot territory in montana some years ago and it was so different from the east coast weddings i’d previously seen. this blending of cultures is truly beautiful. congrats!

  • Her Lindsayship

    The blessingway song. I’m not crying in my office this Friday morning over a stranger’s wedding, I just got some dust in my eye…

    But also: everything about Brenda’s look is PERFECT. The dress, the hair, the beautiful heirloom jewelry – it works together so harmoniously, it’s hard to believe it wasn’t a styled shoot. So impressed!

    • savannnah

      No worries. I’m def not crying in my car outside Starbucks now late for work over a strangers wedding either.

    • Jessica

      I’m definitely crying in my office on a Friday morning over a strangers BEAUTIFUL wedding. Gosh.

    • eating words

      So glad I’m not alone in crying. These photos and this wedding story are beautiful and moving.

  • Christina McPants

    When I saw the phrase “modern Navajo” in the twitter link, I was so worried this was going to go the other way. I should have known better. This is beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

    • Jamey

      Exactly! It’s so good to see an example of non-appropriated cultural tradition. I hope *other* lifestyle websites take note!

  • Danielle

    This is beautiful. Thank you for sharing. The mutual respect and care you feel for your family shines through in such a calming way. I love how you were able to blend modern and traditional elements in a way that was completely yours. Also, you’re gorgeous and I love your belt :)

  • Sosuli

    This has got me so excited because I visited Cameron AZ a few years ago. The Navajo Nation is so beautiful and amazing, visiting will remain one of my most treasured memories. And this wedding looks so beautiful and moving all I can think is…Nizhoni!!! (I hope that spelling isn’t too off…)

    • Kiri

      This reminds me of my visit to Arizona and Utah also; even the look of the sunlight in the photos.

      It’s a memorable landscape to say the least.

  • Megan

    This wedding is so beautiful but also THOSE KIDS. Holy shit they are so cute.

    • Shawna

      Exactly. Those flower girl dresses?!! Perfection. Everyone looks comfortable and happy and so so gorgeous.

    • raccooncity

      I was just going to say – the little flower girls! SQUEEEEE. Also, the red is such a gorgeous colour choice.

  • This is gorgeous. It’s also very informative and inspiring in terms of thinking about blending traditions. Thanks for posting this!

  • Shannon C.

    Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful celebration with us! It’s wonderful to see the love between you and and your family!

  • Kayjayoh

    Everything about this wedding fills me with joy. In particular:

    1. How cute is your hair?
    2. That group photo with all your attendants.
    3. That cake!

    • Ashlah

      Seriously, her hair!

  • Rebekah

    My heart feels full to bursting to see an AZ wedding! Every single detail here was gorgeous and made me smile. What incredible love you put into this, and that your community gave back to you.
    If Brenda is around to comment today, I’d love to learn more about some of the Navajo elements that she incorporated. I love seeing the pictures but would be so interested to learn more about how she and Donovan chose them and what they symbolize.
    Congratulations!

  • Kelly

    Ohmygoodness, love, love, love! Beautiful on every level. I grew up in the Four Corners and these photos totally made my heart burst. Congratulations and thank you for sharing!

  • Kiri

    What a visually stunning wedding in every detail. I can’t even pick one thing because it’s all so amazing. I wish I had been invited!!!!!

  • CMT

    Wow to all of it! And nice find on the dress! I can’t believe it was less than $200!

  • Kelsey

    What a beautiful wedding! Thank you for sharing!

  • Camille

    Absolutely beautiful! Congratulations!

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  • SuzyNP

    Wow this is so beautiful! Congratulations to you both!

  • Shannon

    I don’t know you but reading your events on that special day made me tear up. Deep down I wished I had incorporated some of the elements in a traditional Navajo wedding into my church wedding. Both ways are beautiful. May the both of you enjoy and be happy in your marriage.

  • Ebloom

    This is one of my favorite wedding posted on APW this far for the following reasons in no order:
    1. The blend of cultures that truly reflect the cultural experiences of the people getting married.
    2. Showing that Navajo is a culture, not a fashion statement appropriated by Urban Outfitters.
    3. The multi-generational elements
    4. It’s flipping beautiful but full of sentiment.
    5. Noted about inviting more people than not. I was thinking that as well.

  • Daisy6564

    So, so exciting to see real Navajo people (rather than the appropriation of their culture and image) represented in mainstream culture! Thank you for this. I had the chance to visit the Navajo Nation about 10 years ago and it was such a great experience. I think I grew up in the US thinking of Native Americans as a part of history, not the present. This wedding is beautiful, congratulations!

  • brakell-basicinvite

    SUCH a beautiful wedding!

  • Adriana_Paula

    Good gravy, what a beautiful wedding, and what a gorgeous smile in that 4th photo!

  • Brenda

    Oh my goodness! What a great response we’ve had! I sincerely appreciate the sentiments and the positivity! I will try to answer any questions as best as i can.

  • C

    Gorgeous!

  • Kara E

    Truly beautiful wedding. I wish you the best in your life together. [I also love that you wished you had invited a few more people. So do I. But things do work out.]