A Drumstick’s Story: Part 24

People of the Blue Water

By Joe Liles

News From Indian Country April 2011



With special thanks to:  Anthony Paya, Michael Bonsignore, David Glenn, John Woodmansee, Grand Canyon National Park, and the Havasupai People, with reference to I am the Grand Canyon by Stephen Hirst, and People of the Blue Water by Flora Gregg Iliff.

I told you before how R.D. and I met the members of an Indian rock band called “Skinjun” at the Tuba City Fair in a place called Arizona.  We met E-rock, Buzz, Don’t Worry, Lakota, and R.I.P. After they won this amazing contest called Battle of the Bands, Buzz and Lakota went off to find a party.  E-rock, invited R.D. and me to go on a road trip with the rest of the band members.  We were going to visit their families before Skinjun’s next gig coming up in a couple of weeks.

First, we headed to Shungopavi on Second Mesa in Hopi Country where we visited Don’t Worry’s mom. We found out from her that Don’t Worry’s real name was Philbert.

Philbert and his mother told us many things about the Hopi, how they came into this world, how they migrated to the Four Directions, and how they finally found the land promised to them by the Creator. We were told how the Hopi hold ceremonies to assure the future of the entire world.

drumstick_story_4dir.jpgI have noticed in my travels as a drumstick that some people in the world just look out for themselves. It’s as if they have a “What’s in it for me?” attitude. What impressed me about Philbert’s people was they didn’t do their ceremonies just to benefit the Hopi.  They did them to benefit the entire Creation: the Earth, the Sky, the Starworld, the Plants, the Insects, the Animals, and the Human Beings. It is clear to me that the world would be a much better place if more people thought like this, if more people thought about more than just themselves.

After we had a final meal in Philbert’s home, we hit the road to visit R.I.P.’s home. After some discussion, the guys decided to leave E-rock’s pickup truck at Philbert’s mom’s house and everybody piled into R.D.’s car.  R.D. placed me in my usual riding place on the dashboard of his car. I could see real good out the window this way.  R.I.P. shared the front seat with R.D., and E-rock and Philbert sat in the back.

We retraced our route down Highway 264 again listening to Hopi Radio KUYI.  As R.D. drove, he talked to R.I.P.  “I’ve seen ‘R.I.P.’ on gravestones before,” he said, “And it stands for ‘Rest in Peace.’  If you don’t mind my asking, what is your name all about?”

R.I.P. responded, “All the guys in Skinjun took what we call band names.  When I’m feeling kind of mellow, my name stands for Respect Indians, Please.”  Everybody in the car laughed. “But when I am feeling really good, it stands for Renegade Indian Person.”

Everybody laughed again.  “You see, I move around a lot. I’m what you call mobile, just like my ancestors.  I am a modern-day hunter and gatherer!”  Laughter filled the car once more.  I could tell we were going to have a good time.

R.I.P. added one more thing. “My Anglo name is Fred. You can call me Fred if you like.

Philbert cut in, “Hey, before you guys get too deep up there, let me point out something. That village we are passing on the left is Oraibi. It is the place I told you about that was the most traditional of all the Hopi villages. It was the magnet that drew all the Hopi to settle in this area. When we were first exposed to the Europeans, many of my people were divided. Some wanted to accept the ways of the Pahana, the white people. They wanted to accept their religion and send the Hopi children to schools to learn the English language and the way of the ‘civilized’ world. These people were called the ‘Friendlies.’ The people who wanted to keep the old ways were called the ‘Hostiles.’ In Oraibi this split was causing many hard feelings.

It was decided that the People of Peace could settle this dispute without bloodshed. A contest was held between the Friendlies and the Hostiles. It was like a pushing contest. If one of the factions could push the other over a certain line, they would be declared the winner and could stay in Oraibi. The losers would have to leave. It ended up that the Hostiles lost the contest. The day of the contest was not over before they began to leave Oraibi. They stopped at a spring and settled there. That place is now called Hotevilla. But, over time, many of the traditional people have returned to Oraibi.

“Just about all the Hopi villages had splits like Oraibi,” Philbert continued.  “Even my own village of Shungopavi was divided by Friendlies and Hostiles.  But, throughout it all, the Hopis maintained a close friendship with Fred’s people, the Havasupai. In fact, the road we are traveling right now was built on top of the trail that connected us. We called the Havasupai, the Co’onin. This name recognized that they are connected to their ancestors of long ago, the ones known as the Cohonina. The Havasupai called us Hopis, the Moga.

Fred cut in, “Philbert’s right, we are now traveling the same route used for many years by his and my people. It was a trip of more than 100 miles, but we did it by horseback or even walking.

My people, the Havasupai, lived in a place where change came slowly.  We were living in the bottom of the Grand Canyon!  The Spanish and the Catholic priests found the Hopi before they found us! The name we used for ourselves was Havsuw ‘Baaj which means Blue Creek People in our language. When we get to my home in the canyon, you will see why were are called this.”

“Yeah, we always got along,” Philbert added. “We liked to trade with each other. We liked the Havasupai baskets and the way they tanned their deerhides.  They used the brains of the deer to tan the hides. The hides are so soft this way.  They always say, ‘Every animal is born with enough brains to tan its own hide!’         

Oh, and we always wanted that special red paint the Havasupai could get from sacred places in the canyon. On the other hand, the Havasupai wanted to trade with us Hopi for our pottery and our unique jewelry. But we also could supply them with things we got through trading with others, like saddle blankets and jewelry from the Navajo and tin pots and cloth from the white man.

Man, it was a regular Indian Wal-mart out here!”

drumstick_story_canyon.jpgFred told us that the road up ahead would turn to follow the Moenkopi Wash. “In the old days we would travel the wash all the way to the Little Colorado River. We called this the Salt River because the water tasted salty.  When we crossed that Little Brother to the Big River, the Colorado, we were home. The Havasupai have always said, ‘We ARE the Grand Canyon!’”

When we crossed the Little Colorado at a place called Cameron, Fred asked R.D. to let him drive. “It will make it easier for us up ahead,” he said.  This made me nervous, but Fred seemed to be a good driver as the new road, Highway 64, twisted and turned to follow the Little Colorado.  The walls that held the river got steeper and steeper until the river was far below us.  At one point, Fred stopped the car, and we got out at an overlook.  Fred made a corn meal offering to the river. E-rock offered the golden corn pollen and shared some with Philbert.  R.D. offered tobacco from one pouch and corn pollen from the pouch Adam had given him back in Canyon de Chelly.  I missed Adam.

We stood there for a while with the wind blowing hard.  The guys were silent, looking off into the chasm below us.  R.D. held me up so I could see. I don’t want to freak you out, but I could hear these guy’s thoughts.  They were praying.  Fred asked for a safe journey into the canyon. E-rock asked that his wife and baby be protected from all bad things.  Philbert prayed for his mother not to be lonely and added, “Thank you for the Sipapuni, that Emergence Place of my people from the Underworld.  I feel your power so close to here.” And R.D. prayed, “Thank you for my little drumstick friend who is leading me on this journey, help me to take good care of him.  Guide me in the direction you want me to go.  Thank you Grandfather.”

We all got back into the car, me on the dashboard, and the highway left the river gorge and took us to a place called Desert View.  Fred spoke as he drove the car, “There’s an entrance up ahead to the Grand Canyon National Park.  The Little Colorado will have already merged with the Colorado River a little north of here.  The Park covers 277 miles of the Colorado River and much of the surrounding canyonlands.

The Havasupai went from having free range to all this territory to being confined to a 518 acre reservation in the bottom of the canyon in 1882.  Soon after, a series of laws in Washington appropriated all the remaining land, first, to a Forest Preserve, then, to a Game Preserve, afterwards, to a National Monument, and finally, in 1919, to a National Park.

“Originally, we were told to stay in our summer gardening place on Havasu Creek in the bottom of the canyon.  We struggled for almost 100 years to get the Federal Government to recognize our right to have some of our original land up on the canyon rim. We argued that, in order to survive as a people, we needed to continue our traditional cycle of life of gardening in the summer in the canyon bottomlands and hunting in the winter up top.

“In 1976, the Government gave us much of our land back. Since then, we have had a better relationship with the Government to support our need for schools and housing.  I have worked in several jobs in the Park so I know a lot of people here.  Let me do the talking up ahead.”

We approached a little building in the middle of the road.  Fred rolled down the window and spoke to a lady in a window in the building.

“Doreen,” he said.  “It’s good to see you again!”

“You too,” the lady answered.  “What are you up to?  You helping on another dig?”

“No,” Fred said.  “I just wanted to show my friends a few of the places that are important to my people.”

“Come on through,” the lady said.  “You guys have a nice time.”

We drove into the settlement of Desert View.  Paul parked the car in a big parking lot and said, “There’s something over here I want to show you guys that changed my life.”

We walked down a pathway that led us to what looked to be a very old tower made of rocks. “This is the Indian Watchtower,” Fred said. “It looks old, but it was built in the early 1930s. The Santa Fe Railroad actually put up a steel framework, and the tower was built around that.  There’s something inside I want you to see.”

Fred took us first into a ground floor room he said was a gift shop.  It was full of beautiful rugs, baskets, jewelry.  We climbed some stairs to the second floor.  Colorful paintings covered the walls. I could see a circular symbol that reminded me of the Four Directions.  There was one strange painting here that showed something floating in water.  The water had steps on each side that looked to me like they could be the walls of a canyon.  I sensed this painting told the story about how people first came to this place.  I could also see paintings of clouds and rain.  There were pictures of snakes.  Somehow I knew the snakes, the clouds, and the rain were all connected to the land and the people who lived here.

Fred spoke. “I first saw these paintings when I had just started high school. I was drawn to learn about the man, Fred Kabotie, who painted them. I felt a kinship with this man because we had the same Anglo name. He was from Philbert’s home village of Shungopavi. His family members were called Hostiles, just like the people Philbert told you about back at Oraibi.  His parents wanted to hold on to the old ways. The Government agents took Fred away from his parents and sent him to the Indian school in Santa Fe.  Fred met a man at this school who encouraged him to be an artist. But this man also hired Fred to help in projects involving archaeology to learn about the past of his people.  Fred Kabotie learned that the past, the present, and the future are all connected. Mr. Kabotie inspired me to start studying Archaeology at Northern Arizona University down in Flagstaff. I know it is unusual to think of an Indian being an archaeologist, but I figured if Fred Kabotie could do it, I could do it, too!

“I grew up with my people in the bottom of the canyon, the place we called Blue Creek in the old days.  This Havasu Creek is where our original reservation was. I told you how we were told not to use the land up on the canyon rim once the National Park came in. It was through two things that I got to see life outside the confines of the canyon walls.  First, it was going to high school up top since our school deep in the canyon only went through 8th grade. And second, through jobs I had with the Archaeology Department and the Museum of Northern Arizona I experienced what my people call the 'Joy of the Expanse.'

These jobs enabled me to travel all over these canyonlands just like my ancestors did. I got to see many of the ancient homesites of my people. I worked with professionals from the Museum on sites that were in danger of washing away and being lost forever.  We were racing time, wind, sand, and floods to document the history of my people in the Canyon.

“I am going to go back to the University after Skinjun finishes all our gigs this summer. I am going to get my degree. It was the paintings you see before you that put me on the path I am taking.”

We climbed up to the top of the tower and looked out over the land. R.D. held me up so I could see. I had seen canyons before, but this place blew my mind.  For miles, a huge canyon stretched to the horizon. It looked to be several thousand feet deep.  At the bottom, like a tiny silver ribbon, was the river, the Colorado. To the south, way in the distance, I could see snow capped mountains. “This is the land of my people, as far as you can see,” Fred said.  Those mountains you see to the south are the San Francisco Peaks. They marked our southern boundary. Only our most powerful medicine men would go there.  Come on, there’s another place I want to show you.”

. . . to be continued.

Drumstick's Story Part 23

Comments and assistance:
Joe Liles, Faculty Emeritus
NC School of Science and Math
1219 Broad Street
Durham, NC 27705
919-286-9401
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.





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