Life on the Rez—fraught with joy and dilemmas<br>

I ran into an old friend at the Laundromat the other day. Actually, this is a place where I run into a lot of friends. It is a place where many of us catch up on community and family news. Once the gossip was pleasant and cheerful, but of late, there is a dark tinge to it. She spoke of the increasing violence in her own area, and of the reservation in general.

What, she asked, could be done about it? She has heard rumors of meth and alcohol abuse by people who live near her. She is frightened not only for herself, but for her sister and mother—quite elderly—as well. There are no men to help keep an eye out for them. These ladies are frankly quite upset and frightened.

She had some ideas, but living in an area where the quickest police response is over an hour away, all sounded dangerous. What can be done, indeed?

Some of her ideas would actually put her and her family in peril of retaliation. It was frustrating to tell her that I lacked an answer.

Having been the victim of violence more than once in my life, I was reminded of the mindset of fellow subway passengers while living in New York City: Be invisible. Do nothing to attract attention to yourself. Do not stand out, do not speak up, rely on the safety of the herd.

Frankly, it was like living on the Serengeti. If you stand quietly by some other antelopes, that hungry lioness just might not notice you.

Another woman spoke of a relative who was shot by his daughter’s boyfriend who was in an alcoholic rage.

At home in Wide Ruin, our family still waits for a trial date for the extremely violent murder of my brother-in-law.

The stories are endless.

And if violence isn’t enough to deal with, many of my friends are dealing with the outrage of living without running water and electricity. The precious resources lying underneath their homes are taken at what activists call a pittance and used to fuel the over-consumptive lives of people in other states who take all of this for granted.

One of these friends was in Flagstaff for the Office of Surface Mining scoping meeting. She spoke of her frustrations of having lived her life without luxury and of being publicly disrespected for her beliefs about the water—both N and C-aquifer. What can be done about it?

Her truck is still in the Flagstaff area, broken down. We talked about these and other issues while lying beneath the vehicle with another friend—pulling out a fuel pump and putting in another.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There is a lot of joy in living out in the open country, but much of what pleases the average reader of this newspaper is alien to most of the country.

Who can dispute the pure pleasure in bringing in a load of fragrant firewood? After stacking mine, I spend several minutes just standing there looking at it.

“Oh, shi-heart!”

Let’s not forget commodity cheese.

After having lived without a pickup truck for six years and hauling water in assorted jugs, I finally have a truck. But my friends and family back home would probably think I was crazy to see me wanting to hug an old 1970-something, gently battered little Ford truck. Personally, I think that truck is a thing of beauty.

A couple months ago, many of my friends and acquaintances joined together to hold a silent auction in my behalf. Standing in the gallery space generously provided by Flagstaff photographer, John Running, surrounded by fabulous art, I could not help but feel cherished.

People like James and Mae Peshlakai, the Jones Benally family, Carlos Begay, Rachel Running, Jay McCormick, Carolyn Young, Barbara Sheeley, Anita, Bernice and Arleen Wilson, Richard and Jaque Clayton, Jill Swafford and more donated beautiful pieces of artwork. My friends, Ann Widmann and Helen Running, conceived the idea and brought it to fruition. To all of you—and to those of you I do not know—thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Just when I thought I would be spending a couple of cold evenings out at the camp, my friend Kim and her parents, Ethel and Pikes, pulled in with a truckload of firewood. Pikes also treated me to a new axe handle and a loaf of tasty Acoma bread. We shared a pot of chili beans I had cooked overnight on my woodstove and laughed about things my family out east wouldn’t even understand.

Some of my relatives refuse to believe that many of us live without electricity.

“This is America!” my grandmother thundered. “I went to college too, you know! I know better!”

My aunt sent me an electric nursery monitor when my son was born. Not only didn’t we have electricity—we didn’t have a nursery. This was a source of laughter that continues now, 12 years later. I gave it to a friend in Flagstaff when I learned she was pregnant.

At home, I have been listening to motivational tapes. The author talks about the power of the mind, and how you are what you think.

What I think is this. The Navajo and Hopi people possess great wealth. Some of this is in natural resources. But more importantly, I am overwhelmed by the generosity and great humor of the people here.

I share the heartbreak over issues that divide families and tribes—such as the use of water, land issues, lack of jobs and money, alcohol, methamphetamine and violence. I too have had my moments of fear and sorrow.

But always, the beauty that surrounds us here uplifts me. The grace and generosity of friends and my son’s “nalis” (paternal family) sustains me. The raw strength, courage and humor of those around me encourages me.

I don’t have the answer to any of the problems that surround us. I am frustrated by the fear we are hearing more of. I believe that it will take everyone working together to solve some of these issues and that division will only lead to further chaos. But I have hope for the future. If anyone has an answer or opinion, we here at the Navajo Hopi Observer would love to hear about it.

(Northern Arizona writer S.J. Wilson is a regular contributor to the Navajo Hopi Observer.)

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