Internships and student worker positions can open a wealth of opportunities for tribal college students. Read more →
Where Are We Going?
Ignorance would have allowed me to ask why my grandmother was questioning me about what she already knew, but I knew her to be wise and philosophically minded. I also knew better, to never be asked anything twice by my grandma, but because I was reminiscing about what a great, talented-minded human being she is, she asked again, “Shiyazhi haagosha’ diniiyah?” (My child, where are you going?) Without being naïve, I turned to her and said that I was going to school.
I turned back to the small mirror hanging on the wall next to the door and continued combing my hair. With little visibility, the small oil lamp on the table was shimmering in the reflection of the mirror. I saw my grandma pause for a moment, then she looked up and straight ahead into the darkness of the west wall of our home and said, “Oh,” and then she put another log into the stove.
After putting three more cedar logs in the stove, she stood up and used the end of her skirt as a potholder to take the chipped blue-granite coffee pot off the stove, then carried it over to the table. There she poured herself a cup of coffee. I counted three spoons of sugar and two spoons of creamer. As she stirred, she walked over to her rug loom, took a sip of her coffee, and made that coffee drinker sound—“Slurrrrrrrrrrp, Ahhhhhhh!”
She seemed to be inspecting her half-finished rug. She found a loose end and pulled on it. She sighed with relief and mumbled, “Good, it’s only a lent,” and then finally sat herself down on the sheep skin. It came from the sheep we butchered last week for my cousin brother’s son’s first laugh celebration. I remember watching closely as she methodically skinned and tanned it. My grandma never ceased to amaze me. I caught myself reminiscing again when I heard her ask, “I said you know where we’re going, right?”
“No, Grandma, tell me where are we going.”
And she continued, “Your great-great grandfather once told me that someday we will be really off the ground and far from it. I didn’t know what he was talking about, until I realized it three Christmas dinners ago; we were all at the table eating, sitting on chairs. And that was just the beginning. Just yesterday I heard on the radio, an Indian man was going into space.”
For a moment there was only the crackling of the cedar wood and the howling and relieved expression of the fire in the small, half-cut oil drum my uncle made into a stove for us. As I stared at the poor man’s stove, there was a thud, thud from grandma pounding on the stacked yarn. She just criss- crossed her way through a hail of warp (weaver’s lingo), reminding me that I was in conversation with her.
“So we’re going into space, Grandma?” I asked.
I think it was the best laugh my grandma ever had, because she leaned her head on the rug warp and patted her thighs over and over again as she laughed uncontrollably. “Shiyazhi (Child), I don’t think my grandfather meant that. This ground, this is our Mother. This area of the ground; our people live. And in this area, we live and talk a certain way. Once upon a time we sat closely to Mother Earth; at that time we were very knowledgeable about what was in and on top of the earth. Today you only know what is taught while you sit in chairs. My grandfather also shared with me that the day we begin to stray away from Mother Earth, it will be a dangerous time. We won’t be under the protection of Mother Earth no more. Ha, ha, space, I’m too old to travel to space. And it’s not space I’m going to after I’m done here; I’m going to the spirit world. I miss my grandfather. And I’m going to also miss you today. Hurry Shiyazhi, your bus is almost here!”
I spun around and looked out the door and saw the lights of my bus creeping over from behind the hill. I grabbed my bag and raced out the door. As I was half way to the bus stop, I remembered I didn’t give my grandma the right answer before, so I ran back and after taking a deep breath I said to my grandma, “Grandma, I know where we’re going; we’re going to stray away from Mother Earth.” Without saying a word, she continued to weave, and she nodded her head. Ignoring the beep, beep of the impatient bus driver, I ran inside and hugged my grandma and told her I was going to miss her today, too.
As my grandmother missed her grandfather that day eight years ago, I miss my grandma today. Three years ago, she and the Creator walked hand in hand back to where he knew her. Today, I also understand more, an eight year journey wondering where we are going. The answers become more and more dangerous as each day passes by. We have strayed too far from Mother Earth, and the effects of global warming are evident before our very eyes.
We once traveled Mother Earth with our feet clothed in garments of sacred animals, which rubbed the pollen off of once vast valleys of green plants, but now we sit higher from the ground in vehicles. We once respected the mysteries of the earth and sky and used it to cure and heal, but we now use it to create weapons of mass destruction. And we once spoke and lived the way of life the Creator gave to us, but now we speak the language and mimic the way of living of a people who want to sit further and further up in power above Mother Earth. Where are we going?
Brian Sloan is a member of the 24th generation of the Salt People Clan, with forefathers from the Black Streak People Clan, maternal elders of Near the Water Clan, and paternal elders of the Zia Pueblo and the White Corn People Clan. He is a single parent of two daughters of the Bitter Water People Clan. He is majoring in Accounting and attends Navajo Technical College in Crownpoint, NM. Sloan plans to have his own counseling practice on the reservation some day. “With my traditional upbringing and my military background, I will be utilizing traditional and military methods in rehabilitating troubled youth.”