Spider Rock at Canyon de Chelly on the Navajo Nation.
Earlier this month my partner Stewart and I journeyed to Navajo Nation in our pickup truck, stocked with boxes of food, supplies and warm gloves, socks, and hats. Joined by the fabulous folks at Santa Fe non-profit IndigenousWays, we were able to deliver these goods personally to many elders and to kind emissaries who drove the rest of the boxes to those scattered across this sprawling reservation.
What a great gift it was to be at the giving end of such an exchange with so many lovely people. We shared lots of smiles, met elders in need, heard rich tales of life on the rez, enjoyed a traditional Navajo feast of mutton, fry bread, and my favorite—blue corn meal mush—and visited the wondrous sacred land formations in Canyon de Chelly.
We traveled with the founders of IndigenousWays—a Santa Fe non-profit run by two native women, our translator Tash Terry (Diné) and Elena Higgins (Maori/Samoan). Also joining us were board members, Michelle Redmond (Diné) and Rachelle Pablo (Diné). They introduced us to elders in the Chinle, Arizona area and up to Black Mountain.
Everyone received their boxes of food and supplies with smiles. One popular item, Ben-gay ointment, elicited “ahhhhs” and prompted all to point to the particular ache that bothered them the most, a shoulder for one, a knee for another.
We experienced such rich stories from all the elders—stories of love and hardship and family and community. Without exception, the folks we met and our wonderful hosts continually referenced elders—parents, grandparents, friends, teachers—as powerful guides in their lives, supporting, helping, instructing. That was perhaps the most inspiring to me. Each elder was living proof that we are here because of “all our relations”—Ya at’eh shikwa’ asini in Navajo.
Weaver Dennis Long learned his craft from his mother. He weaves on a traditional upright loom and his many weavings sell around the country. Denis is deaf and went to the New Mexico School for the Deaf in Santa Fe throughout grade school. Tash Terry, our translator, learned to sign for her deaf elders when she was a girl on the rez. She signed and translated for all the deaf folks that we met while we were at Navajo Nation.
As we move through this Thanksgiving holiday, I think of our time at Navajo Nation as a reminder of what is truly important—giving and gratitude.