The following is a story on what it means to be American Indian today. While it is unique, it is also typical.
Having grown up Crown Point New Mexico Rich Rick was raised Navajo, though his father was Chiricahua Apache. Both parents brought him up with the old stories and his shinali (maternal grandfather) and shimansani (maternal grandmother) taught him to speak and think in Navajo. Rick’s shinali paternal grandmother came to live at Crown Point in with their family home, when he was ten. Traditionally both paternal grandparents are called shinali. She taught Rick the Apache ways.
The family herded as long as anybody could remember. On both sides of his family the children learned to live with their herds. They moved between summer camp and winter camp. His grandparents on both sides avoided formal education because their life style meant they weren't in an area long enough. The family woke up before dawn everyday. After the ritual early morning washing the "sheeps" are gathered to take out to pasture, and after they have been watered the cattle are taken out to pasture. His Navajo family lived in the same region after the return from the Navajo mass imprisonment at Bosque Redondo. His family was given a small flock to start up their herds. The return to the lands between the four sacred mountains was important and protected by Changing Woman for all Navajos. Thus when they returned many familes prospered. Rick’s grandparents on both sides were wealthy. This all came to an end with the stock reduction. Many had to work for the WPA, as herds were now too small to support a normal family unit. They were given grazing permits and couldn’t move their herds around and the land got bad fast.
Then came the Indian Reorganization Act and Navajo turned against Navajo. At Crown Point the people supported it, but the Shiprock people opposed it. The debate was between Christians and the supporters of traditional Medicine men. Also people argued over full citizenship in the United States and having a Navajo self-rule. . Rick’s shicheii (maternal grandfather) was a Medicine man and wanted to bring to end continued assimilation. Christian feared the medicine men would rule and prevent modern ideas from being significant. So a lot of bad feelings. Stock reduction was under way and the Navajo were too divided to stop it. White ranchers in the Checker Board Area increased grazing on federal land at the same time Navajos had their grazing permits restricted and their herds reduced. Indians were promised money for the stock taken, but the local agency was paid, and traders received money not Navajos. Traders would carry the people on credit and then collect in wool, mutton, and rugs for payment. There was not money before stock reduction except silver dollars, which was melted down to make jewelries. The federal government promised jobs on federal programs in return for lost herds. Both his shinali (paternal grandfather) and shicheii (maternal grandfather) found jobs on their own and had to leave the area. They loaned what of their herds remained to their relatives, putting their relatives in violation of the numbers set for their grazing permits and they returned home only to find all their herds gone. Both the white ranchers and the rico picked up on the lost grazing permits. Cowboys mostly from southern New Mexico were hired to round up excess stock. There was a long way to drive the livestocks to the railroad so they shot them on the spot.
When the war broke out Rick’s father was called upon to fight in the Pacific. While fighting there was money coming to people back home. After the war Rick’s father (shizhe'e), got a job as a laborer on the Santa Fe Railroad. He took his horse and wagon to Gallup and from there he rode on a freight train to Eastern New Mexico to work as a section hand. He left his horse and wagon with a clan brother he could trust. Later he worked in the copper mine in Southern Arizona. He went alone leaving his family in Crown Point. He was faithful in sending back money. It is important to grow up within the Four Sacred Mountains, Sierra Blanca Peak (Sisnaajini), Mt. Taylor (Tsoodzil), San Francisco Peak (Dook'o'oostliid), and La Plata Mountain (Dibe' Ntsaa).
At fifteen Rick went to work moving sprinkler line for white ranchers near Crown Point. That winter he quit school and got a job as a hod carrier for a company in Gallup. When he was about 18 he was drafted while working for the State of New Mexico repairing range fences.
Rick’s first tour he felt he was a warrior. As long as he didn’t think to hard about it he could get through day by day. He got to know the soldiers who died and he tried not to remember, and he got by. Then his tour was up and he came home. Vietnam changed everything; Rick could not go back as if nothing happened, he needed to find his place in all of this and couldn’t. After coming home Rick was no longer connected to being Diné . Soon after coming home he got together with his wife. From the beginning something was wrong. Rick left her many times, sometimes for other women and sometimes he just left. He always came back and she always took me back. Then one day while bootlegging one of his partners got into it with New Mexico state troopers and was killed in an exchange of gunfire.
Rick knew if he reenlisted he could find the security he lacked. It wasn’t long after that he was back in the war again. This was a different war. In Mr. Johnson’s War Rick was another solider. In Mr. Nixon’s War Rick was a stranger. More Drugs in Nam and everyone had an attitude. Rick fought in Cambodia, Laos, and everywhere the President said we weren't. Nothing made any sense.
In Vietnam Rick was in camp during a routine mission when a bomb hit and after it was all over most of his platoon was dead and after a bloody rescue Rick was seriously wounded and sent back home. After he was discharged he drifted around the country Rick had no place to go.
Rick lived in Oregon and New York for a while. He hitched around the country like a lost child. Everywhere he went he played up being Native American heritage, but at that time Rick was not American Indian, he was spiritually dead. Rick seriously got involved with hard drugs.
Rick could not get the war out of him. His grandfather (shinali) is a Medicine man and after he returned to the "res" he did a ceremony for him and the healing began and it is still going on today.
Within in a year after the ceremony Rick joined the Native American Church. Rick became a Roadman in the Native American Church. To become a Road Man you have to go to meetings of the NAC. At first you ask the Roadman for help with a ceremony. After you get to know the Roadman you ask him if you can study under him. The Roadman will assign the student many duties and after observing the student, the Roadman teaches the student songs and prayers used in the healing ceremonies. When the student learns these Teacher blesses you and gives you medicine for your development. A ceremony is held outside in a remote area. The night before the ceremony the student sleeps on the ground. The next day a teepee is set up for a five-day ceremony. To be initiated there is a baptismal with the life giving water. In Navajo land five prayers are given using five different sacred tobaccos from sun down until sun up each of the five nights. The last morning the wife of the initiate brings the sacred water which the Roadman and his student drinks from. Corn pollen both white and blue is used with the closing song. Everyone there now stands and shakes hands before leaving the teepee. There is a breakfast for everyone there that begins with a prayer. The new Roadman now can receive his certification card and can practice Medicine not only on the Navajo, but with other tribes of Native Americans.
Rick worked with such herbs as sage, cedar, sweet grass, peyote, and tobacco. He also learned how to look into crystals or fire to know what ceremonies would be needed with a patient. Each ceremony begins with a song to the father of all, to the mother of all, to the stars, to the four directions, to the four elements (fire, air, earth, water) and to the spirit of all the people. With the burning of sage and cedar begins the Purification Performance. Most ceremonies, or events like birthdays, weddings or rodeos begin with a Purification Performance. During all ceremonies a glass of water is necessary, water is the mother and origin of all life. Both the fire and water "is" necessary for restoring harmony. In some ceremonies a force out of harmony is the cause the illness, harmony is reestablished. The Roadman will take you into a remote area at night and draw a protection line around you to act as a barrier between you and what is trying to harm you. In the silence of night the Roadman and you will listen and gaze at the stars and the answer to what or who is trying to harm you will come. With this knowledge the proper ceremony to heal you will come.
To be a Roadman you first off have to be accepted by an established Roadman to study under him. After years of training if you prove worthy by your knowledge and devotion you go through an initiation before becoming a Roadman. Roadmen chose their own replacement.
During the ceremonies a bowl drum with water for life is used with a buckskin drawn tightly over it. The rim stands for the crown of Christ, water is the origin of all life, the bowl is the earth and the skin is our unity with the earth and all life. A large pan with dirt in it is set aside to put the hot coals from the fire in. The fire purifies as it rises to father sky and the earth is our mother form were we come and to which we will return. During the ceremony everything told a Roadman is strictly confidential.
One time when Rick was doing a ceremony he returned home without his payment for the ceremony, all he asked for was a tobacco cigarette rolled by the patient and turned the seam up to allow the smoke to rise unimpeded to heaven and handed back to Rick the Roadman. Patient was very ill and very poor. The Rick’s wife was so mad she wouldn't let him in the house that night 'til she cooled down.
The money is to be placed in the center of the ceremony as a gift to the powers used by the Roadman. The money is to be treated with great respect. Each bill is carefully stacked together so all the pictures face up, in the winter the white side is face up, in the summer the green side is face up. If you do not treat your money with respect it will not return to you. After the money is placed in the center in a respectful manner the patient will take a smoke from the sacred tobacco, and drink from the sacred glass of water.
Most ceremonies are at night, as I said, in a teepee or here sometimes a Hogan is used. In the ceremony of Peyote there is the Roadman, the Cedar Man, a Drummer and a Fireman. First the Tobacco is smoked by everyone, there is an explanation for the ceremony, why it is being held, like a healing. The people in the meeting all pray for the person the meeting is being held for. The Peyote is passed around for everyone to partake, either in a tea or they eat it. Then songs and prayers are begun and go on the whole night. The Peyote is passed around a few more times with more songs and prayers. At midnight, the Fireman, who takes care of the water, brings in water for people to drink. After drinking more prayers and more songs. After dawn a woman brings in the water to drink followed by the sacraments -- corn, fruit, a vegetable and meat. The last sacrament is offered with more water. More prayers and songs are given. Then the Roadman gives the closing song.
Things went along quite well for a while then when Rick and his family were out gathering medicine herbs in the Mountains a student autumn storm came upon them so fast. Then tragedy struck Rick lost his only daughter in the storm. The next day people from all over came to help find the little girl, but no trace was found and it was obvious the girl was dead. A ceremony was held to help the grieving parents deal with their loss. The Medicine man did a Protection Way ceremony. The medicine man told the parents that the girl was still alive. Because of the ceremony they were able to start tracking the child's footprints; then they found a bear's footprints. They followed the bear to a cave and found both the bear and the child. The bear did not harm the child in any way; she cared for the child as if it were her own. The bear had the child for about two weeks maybe. Because they did a Protection Way the child was found. When bear saw Rick and his wife the bear led the child to her parents and then left; Rick picked up the little girl and returned home safely.
Because of events Rick was invited to study to become a Medicine Man. Traditional Medicine men trace their skills back to First Man and First Woman. All the ceremonies can be traced back to knowledge of these ancient holy people. The remaining ceremonies still practiced in this area are the Protection Way, Blessing Way, Eagle Way, Squaw Dances, and Fire Dances. Even members of the Native American Church still have these ancient ceremonies performed. The Medicine man must learn to perform these ceremonies by learning the stories as told by the songs sung during the ceremony. These ceremonies can heal, cast spells, tell future events.
Most ceremonies are all night sings or more commonly five night sings. Each ceremony is a series of songs each song is a story, complete in unity itself. Each song must be sung in order, and each song must be sung perfectly without any mistakes. When perfection is achieved the ceremony becomes yours and after a series of tests to insure perfection you are recognized as a Medicine man who specializes in that ceremony. These ceremonies are passed through one's family, as the training takes years to complete. It is only when it is not possible to select a family member, that a Medicine man will select an apprentice from another family within the same clan. Besides the songs, prayers and sand paintings that are part of the ceremonies are passed "long" family lines.
During every ceremony the songs tell stories and certain items are used in the ceremony. In addition to sand painting, corn pollen may be used along with certain select herbs. Herbs are a powerful medicine and are part of the cure. Herbs must be used with care; if used incorrectly the patient gets worse and can die. Witches use herbs to cause harm; the Medicine man uses herbs to do good.
Finding the herbs is a lot of very hard work. One has to find the herb by knowing where and when to look. Every type of ceremony has its own set of herbs used. All herbs are either male or female. Female herbs are used for men and male herbs are used for women to restore the male and female pair, which we all have. To work, the herbs must be found growing facing the East; this is very important. The East is the origin of all life. When the herbs are gathered each herb has its own song, which is sung to the herb. The song goes to the chief of medicine to show respect. When the herb is taken an offering is left to the herb to show respect. If proper respect is shown the herbs will replenish itself.
Rick believes all things in the universe are sacred. Rick said “To us corn pollen represents the life in all living things. Corn pollen is very important in our ceremonies. Humans have pollen in the form of the man's seed which unites with the seed of woman to bring forth new life. All life is the same and corn pollen helps us remember life is continuous. Turquoise to us reminds us of woman because turquoise comes from the earth. The earth is the mother of all things. When we die we return to the earth, and from the earth new life is created. This is why we use turquoise as an offering to our mother”.
Sand paintings are our direct contact with the Holy People. Each ceremony has its own design. The sand painting reestablishes life, fertility, renewal, healing and balance all of which are related. Each sand painting's design is associated with particular Holy Person and its set of heroes. Each sand painting is opened toward the east. This is to let balance and harmony enters. Through this sand painting balance and harmony is reestablished within the patient. Like all the songs each sand painting must be absolutely perfect or the Holy Ones will be angered.
All learning is done by mouth and through having a strong memory. A student starts his education early in life because there is much a Medicine man must know. Most Medicine people are men, but there are a few Medicine women. This was the case many generations ago, and has been reestablished only within this generation. Whether a man or a woman every prayer, song, story, gesture, objects used, and paintings must be memorized in perfect order -- no flaws however slight can be tolerated. Often the skill is handed down from father to son. The youngest son is the first choice because he is the most intelligent. However, in reality often the Medicine man will select someone other than his son. In the old days the potential Medicine man must have a vision or a noticeable defect, this is no longer the case. Often the apprentice, nowadays, approaches the Medicine man for training. Often learning has become expensive for the young person's family; dedication of the child and the child's family is important. Because of the years of training, to know three sings or ceremonies is the most a person can expect in a single life