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Personal Testimonies by Yagniza:

Introduction   Career_Day   Contemporary_Native_American_Issues    Cultural_Racism   My_Journey    The_Amphitheater   The_Designer   The_Sacred_Trust   Notes_on_Navajo History   Racism_Institute    Spanish_Poetry   El_Cuartocentenario   El_Inca_ Garcilaso_de_la_Vega    The_Best_Is_Yet_To_Come


The Sacred Trust is part of “Grounded in Faith” published in White Shell Water Place, Native American Reflections on the 400th Anniversary of the Founding of Santa Fe, by:  F. Richard Sanchez  (Author, Editor)

White Shell Water Place is an anthology, a companion to the Santa Fe 400th Anniversary Commemoration publication, All Trails Lead to Santa Fe, which affords Native American authors the opportunity to unreservedly express their ideas, opinions and perspectives on the historical and cultural aspects of Santa Fe using their own voice and preferred writing styles that are not necessarily in accord with western academic and writing conventions. One cannot truly contemplate the history and culture of Santa Fe without the voices of the Native Americans--the original inhabitants of Po'oge, ''White Shell Water Place.'' Indeed, much of Santa Fe's story is conveyed from a western colonial perspective, which, until fairly recently, has predominantly relegated Native Americans to the fringes. However, over the last thirty years colonial narratives regarding Native American history and culture have been, and continue to be, disputed and amended as the pursuit of academic, intellectual and cultural self determination gains momentum in respective Native American tribal and academic communities. The Santa Fe 400th Anniversary Commemoration has created an opportunity for the Native American voice to be heard. This anthology is a ceremony of Native voices, a gathering of Native people offering scholarly dialogue, personal points of view, opinions, and stories regarding the pre and post historical and cultural foundations of Santa Fe.

Page Contents:

22526 Smokey Hill Road | Supper | The Turquoise Room Expanded | The Navajo Carpenter, Nalwood | Indian Art | Fusion | Little Daddy | The Homecoming | The Foreman | Coyote | The Sangre de Cristo's

For The University of Denver



Our home, made from adobe with the dirt from our yard, looked smaller to me, as if it was settling back into the Earth, reclaimed. With our help, Daddy made it. We mixed the dirt together with water and straw, sloshing around in it, barefoot, breaking up the dirt, feeling the wet mud squish between our toes. The chocolate batter was then poured in wooden, rectangular frames, holding four, adobe bricks at a time, and left for the sun to do its job. By the next week, the adobes could be stacked under a tarp, in the empty lot, standing on their sides, eight high. Each one was different, the straw and the dry, cracked dirt mingling together, as they chose.

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While we worked outside, Moma made the usual beans with chicos, chile, and tortillas. She sorted the pintos to remove any small rocks and 'frijoles viejos,' old, shriveled beans, then rinsed the pintos in cold water, added chicos, and cooked them all day, with a little bacon, in a mica clay, Picuris pot. At the end of the day, she made gravy from flour, bacon fat, and bean juice for thickening the beans, in a small, black, cast iron frying pan; sometimes flames jumped out of the pan as she poured in the bean broth. To roast the green chile, each piece was turned on the grill to brown all sides, popping them with a sizzling swat if they started to swell so they wouldn't cook unevenly, then steamed in a hot, wet tee towel. After peeling the toasted skin away and jerking the stem off the tops, with the small seeds, the 'semillas,' still clinging, Moma squished the soft strips together with mashed garlic.

For tortillas, she mixed the dough by heart in a ceramic bowl with blue Navajo crosses encircling the rim, scooping flour in by the handful, sifting in baking powder and salt, spooning in lard by the fingerful, and adding warm water with Pet milk to make them soft. She formed small balls of dough, patting them with her fingertips as she lined them up next to the rolling board, then dusting the board with flour so the dough wouldn't stick, she rolled them out into perfect circles. She flipped them really fast between her hands to stretch the dough, and threw them on the grill; they were thick and soft, and we buttered them with melted lard.

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Daddy added on to the house as money was available. It started off as a single, turquoise room, with my crib next to the wood stove. Later, a pink sleeping room, a kitchen with bright yellow cabinets, a pale violet master bedroom, and a green bathroom with indoor plumbing, were added; no more using the outhouse or heating water by the bucket and filling up the wash tub for a bath. Still much later, a coral dining room that was never used, and an ivory living room for the TV and stereo were made, and the outside was stuccoed in gold. Daddy put in all hard wood floors with two inch planking, leveled and blind nailed, which he sanded, stained, filled, varnished, and buffed with oil. He used vigas, with uneven knots creating 'eyes,' for the ceilings, with small, narrow slats of grainy, lacquered wood between them.

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Most of our furniture was handcarved by Daddy, with a radiant sun on each piece, warming the wood. He refused to ever use nails. As he drew his design, using the curve of his pinkie's knuckle as a guide, he knew which gouges he would use. Cutting from the center out, the sun was revealed, each ray separated with the precise cutting and leaning on the v-parting tool, then tapered with a file for sinuous curves. With a veiner, small, concave cuts were made around the sun, as if its light had escaped, and dappled the wood. He 'eyed' his work frequently, sawdust filling his work room.

He raised and sanded the grain on each piece, until it was smooth to his touch, gently dusting off the surface of the wood. Flowing the varnish on across the grain, he would tap his bristled brush on the inside of the varnish can, then glide it with the grain. He used a pickstick to lift up stray lint or dust, a cotton swab rolled in cooled varnish and rosin, then molded to a point like the tip of a sharpened lead pencil. After the cool air dried the varnish, he smoothed it with fine sandpaper, and shined the wood with a paste of powdered pumice and machine oil, then for a higher gloss, with rottenstone and oil. Daddy's style changed over time and he told me that he didn't want to use shellac, varnish, or lacquer anymore, he wanted to leave the wood in its natural, roughhewn state. I imagined polishing his furniture with boiled linseed oil and gum turpentine, then adding a coat of beeswax, making it glisten.

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The picture of a lone Navajo man, driving a wagon along an empty road near the Chuska Mountains, hung in the living room, tying Daddy to his home. We knew so little of his past, or his family, that each bit loomed large. I wanted to capture it, and hold it tight, and close. Christina, dressed Navajo style, in midnight blue velveteen, with a silver, squash blossom necklace, sat in front of a hogan, holding a lamb, in a tempera painting done by Daddy's friend. Next to her, Linda, in the colors of Indian paintbrush to match her auburn hair, a woven sash around her waist, and an 'eye-dazzler' blanket draped across her shoulder, stood framed against the sandstone cliffs of Arizona.

A coarse, plain, red, grey, black, and white striped Navajo blanket, so tightly woven that it deflected rain, lay on the edge of a chair. Moma and Daddy's black Santa Clara wedding vase, a San Felipe awanyu pot, and a geometrical Jicarilla Apache pot stood on a voluted shelf.

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Daddy's Navajo roots mingled comfortably here with Moma's northern New Mexico, Spanish, Catholic traditions. St. Anthony wearing a scapular, the baby Jesus in an ivory, satin, embroidered dress that Moma made, and religious candles stood on the mantle. A mosaic crucifix hung on the door. A braided, rag rug, from the scraps of our childhood dresses, lay on the floor. Moma sewed those dresses on her Singer, surrounded by the dusty haze from the cotton fabric, a light film on her and the furniture, as she embellished each dress with scalloped hems and bell-shaped sleeves, bric-brac, eyelet lace, or pearl heart-shaped buttons. A shiny, copper lamp, that I had polished with toothpaste after Moma bought it, tarnished, at a flea market, gave a soft glow to the living room. The Sacred Heart quietly watched over the dining room.

Outside, the porches weathered, wooden posts, and carved corbels, sagged. Moma's favorite blue morning glories lay underground, waiting for Spring.

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We used to stand at the mailbox, waiting for Daddy to come home from work. When we saw him, in his sharply creased khakis, we'd yell, "Little Daddy, Little Daddy." While he soaked his feet in a pan of hot water, I hung on the edge of his chair, waiting to dry them, so I could feel his tough, black nails. His feet had gotten frostbitten when he was eight, out herding sheep, on horseback. I traced the tattoos he got in the Army, an eagle, and an Indian chief in full war regalia with Daddy's name underneath, and he traced my blue veins that sat on top of my skin, and told me the 'Y' was for Yazzie, because we were Yazzie's we had a 'Y.' To assure a quick mind, his ears had been pierced at birth with a sharp stone, and the long, creased lines lay flat.

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When I was nine we got a used yellow Pontiac and Daddy could take us to see his Father on the Navajo Reservation. We had never been past Albuquerque so we were excited. We would camp along the way. It would be a chance for Daddy to go home, to see his Aunt that had raised him.

He taught us to say hello, 'yataheh.'

We went in August, leaving Santa Fe early in the morning. We drove along the Rio Grande, the Blue Mother River that fed the crops of the Pueblo Peoples - the Cochiti, the Santo Domingo, the San Felipe, the Santa Ana, the Sandia and the Isleta. The laughter of the Koshares could be heard as we journeyed to our land, their blackened faces peering at us, teasing and joking, scaring us, the beat of cottonwood drums sounding every time we drove onto native land, marked by highway signs.

As we drove past Acoma, I imagined the eagle dancers soaring off the White Rock Mesa, their full, grey and white feathered wings keeping them aloft, as they gently rode on the wind flying between the Pueblo and Enchanted Mesa, their golden beaks glistening in the late afternoon sun, their shrill cries drifting on the wind. Daddy said it is 365 feet above the dusty sage strewn land and if you think of it as a year you can remember the height. Their thin-walled pottery is white with black geometrical designs or polychrome, white, black and clay colored. My favorite was the Storyteller with all the children sitting on her lap. These Sky City Ako People were a threat to the Conquistadores so the Governor of Santa Fe, Juan de Onate, sent a force demanding tribute, only to be attacked by the People of the White Rock. He retaliated. It was said that captured women were sentenced to hard labor, men were imprisoned with a foot lopped off to prevent them from running away, and the children were given to the Church or to the Spanish. Their retreat seemed impenetrable today.

In Grants, Daddy got a speeding ticket. We had to go to kangaroo court. Even though we knew that we were coming close to our demarcated land, we were scared. He paid them what they asked and we went on.

Within the confines of the Four Sacred Mountains, we were safe, in Daddy's cradle of origin. These Mountains are Holy Places. One's spirit can travel beyond each Mountain and it is there that one can be healed. Mount Blanca, decorated with white shell, covered with a sheet of daylight, is the eastern boundary of Navajo land, 'Dinetah.' Mount Taylor, decorated with turquoise, covered with blue sky, is the southern boundary. The San Francisco Peaks, decorated with haliotis shell, covered with a yellow cloud, are the western boundary. Mount Hesperus, decorated with cannel coal, covered in darkness, is the northern boundary.

As we drove deep into Dinetah, I fell asleep. I dreamed that Daddy held my hand, and took me to the foot of Mount Taylor. He walked with me a short distance and then said, "This is as far as I can go with you Holly." I walked further up the mountain alone. I knew I could make it to the summit because of all the running I did. Suddenly, I was at the top, transported, without feeling any passage of time, space or effort. I was just there.

A turquoise hogan stood before me. Inside were two wrinkled, aged women, dressed Navajo style, a loom stood off to the side. They welcomed me in, and I stood next to the fire simmering in the center, Navajo tea brewing. I imagined them to be Spider Woman and Changing Woman. I said, "I'm looking for an altar, a Holy Book buried underneath there, to guide me." Without speaking, they told me, "We have no book, we do not write. We have no altar." A fire simmered in the center of the hogan, Navajo tea brewing in a kettle.

Spider Woman said, "I will give you a gift, instead, the gift of silence." I saw in front of me a pond. A fish swam effortlessly before me in the clear, greenish water. I heard its fins. I saw a small red ant crawling along on a green leaf. I heard it walking. The forest I was sitting in was alive with sound. "You don't have to speak to fill the silence, Holly. It's already full. You can learn from it."

I felt myself waking up, but Changing Woman, said as I was drifting away, "Here is a ring for you, Holly." It was silver with coral, stamped with an ant, a spider and a cockroach. I heard from the other World, "Each Mountain has a lesson for you, Holly. You will visit each one when it is time. You were born Navajo, no one can take it away. It is not something you learn, or acquire, it is something you just are."

A rodeo and dances were being held at the Gallup InterTribal Ceremonial. We watched the rodeo from a hillside with many other Navajos and we ate mutton stew and fry bread. In the evening, under distant, twinkling stars, we watched the tribal dances. Most of the women wore broom skirts and velveteen blouses with old nickels or dimes sewn all over the front and down their sleeves. Some had the old brass or aluminum tokens used by the trading posts. Their finery included turquoise and silver necklaces, earrings, concho belts and bracelets. Their hair was pulled back and tied with yarn. The men sat on their haunches, dressed in velveteen or flannel shirts, their long hair tied back with bandannas across their forehead.

We camped at Window Rock. We climbed to the Window in the Rock, worn through by the wind and rain, and it was very scary sliding down. It was like winter sledding, except we were out of control. We hit the bumps in the sandstone as we slid down, speeding like rockets, and we flew through the air, to land again against the sandstone, careening downward. That night, Jackie slept on the picnic table and kept the fire going all night. Linda and I slept in the trunk of our car. We got to see the Tribal Council building and the government offices that Daddy painted when he was eighteen. Daddy said someday I could be a Council Member like Annie Wauneka. We went to see the educational displays in the Tribal fairground building and saw ourselves on TV. We drove on to St. Michael's where Moma had the priest bless our car, then to Fort Defiance, then to Ganado. It was caterpillar season, and there were thousands of them on the roads. When we honked the car, they would freeze and lift the front end of their bodies momentarily. I was glad when we left them behind. I was afraid to get out of the car and step on them.

When we got to Daddy's Aunt's home, in Round Rock, no one was there. The hogan was empty. It had been made from juniper, mud and rock. Just as we had built our home from the soil in our yard, her hogan was made from the resources at hand. Six strong juniper poles formed the outer circle, filled in with juniper logs, topped with a juniper log roof, the logs crisscrossed, interwoven, covered with juniper bark, wood chips and mud. The dry caked mud on the roof and the mud filling the cracks between the posts matched the dry Earth. The wooden door faced east so she could come out to greet Dawn Boy each day.

At first the Navajos had no homes; they lived out in the open. It was decided by a Council that they needed a dwelling within which to hold their sacred rites, so a hogan was made in the east for the God of the sunrise and a hogan in the west for the God of the sunset. They were consecrated in prayer and song with holy corn pollen.

We made ourselves at home under the lean-to. Using the juniper from the Chuska Mountains, four strong poles with v-shaped tops had been dug into the Earth, their bark stripped. Smaller poles lay across them forming a roof, with boughs of fresh juniper lain across the roof. More poles extended outward from the sides holding more boughs in place for shade. An empty loom was at one end of the lean-to. The juniper boughs smelled fresh and we could see the Milky Way. Later that evening we saw lanterns coming across the field and it was her. Without a sound, she gently shook Daddy's hand. They spoke softly. A few minutes later, Daddy turned and walked away, over to our car. He looked out over the dark Valley and kicked the left front tire. Since we couldn't speak Navajo we didn't know what was wrong. We found out later his Father had died a month or so earlier.

Daddy had told us before it wasn't dignified to cry over death, that when he died he wanted us to be still and silent, to accept that he had lived his life, that there was no reason to be sad. That night he sat still and silent, his face worn and tired in the lantern light.

His Aunt made coffee on an oil drum stove in the middle of the hogan, Navajo tea, mutton stew and fry bread. We sat on sheepskins on the floor while she cooked. She was tiny. Later we slept in the lean-to. I imagined sitting at the foot of the sun, a brilliant temple, God, an atom, present, telling me I was a miracle, magical, unique and unrepeatable. I asked, "Why are you only an atom?" He replied, "It's all I need to sustain myself; the rest I gave to Man."

In the morning, I stared up at the forest green boughs, berries still clinging to the branches, the sky pale yellow in the northeast, fuchsia in the south.

We left after breakfast and never went back.

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I remember the Summer day Daddy came home for lunch, sat down on a chair in the kitchen, and said to Moma, "I didn't get the promotion, Mr. Smith did." Daddy's weathered face reminded me of a lake bed, dried up, the caked mud cracked in a million pieces. I wanted time to go in reverse, for the decision to be different, to cry out, "It isn't fair. You put the star at the very top of the Christmas tree every year. Mr. Barnes would never even climb up there. It wouldn't even be important to him." I wanted to hug Daddy but the distance was too great. The cataclysm loomed in front of me and I couldn't cross.

With venom and disgust, Moma stared right at Daddy, then turned away, as if it was his fault. It was never brought up again.

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On our way to Moma's home in Coyote, we stopped at Echo Canyon for a picnic. The sandstone rocks rose out of the ground, straight up from the sagebrush and juniper. Tall, erect pine trees grew right up against the rocks and sometimes right out of them. In the bowl of the Canyon, streaks of red paint cascaded down the chipped wind shorn sandstone, waterfalls frozen in place. The painter had boldly stroked against the rock, streaking thickly here, timidly there, fine trickles of paint against the sheer stone. We called out our names and they reverberated throughout the Canyon.

I climbed and sat on the rocks, looking out over the Rio Chama Valley, the cholla cactus (vegas de coyote), candles of the coyote, and sagebrush marching across the floor. Pinons, renowned for their fragrant firewood, dotted the landscape, their nuts long squirreled away by the wood rats. Their forest green needles contrasted against the red of their bark. The Utah juniper's branches drooped so low that birds could fly by and grab its blue berries. Vistas were carved out by openings in the black jack ponderosa pines. Their long needles serving as kindling for fire, their seeds eaten by the Ancient Ones, or made into bread.

The rocks loomed high above the Valley, Viking ships traveling to a new world, sailing uncharted seas, their masts etched in stone, furled in the eroded stone, marked by wind, rain and snow, frost cracking the stone, testing the wood, the solid waves undulating over and across the ship's boughs, clouds hustling past the ships on the grey cloudy day. In other parts of the sandstone, a carpenter had gouged out the wood, the waves of the sea sequentially rolling in and out, capped by the froth.

On the way, the Chama River glistened blue back in the late afternoon. It flowed gently in the autumn afternoon past golden groves of cottonwood and yellow snakeweed. Here and there clusters of logs formed small dams, creating a small flurry as the River shifted its course. A six foot rock fireplace, its rectangular oven opening to a chimney, stood deserted along the River. We drove further into the Forest. The pinons and junipers were replaced by pines and gambel oak, then by Douglas firs and aspens. The road wound higher and higher. At last we came to a clearing and stopped.

Moma's usual beans with chicos were cooking on her Aunt's wood stove. Green chile was being roasted as flies swarmed around the kitchen. Even though there was a screen door it was impossible to keep them out. We swatted at them and then just ignored them. I peeled chile with my cousin. We didn't speak to each other, only smiled. She learned English at the local school but at home everyone spoke Spanish and somehow it didn't seem right to speak anything else, so I was quiet. I was welcome and it was enough to just be there. After we ate, we went to another home and there they were preparing hamburger and fry potatoes, another family special. I helped dice the potatoes. They made coffee with the rain water they caught on their roofs which was then stored in wood barrels and boiled for drinking.

That night they turned on kerosene lamps and we ate supper together.

I never learned these people's names.

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We chased each other in a game of freeze tag, deep in the pine, aspen clad Sangre's, dusk upon us, hiding behind the thick circumference of the tall, ponderosa pines, the layered bark of the trees like tributaries of the Pecos and Rio Grande, merging into each other, flumes holding needles, their descent not yet complete, transparent bees and other insects, their insides sucked out, caught in spider webs, still clinging to the bark, colonies of lichen and moss carpeting the damp areas, a velvet pall, and beneath the shallow, top layer of the forest floor, its debris lay decomposing, commingling, unrecognizable. The sound of our feet, crackling on the dry leaves and pine needles, reverberated throughout the forest, the decibel range magnified as the sound spread, bouncing between pines, threatening to reveal our hiding places.

Then, towering above us, stood Daddy and Moma, transformed, into Trees of the uppermost, canopy layer. Their needles, abundant and full, lush and deep green, filled each twig and branch, with long shoots. We watched, frozen in place, comical, grotesque statues, as ivy begin to slither up Daddy's trunk, grafting itself to his bark, feeding off of him. Eerie and haunting moss hung from Moma's branches, entangled with her branches, cutting off her circulation. Their needles begin to yellow, the area behind each twig barren, and their seedless cones fell to the forest floor. Their leading shoots died back, their growth stunted. Spores settled on their branches. Bit by bit, the Trees surrendered, sealing off rotten branches, relinquishing damaged heartwood. The weight of the falling branches tore away strips of bark, creating holes where pools of water could collect, giving fungi a perfect place of attack, to canker their insides. The sound of the cracking wood echoed through the forest, soughing, moaning, a sorrowful, grief-stricken dirge. Stag beetle larva fed off their disintegrating wood; lice fed off the fungi.

We sensed the coming collapse of the Trees, but didn't know how to protect them, how to treat their exposed wounds, how to make them resistant to the blights preying on them, how to save them. The deterioration and the destruction continued, unabated, in front of us, as we stood paralyzed, trapped in our game. Each fallen needle, cone, twig, and branch left a track, on the forest floor, of the diseases killing the Trees, a web of their fragile lives, a trail for the tracker.

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