Monday, November 3, 2014

Native Americans: The Navajo

By Kristy McCaffrey

The Navajo have been located in the Four Corners region of the American Southwest since the 12th century. Primarily hunters and gatherers, they were forced to fight—along with many other Indian tribes—the progression of the white population during the early 1800’s, which eventually led to the Long Walk. This arduous journey, which encompassed well over 50 separate treks led by the U.S. Army to the Bosque Redondo in New Mexico Territory, occurred from 1863 to 1866. The accounts of death by starvation, sickness, or violence left an indelible trauma on the people. Although they were allowed to return to their land in 1868, they would never forget this painful period of their history.

The Long Walk
Known for their weavings, Navajo textiles are highly regarded and have been traded for over 150 years. Initially, weavings were used for cloaks, saddle blankets, sashes and other similar items, but after the 1880’s the Navajo began making them for tourists. Strong geometric patterns are an earmark of their work.
Navajo weaver
If a Navajo should become ill, it's customary to consult a medicine man. A typical ceremony lasts for four days, and involves chants and specific herbs that have been collected for the patient. Sometimes a sand painting is utilized, which is later destroyed. The premise of the work of the medicine man is to restore balance to an individual’s spirit.
Navajo sand painting
When I was nine years old, my parents moved my sister and myself to the Navajo Indian Reservation. Needless to say, I very much did not want to go. My dad, who has long had a deep and abiding respect for Native Americans, saw this as a chance to give back with his life. He took a job as an accountant with an arts and crafts store in Window Rock, Arizona. We obtained a house just across the border in New Mexico, in a small town aptly called “Navajo.”

It was 1975 and we lived in a neighborhood that consisted of generic, government housing. We weren’t rich by any means, but when we moved in, it became quickly known that we had a working telephone and my mother was generous in sharing kitchen items. After a time, she had to start saying no. The charity was simply getting out-of-hand. Unfortunately, many of the Navajo were complacent and drank too much. Even as a child, it struck me as a rather depressing place to live.
The view from our front door while living on the Navajo
Indian Reservation, 1975.
I developed a panic-filled fear of AIM walkers, fueled by stories heard from classmates. I now know that this acronym stands for the American Indian Movement, a group dedicated to addressing the issues of present-day Native Americans, but in my scared mind they were ghost-like shape shifters that prowled the wash behind our house. There were many nights I literally shook in terror while trying to sleep, fearing they would snatch me from my bed.

But there were intriguing aspects. A hex was placed on the chain of craft stores where my dad worked. Since it involved all of the employees, he was allowed, despite being a white man, to participate in the ceremonies conducted by a medicine man. Some of his experiences I incorporated into my novel, Into The Land Of Shadows, when the main characters find themselves under the shadow of a curse. During one of the ceremonies at which my dad was present, the medicine man burned a piece of human skull. Two female employees reported instant relief from a terrible headache that had suddenly besieged them. Back at home, at the same time, my mother said I’d been distraught and crying for hours from pains in my head, which immediately stopped when the bone was destroyed. We were all tied to this land in ways none of us quite understood.

Today, the Navajo are the largest federally recognized tribe of the United States.

Ethan Barstow has come to Arizona Territory to search for his younger brother, Charley. It’s been five years since a woman came between them and it’s high time they buried the hatchet. He soon learns that his brother has broken more than one heart in town, has mysteriously and abruptly disappeared, and that an indignant fiancĂ©e is hot on his trail.

Kate Kinsella pursues Charley Barstow when he skips out of town without a second thought. Not only has he left Agnes McPherson alone and pregnant, but everyone still believes that he and Kate are engaged, a sham from the beginning. An ill-timed encounter with a group of ruffians has her suddenly in the company of Ethan Barstow, Charley’s brother and a man of questionable repute. As they move deeper into the shadows of the Arizona desert, family tensions and past tragedies threaten to destroy a relationship neither of them expects.

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Rain Trueax said...

Interesting story. I've been on the Navajo lands many times, but never lived there. I though have read a lot about the mysticism seen there and won't say I don't believe some of it could be true like skinwalkers. Strange things have been seen-- or claimed to be seen. Mystery is part of human life, I think

Shanna Hatfield said...

Wow, Kristy! Thank you for sharing such an interesting look into your history with the Navajo and how you wove that into your book. Sounds like a fascinating read!

Caroline Clemmons said...

My husband and I are fans of the Navajo particularly, but other Southwest tribes too. I admire your parents for living what they preached (so to speak) and I'm sorry you were terrorized.

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