Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Sharing Friends and Treasures

I have never met friendlier people than the Navajo but making true freinds takes time.  As I prepared to come to the reservation in Chinle, I asked a Native American friend if he thought people would accept me here.  His advice was to just be myself.  Native Americans, he suggested, would judge me by my authentic nature.

We have been here two years.  I have heard that the Navajo are so used to people coming and going that they are slow to make freinds with Anglos who they believe will be gone in the year.   After about a year and a half here I heard someone call my name in the supermarket.  Really?  Were they calling me? It began to happen more and more in the Post office and parking lot.  At the rodeo.  I was meeting classmates from weaving class, people form the college adminsitration, others I met in the community.   I have been invited into some homes, to ceremonies.  I am beginning to make freinds.

Two days ago I got a call.  "Karen, we found a treasure.  We thought of you first.  Can you come out today or tomorrow?"

It turned out they had found the rim of what looked like a near perfect pot on their property near Canyon de Chelly.  The rains have been heavy lately and had unearthed a hint of this treasure.  I helped to gently clear away the dirt.  They joked that they should have brought their tooth brushes.  Grandma broke off some rabbit brush to help clean away the dirt.  Slowly a lovely white clay pot emerged.  There was some discussion about how old it might be.  Before or after the Anasazi?  Before or after the basket pottery?

Look someone suggested this is a fire pit.   How did they know?  Their was much laughter as they pointed out I was sitting in the ashes...ashes from ages ago.

Notice the root growing out of the pot.
And the interlocking design.

We admired the work of the ancients and then carefully covered the pot up with the red earth we had taken away.

My friends pointed out where they guessed there must be a kiva under our feet.  They noted the hint of a circle of bricks where we stood and showed me how far the accross their land the entire "village" must have extended and still lies burried. Years ago someone found an entire skelton of a woman from ages passed in that area.   Imagine living surrounded by the daily lives of the ancient ones, walking over their dwellings...being that connected to what has gone before.  I could almost breath in the spirit of life of past civilizations.

This family has blocked the main road leading to their compound to protect what lies beneath.  It is the easier for them to use this road but they have made a new way to their home so they will not destroy this sacred area.

This is our second season of monsoons here in Chinle.  The rains green up the desert and I notice the changed landscape after each rain that moves earth and stone and also uncovers treasures.  

Treasures indeed!  Friendships and the sharing of a sacred moment. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Author Jim Kristofic at Hubble Trading Post

Jim Kristofic grew up in Ganado Arizona on the Navajo reservation after moving there with his mother and brother at the age of 7. Ganado is 30 miles from where I live in Chinle.   His book Navajo Wear Nikes, A Reservation Life is a compelling account of an Anglo growing up in an unfamiliar world which he eventually comes to love.    He is honest about the difficulties for a young child as he struggles to be accepted into a new culture and adept at writing about the changes that take place for him as he contintues to make friends and appreciate the freedom and opportunity for adventure and play in a rural setting.
Just before starting second grade, Jim Kristofic moved from Pittsburgh across the country to Ganado, Arizona, when his mother took a job at a hospital on the Navajo Reservation. "Navajos Wear Nikes" reveals the complexity of modern life on the Navajo Reservation, a world where Anglo and Navajo coexisted in a tenuous truce. After the births of his Navajo half-siblings, Jim and his family moved off the Reservation to an Arizona border town where they struggled to readapt to an Anglo world that no longer felt like home.
With tales of gangs and skinwalkers, an Indian Boy Scout troop, a fanatical Sunday school teacher, and the author's own experience of sincere friendships that lead to ho?zho? (beautiful harmony), Kristofic's memoir is an honest portrait of growing up on--and growing to love--the Reservation.

Jim who is a teacher in Pennsylvania, is currently back on the Rez working as a ranger at the famous Hubbell Trading Post, a national landmark very near where he grew up.  He spoke at a book signing there recently.  His passion for the Navajo and Navajo way of life as well as the land are clearly evident.  He spoke about the difficulties of adopting to life back in Pennsylvania where he went to universtiry.  Off the reservation he never quite fits in and people do not understand is expereinces growing up.  I have seen this with my own children after they lived for 3 years in Haiti.

And besides his expereince growing up cross culturally, there is another connection.  When Jim moved to the reservation the first time, he moved here from Pittsburgh.

Jim spoke about writing memoir, how the book began as essays about the reservation, how he needed to learn to put himself into the story to create a memoir as suggested by agents and editors.

Jim is working on several other projects including one he is co-authoring with his step-dad who is Navajo and an artist.  The story is based on one of the Navajo creation stories.  

His facebook link is:

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

August 14 National Navajo Code Talkers Day

NOW, THEREFORE, I, RONALD REAGAN, President of the United States of America, do hereby designate August 14, 1982, as National Navaho Code Talkers Day, a day dedicated to all members of the Navaho Nation and to all Native Americans who gave of their special talents and their lives so that others might live. I ask the American people to join me in this tribute, and I call upon Federal, State and local officials to commemorate this day with appropriate activities.
Ronald Regan 1982

Yesterday, August 14, I traveled to Window Rock Arizona to be part of an important Navajo tradition, National Navajo Code Talkers Day.

The day began with introductions and Prayer.  Followed by a parade:

The parade route prepared by The Young Marines from all over the country (and I mean young, some ten or twelve years old) was lined with American flags.  A roar of motor cycles at the head of the parade preceeded the Navajo Marching Band.

Then came the floats...mostly pick up trucks decorated to honor the living Navajo Codetalkers and in memory of the many who died in combat or who have passed away.

I went in part out of respect for freind Teddy Drapper Sr. who was a Code Talker and part for research...there might be a book I am working on.

As I have been interviewing Teddy the irony is not lost.  In the treaty the US government made with the Navajo in 1868, when the Navajo were allowed to return to their land after being held in Fort Sumter, the Navajo were banned from carrying weapons.  In boarding school in later years Teddy and many others were punished for using the Navajo language.  During WWII they were asked to pick up arms and defend the US and with the use of the Navajo lanague used in a code the Japanese could not break, they played a significant roll in the victory for allied forces.

The parade ended at the National Navajo Park.  Note the window rock behind the statue of the Code Talker.  The Navajo are a warrior culture and proud of their code talkers and the part they played in US history.

John Yazzie, dressed in full uniform of the Marine Communication  Corps and the uniform the Codetalkers wore was a wealth of information about the radio and phones, how they worked.  That roll of phone cable alone is pretty heavy.  

Yes, he said that the Codetalkers were often assigned another Marine to vouch for them.  In the arena of the South Pacific, the Navajo would often be mistaken for Japanese because of their Asian-like features.  There was a risk they would be shot by their own troops.     
The "body guard"  was assigned to make sure that anyone who might question or take aim at a  code talker knew that they were US Marines, not the enemy.

Code Talker GI Joe dolls?  Who knew?  This one actually talks.  The man who showed me this doll had two he got on the internet.  He was there to have all the living codetalkers sign the two boxes for his own children.  His Dad had been a codetalker.

Another irony of the this whole story?   I had the pleasure of meeting the Japanese photogrpaher Kenji Kawano.  He has long worked with the Navajo Codtalkers and has published a book of photographs Warriors: Navajo Code Talkers.  Check out his photographs:
Kenji said he wanted the people of the US and Japan to know the important role the codetalkers played in WWII.  He will have an exhibit at the Heard Museum in Pheonix in September this year.

Finally time for the cake.  When someone asked me to take a photo I could not find the cake even though I was standing in front of it.  I did not recognize this codetalker radio as an edible sweet.  Is it just me?

The proclomation made by Regan in 1982 also in cluded these words:  From the bravery demonstrated at Valley Forge and the establishment of the U.S. Indian Scouts on August 1, 1866, to the present day, Native Americans have heeded the call to duty. Though often excluded from the annals of United States history, these people, nonetheless, have defended the only land they have ever known, asking for nothing more than opportunity in return.

The Navaho Nation, when called upon to serve the United States, contributed a precious commodity never before used in this way. In the midst of the fighting in the Pacific during World War II, a gallant group of men from the Navaho Nation utilized their language in coded form to help speed the Allied victory.

Equipped with the only foolproof, unbreakable code in the history of warfare, the code talkers confused the enemy with an earful of sounds never before heard by code experts. The dedication and unswerving devotion to duty shown by the men of the Navaho Nation in serving as radio code talkers in the Marine Corps during World War II should serve as a fine example for all Americans.

There are few Navajo Codetalkers left today as they age and pass away.  But it is evident that families and friends and the proud peoples of the Navajo Nation will ensure that their legacy lives on.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Stuff I collect: Stones

This is part of a series on stuff I collect. If you follow my blog it will be no surprise that I love rocks and stones.  Unfortunately I could not bring this happy fellow home from Sand Canyon where I collected this photo instead.

I can never go anywhere in the natural world without filling my pockets with rock and stones.  I should have been a geologist.  My collections fill my house and yard and garden.  I love the colors and shapes and textures.  They are all treasures to me.  

On a recent hike to Ice Lakes in CO. I plunked myself down in the middle of a pile of crystals while others headed to the sumit.  I could have stayed there all day sifting through the skree.  Each bloom of crystals I found was better than the last.  There were some huge ones I had to leave behind.  Would have been lovely in my garden, though.  As it was I packed my pack and pockets full.  Going down the mountain I was a lot heavier than going up.  The extra calories I expect I burned was an extra plus.

Rocks and stones decorate my books shelves and window ledges.  One rock even holds up the bookcase.

 Stones also come in handy as bookends.

A Navajo friend told me that perfectly round rocks are good luck.  I have found three on my mesa walks.  Once while walking on the mesa I heard the distinct rattle of a rattlesnake.  I stopped short and looked around.  The sound stopped.  No rattlesnake.  I began walking again.  There it was, chi, chi,chi.  I stopped.  The sound stopped.  Wait was that the sound of pebbels in my pocket?  Sure enough no snake.

An old boyfriend once told me that it was a Scottish tradition that a stone with a hole clear through meant good luck too.  I have at least one.

Some of my rocks have fossils in them.
I also prize my chunks of petrified wood.  I like the connections to the very distant past.

Rocks decorate my garden...not just the ones that were already there.
 They also protect plants from Reena who would dig holes under them.  I drag them home from the mesa in our jeep.  I especially like the rocks that have red and yellow and green moss on them.  Is this a trait I inherited from my father?  He build a stone wall that lined our yard in Connecticut, one rock at a time as he found the perfect fit.

Cairns of rocks guide us on hikes.  They come in all sizes.  The hikers rule?  Never loose sight of the marker behind you until you find the one ahead of you...this does not always work.

I have built cairns in my garden and one at my front gate.

I have collected rocks form most places I have been...they are cheap souvenirs and more meaningful than somethng I might buy.

So it is no surprise that one of my favorite books is:
Everybody Needs a Rock  by Byrd Bayor and Peter Parnall.  It is lyrical and of course I wish I wrote this story.

Another favorite?  Julie the Rockhound by Gail Langor Karwoski.

One of my favorite poems?  Black Stone by Michael Simms from his chapbook of with the same title.

One of my favorite films?  The Japanese movie Departures.  Here are a few lines about "stone- letters" from that evocative film:

Afterwards, Daigo goes to the river and finds a small stone to give to Mika. He tells her about "stone-letters", a story told to him by his father - "A long time ago, before words were invented, people would give each other stones to express how they were feeling at that point. A smooth stone might mean that you are happy, while a rough one might mean you are worried about them." Many years ago, Daigo had stood on these same riverbanks with his father and exchanged stone-letters.

I won't spoil the story by telling you where the "stone- letters" lead to.  Watch the movie and give a freind a "stone- letter" to let them know how you feel.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Kinalda: A Navajo Girl's Puberty Ceremony

(hogan prepared for Kinalda)

Several weeks ago I had the honor of attending a traditional Navajo puberty ceremony for the daughter of family freinds in Saw Mill.

First I had to find my way to Saw Mill.  I arrived in time for the Noon run.  The girl must run to the east from the entrance of the hogan, three times a day, morning, noon and evening.  Her friends and family join her and cheer her on with long, loud, high- pitched yelping sounds.  I ran too.

Then we all helped to prepare a feast and ate:  mutton, stewed and roasted, fry bread, gravy, mashed potatos, blue corn meal mush, potato salad and fruit.

(grandma knows just how much sugar water for the Kinalda cake.)

And then it is time to make the cake.  The young woman being honored ground the corn the day before.  In the hogan we stir the cornmeal batter in huge tubs in a clockwise direction with willow wisks from the canyon.  It is a lot of work and takes all afternoon.  The community spirit is strong and there is much joking and laughter.

A perfectly semetrical round hole in the ground was prepared the day before to the east of the hogan. Now we line it with cornhusks.  The tips of the husks must point up and out in a design that resembles the sun.  Everthing has a reason.

The corn batter with raisins and sugar is poured into the cornhusk lined hole, covered with more corn husks and then sand and hot coals.  The fire burns all night.

 I think it looks like a giant sunflower.

Another run to the east, a rainbow for good luck and then sunset at Saw Mill.

After a snack of left overs another run to the east and a nap, we all gather in the hogan where grandpa chants and sings of the creation of the Navajo People(Dine).  It is a beauty way ceremony.  Several times we bless ourselves with corn pollen.  Grandpa asks for others to join in the singing and he will take requests...the weaving song, sheep herding song.  At an appropriate time some of us creep out to sleep.  But the guest of honor must stay up all night.

Sunrise outside the hogan.

In the morning there is a run at sunrise.  We have all placed our shawls and blankets on the ground and the honored girl lays down to be stretched, our shawls and blankets have been blessed along with rugs and saddles.  I am told you can bring car keys and dream catchers...anything you would like to have blessed.  The bear skin is sacred.

The young girl's hair is untied and washed with yucca root to make it soft and shiny.   It is time to cut the cake always in a clockwise direction and with special instructions, the cake is cut into rainbow shapes.  It is warm and moist with maybe just a little sand in some bits.  Children race to grab the crumbs.  The young woman gives each guest a piece of cake.  And we get bags of other treats too.
Back inside the hogan the young woman puts a streak of white clay on our cheeks.  She blesses us in turn, running her hands down our body.  We can ask for special healing.  I ask that she give attention to my knees.  Others joke she should make them thin.

This young woman is tired, staying up for days, grinding corn, mixing the batter, running to the east.  Even her heavy velvet dress and silver and turquoise weigh her down.  She has a loving family who have ushered her into womanhood.  It is a joyful exciting time, one auntie tells me but it is a bit sad too becuase this is the beginning of letting her go into the world.