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Saturday, August 15, 2009

K'é: 'ólta': Formal Education

It's that time of year, back to school. I would be just getting home from my Grandfather's sister's homes. They would take me in, and shuffle me about, to insure my head would be good, after my Grandfather's passing. I'd be stuffed with recipes for tségha'nilchi', white corn, blue corn and yellow corn bread-tamales-soups and mutton. The Body of Christ was the last place I wanted to be, but in San Francisco it was my only option.

My grandma believed an education would solve all our problems.

T'áá hó 'ájít'éego t'éiyá.

Diné Bizaad: Bínáhoo'aah (Rediscovering the Navajo Langauge, ©2007, Salina Bookshelf, Inc.) gives a rough translation of this statement: "success is up to you, achievement is up to you, perseverance is up to you, the amount of self-effort that you exert is up to you, it (success) is up to you, it (success) is all in your own strength."

Shimá Sání dóó Shicheii, dóó Shimá for all their disagreements agreed on that truth: T'áá hó 'ájít'éego t'éiyá.

With my mind, organization/plans, and their instruction I could be successful. I was already cooking, making toys from the dump, sewing, planting and raising seeds, caring for livestock and I could sing and dance to the complete songbooks of Cabaret, Glenn Campbell, Neil Diamond and Johnny Mathis.

Words and language develop a strong sense of self. One of the essential gifts of my home schooling was the difference of their opinions coupled with the passion they (My Grandma, Grandpa and Mother) each held for their theories.

Chief Manuelito said education is a ladder. Article 6 of the Navajo-US Treaty of 1868 mandates "formal education" of the People's children—If knowledge is a ladder, I ask, to where?

In his diaries Kafka repeats: "When I think about it, I must say that my education has done me great harm in some respects. . .Often I think it over and then I always have to say that my education has done me great harm in some ways. . .Often I think it over and give my thoughts free rein, without interfering, and always, no matter how I turn or twist it, I come to the conclusion that in some respects my education has done me terrible harm. . .Often I think it over and give my thoughts free rein, without interfering, but I always come to the conclusion that my education has spoiled me more than I can understand. . . I often think it over and give my thoughts free rein without interfering, but I always come to the same conclusion: that my education has spoiled me more than all the people I know and more than I can conceive."

At Corpus Christi I learnt, that like my mother, I talked backwards and pronounced English wrong. I also learnt we were heathens, a fact my mother and I argued about long into high school. I was good at school as long as I didn't let it leak into the house. I was even better at home, as long as I kept everything there hidden from school.

Often school is a place that takes our children away from us, from our beliefs and from our values.

Diné Bizaad: Bínáhoo'aah's chapter on 'ólta' stresses the centrality of thoughts and knowledge to traditional Navajo culture. Paying attention was the key to success at home. Watching, I learned everything, especially the things I rely on most today: how to budget my money, how to cook food, how to grow plants from seed, how to pray and how to laugh. Words flew like songbirds out of Bat Woman's basket and I made a home for them, each one, inside myself.

My Grandmother died when I was entering fourth grade, and my Grandfather died when I was entering eighth. From them I know what is closest to my soul.

I was taught that knowledge is a shield and we walk behind it. My entire oeuvre asserts: We must root ourselves, firmly, in the teachings of our ancestors. Tradition responds to a changing world. That is the precise nature of its power: to provide answers to life's questions and to offer responses to daily experiences.

Our daily decisions and activities provide us movement and are infused with direction. It is vital we know this and remember that, as we send our children off to "day schools" and as we say our farewells to good friends.

This column is about keeping good relations.

Living within the structure provided by our system of K'é helps us face each other, our near relations as well as those, "not strangers, but only lacking the knowing."

I met Sonny Tuttle at Santa Fe Indian Market, two years ago. He had a booth near ours, and made the rounds, looking for pretty women and talking good story. He was a most wonderful talker. He was the most positive person I've ever met. So full of light and energy. There was no one who could keep up with him, save ma'ii, maybe. He was there in the morning, setting up before we were, and he closed down the clubs at night. At 75, 76, he put us all to shame, with our coffees and early bedtimes. In his finery of crisp jeans, red wool wrapped braids and tall cowboy hat he looked good.

He ran the circuit: pow wows and Indian Markets. The summer time circuit that gives us all an excuse to drop everything, jump in the truck and stay up all night singing, dancing, talking, and making babies. This year he placed fifth in the Men's Golden Age dance category at the 111th Annual Arlee 4th of July Celebration.

Growing up it was the summers I loved most, for they gave me time with my family, time to learn what it meant to be, human.

With deep sadness I learned that Sonny died in a car accident near Hungry Horse on Saturday, July 25th. His memorial was held on the Flathead reservation in the St. Ignatius Longhouse. I will always remember Sonny dancing on the tables at the La Fonda. He told us that he held court there, every Saturday, every Indian Market. I see him, now, dancing. May he dance, always in beauty.

I dedicate this month's K'é to my dear friend, Elizabeth Treadwell Jackson, mother of Ivy and Gemma, and the late Mr. Sonny Tuttle, father, artist, and traditional dancer.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

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.