"The horrific sociological issues deeply imbedded in Pine Ridge, and perhaps all of the reservations, are having a tidal wave effect and are pushing these people—collectively—toward the very brink of utter destruction—mind, body and soul. Short of a major revolution, I am unable to conceive of a way these people can ever recover, let alone survive. They are, unfortunately, being help captive by a fortified wall of profound ignorance and warped ideology inflicting the greater majority of American people."
-Lena Walker, Bellevue Nebraska, Indian Country Today 2008/07/25
"There was a woman who used to wash the clothes for the enemy in a kind of way she wan an enemy herself, not an enemy who could frighten one but just an enemy and she said the enemies would win because they had wonderful weapons that no one had ever seen, all the enemies had wonderful weapons that no one had ever seen."
-Gertrude Stein , Wars I Have Seen
"The awareness of one's origins is like an anchor line plunged into the deep, keeping one within a certain range. Without it, historical intuition is virtually impossible."
"My own decision proceeded, not from the functioning of the reasoning mind, but from a revolt of the stomach. A man may persuade himself, by the most logical reasoning, that he will greatly benefit his health by swallowing live frogs; and, rationally convinced, he may swallow a first frog, then the second; but at the third his stomach will revolt."
Many have swallowed the frog of you don't matter, and those days are over. And while our material conditions have changed for the People both on and off the reservation the questions before us remain the same: How can we find food and where can we find shelter. Our answers to those questions have shaped us. Material conditions have always been changing. What we retain is our integrity. We—the Diné—emerged from Mother Earth, that is why she is sacred to us. Our ability to think and gather power through prayer and cooperation (in our neighborhood of earth, plant and animal) resides in a firm belief in our intellectual and spiritual knowledge. This expertise was given to us and it is our responsibility to use it and pass it down.
The pace and preoccupation of this age in the U.S.A. gives the feeling that we and our lives are small. Too small to affect a meaningful change and certainly too overextended to devote any daily portion of time to doing anything "extra." It's as if we are caught in a stream and the current is pulling us farther and faster down river. As if the complexity somehow trumps our responsibility to step outside it. We are Dorothy in ruby slippers dancing the grapevine down the yellow brick road. If I only had a brain. If I only had a heart. Courage. A home.
Once we were warriors, now we're just Indians in line. The forts have changed but the commodity lifestyle has not. Clinics. Casinos. Cost-co. FDIC insured cash depositories. Consume don't create. This is a lie. Some hold onto it as if their lives depend on it. For many their lives as they know them do depend on it.
Recognizing the state we—the Diné, all Nations (Sahnish, Tongva, Colville, etc.), citizens (by birth, force or naturalization)—are in is the easiest task before us. I don't believe we don't know. From the beginning we've understood that our relations will sustain us—provide for us both companionship and the necessities of life (meals and shelter). The first relationship we have to look toward is to our mothers, the People to Earth.
Those that refuse to recognize the occupation of our homelands extends into our psyches consequently refuse to take any meaningful (daily) action. Those that do recognize the occupation have work to do, daily work, emotional, physical and spiritual work. Work based on the fact that "the substance of the universe is relationships" and the knowledge that community is defined and organized by responsibilities not rights.
Our origins and ancestors bind us to specific places among certain peoples. Where those ties have been maintained and nourished we are strong. Where they have been severed or neglected we float like rotting flesh down a poisoned stream of you are nothing and your days are over, grabbing hold of anything we can get a hold of. Whether we fell from the sky or emerged from the earth we each brought with us a story of our origins. These stories provide us the means for addressing the world. They tell us who we are and how we are supposed to act. They are the filter all action should flow through prior to, and once committed. We are a thoughtful people. We are an observant people. We are not stupid. We know. It is only the enemy who tells us their weapons are more wonderful than ours. It's our choice to call a lie a lie, or to believe it.
Once we were warriors living and dying according to a code. Our lives had meaning within that code, because we smoked ourselves in it. We ate it. We shat it. We taught it to our children. We are still, Diné, Sahnish, Tongva, Colville, etc., Traditional knowledge is timely. It always has been, the task that faced our ancestors is the same task that faces us now. How to apply it to the contemporary world, in a daily practice. It is not a disembodied philosophy it is the knife that skins the deer.
How can we abandon our knowledge now? With 50% of Navajo living outside the protection of the sacred mountains and given the nearly septic state of our environment, our families and our neighborhoods. We must retain and prioritize the belief that we and our traditional beliefs are viable today. They are not historical or romantic, they provide us with contemporary solutions to contemporary circumstances.
Facing the 50% of us who live outside the protection of the sacred mountains requires those who live within their protection to account for our absence, the life and the shared consequence of it. Our lived experience of our kinship system (K'é) requires a set of behaviors from all of us, not simply those within reach (be it ideological or geographical proximity.) It is only the enemy who seeks to convince us that we and our system of belief and prayer are no longer viable. It is only the enemy that tells us their weapons are better. We become enemy Diné when we agree and then attempt to force others into agreement via poverty, social neglect and isolation.
I write this column because my family has been destroyed by alcoholism and greed. This is my attempt to make something meaningful from that destruction, my attempt to stand in relation to what is left of us, of me, and to the political entity of the Navajo Nation. It is an invitation to everyone to use those same tools of subjegation (poverty, social neglect and isolation) for liberation, it is a call for nothing short of a revolution. General strike. Community based on responsibilities not rights. Speak the languages of your ancestors. Examine what you believe possible.
- ► 2009 (13)