Native American culture & teachings through a modern lens

Category: Modern Navajo Reflections

Injustice & K’é in the Borderlands

Growing up I heard many stories. Shared by my late Nalí’s (paternal grandparents), my masaní (maternal grandmother) and from my parents about our life as Diné (Navajo). Whether it is was the poetic story of my Nalí Hastiin seeing my Nalí asdzaan for the first time. Or the stories my masaní would share about her time at boarding school. These stories were reminders of love, trial and the strong family I came from. Many of these stories reminded me how this country’s history is a repetitious contradiction of what is just and humane.

As I have written here before, one of my ancestors was a survivor of the Navajo Long Walk. My late Nalí asdzaan would share her story with me throughout my life. My great-great-great grandmother escaped from Hweełdí (Place of Suffering aka Ft. Sumner or Bosque Redondo) to return to Diné Bikéyah using the medicine of her family to help her home.  She’s long been my motivation to live my life with compassion, empathy and in service of others.

In partnership with fellow co-producer Alix Blair, I have been assisting the creation of an audio documentary about the impact of the Navajo Long Walk 150 years since the signing of the Treaty of 1868. While, this self-funded project is outside of my work with Grownup Navajo, it is one that has fundamentally challenged my outlook about the culture, history and future of my people. In the year that Alix and I have been co-creating, this project has changed me. It is through this process I was able to access a part of the story I never allowed myself to feel and subsequently, it helped me process anger and grief, I didn’t know I was holding.

As Alix and I spoke with various Navajo community members about their families’ stories, I felt the pain of the separation from family and land. It was the first time in my life where the triumph of returning home after four years of imprisonment, did not mask the pain of knowing this occurred to people I knew. I grew up aware of this story, so I began this project without illusions, I knew thousands of people’s lives were lost, the treatment of my relatives was horrendous but again it was through working on this project I felt safe to grieve. To feel the loss of not only who did not return home but to understand parts of our life ways, sovereignty completely shifted as a result of this catastrophic event. In this place of grief I was also given a gift. Further insight into the power of K’é and the power of possessing compassion for others.

Source: Jorge Ramos Internet

Lately, this same grief and rage has boiled up in my chest, as I read and watch the horrible to news of the treatment of families fleeing their homelands. Families often seeking asylum from violence in Mexico and many Central American countries including Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador**; only to be stopped, deported and have their children ripped away from them and be imprisoned by the US government. I’ve cried over dinner at the haunting photos of children, the same age of my nephew, screaming for their parents. My heart aches at the lack of humanity with which this administration is treating these people. People.  Let us not forget, they are people.

This country is continuing the legacy of xenophobic practices used to “conquer” and subjugate Native people put in place decades ago. They have tested these tactics before at the border, in the south and in schools across the country. The omnipresent argument of manifest destiny serves as an eerie reminder of paths this government has walked before. But I see through the biblical justifications for placing babies in cages and leaving children to keep warm under mylar blankets in converted warehouses. I can’t not stomach it and yet, I can’t look away as I don’t want to ignore what is happening.

The Navajo concept K’é often is simplistically describe as “kinship”. But in the ways that I have studied and learned about the K’é from my elders and family it is not simply being related to each other. K’é is the recognition that in being in relationship/kinship to each other whether through our clan system or the simply connection as a Bilá ashladii or “five-fingered person” we are therefore responsible to each other.

I believe we, as Navajo, Indigenous people, those with liberal, conservative beliefs need to connect with our humanity and take action. The trauma that is being exerted over these families and children is corrupted power that will create deep generational trauma. How is it that I know this? Because this kind of trauma and deep reaching pain is one that is still being lived out in Native communities as a result of the systemic racist treatment seen throughout the continuum of federal Indian policy. To be clear, I am not comparing pain between communities, but simply saying these policies have been “tested” and proven to work. I refuse to be complacent in my actions to help these families today by giving to this cause both monetarily and by offering my voice in this reflection (and beyond) in the spirit of k’é. I pray these children and their families will not only find comfort, safety and justice but that they will be able to remain together regardless of which side of the border they make home.

Information on How to Support Families:

THE CUT: What You Can Do Right Now to Help Immigrant Families Separated at the Border

Refinery29: How To Help Migrant Parents & Children Who Are Separated At The Border

Organizations to Donate To:

The Florence Project – This Arizona-based organization offers free legal services to men, women, and unaccompanied children in immigration custody. (Disclosure: this is the organization I have supported.)

RAICES – This Texas-based organization offers free and low-cost legal services to immigrant children and families.

More on the Injustice:

Taking Migrant Children From Parents Is Illegal, U.N. Tells U.S.

 

**Correction: This post first appeared designating only Mexico as the only country of origin from which migrant families are traveling. This update aims to distinguish the rich cultures, nations and communities Latino families call home and claim as their heritage. As each family carries with them the rich history of their people, we want to participate in this dialogue as an ally who acknowledges and works to understand these intricacies in a way that does not erase experiences and identities but values where we all come from.

 

Dream Medicine and Reflections of the Future

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I believe in time travel. I believe in the power of dreams because on some days, I can feel the memory of this ability within my vessel too. I understand dreams to be medicine. Sometimes, it is these tools which first communicate illness in our bodies, distortion in the fabric of our relationships and families. At times, it is the ancestors who tell us truths to quell our worries in these realms. They remind of the power we have yet to tap or even call-in on us and reach out when they feel we are not fully reaching for our potential.
Many Indigenous communities used dreams as medicine to heal. Communities along the what is known today as the Colorado River used dreams to select the leaders of their communities. This practice is one which fills me joy. How beautiful it is to measure leadership by the seeing of what is possible? When I think of what I want to see in leaders of my community, I often include the desire for them to possess vision. How potent of a concept, to demand our leaders project generations ahead beyond the “future” gains they propose.
There are dreams I carry today which give me comfort. In moments when I lose faith or sit in doubt, I remind myself of these medicines still at work in my life. There are times when I am delivered a blessing only to be reminded that I knew it was coming because I had dreamed it. I am humbled regularly by this in the moments when I am relieved a blessing has arrived and I simultaneously think of all the times, I doubted, gave up hope that it was ever possible.
My work as a writer is influenced by the concept of futurism, specifically Afrofuturism a term coined by Mark Dery which means to essentially reimagine the future and its possibilities through a Black lens of creativity, technology and science. What I find most inspiring about this concept and the correlations made by Indigenous Futurism, is the restoring and acknowledgement of our sovereignty as Indigenous people to project and dream a future where we will not only exist but a future in which our dream medicine will continue to heal us.
When we look at our history of persecution and survivance, I am inspired by the miracle of our existence – we were not suppose to be here. Yet, we are; in spite of the millions of actions taken since contact to destroy our way of life and us. Our ancestors dreamt us to this place.
Afrofuturist and Indigenous Futurist thought, are two incredibly radical concepts because it demands we accept our blessings now that we will continue to be prayed into the existence of the future. In dreams there exists a kind of freedom to imagine all that is possible and I plan to continue to surrender to the power of these dreams because there is a level of wholeness my dream self has achieved that I am still striving for, one woven so closely to all the medicine women who have walked and will walk this earth and I must remember in this life, to practice acceptance because their blessings are already here…and still on their way. There are places my unborn children have already traveled and yes, that place too is beautiful.

T’áá hwó’ ají t’éego…It is up to You

I have missed writing.
T’áá hwó’ ají t’éego.
It hurts to write. Like the struggle of returning to my running practice a couple of weeks ago. My body is not used to sitting to type. I have grown accustomed to writing for myself. My mind does not want to focus on one thought. It has grown comfortable of the flow of the pen as it writes in my journal meandering across the page.

 
T’áá hwó’ ají t’éego.
I took a break. Walked around the living room. Drank water. Bounced on my trampoline. This part of my day is one of my favorites. I love the freedom of jumping on this contraption. It has quelled nerves, relieved stress, calmed anger and conspired with me to procrastinate as I avoid words longing to be written.

 
T’áá hwó’ ají t’éego.
This phrase is one which echoes in my head repeatedly throughout the week. Sometimes it is a whisper, sometimes it is a loud booming voice reminiscent of my late Nalí Hastiin’s. His favorite phrase, “If it is to be, it is up to me,” mirrors these words. T’áá hwó’ ají t’éego instructs “it is all up to your effort and hard work and determination.” Both phrases remind me how powerful each of us. The phrases iterate a theme of agency and self-determination.

 
I will be marking a year since I moved from Phoenix, and this life I live is a manifestation of t’áá hwó’ ají t’éego. I don’t know all the ways I have changed but I can feel I am a different person than I was a year ago. I am so grateful for all the ways I have been lead to this beautiful place in this Glittering World.
I have been challenged to examine my scars and fear, pushed to heal and grow. I have spent time deep in prayer and meditation and lately been thinking about what is possible when we “stay open” to the world around us.

 
Today I recognize how my decision to leave my job and pursue this journey allowed me to reconnect to myself, my culture, my history and the world. Writing this feels different as I try to compose a post as though I am writing to a dear friend in the middle of a long journey; even though I still haven’t made sense of all the events nor feel I have reached the destination. Simultaneously, I write as though I am providing a kind of performance in this correspondence as though to distract you from noticing how much time has actually passed between our visits or letters.

 

T’áá hwó’ ají t’éego.
One of the first poets I met when I was younger was Dorothy Allison. She wrote a book entitled, “Two or Three Things I Know for Sure” and since meeting her, I often motivate myself by noting two or three things I know for sure. Today I recognize: 1) My life, and its ability to be of service to others is up to me. 2) This is the instruction I am pushed to live out every day. I choose to autonomy, action, love and respect. I write these words as an offering, I act each day to be of service to this energy in the spirit of K’é.

And to you my dear friend, it is so good to see you again. Remember, t’áá hwó’ ají t’éego…live out your best effort.

Náádąą Rising & Other Reminders from the Cornfield

When I started my new adventure, I had no idea how much “new” I would be surrounded by. From finding a new coffee shop to hang out in to searching for a favorite new eatery to get carry-out from, life has been full of “firsts”. I’ve have also been seeking the answer to a new question – what songs do I sing to help the roots I am planting in this community be the healthiest?

 
I remember planting with my late Nalí asdzaan (paternal grandmother) when I was little. I love this memory of ours. From the feel of placing the jewel-toned corn kernels in the moist earth to the heat of the summer day, our entire time together was incredibly fun. I have been thinking of her consistently since I started to build my life in New Mexico. This memory came to be me recently as I have been reflecting about the kind of life I have planted and am cultivating. I remember her sharing songs as we planted. Offerings to the corn we hoped would grow in our field.

 
In my new home, days have been filled with exploration. I’ve been searching for my place within this community while also pushing myself to being open to people who cross my path. Being open provokes vulnerability which can be daunting. But there is treasure to be found in yourself and your surroundings when you crack open to (or from) a new experience. I recently shared a wonderful dinner with new friends and I was struck with pure giddiness as I felt the promise of a place being carved out for me here in these new lands.

 
As I have been seeking opportunities for Grownup Navajo to grow, I’ve longed for the strong sister bonds calling to me from across the desert. Answering prayers, I have connected to other motivating female Native entrepreneurs who have showed me a new kind of sisterhood. One formed and tested in the fire of trailblazing. They’ve cheered me on and reassured me of the normalcy of the journey I’ve traveled so far in launching my business.

 
In the corn field, my Nalí adszaan would move with measured intention. Creating the holes in the earth for the seeds with deliberate care. We would move row by row, being conscious of our thoughts and energy as we offered the seeds to the earth. Thinking about this day and the current point on my journey, I feel there are songs I need to learn and ones I somehow already know the melody. These “songs” I carry with me are ones of love, compassion and gentleness. I forget too easily, two lessons of the cornfield: 1) if I want corn to grow I have to get my hands dirty and work the earth and 2) corn takes time to grow. Much like children we must offer our praise and gratitude for the path that has unfolded. It is necessary to be thankful, even for the uncertain path.

 
I am grateful for the way the answers to the questions my heart asks arrive in my heart simultaneously quelling the anxiousness in my mind. Whether in the form of encouraging words from a fierce entrepreneur or an inspiring conversation with new friends, we are provided connections to the tools we need to continue to flourish. My life – each of our lives – have been prayed into existence and nurtured with intention, just like the corn that has grown in our fields. Corn which has grown for generations, blessed with songs whose power whisper reminders of our purpose. Our destiny is to grow and learn like the sacred náádąą (corn) we use for our prayers in the morning and ceremonies throughout our lives. Let’s hold this truth close, so we never doubt the direction we are going because it is innate in us to grow, rising bravely, like stalks of náádąą in a beautiful field.