Translation by Bahe Y. Katenay
July 2011, Cactus Valley – Big Mountain, Arizona – Mary Lou and Clarence did this interview at their sheep camp near Little Spring of One With Blackhorse. The interviewer was Christophe Cousin from the France TV CanalPlus’s The New Explorer show. These programs are series of short discovery documentary about “off-the-mainstream, beaten paths” where people’s culture is based on pastoral or farming livestyles and whose cultural ways may now face the challenges of change and modernism.]
Mary Lou: Where I was born was right across this canyon (pointing westward) near where Red Willow Spring Canyon empties into Blue Canyon. It was said that I was born in a traditional shade shelter and so it was in the late summer time when I was born. The families stayed together and they moved about in this particular area and sometime they moved over on the eastside of the Upper Big Mountain range. Growing up then, I remember life seemed pure because you really never heard of different diseases or devastating sicknesses. I think my mother utilized a lot of the medicinal plants to cure our minor ailments and most of our foods came from these lands as well. Sheep was always a part of life and so were the crop fields, too.
How life has changed since then? I would have to say the forcible taking of my children. My children are not on the lands with me, and this is contrary to me growing into adulthood around my mother and the extended family. This change I feel has been the greatest pain and hardship that Washington (U.S. government) has inflicted upon me. As dedicated mothers especially in Dineh (Navajo) society, we begin to think about our new born of how we would raise them and the expectations for their future on these ancestral lands, and just as I was raised.
Well, the most memorable joyful moments that I remember in my younger days began when I hid from my mother so that, she will end up herding the sheep herself. I had a couple of colts corralled and I lasso one. I fought with it a bit and then when it settled down, I tried to put the saddle on. This I tried for a couple of days, but finally I secured the saddle and cautiously climbed into the saddle, and it kicked and bucked for a little bit but it began to be tamed.
(Inset photo by Demitra Tsioulos) Mary Lou with weaving & rough ridin' days according to Her story.
Life was all about having our hogans and moving around with our herds during the summer time. There were plenty of sheep and goats, some cattle and then horses. I eventually acquired my own herds and horses. There was much happiness or exuberance that came with herding and caring for the sheep, cattle and horses. Then there were the crop fields where we planted and harvested. Certainly, all these are hard work but in the end, the results were what was rewarding and living this way led to loving your country very deeply.
For these reasons and when the Washington came to me years back, I told them that I will not accept their relocation laws. I told them, “I reject your offers and I shall remain among these lands and home sites. This place is where I conduct my daily business for Life and for my Life!” So, this is the only culture, language and ways of subsistence I know and I know no other. (They) took some of us on a field trip to the New Lands where we would be relocated if we accepted the offer. It is true that those lands had beautiful settings, but I looked at the ground and I did not recognized the vegetation. I begin to wonder “how could (they) expect me to train myself to learn about that strange vegetation?” (They) even told us that they will allow us plenty of animals more than what we have on our original lands. I took that as a lie immediately.
My children have already accepted that urban life styles. They all have gone into that so deeply that if I ever was given back the authority to decide the future of these lands and ways of life, the children will care less about making their homes around here. I truly feel that I am near the end of it all, I am not as agile as I once was, my eyes cannot see the weavings that I work on, and now I am someone that does not cook for herself anymore. I cannot provide a room or space for my children to sleep or live while they visit us. The government tells them “No!” They are not allowed to build anything. A few have accepted the relocation offer and they live elsewhere these days.
The country is now empty. Only the BIA tribal authority and police drive about occasionally to “monitor” us but I do not speak English so I do not know why they keep checking on us. I just have a guess that they probably are keeping vigil for that time when we have exhausted all our existence and soon after we would be gone. Then they probably will take upon themselves to do whatever they had wished to do with these lands. I have declared to my family that “when that time comes when ‘something’ takes me away that, everyone makes sure that I am cremated and my ashes be scattered among these lands, here.” At least, my ashes will give little smudges of colour throughout.
(Photos by Demitra Tsioulos, 2008) clockwise: Well near Cottonwood Springs, Blackrock's herds in rock shelter corral, outside summer cooking stove when non-Native supporters helped at sheep camp.
Clarence: The BIA cops and rangers had tore down this hogan and they had stacked all the logs out there near that road. My children, the men, decided to rebuild it because our sheep camp is still here. The federal tribal authorities also tore down other structures around here like the one on the slope of this north mesa point. Those hogans and corrals were situated nicely and they dismantled it and you can only see stacked logs there now.
Our histories [1860-1868], here, about the wars with the U. S. and the escape by some from capture of its Army should be very important to us and to the next generations, as well. Unfortunately, it seems that the new generation does not care about these histories. This history is part of the foundation that defines our resistance to relocation here at Cactus Valley, Red Willow Springs, Thin Rock Mesa, and Big Mountain. Even some of these sheep herds are descendants from those that were issued during the release from Fort Sumner and from those that escaped the Army’s slaughtering.
It does not matter if we lived on the so-called “Hopi Partitioned Lands,” the Navajo Nation still expects us to participate in the electoral processes. But we do not see the results of our Votes which were to be “change.” Mary Lou and I live in a house that is falling apart. All we hear about is corruption and that leadership in Window Rock has taken bribes or stole out of certain funds. It definitely seems like the root of these behaviors comes from Washington because the same stories are heard about the leadership at the federal level.
How should it be? I do not know. Our own community should restart its grassroots councils.
© Sheep Dog Nation Media, 2011
For more on this genocide and the struggles for survival, and how you can help: http://blackmesais.org/take_action/