I was up north of the rez in Denver taking care of some stuff I needed to get done when I ran into an acquaintance whose mother I knew from long ago. She had raised her son in the city. He had recently settled down with his own family off the rez.
His mother is from my home area and she left on the relocation program years ago. Relocation was the government program where they took young Indians and sent them to big cities to get vocational training and learn how to live in a city. A lot of people went and many did not return. She was one of them.
She got married in the city and had a family. She raised two sons and it was one of her sons I ran into and he invited me to eat with his family there in the city. I said ok. When I got there, the father was detained and would be late but had told his wife I would be coming and she invited me in.
By chance his brother was there visiting as well. I had not seen either of them in a while. We had dinner and got to talking about some things I remember about their mother when she was younger, when she lived on the reservation.
We had a good talk and he told me they went back a few times when they were younger but hadn’t been back for years. Their mother while raising her sons in the city had joined some kind of church and was pretty active in it.
There was a young boy, about 12 years old. He was the son of my missing host, a young Indian who wasn't raised on the reservation.
I got to sit with the little guy and started to tell him a story when his uncle told me I couldn't because his parents didn't want him to know about Navajo things until he was older. So his uncle forbade me to tell the youngster anything about Navajos. I thought he was joking but he made it clear he was serious.
I started to tell him a story about “the no good one,” a boy who wouldn't listen, but his uncle interrupted me again and said don't tell him anything like that.
I said all right and changed the discussion to something else, and thought this boy's uncle was a mere child of two when I met his mother years ago.
I knew her when she was single and fancy free, but somewhere along the line they got some type of church teaching that taught them that all these things of their own people were pagan.
I thought I knew this woman, her son, and her grandchild. Since she chose to live far off the reservation she had lost all connection with it and had cut herself off more literally than I had imagined. So I made some small talk and then left. I was curious to ask what happened to them but their reaction was very clear. They did not want to discuss the matter. So I left.
The boy had listened as I told him the story and when I left I met someone outside and spoke with them. The little boy showed up there and wanted to know the ending of the story, but I told him that to not offend his uncle and grandmother I couldn't tell him the story.
I told him the story is a very old one from a time when only Indians lived in this land, and that to hear such things he would have to grow a little and seek them out later in life. I mentioned to him that our stories are carried in the winds, and that at some point in his life he would hear himself wondering about such things and about who he was.
I pointed to my skin and told him that in looking at myself I was also looking at my father, grandfather and all those that had come before and survived to give me life. That at an earlier time--way before he was born---these people had spoken to him, telling him about his people, that they wished he would continue on and survive and grow to be a good and wise man. That in his blood there is strength, a story of prevailing in the face of hardship and life's struggles.
His eyes were bright as I told him that you come from a strong people, that we know each other no matter where we are and that we continue to survive despite everything, that at some point he would want to know about these things and he should learn them when it is his time.
I’ve found in my own experience that kids raised off the reservation who know nothing about their family and life on the rez usually are curious about it because they want to know who they are and where they come from.
Eventually, they will have questions and will want to know a little about themselves. Some will go back and ask questions while others will always wonder because they don’t know much about life on the rez, and so they will avoid making a physical connection.
Just from my brief conversation with the boy, I thought he had a natural curiosity and would ask these questions later in life and seek the answers. I could see by the look in his eyes.
I said goodbye and let him go back to his uncle. Then I left that place in the city and headed down the road, back to my pagan lifestyle.
Johnny Rustywire is Folded Rocks Clan People on his mother’s side, and born for Tsinahbiltnii, the Mountain People Clan on his father’s side. He comes from Toadlena-Two Gray Hills, New Mexico, where the mountain is cracked and the water flows. He is a father of six and grandfather of 12. He attended Indian boarding schools and grew up on the Navajo Reservation, and has been married to the same woman for 40 years, a Ute from Fort Duchesne, Utah.