Who is LaughingBear Works?
LaughingBear Works is Mark LaughingBear (Shashdlohi). You'll see him referred to as Shashdlohi throughout the site. Mark has some Diné blood so, this name is the Diné translation. From time to time, you might run across some Diné text on the site. We'll do our best to make sure it's translated. Oh, you're wondering what Diné is? Diné is the name that the people commonly referred to as Navajo call themselves. That happens a lot. The indigenous peoples of North America have been given names other than what they call themselves. For the most part, each Nation refers to themselves as "The People," and that's exactly what Diné means.
Mark was born in Fresno, California a little over five decades ago. The family moved to Seattle where his little sister was born. Around the age of four or five, the family moved to Alhambra, California where they stayed for the next twenty years or so.
Mark took lessons for four and a half years playing the accordian. Not the most glamorous of instruments, but versatile and portable! Upon completion of elementary school, Mark attended Don Bosco Technical Institute in Rosemead, CA. At the time, Bosco was a unique school offering not only a traditional four-year high school diploma, but also a five-year program culminating in an Associates Degree. The school had a great deal to offer, with seven different technical disciplines. Mark chose the Electronics Technology curriculum, thanks to the powerful influence of Star Trek in the late 1960s. Update:The five year program no longer exists at Bosco. It is now a traditional high school.
During the fifth year at Bosco, students were encouraged to enter the Cooperative Work Education Program, whereby they could enter the workforce in their chosen field. In this case, Mark got his first job at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA. Not a bad place to start, considering Mark and his coworkers were present in the Space Flight Operations Facility when the first images came to Earth from Mars!
The career path that followed looks a bit haphazard, in retrospect. A few spots in the Los Angeles area, including Lockheed, then up to the SF Bay Area and Sacramento in a field service capacity. Back down to L.A. where eventually Mark landed his first job as an instructor. Seeing the ad in the paper, Mark thought to himself, "Why not, I've never done that!" And so began a 10-year spot with TEC America. That job also was the trigger to leave California and move to Georgia. There was a fair amount of travel involved with TEC, almost all domestic. A couple of trips to Canada and one trip to Europe that, well, you'll just have to ask about.
After three and a half years in Georgia, what looked like a good opportunity opened in Texas, specifically the Fort Worth area. That didn't work out so good and Mark wound up at CompUSA. That almost worked and left Mark unemployed for two years.
The big turning point was the Monster response to a company called GTECH. After three telephone interviews, Mark was offered a face-to-face interview. The scheduled date? September 12, 2001. Sitting at the computer on the morning of September 11 watching the Today Show on the day all Americans will remember, and hearing that ALL air travel had been shut down, Mark called Rhode Island. "I don't think I'll be making that flight tomorrow!" Indeed, and the interview was rescheduled for the 18th. A flight from Dallas/Fort Worth to Cleveland, on an aircraft that has a capacity of 150, had 50 people on board. The flight from Cleveland to Providence, on an aircraft with a capacity for 50, had 8 passengers. It was, without doubt, the easiest trip for travel ever.
Within a couple of weeks, the soap opera that is his life turned into a near nightmare. At the same time, GTECH called and offered the job. After two years of unemployment, no matter what the other circumstances of life, Mark had to take the job. So began eight years in Rhode Island and a great deal of travel. More than the ten years with TEC, because there was considerably more international travel. Mark has been to places that most Americans couldn't identify!
During that time came the trip that turned him around. Once in Rhode Island, his curiosity about Native American / Indian / Indigenous / Aboriginal / First Nations (whatever term you want to use) spirituality renewed itself. On a business trip to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, and a stop at a local bookstore, Mark found a book that would change his perspective and his life. Four months later, again back in Canada, came an unusual experience. Visiting the Wanuskewin Heritage Park, just outside Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Mark felt an odd ease about the place, the land and the people. A couple of months later, during a trip to Phoenix, Arizona, Mark had a weekend to explore, and in so doing again felt that odd ease.
Not until December of that year, 2007, did he find a method of exploring his own past a little deeper. There are a variety of companies through which you can purchase a DNA testing kit. Mark did. The results came back and showed, among other things, that Mark carries markers for the Diné and Cree peoples. The Cree populate Saksatchewan and the Diné northern Arizona. It would seem there was a reason for the "odd ease" that he felt on those business trips.
Afterward, learning more about the belief systems and traditions, finding powwows in the New England area, visiting the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center, all served to enhance the connection Mark felt. Unfortunately, there is no way to determine exactly where or how much of a connection it is because there is no record of his biological father (yet another chapter in his soap opera life). Still, the bond between Mark and his geneology cannot be denied.
In January of 2010 came word that another move was in order. This time back to his roots. Fresno, where Mark was born, was calling. Plans were made, finances squared away and the move happened. Then, as usually happens, plans got thrown out the window by the soap opera. However, Mark no longer stresses over such developments, merely looks at the situation and finds whatever options may be available. And so was born, in a more tangible way, Laughing Bear Ventures. It started out as Laughing Bear Enterprises, but that was already in use. Ventures seemed more appropriate, after all. None of the "components" of the business had ever been part of his skill set. As LBV grew to include Ama Shash, two new "names" emerged. Ama's Originals and its unique logo, and LaughingBear Works. Here you are at LaughingBear Works, buried deep within LBV, flanked by AO.
There's obviously more to the story, but this carries you along the surface of the journey of Mark LaughingBear from middle class Los Angeles suburb to Indian / Native American / Indigenous / Aboriginal / First Nations artisan.
"I hope you enjoy the journey with me as I explore what is possible when I let Creator guide my Spirit."
Update: March 2012
As often happens in life, things change. The situation in Fresno had become untenable, on a couple of fronts. The work environment for Ama had become ridiculously stressful. So she searched and two stores began an almost battle for her. In the meantime, the "neighborhood" had become increasingly troubled. Her car had been broken into five times, Shashdlohi's car twice. The garage was broken into in August 2011 and several power tools taken (effectively ending Mark's attempts to create flutes). The battle for Ama was finally resolved when one of the two stores offered a signing bonus, with the ability to take an advance, which paid for the move.
Loading up a twenty foot truck and leaving some of the bulky items behind, loading his car onto the auto transport, was the start of another adventure. From Fresno to Blythe, CA thanks to a late start on Sunday and a slight mishap at the first gas station. (The trailer came off the hitch pulling in.) A good early start Monday morning, changing time zones, running hard with a lunch stop and a few gas stops (for the truck), pulled into the real estate office to sign the rental papers. We were able to pull out the mattress, place it on the floor and spend the first night in Bayard, NM.
That was early January 2012. The air is clean. We're sitting at almost 6000 feet elevation. We're surrounded by higher mountains. The people are friendly and apparently happy. The job? Well, it's almost typical of every other store she's been in, except it's the only one within 50 miles AND it's the only major retailer within 50 miles. It's a pretty isolated community, and we like it.
Here we are in 2014 and things have changed. Again! Ama is no longer with Walmart. After almost ten years, with six of those as an Assistant Manager, the future didn't look as bright as she had hoped. In June of 2013, she was offered a position as store manager for Tractor Supply Company. She loves being responsible for her own store, her own team members and the satisfaction of her customers. She has many regulars, among whom she has developed friendships. In the meantime, Mark is taking care of the little house, with a basement, and the yard. He is facing new challenges and getting to know the neighbors.
The Adventure Continues!
For a little more on the soap opera and a personal opinion piece, take a look at Are You an Indian?