Guest Column: Don’t allow our language to be casually co-opted

By Anthony Lee Sr.

It snowed yesterday morning. It was a good down-to-Earth feeling. The dense fog – ahi – a condensation of different forms of water at the base of the Lukachukai mountain range was an absolute good sign.

It is believed the Holy People – Diyin Dine’e – descend from their spiritual domain and plant metaphysical and sanctified seeds of knowledge and wisdom.

A prerequisite for spring planting, this allows the growth of early plant life – T’aachiil.

So I recited a small and humble prayer because I know it brought needed “moisture for our thought process” into Navajo country.

Sometimes, whether we know about it or not, our body-mind existence goes through a process of dehydration – also evidenced by severe drought conditions on Navajo.

So please remember we are intrinsically – by natural character – connected to Mother Earth and Father Sky.

More importantly, the fog also conveyed a pristine and unsullied message that we must find ways and means to solidify and safeguard our sovereignty, naturally inherent in mist forms, To altaanaaschiin/Tobiyaazh, and must be translated into finer legal language.

For those that might not know, there is a tremendous difference between natural sovereignty and man-made sovereignty. Just a precept, a general rule, to understand the Dine “native-lens” thought process.

Just last week I also saw an asteroid flashing across the northeast cool night sky. It was absolutely astounding and another good sign. The trailing tail seemed to imply to stay the clockwise course on the pathway of the Sun – Johonaaei t’aa shabik’ehgo bee atiin – on Mother Earth. Some of you might have witnessed this phenomenal occurrence.

Overstepping the sovereign

This essentially means it also brought about another critical issue, which prompted and warranted the attention of medicine people from across the vast regions of the Diné Nation. It was about overstepping our true inherent sovereign – from a Diné traditional standpoint.

We do not live on Mars, so let us make that clear. In fact, it would be a fundamental law violation if we “hypothetically” decided to live on another planet. Let alone put our Diné name brands on a foreign planet.

These teachings come from our Diné elders. Thus it incited my moral goodness, obligation and conscience to respond, not in a perfect way but in a most diplomatic, tactful and respectful way in hopes to render support and acquiesce to medicine men expressions in previous issues of the Navajo Times.

The expressions came from fellow medicine men. I had the high honor and opportunity of having served with these notable and unselfish leaders over a decade (a three-term tenure).

I also wish to note the Diné (Navajo) people is a very distinct, although loosely put, indigenous nation gifted with many time-sensitive stories from our ancestral past. There are many stories which depict the significance of star formations and how they relate to the four seasons of spring, summer, fall and winter.

The tantalizing mystery of the moon phases also regulates seasonal changes and human behavior and all life forms on planet Earth.

Guided by the stars

Historically, most medicine people paid close attention to these stellular changes in celestial bodies or astrophysical occurrences by rectifying human violations, exposures, thereby decreeing purity; rendering seasonal offerings, and performing ceremonies premised on respectful and proper timing of moon phases.

In this regard, our Diné ancestry was apt and rendered homage and adhered to a strong sense of respect, awe, and reverence in capturing the essence of these stories. This is only because yadilhxil – upper darkness – and Father Sun – Johonaaei — still provide guidance, directions and thereby regulate our daily lives while rendering a sense of freedom that we sometimes take for granted.

That is why we breathe in – female air — and exhale – male air — to allow adequate free flow circulation in our mind-body existence with no impediments or obstructions. The medicine people regard this as Nilch’ih nihii’ size – sacred wind that stands within our body/mind existence.

I know putting aside personal differences is a hard thing to do but this is one possible and workable solution. So, c’mon, man, and get over it – in good faith. Just a tad bit of humor. No harm done. It just helps to relieve pending pressures, anxiety, and stress levels.

That said, we are all interconnected in one way or another. It is our clan system – the common and tangible thread of what keeps us together. Therefore, we have an obligation to one another. So this essentially means we are in a remarkable and unique web – a core reflection of our forebears and ancestry.

Take a moment. Can you imagine Grandma and Grandpa adorned in exquisite silver and turquoise jewelry and traditional apparel? They are the ones who knew about these amazing and incredible traditional and seasonal stories.

We are all in this together, a challenging time and quandary. In fact, our Diné elders, who included distinguished and prominent medicine people, emphasized the meaning and critical importance of the narration of deeds and legendary stories imparted into the brilliant minds of the emerging younger generation through storytelling. I can certainly attest to these stories in a Diné traditional family setting, especially during the winter months.

Stories discounted

Today, some of the surviving medicine people, including myself, who come from this generation dearly miss these sanctified memoirs and hallowed stories. Today, it appears these stories are not taken seriously and deemed like just another grand episode in a Saturday night chapter house dance, more so in the fact-paced fictional mass media industry.

Personally I take issue if these supposedly cultured segments are included in movies like the nonsensical Dances with Wolves, Skinwalker and other absurd big-screen shows. These Hollywood-oriented movies certainly missed the mark by wide margins, but they are still subject to controversy and moot points now that the planet Mars issue has surfaced into media outlets. (“Hataalii: Use of Navajo on Mars disrespectful,” Navajo Times, March 25.)

I can certainly attest this is concerning to fellow medicine men and women throughout Diné Nation as they do not portray the true essence of the Diné astronomy folklore – oral tradition of the Dine people. Personally, I call it the “astrophysics of time and space,” but not in the context of utilizing the Diné vernacular in promoting and assigning nonsensical idioms or Navajo flavored colloquial speech to describe, identify, and pronounce those things on planet Mars or any other planet for that matter.

A perky and jaunty flashback: I thought we got away from the boarding school bilingual jams of shi-bread, shi-buddy, shi-jam, shi-gir, shi-bronc, etc. Now, after many decades, I think it has become the popular sequel of “brother-man.” I do not know where it came from, but it might be a prelude to a classic form of rez greeting.

Cultural mediators

Please allow me to further note, the current medicine men organizations – the Diné Hataalii Association Inc. and the Diné Medicine Men Association – are like clearing houses, a mediator for cultural matters and can even be deemed to be a fail-safe mechanism mitigating a failing option, with the intent to restore original cultural trajectory from an intellectual and cultural property protection standpoint.

Well, how did the Mars controversial issue come to light? This is what may happen if there are no effective guardrails and measures for the protection of our cultural stronghold – now on the brink.

We cannot point fingers if we do not assert and exercise possible solutions, especially if they are not articulated in proper forums. There must be ample room for reciprocity to get things done in a most efficient and expeditious way.

With all due respect, the Law & Order Committee and perhaps other committees of the Navajo Nation Council must revisit and reexamine these existing tribal laws. This committee must work closely with the grassroots-based medicine men organization noted herein.

It is better that the collective expertise of the three tribal branches and medicine men and women exert and assert ways and means to strengthen and reinforce those mandated tribal laws. There is always room for improvement. In some cases, it appears new laws must be profoundly articulated and legislated into “updated” and workable tribal laws.

Please allow me to reiterate the distinguished organizations consist of knowledgeable and well-qualified medicine men and women. If given the chance and opportunity, they can certainly render invaluable information relative to growing health issues and to its current and long-term health care trajectory as stipulated in its mission statement.

Please do not ignore and circumvent noted grassroots-based organizations. They are frontline health care providers and some medicine men have sacrificed their lives in their attempt to assist those Diné patients and our relatives affected by COVID-19.

Listen to associations

It is essential that Navajo government pay heed and listen to the organizational leadership and its growing membership. It is critically important to further note there should be no conflict with the Navajo Nation Council-appointed Medicine Men Advisory under the auspices of the Historic Preservation Office.

This is not to imply there is current conflict but rather to create a healthy, positive, and replenishing dialogue in protecting Dine stories, cultural remnants/artifacts as they are spiritually intrinsic in ceremonial songs and prayers.

The Diné people cannot afford to allow our cultural ethos – heritage, customs, language, ceremonies, and philosophy – to be marginalized, showcased, and compromised in the entertainment world.

Anthony Lee Sr., from Lukachukai, Arizona, is former president of the Diné Hataalii Association Inc.


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