In over 13 years of fighting against tribal disenrollment, starting with the Pechanga disenrollments of two families, I’ve
placed all of my time, energy and righteous anger on the nightmare of
this paper genocide .
This scourge defames our ancestors, abuses our elders, and rips the heritage from our children.
For all of these years, I’ve neglected to speak about what it truly means to be an American Indian. Today, I want to briefly share my experience of the Native Way, with the beautiful native people of Northern New Mexico.
While driving from Upland, California to Chama, New Mexico to visit my brother, who had just relocated to the small New Mexican town, my wife and I experienced that community, and their actions touched me to my core.
I was trying so
hard on that trip, to keep our Mazda CX-9 at the speed limit. It was
unfamiliar territory and we were visiting in the dead of winter.
There was this white stuff everywhere that this Californian was
unfamiliar with. I'm certainly not used to driving through snow or
ice, so I was trying to keep it safe by keeping under the 55 MPH
East of Bloomfield, New Mexico passing the mile marker 102 sign, I crested a small rise, could not see the road, and quickly came across a herd of deer crossing the road. I stood on my brakes, they worked well, but one deer was not concerned about her safety. The collision was not catastrophic to my wife or me, but at 100 pounds, the doe wasn’t so lucky. She damaged our nearly new car, rendering it inoperable, and in the process didn’t survive. Stuck, in what to us a desolate stretch of highway between the Navajo Nation and Jicarilla Apache reservation, other motorists were few and far between.
We got to the side of the road, and my wife had enough cell signal to reach AAA. They promised to have someone out ASAP, but given our location, they warned it might take a couple of hours. Thankfully, I had supplies in the car, water, snacks, and hand warmers (why are you laughing?).
While we waited, I dragged the poor deer off the highway, then cleaned up the wreckage. Afterwards, there was nothing to do but wait.
After a short while a car, came from the east, slowed down, and passed us. I noticed brake lights as the car stopped and they put it into reverse. My first thought being from the city was DANGER!!
The Native driver, a woman approached and asked, "Are you alright? Do you need help?" "Do you need water? Are you getting cell reception?" My fears alleviated, my wife and I thanked her profusely, and assured her we were good. As she left, our thoughts were, "Wow, you don't see that in California"
Five minutes later, another truck came, this time SLOWING before they got to us, pulled off the side of the road, and an older Native couple asked, "Are you okay?" The deer are bad here. Do you need anything? Anyone hurt?" "we have water"
Once again, we assured them that we were OK and let them know we had help on the way. Satisfied, they went on their way.
A few minutes later, another car, this time from the west, slowed and stopped and again, another Native woman stopping to inquire. "are you okay?" "I have some food if you're hungry" "Where's the deer?"
This continued for a solid half hour. 9 straight cars and trucks, all Natives, aged late teens to early 70's, stopped to check on us, before the first car drove by without stopping, they slowed, we waved, they continued on.
FOURTEEN vehicles stopped in just under an hour, 13 Natives and 1 non Native. (Yes, we counted) All kindhearted people, from a young man in his early 20's to tribal elders, all concerned for our welfare, and all willing and ready to lend us a hand in our time of need.
The experience of the “Indian Way” was happening right before our eyes. Just remembering this experience and commemorating it in this post brings tears to my eyes.
There was a time that this type of behavior was commonplace, expected and necessary for our survival. Of late however, (the last 15 years or so) as the “root of disenrollment” has grabbed hold in our communities, something else, something foreign has taken over…selfishness, apathy, greed and in the case of all of us who have been disenrolled…anger, the righteous ugly kind.
All these characteristics are foreign to our native spirits.
My hope is that one day there will be reconciliation for all tribes split apart by disenrollment. That skirmishes over control and money and whatever other motivations that have torn apart our communities will disappear.
I hope that one day we will return to our “Native Ways,” and help one another realize the dreams of true self reliance without sacrificing our values and defying our “true spirit.” Our ancestor Paulina Hunter would come home to Temecula, via spring wagon, to be with family and community.
I am thankful to my beautiful brothers and sisters in New Mexico, for a small glimpse of what the “Indian Way” looks like. Something that I have taken for granted, something I long for within my own tribe. I know I am not alone.