Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sunrise Ceremony - Canyon de Chelly

by Charles Keen

(Note: Charles is a volunteer from Chelmsford, MA who attended his first food run in 2008. He has returned annually since. His initial reference is to an optional sunrise ceremony which is held in conjunction with each food run.)

Sitting on the cold rocks overlooking the depths of Canyon de Chelly in the white light awaiting the arrival of the first yellow rays of the sun Linda Myers posed two existential questions:  “Who Am I?” and “Why Am I here?”.  The questions are embedded in the cosmology of Navajo creation stories of the Hero Twins, but of course they apply to each of the 40+ members of our circle.  We are asked to attempt answers.  We struggle with these lifelong imponderables as did the twins in her story; one spent much time seeking wisdom among buffalo and bear elders and was rewarded with deep insights while the other tried a short cut following the trickster coyote and finally recognized his failure.  The questions continue to resonate.

Who Am I?  I grew up on an Iowa farm with five younger brothers; we fed cattle and raised corn .  Dad was a self-taught agricultural economist; business and markets were discussed at every meal.  Mother was a teacher with a deep sense of education, history, and genealogy.  She insured that we all knew that we were 14th generation from the Mayflower; I later learned that Dad’s paternal ancestors only arrived in the 18th century from Sweden.  Both parents insured that all of us had extensive higher education and saw ourselves establishing careers off the farm. We did but with an imbedded sense of the Land.

Age and experience has burnished some of the sharp edges of youth.  Marriage, two fine daughters, years in Canada, travel, challenging work building and deploying Internet precursor technology in many countries, and death  have been part of my life’s journey.  I have sought experience and understanding.  I enjoy getting past national politics and propaganda to discover the common elements of family, work, and culture in our individual everyday lives.

Why Am I here?  Over the years I have gained a sense of place in several countries and in the American Midwest, Northeast, East, and Pacific Coast.  However my sense of the history, culture, and place of the Southwest United States had been shaped only by Westerns and 30+ thousand foot airplane window views.  I had some sense of the sorry and sordid history of the treatment of American Indians but with details only from the East.

Exposure to the Adopt-A-Native-Elder organization and the opportunity to go on food runs – I have now done four – has given me a ground level sense of place and the lives the Navajo live.  It is a close-up view of agriculture, commerce, health care, diet, housing, culture, history, and intergenerational family life I could never gotten from books.  Visiting the Navajo Nation Museum and Zoo at Window Rock gives a sense of the Navajo view of themselves.  Stopping at the Hubble trading post at Ganado provides the context for the sources of the colorful rug weaving art practiced today.  Spending time with experienced ANE volunteers has given me a sense of the deep respect they share for the Navajo culture and elders they support. 

Navajo history now has a distinct shape.  One cannot look down into the Canyon de Chelly and not see its walls as the site of their 1862 US military roundup and forced Long Walk to a New Mexico multi-year imprisonment; many died.   One then remembers depression era Bureau of Indian Affairs enforced culling of sheep herds and the recent Peabody Coal engineered police enforced family resettlements to clear title and access to rich Indian coal.

ANE food runs provide countless small insights into Navajo life.  Diet and medical problems are apparent. Loose sheep, cattle, and horses grazing on street and highways reflect both limited rainfall and an early New England sense of town common grazing lands.  (I always shudder at the sight thinking of many youthful, dangerous episodes chasing our escaped farm cattle off the busy US Highway 30.) The sense of common lands is reinforced as homesteads seem plopped in random clusters without separating fences or individual driveways.

 Flashes of humor and financial need are apparent during giveaway activities and in the types of supplemental medical supplies some elders receive.  The numbers of grandchildren who bring elders to food run sites reflect parents working off the reservation.  Noting whether elders speak Navajo or English to the grandchildren gives a hint of the durability of the culture.  Carrying supplies into an elder’s trailer, hogan, or house gives an intimate sense of both income and living arrangements. 

Details aside, the overwhelming sense one gets from elder faces, smiles, gentle handshakes, or a thank you given in broken English or Navajo is of genuine gratitude.  We volunteers are privileged to support a proud people who have lived hard lives with little income in a harsh land that they cherish deeply.   We are welcomed as caring outsiders who truly want to help.  Food runs, of necessity, are well organized; the pace is hectic and the physical conditions sometimes brutal.  Still, I feel privileged to be part of the ANE process; it has given me a sense of a special place and a people whose rural sheep herding traditions are under immense economic and cultural pressures for change from the larger American society.  I treasure the time spent on the food runs with these unique People.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Final Spring Food Runs

by John Aldrich

The final runs of the spring food run sequence, Sanders, Big Mountain, and Teesto are again based out of Winslow, AZ. During the previous week the base was Chinle, AZ, for the runs to Many Farms, Tsaile, and Pinon. Wind remained a dominant factor throughout these events and was particularly forceful at Many Farms and Sanders.

According to the Navajo Times the wind reached a velocity of  77 mph near Leupp on the day of the Sanders run. This was actually stronger than the wind two weeks earlier when all the signs blew over and the power went out in Winslow. But following that we had beautiful conditions for the food runs to Big Mountain and Teesto.

At the start of each set of food runs the volunteers pose for a group photo. Here we are out on the Land in Sanders. The wind was blowing but didn't reach full force until an hour or two later.

Sanders is located in an area of the reservation referred to as the New Lands. As a result of the land dispute in the 1970's and 1980's many Navajos were relocated from areas near the Hopi reservation such as Big Mountain and Coal Mine Mesa. This area, south of I40 near Sanders is where many ended up, many miles from their original homelands.
The hospitality of the White family in hosting the Sanders food run is represented here by the pot of coffee on the fire. All are welcome and made to feel at home.

Inside the shade house the "kitchen committee" headed by Sharon Prescott (near left) prepares sandwiches for the meal that is served at each run. The structure provided relief from the wind although sand and dust could easily find a way through the cracks in the siding.

Michelin Man, aka Steve McGeeny, shows how the wind can turn a jacket into a balloon.

Thankfully, by the next day the wind had abated, and the weather was ideal for the Big Mountain food run. This is the largest of all the food runs with 89 Elders. It is also the area where Linda initially established the Program 24 years ago.

In this photo the Elders are seated in a large circle around the tarp which has clothing items which they will be able to choose from later. Between Elders, their families, and the volunteers, there are easily three hundred people here at the Homeland of the Robertson family.

Following the food run program and the meal, volunteers have an opportunity to view and purchase rugs, jewelry, and other crafts brought by the Elders and their families. Due to the size of this food run, there are many choices.

At Teesto we were again blessed with a beautiful day. The Teesto food run is hosted by Anita Jackson and her family who have built a special structure for the event and cook for several days in preparation for the run. This photo shows members of the South Valley Unitarian Church (Salt Lake City) youth group and their parents. Through the inspiration and effort of Mac and Sheri Lund, longtime ANE volunteers, this group was able to attend the Big Mountain and Teesto runs. They spent nearly a year planning for this event which appeared to be a rewarding experience for everyone.

Devoice Medford greets Anita in this photo. Devoice and her daughter drove from North Carolina to Winslow for the second year in a row to be a part of this food run.

Members of the youth group, along with volunteer Alice Sikorsky, pose after preparing clothing for the tarp. Clothing is collected throughout the year at the warehouse in Salt Lake City and then transported to the reservation for the tarp event at the food runs.

This photo shows people lined up for the meal being served at the run. The large structure resembling an open-sided  hogan was built by the Jackson family to host the Teesto food runs.

A final image shows an amicable scarecrow erected on Anita's property. Her grandson thought it was to "keep the coyotes away", but the friendly expression suggests that everyone is welcome here.

Now that the spring food runs are completed, we will be turning our attention to summer events for the Program and looking ahead to the fall food runs and the rug show.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Hubble Trading Post

by John Aldrich

For those interested in the Trading Post era of Navajo History or just  Western Americana in general, a visit to the Hubble Trading Post in Ganado, Arizona is a must.

John Lorenzo Hubble established a trading post here in 1878, only ten years after the Long Walk period  ended. He purchased 160 acres for roughly $37. At that point Ganado was not yet part of the reservation so his purchase was from the U.S. Government, and the site remains an in-holding within the current reservation.

He quickly established a successful business by learning Navajo and maintaining scrupulously honest and fair trading practices. Ultimately he created a trading empire by buying or establishing a number of other trading posts. The Hubble Trading Post was turned over to the National Park Service in 1965 but remains an active business trading with the local Navajo. It is the oldest continuously operating business in northern Arizona.

In addition to the trading post itself,  a highlight of a visit is a tour of the Hubble home next door. Hubble was active in politics as well as the arts and hosted many luminaries of his era including Teddy Roosevelt and the painter Maynard Dixon. The home has not changed since the last Hubble descendant moved out in 1967.

The walls remain covered with the original art he collected. He often accepted pieces of art in lieu of payment for services. The ceiling between the beams is filled with an extensive collection of Native American baskets from throughout the Southwest.

This is one of the two Maynard Dixon paintings in the collection.

This is Tina Lowe, a Navajo woman who was our tour guide. She was very knowledgeable, and much of the information that I am passing on here was gleaned from her discourse during the tour. In addition to working for the Park Service, Tina is a grandmother and weaver. She also was aware of the Adopt-A-Native-Elder Program and had been to Salt Lake City to volunteer during the Olympics.

This exterior view shows problems with the adobe walls. Tina explained that their adobe expert had left and that currently they had no one to perform the repairs that are needed on a nearly annual basis.

A wall hanging in the kitchen displays a variety of corn.

The museum aspect of the site isn't limited to the trading post and home. The grounds are full of tools and farming implements. There is a large barn as well with many artifacts from the Hubble era.

The stone hogan on the left was used for ceremonial purposes in Hubble's time and is now used as a guest house for an artist-in-residence program. At the top of the hill in the background John Lorenzo Hubble and his wife are buried.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Birdsprings 4-30-2010

By John Aldrich

Birdsprings is a small food run with 28 Elders. For 20 years it has been held at the homeland of Sadie Curley. Sadie lives off pavement, as do most Navajos. One travels 7 miles on a dirt road before turning off to her place via a sandy two track road. It is also an outdoor food run with no shelter.

Given the conditions of the previous two days and the uncertain forecast, Linda decided after the Leupp run to rent the Birdsprings Chapter House for the food run so that the Elders would have shelter. This would be the first time this run hadn't been held at Sadie's.

But as it turned out, Friday was a beautiful day with clear skies, light wind, and cool, but not cold, temperatures. The decision had been made, however, so it was off to the chapter house. Sadie's daughters, Toni and Terri, traditionally cook for the food run and spend several days preparing an astonishing variety of dishes. With the change of plans they had to move all of the food they had cooked to the new location 8 or 9 miles away.

The Chapter House at Birdsprings is the most unique I have encountered on the reservation. It provided a spacious and comfortable interior. Although it was disappointing not to be able to visit Sadie's homeland, this was a fine alternative.

Since this food run is small it didn't take long to set up the Rainbow Circle of food boxes.

The ANE van carries medical and personal care products for the Elders. Here it is being unloaded by a group of volunteers.

Kate Stephens drives the van and spends three weeks on the reservation attending the series of food runs that starts with this one. This is an enormous commitment of personal time and energy which Kate carries off with great aplomb and love.

Linda compiled a book for the coordinators at each of the three food runs we attended on this run. Here Sadie and another Elder are looking at photos from the past 20 years of visits to Birdsprings.

Gratitude is expressed in these hands, both by the Elder and volunteer.

Elders are generally dependent on their families for transportation to the food run sites. That means there are often young children as well, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

The final photo shows a large mural painted on the wall inside the chapter house. It incorporates a variety of Navajo themes and scenes.

It seems that every food run has something that makes it unique. This time the wind and blowing sand would no doubt be what sets this run apart from others. But every food run is unique in another way. Each group of volunteers is different and each brings its own special energy. The thirty people that gathered for this event all had a wonderful spirit. I heard no one complaining about the conditions. Everyone was focused on the principle purpose for being here - - - serving the Elders.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Leupp 4-29-2010

By John Aldrich

It's now obviously a few days later, and we've returned home, but let's return to the food run narrative with a look at the Leupp run.

As we left things on the evening of the Dilkon run, the wind was still howling, Interstate 40 was shut down, and the power was out in Winslow. We all had great hopes that the wind would subside during the night, but alas, that was not to be the case. As the night progressed, souvenirs from the shake roof of the motel accumulated in the parking area, and red sand piled up in our room thanks to the not-so-tightly-sealed door. I'm told that the power came back on around 9:00 p.m., but I was sound asleep by then.

This is what's left of Super 8's sign along with a challenging word jumble that you're welcome to try to decipher.

Our base motel, The Lodge, is located at the west end of Winslow, and we have our group breakfast at the Flying J on the east end of town. In the morning, we could see trucks moving on the Interstate, so the wind had subsided enough for it to reopen, but when we pulled out of the motel, it was clear that virtually every truck in the United States was stuck in Winslow. Every open space, parking lot and roadside was choked with big rigs. Traveling through town rather than by the highway, we reached the Flying J where things were even more congested. Linda had planned to use an alternative route to Leupp that didn't involve the Interstate, so we weren't all that concerned.

After returning to The Lodge, we lined up for our departure. By then, the congestion at our end of town had subsided and we took the bold move of  entering westbound traffic on the Interstate. The exit for Leupp is only six miles west of Winslow, so this seemed like a slam dunk.

But here we are - - - a stone's throw from the Leupp exit and the traffic is at a dead standstill. The wind has again forced a closure of the highway. After a period of time like this we made a break for it, using the shoulder of the road to reach the exit.

Here is the view after exiting the Interstate - - - trucks as far as the eye could see. Nothing moving on the highway.

The Leupp food run is held at the Senior Center where Lola Bahe has been both director as well as our program coordinator. Lola's contagious enthusiasm, oganizational skills, and great cooking all serve to make this a memorable food run location.

These clasped hands represent the spirit of the Program as a volunteer, a sponsor on her first food run, gets to meet her Elder.

Linda Myers and Ray Coleman put their heads together outside the Senior Center. Ray is responsible for organizing the logistics of the deliveries for these three food runs.

Phyllis Upchurch, a volunteer from Georgia, has received this ceremonial basket as a gift from her Elder. Harry Begay is explaining to her the extensive symbolism that is contained in this traditional Navajo artform.

Following the inside activities and the meal, Elders' vehicles are loaded with their food boxes, produce, and other gift boxes. After this Elder's truck is loaded, Jerry Sedlevicius bids her a farewell.

As you might discern from the blowing skirt, the wind remains a factor. However, in this southwestern part of the reservation there doesn't seem to be as much sand so the earth isn't as inclined to levitate. To the east we could see that the earth and sky were still one.

The combination of wind, cool temperatures, and possibility of rain forced Linda to make a major decision regarding the Birdsprings food run the following day. More about that tomorrow.