Near-extinct Spiritual Weeds Springing up on the Rez

There’s a temptation to believe we moderns living within the boundaries of the US have a lot in common with one another, and in many ways we do.  But what we have in common with one another isn’t necessarily what we believe we do.  One of those areas of commonality probably has to do with the perception of Native Americans as a somewhat generic group of people with a lot in common with one-another and far less in common with whites and Hispanics.

 This leads to a lot of packages of thinking among people not living on the Rez, whether they’re whites, second or third generation off-Rez Native Americans, Hispanics, or folks who carry a bit of tribal blood in their veins a few generations old, but never lived on the Rez.

 One of the packages contains a romanticized view that the cultural heritages on the Rez still exist, still carry some similarity to those before the coming of Europeans, and are similar to one-another.   The phrase, ‘the old ways’ has found its way into the language of those seduced into buying the package.  The “I-know-the-old-ways-too-because-my-granddad-was-a-Cherokee [or Apache, etc]” syndrome frequently found among artists, blue-eyed-blond-haired ladies in Atlanta, and in cities across the nation among those who see something wrong with modern life and hunger for a deeper spiritual life.

 The fact is, those tribes don’t have much at all in common with one another, aside from being packaged and treated as though they were similar for at least a century-and-a-half by the US Government, far longer for some in the eastern US.   Bits and pieces of the original cultures have survived on some reservations, less on some, almost none on some.  And those cultures remaining are as unlike one another as they are different from European.

But I’ve digressed.  I began this blog entry with the intention of talking about a particular cultural phenomenon re-emerging on Navajo tribal lands, strange and not easily understood by anyone including the Din’e living there.  The Skin Walker.  A person who voluntarily adopts witch-like and other behaviors that violate the most fundamental religious/spiritual forbiddings of the tribe.  The subject, even the name is such that even most Din’e have only a general  understanding of what those practices are.  But there’s no lack of agreement that Skin Walkers are a threat to everyone, a cause for revulsion, anger, fear, hatred.

 On the Pine Hill Navajo (self-determination) Rez south of Ramah Chapter there’s a place that’s come to be called, “Skin-Walker Valley” by everyone who’s willing to use the word.  Interestingly, the valley extends into an area checkerboarded with white-owned lands called Candy Kitchen.

 What’s surprising is that, while the Skin-Walker phenomenon clearly began on Din’e land, the weirdness and negativity spills over and permeates into the white community. Although some good folks, both white and Din’e, live and make out as best they can in this remote area, it’s shockingly pervaded by all manner of crime. Speed freaks and laboratories are drawn there as by a magnet.

 Violence is pandemic. As an example, a few years ago three Navajo youths tortured and killed an octogenerian white woman in her home, puncturing her skull with a screwdriver eighteen times until she died. She had nothing much worth stealing. They did it for ‘fun’.  When the lads were identified they were arrested on the Rez, where tribal authorities resisted giving them up for white justice for several days.

 Meanwhile, deep in the Rez to the north, near Pueblo Pintada, another valley is rapidly coming to be known as ‘Skin-Walker Valley’, and another at Alamo, far to the southeast.

 This phenomenon, were it discussed openly and recognized as in need of investigation, would be far easier for tribal officials to develop strategies to deal with. Open discussion would also help nearby residents and authorities off the Rez toward a clearer perspective concerning an energy and a belief system that is oozing up through the cracks of their lives, slouching across from tribal lands.

But this is getting too long and it’s time to turn out the chickens.  Maybe more later.

Edit:  7:50am

This poem was written a few years ago about an event on the minds of northwest New Mexico at the time.  The fact it happened near ‘Skin-Walker Valley’ was a cause for a lot of concern and confusion.

Last Friday Night

“It’s just too deep in the Rez
For a white-man style killing,” he says:
“A bullet each to the back of the head,
At Pueblo Pentada two brothers are dead;
Two Navajo brothers are dead.

“It isn’t a skin-walker killing;
No feud, not a woman too willing.
A knife, a club, a thirty-ought-six
Is common enough and at least doesn’t mix
White man logic with Navajo tricks:
No bullet each to the back of the head!
But at Pueblo Pentada two brothers are dead!
Two Navajo brothers are dead.”

From Bread Springs to Shiprock you’ll hear people say
“No place is safe now! You can’t get away!”
Nageezi to Yah Ta Hay
You’ll hear the Din’e people say
“The killer’s from Pie Town or Santa Fe.
Some white, somehow, somewhere must pay
For a bullet each to the back of the head!
At Pueblo Pentada two brothers are dead!
Two Navajo brothers are dead.”

Old Jules

17 responses to “Near-extinct Spiritual Weeds Springing up on the Rez

  1. Yup this guy wants some more Jules. Have chores myself these days like when I was a kid. Feed the horseys and my brother’s cats. Then there’s this new gray fellow that showed up and is hanging just outside the door. He ain’t leaving anytime soon. Seems pretty nice.

  2. Are there any guesses to why the Skin Walkers are making a reappearance at this time? I wish I knew the historical context of these people. The term “witch” is one raft with personal interpretation, and varies from culture to culture, and group to group. I have a lot of people in my network that consider themselves witches, but in the “best” sense of the word: They are the Crones. The Wise Women. The healers.

    • Janece: The subject’s not an easy one to discuss among the folks who’d be most qualified to arrive at theories based on careful observation and scrutiny. One element that’s almost certainly a piece of it is the power that comes from intimidation, fear, repudiation of something so basic, and the exit of so much else from the traditional culture that once kept it under control. But there’s also the fact so many Native Americans are doing prison time, being incorporated into prison gangs and learning loyalties of a sort putting them into conflict with oaths, clan-loyalties and customs once they return to the Rez. But as to the second part of your comment, the term ‘witch’ on the Rez, probably any Rez, carries no positive baggage as far as I’m aware. The term hasn’t gotten the off-Rez Wicca, Shaman, Pagan, Majick, cultural growth found among white communities re-adopting something they consider witch-hood. Always sinister, always negative, always cause for eventual reprisal. It hasn’t been more than a dozen years since the Zuni murdered a ‘witch’ living on the Rez. I’d guess similar such happenings quietly happen on Rez located in the western US somewhat frequently. Thanks for coming by. Old Jules

  3. Jonathan Caswell

    Sounds like a Native American equivalent of the 1960’s and 1970’s race riots…a lot of frustration and anger turned inward. The Rez seems to be a pressure cooker for this thing. I don’t have a clue as to how I, descendent of them that forced and enforced this, but thank you, Old Jules, for bringing it up. At very least it’s something I can pray about. Jonathan.

  4. i had a 1961 experience in1961 at chaco–seems the kids were being bothered in their “sleep” at night nd wouldnot return to hogans at night. They spent time with the white govt supported “teacher” at the indian rez agency hdqtrs. we just assumed they were mere superstitions at the time. the inerpretation of spirit was a “skinny” walker. amazing how things evolve over time. regards

    • Hi Keith. Good seeing you here. Yeah, I expect you and I would have been susceptible to such things even down where we were if they’d come along and if our parents believed in them. I recall when George Higgins used to hang around town dancing and singing for nickles my mother telling me to stay away from him, to never get alone with him, though she never said why. But it was enough to keep me giving him a wide berth, if I hadn’t been anyway. Poor guy was just retarded, but it didn’t take much imagination to twist that to sinister with a little help from old mom. Thanks for the visit. Jules

      Afterthought: Interesting you encountered that at Chaco so long ago. Chaco’s just a hop-skip-and-jump from Pueblo Pintada.

  5. interesting read (~_~) things are usually woven together like fabric and to unravel them there would be no more blanket of comfort because the truth will chill you to the bone.

  6. Pingback: Near-extinct Spiritual Weeds Springing up on the Rez | So Far From Heaven | Four Blue Hills

  7. I found this a very interesting read and frightening too. I was sad to learn that they young Native Indians are no better than the young men of London, New York or any large city..all into violent crime and terrorizing the elderly. It is so sad. But as it is the way of the world it needs to be written about!

  8. Ji Jules, thanks for dropping by my blog.
    In Australia, Aboriginal culture is as fractured as any native Americans’. Traditional communities are a mix of the old and the new, and the new, in the form of alcohol and drugs has just about taken over among the young, and a lot of the old too.
    The urban descendents of native Australians, who are mostly white, are trying to get back to what they see as a pure indigenous culture. So are their European idealist supporters. Little do they realise that it is impossible. Even though change was slow in the past, it still happened, and at what stage is that past culture ‘pure’, As you say, the past is a hard place to get to.
    The best thing to do is to take the best there is and use it now and see where it leads to.

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