The Navajo Reservation
I have spent the past three days riding through Navajo country. Along the way I received quite an education about the Navajo people and the challenges they face right now. Below are some of the things I learned and the faces of those who taught them to me.
Lane and Haddie
Before white people came the Navajo had a strong, functional culture, I was told. The people were grouped by clan in small communities that were run by the elders—those with the most wisdom and experience. They cooperated because they had to in order to survive. Their spirituality was based in the geography of their ancestral lands. They were not wealthy, but they had what they needed and they thrived in a manner that was not centered on material things. A couple people I talked with supposed that things back then were probably not as idyllic as they are made out to be now, but everyone agreed that the Navajo were once a happy people.
Much of the Navajo culture and social structure survived the devastation that came with the arrival of the Europeans. The elders still guided the community as the Navajo were forced into the reservation, and the tribe still operates its own government. Something has happened to the heart of the people, however. They are no longer independent. They depend upon money from the US government—this is how most of the people survive—which has emasculated the community. The women fare somewhat acceptably (according to the men who talked with me) because they still possess their traditional roles, but the men have no function and so have lost their motivation and self-esteem. Many of them are lost to drugs and alcohol.
A further deterioration is happening currently that nearly everyone I talked to feels deeply concerned about. Modern communication technology has captured the attention of the youth, and many have abandoned the traditions. Most of the people I talked to were middle aged or better and were raised speaking the Navajo language, but slowly the language is being lost. The young people often reject the leadership of the elders and look to white culture for guidance instead. People are afraid that what remains of the ancient Navajo wisdom will be lost.
Lakeisha, Raishawn, and Joshawn
The most heartbreaking thing I learned had to do with the Navajo self-image. According to several I talked to, as a culture they are buried in self-hatred. We all struggle with self-hatred, of course, but the Navajo endure self-hatred as a community as well. They were told for so long that they were not as good as white people that this became a belief that was embedded in the fabric of their society.
This is all difficult stuff to consider, I know. As I listened to the stories these people told me, however, I did not feel completely disheartened or dismayed. It is tragic was has happened to this noble people, but I could see that the spirit of the Navajo lives on. I could see in the eyes and in the manner of those who spoke to me. They are very beautiful, and brave. One man told me that they don’t need or want our pity. The Navajo, he said, have overcome everything thrown in their way from the beginning of the culture, and they will surmount this as well. I hope so with all my heart. Like all of us, they deserve to live happily and at peace.
Sheep Springs, NM
I had a wonderful adventure today. I stopped at a tiny place called “Sheep Springs” to fill my water bottles and found a large flee market in full swing. I found an empty spot, spread out my banner and other things, and talked to people for the next three hours. I was amazed how kind and generous the people were towards me, a white man. I was the only white person there. After the market I rode for a couple hours, then camped on top of a small mesa that overlooked a wide valley. I feel so grateful and so blessed.