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Thursday, January 1, 2009

For Future Reference: At the Crossroads, Knowledge Is What You Know

This is the month of the melting snow. The first, today, the feast day of the Ifa God of the Crossroads. Rain. Dark mornings and early nights. Winter Solstice reminding us that we are close, together, to spring. Work requires hands. We have them. Hands working. The men take this time to plan how they will plant, while children sit and listen to narratives that tell us who we are.

For many January first marks the time when Christmas bills start arriving. Credit and debt shapes many lives more intimately than the ancestors, what they taught, what they know.

For a long time I've said, with pride, "we don't have a casino." Now we do.

Fire Rock Casino opened on November 26, 2008. The doors opened at 4 pm. The people standing in line since 8 am. Once open the casino hit capacity in 45 minutes. While more waited outside over 400 got in. The first day totals were $1.2 million.

Navajos are noted for a great and many things, the least of which is not our pride. We have numbers. We have land. We have many living speakers.

As recently as the Unites States Great Depression many Diné were living well, grazing their sheep and teaching their children. Sheep is life. K'é the fundamental law of the nation. The seasons providing the time and space necessary for our teachings. The U.S.'s general economy and culture was on the periphery of our daily lives. In practical terms we stood firmly in the center of the world.

This is no longer the case.

Our world is touched and our daily lives shaped by the world wide web, employment/unemployment, formal education, Christianity, drug and alcohol abuse and the consumer-entertainment industry.

The same day the Times reported the Fire Rock opening, Jason Begay wrote a significant article about the effect of gas prices (rising and falling) on the nation.

Some facts from his article (Officials Study Impact of Falling Oil Prices," Window Rock, Nov. 26, 2008): People are happy about the fall in pump prices. The U.S. federal government served notice they were cutting $10 million from federal grants for the nation's operating costs. Oil costs have gone down approximately 66% in the last 4 months. In the 2008 fiscal year the Navajo Nation Oil and Gas company was earning $47.2 million. The 2009 fiscal year projections for the nation were $172 million, providing oil prices remained the same. The Budget and Finance Committee will have to address and account for the difference in projections and actual returns.

For all the details please read Begay's article in full:

A week before, former Chief Justice Robert Yazzie and Lorraine Ruffing and James Singer of the Diné Policy Institute of the Diné College published an opinion piece in the Times: Wall Street, Navajo Way meet at Crossroads.

Some facts from the article: 70% of Navajo income is spent outside of the nation (off reservation), after the recent fall of the U. S. economy the Nation's trust portfolio fell over $240 million.

I recommend everyone read their article in full:

Yazzie, Ruffing and Singer conclude with the following: "With the current economic crises we as a people have the freedom and responsibility to examine where we are and where we are heading. A choice, then, is laid on the road before us: whether to continue down Wall Street, or hang a U-Turn on Navajo Way."

In 1934 Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas arrived from Paris for Gertrude's American lecture tour. The first line of one of her lectures was: "Knowledge is what you know."

Fire Rock Casino. The Navajo Nation Oil and Gas Company. The Nation's Trust Portfolio. Money. Do we know how to live without it? The U. S. Economy. Do we know how to live outside it?

In previous writings Judge Yazzie has remarked that our strength as a people came, in part, from our homogenous culture and our isolation from the U.S..

No one doubts our ability, as a people, to take what we see as the best in other worlds and refashion them into something uniquely and passionately our own. Perhaps our defining characteristic is our ability to adapt to the changing world while retaining our indescribable core: K'é, Diné Bizaad, these our winter stories and the time to tell them.

Our challenge today is no different than the challenges faced by our ancestors. They too had "the freedom and responsibility to examine where we are and where we are heading."

In practical terms we must untangle our minds and our national and personal economies from the U.S. economy and culture.

The U. S. economic crises is a direct consequence of certain beliefs about the world and the people who inhabit it. Our grandparents know this. We know this too. The problem is that many no longer believe it is possible to live whole, in the center of the world, or they lack the practical steps to return our daily activities to those practices which maintain balance (ecologically, socially and spiritually) and identity.

About Me

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I believe we can be more beautiful than broken. Devotion to language and literature, stories and storytelling, writing and reading will restore humanity and heal severed relations. There is no alibi in being.