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An Awakening in Valentine

"Revelations while on holiday in Arizona"
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Preface

This story is about a trip I took in March 2020. For many reasons, I consider it the most exciting vacation I have ever taken. Every day was busy from early morning to late at night. I got to visit places such as the Grand Canyon and Zion National Park. It was a joy for me to experience these natural wonders that I had wanted to see my entire life. I also learned a great deal of history that I had had little knowledge of before these travels. There was an intensity to this journey, no doubt bolstered by the daily progression of the urgency of the coronavirus crisis. On our arrival in Las Vegas, everything was up and running. When we returned to the airport to leave fourteen days later, Sin City was silent and still. To say that we concentrated a lot into a fortnight would be an understatement.

This account documents parts of the trip but centers mainly around unexpected events that rattled me into a deep self-examination with an effort to understand certain aspects of our society. I end up with more questions than answers, as often happens when dealing with complex issues. Not everyone will accept my conclusions, but they are mine. This paper is by far the most extended piece I have ever written, perhaps partly due to an enforced quarantine upon my return to Alaska that lasted a month, giving me a lot of time to think. 

 

Part 1 The Incident at Valentine

Last November, I started to plan a trip to the Southwest. A fortunate set of circumstances had resulted in my receiving free round trip tickets to anywhere in the USA. I was thrilled! The freedom to choose the destination allowed me to fulfill a lifelong dream to visit the Grand Canyon. When I was a child, my father would give wondrous accounts of the scenic grandeur of the canyon, which he had explored during his Army training days in Arizona during WWII. He had always wanted to go again, but raising a family on working-class wages made expensive long-distance vacations prohibitive. He made me promise that someday I would see it. So, when this opportunity arose, I jumped on it. Also, the tickets were First Class! I had probably flown near thirty times in my life, always sitting in cramped quarters in coach. Every time I boarded a plane, I would eye the precious legroom in the first few rows, jealously wishing I could plop down into one of the luxurious seats. This time I would be able to.

We decided that mid-March would be the best time to go. The temperatures would be warmer than in Alaska but not hot enough to roast us. The plan was to visit as many National Parks as possible during our two-week adventure. To be sure not to miss anything worthwhile, I meticulously researched the route in advance, solidifying hotel and dinner reservations online weeks before leaving. We were ready to go!

Back in November 2019, the word 'coronavirus' had not yet appeared in the news. The situation heated up a bit in February, causing concern, but the trip seemed safe. By the day of the flight to Las Vegas, we washed our hands more frequently while being ever so cautious about coughing. These measures seemed sufficient according to the guidelines issued at the time. Vegas was open for business! Crowds of people packed The Strip, and the casinos were taking money from strangers. I lost $100 on five spins of a roulette wheel that refused to recognize 17 is my lucky number.

After spending a day exploring Death Valley, we headed east toward the Grand Canyon. There was great anticipation to get there, but with three days allotted for the National Park, we could take a little time to explore a few sideshows along the route. Hoover Dam was worth the two-hour stop. Further along, we hooked up with Route 66, the history-laden road taken by many a tourist traveling west during the advent of car vacations back in the '40s and '50s. Many towns along the byway are now either rundown or abandoned, reduced to obsolescence by Interstate 40 a few miles away. A few, such as Hackberry, are considered ghost towns. We stopped at the one business there, the Hackberry General Store, to buy a Route 66 souvenir and meet Charlie the cat, who came out to greet us begging for a neck scratch.

Five miles down the road, we came to another ghost town, Valentine. The only reason I stopped was to get my jacket out of the trunk. I pulled off on the one side road, parking in front of an unmarked, boarded-up red brick building. As I was fanatically chronicling the trip in pictures (I averaged 500 a day), I decided to take a few pics of this nondescript structure just for the record. I snapped a photo but then decided I wanted a closer shot on a slightly higher level. There was a stone wall perhaps two feet tall in front of a chain-link fence surrounding the edifice. I lifted myself onto the wall using the muscle power solely in my left leg. I felt a burning sensation in my thigh muscles, which I interpreted as a symptom of aging combined with a lack of conditioning.

However, when I stood upright on top of the wall facing the building, I experienced a sudden rush of heat throughout my body; only this time, it was not physical but emotional. A feeling of dread came over me as if something awful were about to happen. I wanted to step back off the wall, but I could not, as an indefinable apprehension paralyzed me in place. It was as if there were a force making me look at the building. I now felt that the barbed wire fortified fence, the dreary brick walls, and the tightly sealed windows were designed not to keep out trouble but to contain something within. I hope the reader does not feel I am exaggerating when I say that I perceived an evil emanating from the structure. Frozen for the eternity of a moment, I stood there with an iciness, a sickening of the heart that made me shudder in weakness.

At length, I was able to break free from the spell. I jumped off the wall. What was it, I paused to think, what was it that had so unnerved me in the contemplation of this architectural mediocrity? There have been rare instances in my life when I have had prescient flashes in which it felt like I was receiving a signal. Once, upon starting a new job, I shook the hand of a manager who had introduced himself to me. When our hands touched, I immediately felt a sense of utter despair come over me. It shocked me, but I could not attach a reason to it. The man committed suicide the following morning. Now, here I am, receiving similar feelings from an old abandoned building. What could it possibly mean? I am not one to fall for ghost stories, but this was a mystery I could not comprehend without many shadowy fancies coursing through my mind as I pondered it. The one thing I did not want to do is shrug it off. I needed to understand what had just occurred.

My search for meaning began with a look around the area. A playground was accessible off to the side, leading to the conclusion that the fenced-in building was a school. It contained a decaying basketball court with several small trees growing out of the cracks in the concrete. To the side stood a stone drinking fountain that no longer worked. There was an old merry-go-round type device in the far corner of the yard. I tried pushing it around, but it quickly ground to a squeaky halt. The tallest tree in the schoolyard appeared dead, its naked branches reaching up into the grey sky. Except for some faded blue paint on the merry-go-round and a few patches of green grass, a drab brownish tint dominated the neglected grounds. The entire area radiated a gloominess that added to my perplexed state of mind. I found no answers, but I was not giving up. I felt a message had come across; I just didn't know how to decipher it.

The stop lasted longer than I expected, but eventually, we got on the road again. While driving, I kept thinking about my experience at the school, but the first views of the Grand Canyon from Mather Point refocused my mental energy to the beauty of the Park. I cried a bit, thinking that it was every bit as incredible as my father had told me. The sun broke through the clouds with spectacular lighting that brought out the deep reds in the canyon walls. It was raining to the east, producing a rainbow when the sun's rays hit the mist in the gorge. I was in awe!

That night though, at the hotel, my thoughts returned to the school at Valentine. I did a Google search to find some information. I discovered that the building was an old Indian boarding school with several sources describing its purpose and history. All of them served to support the bleak vibrations I experienced at the site. It was not a pretty picture.

Relations between Native American Indians and European colonists have been contentious since 1492, when Columbus took his first steps in the West Indies. There is a 500-year trail of troubling history in which the Indians were, in essence, subjugated and turned into serf-like citizens. The results of this clash of cultures serve to verify the truth behind Mao's maxim that "Power derives from the barrel of a gun." The settlers overwhelmed the tribes with swelling populations, modern technology, and superior weaponry. When the dust of the battles cleared, the victors herded many tribes onto reservations, which often consisted of land that the invaders deemed to have no value. In addition, the federal government established the Bureau of Indian Affairs, a bureaucratic entity that Congress empowered to rule over the reservations.

After the "Indian Wars" in the late nineteenth century, the federal government enacted an Assimilation Policy to deal with the "Indian problem." This policy consisted of absorbing indigenous people into the norms of white society without regard for their political or cultural rights. One of the tenets of this policy was that Indian children should be separated from their parents and sent to boarding schools to help achieve this blending. The children were required to go, often against their will. From the start:

'' ... off-reservation boarding schools instituted their assault on Native cultural identity by doing away with all outward signs of tribal life that the children brought with them. The long braids worn by Indian boys were cut off. The students were made to wear standard uniforms. The children were given new 'white' names, including surnames. Traditional tribal foods were abandoned, forcing students to acquire the food rites of white society, including using knives, forks, spoons, napkins, and tablecloths. Most importantly, students were forbidden to speak in their Native tongue, even to each other. Some schools rewarded those who refrained from speaking their own language; most boarding schools relied on punishment to achieve this aim.''

This building I accidentally stopped at in Valentine was part of this effort to assimilate the tribes of Arizona. I learned it was built in 1903 and functioned as a schoolhouse until 1937, having three names during those years: the Truxton Canyon Training School, the Truxton Canyon Indian School, and the Valentine Indian School. The stated purpose of the school was to segregate and educate Indian children per the government's policy; "to separate a student from his or her family and culture and to provide basic skills for earning a living away from the reservation." The school played an important role in educating primarily Hualapai children, but authorities grouped Apache, Hopi, Navajo, Havasupai, Pima, and Yavapai with them despite the differences in language and cultures. These disparities didn't matter, as the desired result was to have them all adapting to white society and speaking English. The school history affirmed for me the extrasensory perceptions I had had when in front of it. My curiosity, however, was barely whetted.

The most detailed information I could find regarding the building was a 22-page application submitted to the United States Department of the Interior nominating the Truxton Canyon Schoolhouse for a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. This revealing document answered many questions I had concerning what went on at the school and the resultant energy it seemed to radiate. Let me quote a few examples:

''For many students, life at Truxton Canyon School was a traumatic experience. Separation from family caused homesickness, while diseases like smallpox, measles, influenza, tuberculosis, and trachoma caused physical discomfort." I cannot ever recall anyone classing smallpox and tuberculosis as physical discomforts. One must wonder how many times this 'discomfort' included death. (Indeed, I later found that: ''In December of 1899, measles broke out at the Phoenix Indian School, reaching epidemic proportions by January. In its wake, doctors recorded 325 cases of measles, 60 cases of pneumonia and nine deaths in ten days.'')

The document also cites The Course of Study for the United States Indian Schools (1922), which stipulates: ''In our Indian schools a large amount of productive work is necessary. They could not possibly be maintained on the funds appropriated by Congress for their support were it not for the fact that students are required to do the washing, ironing, baking, cooking, sewing; to care for the dairy, farm, garden, grounds, building, etc. ... an amount of labor that has in aggregate a very considerable monetary value.'' This statement clearly shows that the Indian children in the schools were used for child labor to save the government from paying for their education and internment. This ruling even required them to make from scratch the bricks used in the construction of the frontage building. There was a segregated state-funded white school in Truxton Canyon where the white children learned the curriculum without working for the privilege.

Furthermore: ''Conversion to Christianity was also deemed essential to the cause of assimilation; therefore it was inextricably woven into the curriculum; the children were taught to march into the dining room in an orderly manner, stand in their respective places, and in unison say blessings before each meal.'' So not only were they forced to speak in a foreign tongue and adapt to an alien culture, but they were also coerced into worshiping a god that wasn't theirs. The Bill of Rights, which guarantees religious freedom, did not apply to Indian children.

Even the appearance of the Valentine Indian School came into play in the assimilation process for the style ''expressed the desire of the OIA (Office of Indian Affairs) to have Indian schools emulate white ones. The OIA's stylistic choices reflected the attempt to separate children from their cultures by ignoring the architectural heritage of particular Indian tribes.'' Thus the design of the building itself was used as a brainwashing device on helpless children.

What I learned from my investigation distressed me. As I have stated, I considered the feelings I experienced on the wall to be a communication. At the time, the message seemed to be one of horror. What I read supported that. I can only imagine the terror these children must have experienced after being forcibly removed from their homes, families, and cultures to be placed in a draconian environment where their worlds were turned upside down, isolated in what was essentially a prison environment with no way out and nowhere to go for recourse, and subjected to a strict discipline with corporal punishment that no doubt at times crossed the line into physical or psychological torture. I felt my intuitive experience was a reception of their pleas to know their story. The information I found next strengthened this belief.

On my last night at the Grand Canyon, I discovered a two-year-old newspaper article in The Miner, a Kingsman Arizona daily, which described a ceremony in front of the Valentine Indian School in early 2018. Hualapai tribal leaders had invited a local high school class to hear the history of the school. An elder described the school as ''a place of hardship to our tribe'' and told stories of relatives who had spent fifteen years separated from their families. He then performed a smudging, ''a sage burning ritual to rid a space of negativity, including past traumas, bad experiences, or negative energies from others. Burning sage has long been a tool to connect to the spiritual realm or enhance intuition, to achieve a healing state — or to solve or reflect upon spiritual dilemmas.''

I connected with this story on a personal level. I had experienced the "negativity and past trauma" while at the school, even though I hadn't known what had occurred there. The article supported the validity of my feelings: proving they weren't some fanciful ideas, there was an energy coming across, and others had felt it.

 

Part 2 The Second Incident

After three glorious days of exploring one of the most beautiful places on Earth, we left the Grand Canyon, barely scratching the surface of things we wanted to do. But the reality is I'd have probably felt that way if I had spent three months there. I would have loved to walk down to the Colorado River as I am still in reasonably good condition. But I had to give in to common sense, which dictated that the down and back hike would require two days, not one. My reluctant surrender to the realities of aging!

I was also satisfied that I had worked through the confusion about my experience at Valentine. I am an analytic thinker, expressing doubt about occurrences that do not fit the mold of provable science. I felt blessed that I had had a sixth sense experience that opened my mind to new possibilities. I was glad to find that my research about the school supported the perceptions I had when there. I didn't know how or why it had happened, but I believed that somehow, for some reason, spiritual energy was transferred, revealing a truth to me. At that time, I thought the experience had ended.

We exited Grand Canyon National Park through the east gate to head north to Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, Horseshoe Bend, and Lake Powell. It was going to be a busy day. Directly east of the canyon, we entered the Navajo Nation Indian Reservation, the largest reservation in the country with more than 27,000 square miles that nearly 180,000 people call home. Even though we would be driving through, I knew little about it. Truthfully, I must say that until this trip, I had little awareness of the reservation system. I had grown up in New England, where I believe there are a few smaller reservations, but I had never been through one. I moved to Alaska, where there is one reservation on an island in the southeast that I have never seen in my forty years living here.

The Navajo Nation is in a desert zone, but the mild spring temperatures were in the mid-50s. We took Route 89 North and drove through the town of Cameron. There were houses on gently sloping hills on both sides of the road for a couple of miles, stretching back a few hundred yards. I stared at them briefly before turning away to deliberately focus my attention on the centerline on the highway in front of me. I did not want to look to either side. But then, powerful emotions like those I had felt at the school in Valentine took hold. There was a burst of thoughts that were not my own demanding that I turn my head and look.

I did.

What I saw was stark abject poverty, the likes of which I had never encountered before. Homes for hundreds of people were nothing more than dilapidated trailers, many with holes in the rooves and walls, often patched with cardboard. A few front entryways had sliding curtains instead of doors. Many windows were missing glass panes. The buildings seemed chaotically positioned with little attempt to fuse them into a working neighborhood. Trash, broken appliances, and junk cars with missing parts were strewn across the yards. Recent heavy rains gave the unpaved 'streets' a muddy, rutted look. Some houses were well-kempt, but the majority were in disrepair with little visible evidence of maintenance. I saw battered busses and truck campers mounted on concrete blocks serving as homes. Isolated on the peripheries of this impoverished township were plywood shacks in such pathetic conditions that I could not believe people lived in them. But these doubts were erased when I saw adults sitting on porches watching children playing outside. These outliers were all without electricity or phone lines. Although the March temperatures were moderate, it was not difficult to imagine the toll the scorching summer sun would take, especially with no trees to provide shade. Occasionally a horse or cow could be seen meandering in the desert terrain, grazing on the sparse vegetation between the buildings. Wire fences bordering the road separated the well-paved, well-maintained highway from the squalor on both sides.

I was shocked by the vision of such graphic poverty spread out before me. It was gut-wrenching. The only comparisons I could make to these scenes were pictures I had seen of slums in Haiti or Calcutta. I could not conceive of such destitution in the United States. The sight of such wretched living conditions made me wonder about other necessities like water, sewage, and electricity, not to mention food. How could people survive in these circumstances? There was a desperate need for change, but the area seemed mired in an atmosphere of hopeless resignation.

As after my stop in Valentine, I had many questions. Why did such grinding poverty exist on the reservation? Why were proud people with an ancient heritage suffering like this in the modern world? What needed to be done to change the situation? I felt a need to educate myself, or perhaps better stated in this case, to reduce my ignorance. My short time researching numerous issues makes me an amateur investigator at best, but sometimes basic knowledge eliminates the cloudiness of complexity. It is possible to present all kinds of legal, economic, and sociological explanations. Still, I think the core answer lies in one simple fact: The Navajos came out second best in an armed conflict and cultural war they never wanted. The ancient realpolitik, ''Woe to the vanquished!" is alive in modern America. The Navajo people were by force of arms isolated and segregated on unwanted, inferior land to be governed by laws and economic restraints created for them (and other tribes throughout the country) by the white power structure. The policies of the United States government have led with an inevitable certainty to the Navajo Nation becoming a Third World-like society immersed in poverty.

Even the most cursory investigation yields statistics so staggering that they seem beyond the realm of possibility:

The unemployment rate on the Navajo Reservation hovers near 50%. 43% live below the poverty level, compared to 15% for the state of Arizona combined. Extreme poverty, defined as living on less than $2.16 a day, is at 19%, over 33,000 people, many of who are elderly or disabled. The median household income is $20,000. 38% of the houses on the reservation have no running water, 32% have no electricity. A significant percentage of the land and water is contaminated with radioactive waste from concentrated uranium mining, placing many people at risk. The Navajo Nation is considered an extreme food desert with only nine grocery stores to serve 180,000 widely dispersed people. Many have no way to get to the stores, which are often poorly stocked with food. Healthcare on the reservation is among the worst in the country. Tuberculosis rates are six times the national average. Teenage girls have reproductive organ cancer rates seventeen times higher than the rest of the country. Chronic diseases like diabetes and cancer are far above average, placing the Navajos in the country's highest risk groups for Covid infection. Alcoholism, drug addiction, suicide, and child mortality rates are high. Life expectancy is seven years lower.

No matter what the explanations are, there is one certainty: Something is very wrong. The systemic poverty that exists in the Navajo Nation is nothing short of a national travesty. The way of thinking that drove the genocidal practices that befell American Indians centuries ago still haunts federal policy today. The federal and state governments have repeatedly betrayed the trust of the Navajo people. There is a need for radical change to eliminate the suffering. I will expound here shortly on what I regard as the most egregious example of the criminal treatment of the Navajos by the US government in modern times: but first, I want to delve into a question I kept asking myself:

Why was I having these powerful, intuitive experiences?

The incident at Valentine awakened my inquisitive nature. It drove me to unearth the history driving the experience I had there. The conditions at Cameron exposed me to present-day reality, forcing me to ask questions about our society. The answers I arrive at may put some people on the defensive. I may stand accused of finger-pointing, but I must stress that I am a white person, too, so this is mainly a self-examination. And that is what I believe the extrasensory experiences were demanding of me. It is a difficult task, as it is always easier to misinterpret others than to see the truth inside oneself. However, I now believe that by dividing society into ranked segments with my group on top, I automatically condemn others to poverty and suffering.

 

Part 3 Poverty

"It is fatal to look hungry. It makes people want to kick you." George Orwell

I had to ask why at first; I felt compelled to look away. It is a normal human reaction to hide from what one fears. But there was no physical threat; the perceived danger had to be within. So why was I afraid? When I see something that horrifies me, for example, a car accident, I will look away as I tend to insert myself into the situation, subjecting myself to the experience. And yes, the thought of living in such poverty does frighten me. But there was something else going on; I could feel it. The intuitive energy that I had experienced in Valentine rose again, pushing me to uncover something not readily apparent. I had recognized my inner fear (not always an easy thing to do) of being poor, but as I thought more while driving, the deeper layers of the onion I did not want to peel off came into the open. I was venturing into the red man's territory, which had boundaries the white man had forced him to accept. I was a stranger in a strange land, fearing the anger and frustration I was sure he was feeling. The collective guilt of my race weighed on me. I felt shame over what I had seen, and for what I knew should never have happened in the past. Turning back to see the poverty was my acknowledgment of the truth I didn't want to face. I am responsible. And I am indeed guilty if I refuse to see that.

While on vacation spending money on my dreams, I unexpectedly found myself outside the cacoon of my middle-class comfort zone, exposed to the disturbing realities of cultural poverty. This insecurity triggered a confrontation within myself. I felt fears: Fear of the experience, fear of retribution, fear of my responsibility. I often deal with such anxieties by running away from them or denying them through rationalizations. I could have focused on the highway lines until I was past the scene. I then could have blotted it out, pretending it had never happened, out of sight, out of mind. I know I could because I've done things like that many times before. That way, I could drive through without pangs of guilt on my conscience because I'm not responsible; they are.

Or maybe this time, I could just say no. Perhaps this time, I could look at myself, not others.

Some individuals choose poverty for spiritual reasons. Most people admire them for their willingness to sacrifice themselves for a cause. Few would denigrate them. But the judgment is different when there is a large group, culture, or race of impoverished people. Poverty is then often interpreted as an inherent weakness like some genetic flaw. They are stereotyped, branded with faults and defects to help explain their condition. An 'us and them' separation develops, which naturally places 'them' lower on the scale. They have to be; otherwise, the 'haves' would need to confess their sins. The vision of people living in such dreadful poverty jolted me to repent of mine.

Back in my college days, a friend told me that white people, by necessity, harbor a degree of racism within, whether consciously or not. He argued that whites develop defensive logic and tools to help maintain their top position in the power structure. I remember him saying that "they who live in glass palaces cannot afford to throw rocks at each other." At the time, I disagreed with much of what he said because his ideas were foreign to me. But while traversing the Navajo Nation, the truth in what he had put forth became more evident to me.

(I must digress for a moment to make a point. Writing this story is taking a lot of my time. I proofread and repeatedly edit, seeking just the right words and correct phrases to get my thoughts across clearly and effectively. The first few drafts of the paragraph directly above began: "Back in my college days, a black friend told me ..." It seemed natural. He was black. But then it struck me. I was using one of the 'tools' he had discussed. Why did I feel it necessary to state he was black? What difference does it make? Why didn't I also say that he had one leg, an equally identifying feature? Because by mentioning his race, I separated myself from him and, therefore, his thinking. I became a white person explaining to my white audience the origin of the argument I was presenting. I became an apologist for my writing. It was illuminating to see it. And I vow never to do it again.)

The use of this race-identifying tool is widespread. When I had plotted the trip, I made plans to stay in Tuba City and Chinle, towns near tourist attractions we wanted to see. I read online reviews for the hotels to help decide where to stay. I remember one in particular which downgraded a hotel because of "drunk Indians panhandling and harassing people in the parking lot." What was the writer really saying? Why did he say "drunk Indians" instead of just "drunks" if indeed the panhandlers were drunk? If they had been white, would he have warned of "white drunks"? I think not. Again, it is a way to separate races into upper and lower rankings. It is unlikely that an Indian or a minority wrote this review (or others complaining about Natives at the front desk, inattentive to customers' needs). The subtle message coming across is a warning to white tourists that if they stay in the reservation, interactions with drunken Indian bums may stain their vacation with regrettable memories.

I am not poor. I have never been poor. I grew up a few steps above poverty in a working-class neighborhood with hard-working parents, who were paid minimum wage plus a dime doing factory work. My hometown, Lowell, Massachusetts, was at the cutting edge of the Industrial Revolution in the mid-1800s. Flourishing mills created opportunities for thousands of jobs. Immigrants poured in to fill them. Irish Catholics, followed by French Canadiens, and waves of Polish, Greek, Italian, Lithuanian, and German workers eventually outnumbered the Brahmin WASPs. At times it was an uneasy mix. Each group had to battle prejudices upon their arrival. There was much 'us vs. them' separating going on, so I learned the dynamics. I never felt the sting of racism as a white Irish Catholic, but my great grandfather, who fled poverty in famine-stricken Ireland, was not so lucky. The Irish were "lazy unwashed drunkards" who were "not dependable" and who "need not apply" for jobs.

When I was a teenager, the Puerto Ricans were the new arrivals in town. The rumor circles spread the news that they came just to get on the easy welfare rolls. Later, Cambodians fleeing genocide in their country were said to get checks for $5000 as soon as "they got off the boat." Those in the know whispered warnings not to eat in the restaurants they were opening as Asians liked to slip dog meat into the food. Brazilians brought strange diseases and witchcraft with them. It was all lies. The establishment feared the newcomers might take what they had.

Fear is the beating heart of all racist thinking. It gives it life. Subtract it, and all that is left is a decaying corpse.

One way to dismiss racism as an issue is to deny its existence. There are many ways this comes across. Some whites like to believe that racism and discrimination are sins of the past. The thinking flows in a pattern like this: "Yes, the Indians were mistreated back in the day, and horrible things like the abuse of children at the Valentine Indian School did happen, but those were different times. Today, the problems have been fixed. In fact, 'we' fixed them. It's no longer an issue; it's time to move on and stop dwelling on what was long ago and far away, for 'things like that don't happen no more nowadays.' We have given the Indians all the tools they need; it's up to them to put effort into using them. If they don't, they are lazy and unappreciative. If they don't, they have no one to blame but themselves for their situation."

Does this white power structure to which I allude even exist? Again, denial is its greatest ally. But the founding fathers made sure that it was part of the social contract in America. In the beginning, white male property owners were the only ones who had the right to vote. They were the ruling elite in society. They developed laws for themselves. The unabridged Constitution as written defines a Negro slave as three-fifths of a human being. It took many years to break the barriers down. Sometimes enacted laws leveled the playing field, but enforcement was decades behind. Legislation has eliminated white supremacy, but there is a tacit understanding that white privilege continues. The political philosopher, Charles W. Mills, stated the case succinctly: "When white people say "Justice" they mean "Just Us." As a white person, my reaction is to seek defensive arguments to rebuke this stinging accusation. But it isn't easy to do when headline news stories frequently back up the truth in the statement. If a white jogger in Georgia had been gunned down in cold blood by two blacks, they would have been arrested immediately to be likely facing death penalty charges. But when the victim is black, an arrest is made two months after the deed, only after a huge public outcry.

This unspoken understanding of power subtly comes across in statements like: "Why don't 'they' appreciate what "we" have given them?"; as if whites have the God-given right to dispense things like equality and justice to other races. "We" gave "them" civil rights (Congress passed the Indian Civil Rights bill in 1968) and voting rights (Indians on reservations were first allowed to vote for the President in 1948). Consternation then arises that minorities get "special rights" that white people are missing. Some grumble about February being Black History Month. Hackles are raised high by those who ask: "Why do they deserve a whole month? Why isn't there a White History Month?" The reality is that white history has been taught in our schools for over 200 years, with blacks rarely mentioned except that they were once slaves. Ask most whites who discovered America, and the answer will be Christopher Columbus. They cannot see the arrogance in that belief, like the American Indian who wonders how Columbus "discovered" a land inhabited by thirty-six million people. I remember being taught in school that conquistadors like Cortes and Pizarro were heroes when, in reality, they were despots who murdered Aztecs and Incas in their quest to find gold. Teaching distorted history diminishes the humanity of all Native Americans. No, scratch that. Teaching slanted history like that diminishes the humanity of all Americans.

Many complain vociferously about Native Americans receiving free medical care. As a working-class white man, I have voiced resentment when I pay high insurance premiums with astronomical deductibles while others get everything paid for because of their race. It is more than unfair; it is discriminatory against me as a white male. But when I lift the veil of ignorance from my own eyes, I see the truths which are so readily apparent to indigenous Americans. No Indian, not one single one, died of smallpox, tuberculosis, influenza, measles, or alcoholism before contact with the white man. Indeed it is documented how settlers used the smallpox virus and 'firewater' as biological weapons against the Indians. Chronic diseases such as diabetes and cancer were rare among the Navajos before assimilation. Today, they are rampant.

Navajos and other tribes across the country are frightened by these diseases, for which they have lower immunity. They fear being wiped out by epidemics spread to them by whites. These fears are genuine, as there is no doubt that smallpox decimated many tribes. Modern diseases are taking a huge toll. The coronavirus is the latest. I toured the Navajo Nation when the awareness of the scope of the problem was revving up. At times I felt a palpable resentment for my being there. I could not understand it then, but I do now. I was a real threat. They have well-founded fears of another new disease spreading to them. Indeed, the Navajo tribe now has the highest per-capita Covid-19 infection rate after only New York and New Jersey, and the spread is accelerating. But, unlike New York and New Jersey that received aid at the start of the pandemic:

"... despite the unfolding crisis, it wasn't until Wednesday (May 6) that the Navajo Nation received its portion, around $600m, of federal coronavirus relief funding. It came six weeks after it was promised and a week after the government missed a congressional deadline for distribution, and only after suing the federal government over who is eligible for the money".

How many people got sick because of this delay? How many died? Why was aid rushed to NY and NJ while the Navajos waited six weeks? Can there be any answer other than that in the year 2020, white is still more important than red? Yes, things like that do happen nowadays.

My conscience is not clear in this regard. In ignorance, I drove through the reservation, staying at hotels, buying food at the restaurants and supermarkets. I used the restrooms. I visited the canyons and parks. Scientists now say some people are unknowing carriers. I can only pray that I was not one of them. Whether I was or not, I apologize to the Navajo people. If I knew then what I know now, I would have turned around before the border.

A decade ago, I raised the issue of free healthcare with a Tlingit Indian who I connected with during a business trip. He answered very bluntly: "Give us back the land you stole from us, and you can keep your goddamn hospitals." I had no reply to give. I still don't.

 

Part 4 Water

In my research into poverty in the Navajo Nation, the statistic that stood out the most is that 38% of the households on the reservation have no running water. That was incomprehensible to me. How could it be that in the most prosperous country on Earth, 68,000 people living in the hottest and driest part are without clean running water? The answers I found are appalling. The evidence trail leaves no other possible conclusion but that the government of the United States knowingly and willingly subjected the Navajo people to mortal danger, then stood by silently as the death toll climbed, before finally attempting to wash its hands of responsibility. One byproduct of this treatment is the scarcity of safe drinking water in the Nation.

Water is the key to survival in the desert. Plants, animals, and humans must adapt by making do with less. A thousand years ago, the Puebloan people, ancestors of the Navajo, built an advanced civilization in this area. Their knowledge of astronomy allowed them to predict the cycles of the sun and moon with a pinpoint accuracy exceeding that which was possible in Europe at the time. This ability, combined with highly developed irrigation techniques, resulted in a thriving agrarian society in an inhospitable environment. Archeologists have long puzzled over the demise of this civilization. The most accepted explanation today is that there were long periods of drought. They made it impossible to sustain sufficient agriculture to feed the people, causing a mass migration away from the more densely populated areas. After the resettlement, the Navajos, Hopis, Hualapai, and others lived for hundreds of years on this land, finding ways to be water-sufficient.

So the question arises: Why is water a problem for the Navajos today?

My fondness for YouTube led me to an eight-minute video, "The Navajo Water Lady." It was an eye-opener. It described the work of a Navajo woman, Darlene Arviso, who delivers water by truck to over 250 families on the reservation. The narrator calls her a saint, a well-deserved moniker. Her self-sacrifice and devotion to her people are indeed on a heavenly level. This short documentary pointed me to the connection between the water shortage and uranium mining on the reservation.

After World War II, uranium was in high demand for nuclear weapons. Unfortunately for the Navajos, their land had the highest concentration of mineable uranium in the country. The government did not ask for permission to mine. The United States Atomic Energy Commission contracted private companies from outside the area to pull as much uranium from the ground as possible. Eventually, miners extracted over four million tons of ore from over a thousand mines on the reservation. Initially, this was viewed as an economic boon to the Nation, creating a much-needed industry with thousands of new jobs. But in the long run, the price paid far exceeded the benefits. In 2005, the Navajo people banned uranium mining on the reservation. The harm done can never be fully assessed. The United States government placed a racially segregated group of its citizens in great danger. An enumeration could fill a book, but a shortlist will suffice to demonstrate this.

 ---The Atomic Energy Commission was well aware of the dangers of exposure to radiation inherent in uranium mining but did not advise the Navajo workers of the risks nor provide them with safety equipment to use. The vast majority of the early miners did not speak English. There was no word in the Navajo language for radiation. How could there be?

---The mining companies brought in managers and experienced miners from outside to run the operations. Navajos were employed, often at below minimum wage standards, to do the most dangerous jobs. They were sent into the tunnels after the detonation of explosives to clear the debris. Radon contaminated the dust that lingered in the air. As a result, Navajo uranium miners developed lung cancer, tuberculosis, pneumonia, and pulmonary diseases at a rate more than 28 times the national average.

---Companies invited miners to build houses near the veins to be closer to work because many of the mines were distant from the towns. Many did, bringing their families along. They would often unknowingly use radioactive rocks from the mines in the construction. Cancer rates for family members living in these houses were fifteen times greater than the expected norm.

---Incredibly: "In 1951, the US Public Health Service began a human testing experiment on four thousand Navajo miners, without their informed consent, during the federal government's study of the long term health effects of radiation poisoning. The experiment on Navajo mine workers and their families documented high rates of cancers and other diseases that manifested from uranium mining and milling contamination. For decades, industry and the government failed to regulate or improve conditions, or inform workers of the dangers." In other words, the Health Service knew that radiation in the mines would cause health problems and used the miners as guinea pigs to study the effects without their knowledge.

---The worst nuclear accident in US history occurred in Church Rock, New Mexico, in 1979, releasing three times more radioactivity than the accident at Three Mile Island the same year. After a dam holding the waste broke, one thousand tons of nuclear debris and a hundred million gallons of an acidic radioactive solution leaked into the Puerco River. The river flowed into the Navajo reservation. No one told the people of the dangers for a week. The governor refused to declare a disaster, thus limiting assistance, resulting in a superficial cleanup. Cattle and sheep in the area died en masse. Water was delivered to the locale for two years afterward, but then the program was suspended, leaving the farmers with no choice but to resume using the water from the river. (I remember the anxiety over Three Mile Island and the intense news coverage. I have no recollection at all of Church Rock for ... "the lack of media coverage and general awareness of the incident at Church Rock may be due to various factors, including the fact that the Navajo have been historically underprivileged and consequentially overlooked by the populace as a whole.")

---In 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency attempted to drain a radioactive holding pond at the Gold King Mine in Colorado. When they botched the job, three million gallons of toxic contaminated water flowed into the Animas River, which runs through the farming region of the Navajo Nation. The EPA accepted responsibility for the spill but refused to compensate the farmers for their losses.

---The Agency has identified over five hundred nuclear waste contaminated mines on the reservation. They made plans in 2017 to start cleaning up ninety-four of them, with forty-six on a priority list. Cleanup of all sites may take sixty years.

 ---The EPA estimates that radiation has contaminated the drinking water for 30% of Navajo people. Uranium mining has poisoned the aquifers. Getting clean water requires drilling wells much deeper, but neither the feds nor the state will assist with funding for this. Charitable donations must pay for these needed wells.

The facts and statistics are mind-boggling. There are common denominators in every listing. 1) In each case, the Navajo people were receivers. None of it originated with them. They had no choice in any of it. 2) The United States government and American businesses displayed a callous disregard for the lives and safety of the Navajo Nation people by recklessly placing them in danger. When the risks came out, they received no opportunity for redress.

May I scream out the question: WHY? Is racism the root of these policies? Or, as Mr. Orwell theorized, do we truly kick our poor and hungry? Or is it a combination of both?

Exactly one year before his death, Martin Luther King talked about "deadly Western arrogance," noting, "we are on the side of the wealthy, and the secure, while we create a hell for the poor." In the same speech, he noted: "It is estimated that we spend $322,000 for each enemy we kill in Vietnam, while we spend in the so-called war on poverty in America only about $53.00 for each person classified as poor. And much of that goes for salaries of people who are not poor."

We could fund a war, but we couldn't feed the poor. The figures are obscene. Why am I quoting them here? Because echoes of them reverberate in the Navajo Nation today.

Many Navajo households must get by with seven gallons of water a day for drinking, cooking, and washing. That is less than a single flush for many toilets in America. Yet, in Maricopa County in Arizona, a US Geological Survey shows golf courses use 80 million gallons of water every day to keep the grass emerald green.

The rich can play golf in the desert, but the poor can't find water to drink. The figures are obscene. Is it wrong to point out the immorality of this imbalance? Is it outrageous to suggest cultural gluttony in using 80 million gallons of water a day to grow green grass unnaturally in the desert for what is essentially a white man's game; while 300 miles away, Native Americans in the same state must ration every cup, while wondering if radiation has contaminated it? Is it against the grain to argue that the economic benefits of a sport of leisure should not trump the survival needs of a people? Unfortunately, for many, the answer to all three questions is yes.

 

Part 5 Conclusion

I have never been one to find spirituality in books or buildings. I can't say I know God's name, but I see a spiritual presence in the universe. I have mentioned two experiences I had on this trip that I could never explain in scientific terms. And I have had others, on journies I had taken to the Southwest in the past. I have some spiritual connection to the area and the people. And if I may quote George Orwell again: "It is only when you meet someone from a different culture from yourself that you begin to realize what your own beliefs really are." The words ring true to me.

William James, in "The Varieties of Religious Experience", defined the essence of religion as "the feelings, acts, and experiences of individual men in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider divine." I have always been hesitant to discuss my spiritual beliefs, but I do believe that I have had what James calls religious experiences.

In 1981, I visited a friend in Denver, Colorado. We went to Mesa Verde for a weekend. This National Park is the site of many of the most notable and well-preserved cliff dwellings in the United States. As is my wont, I got up at 4 am one morning to look around outside. I sometimes do this when I am traveling; to see if I might experience something out of the ordinary in the wee hours of the morning. I often do. I went to the gorge side across from the Cliff Palace ruins and sat down, contemplating them in the moonlight. Someone, at some distance further down on the edge of the canyon, began to play the flute. The sound, which had a primitive feel to it, carried throughout the vast open area. When I closed my eyes, I felt as though I were being transported back in time to when the Palace was teeming with life. The musician continued playing until the first light brought the incredible beauty of the canyon and the ruins into a clear view. I cried tears of joy in an overwhelming, out-of-body sensory experience that made me feel as though I were floating. It was one of the most powerful experiences of my life.

In 1989, I drove through Chaco Canyon in New Mexico, the site of the most extensive Puebloan ruins in the United States, where I had a deja vu experience. Everything felt familiar like I had been there before. It was a very odd sensation. I watched workers fixing some stones in a wall, and I wanted to correct their placement. Fortunately, I had the wisdom not to.

On our last day in the land of the Navajo, we toured Canyon de Chelly National Monument. The area contains dwellings built into the alcoved faces of steep canyon walls by their Puebloan ancestors over 800 years ago. The ruins enhance the mystical beauty of the canyon. As I looked down into them from the opposite cliff, it struck me how attuned to nature the builders were. Their efforts seemed to recognize their creations were part of the natural order, not above it.

At sundown, we went to the overlook above Spider Rock, an 820-foot tall rock spire standing in the middle of the south fork of the canyon. This area is sacred ground for the Navajos, a gigantic outdoor spiritual cathedral. We were alone, watching as the fading sunlight transformed the sandstone Rock and canyon walls with deepening tones of orange and red. The sky changed from vibrant blue to deep purple, with crimson highlights in whispers of hanging clouds on the horizon. The ever-lengthening shadows heightened the dramatic effect as darkness gradually enveloped the area. It was an unforgettable display.

As I stated in the preface, this was an intense trip. We connected with the history of the Ancestral Puebloan people on many occasions. There were ruins at the Grand Canyon. At Wupatki, I felt inspired looking out at an expansive area where hundreds of stone houses once stood. We were amazed by the architecture at Montezuma's Castle, even though Montezuma never lived there. At numerous spots in Arizona and Utah, we had fun trying to decipher enigmatic petroglyphs.

It was in the Painted Desert where I stepped off the trail to get a better picture of a petroglyph of an ibis capturing a frog. I took a few shots of it from several angles. This activity was so absorbing that I didn't notice a park volunteer who had come up behind us. She gently scolded me for leaving the trail boundary. We then talked a bit about petroglyphs. I asked her if these Puebloan people were related to the Anasazi I was familiar with from Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon. I was surprised to hear that 'Anasazi' is an outdated term to use. It seems that Anasazi is a Navajo word meaning 'enemy ancestors.' Modern Navajos take offense at the idea that their ancestors were enemies. Charles Weatherhill, the white man who 'discovered' Mesa Verde (in the same way Columbus discovered America), gave them the name. Navajos desire to be known as the descendants of the Ancestral Puebloan People. That is the only terminology I will be using from now on. A small effort to help rectify a tiny bit of the harm done to the Navajo people through the years.

I really can't say why I have written all this. I felt compelled to do it. The only person it will ever affect may be me. But maybe that's enough. Perhaps I just needed to see something within myself. A part of me would like to believe that the Buddhists are right; we have been here before. Maybe I was a stonemason at Pueblo Bonito a thousand years ago. Maybe, that is why I felt outraged at what I saw on my travels on the reservation. It could be. Or perhaps I felt so spiritually inspired by the Ancestral Puebloans' peaceful, serene beauty that I cry out in anger at the mistreatment I see inflicted upon their descendants.

I wish I had the power to change the world, but I don't. I wish I had the courage to sacrifice my comforts, renounce materialism, and join VISTA, where I could maybe do some good in the world instead of burning every bridge I cross. But I won't. I wish I could write something so inspirational that it would start a grassroots revolution that would end poverty in the world. But I can't. I'm not on the world stage. I'm just a tiny piece of an enormous interconnected puzzle called Life on Earth.

No, I can't change the world; I can only change my reactions and do the best I can with what I have. Someone with a bit more insight than I said that the poor will always be with us. I won't dispute him. The world is not fair. Not only poverty, but war, disease, racism, and other scourges of humanity will continue to affect us. But that does not mean I am completely powerless. The experiences I had on my trip have left a deep impression on me. I have changed for the better. I am determined to do my part in whatever small ways I can to make the world a better place. Maybe someday, someone somewhere will read what I've written here and feel inspired enough to do some small deed to effect change.

My hero, since early childhood, has been Robert F. Kennedy. In a speech in South Africa in 1966, he spoke these words that continue to inspire with their simplicity and truth:

"Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."

I dedicate myself anew to creating a few ripples.

 

Published 
Koba17

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