Friday, August 17, 2018

Bedeviled


Dropping into Cow Canyon from the north around 8 a.m. this morning caused me concern. With all the smoke in the air, I first thought something down canyon must be burning. Because I could barely make out the pink cliffs on the far side of the San Juan River, the situation reminded me of cruising through that same rocky rift and falling into a midwinter fog bank. The difference is that it was already 85 degrees outside and the smell of burning wood rushed in my open window. I rounded the corner of Twin Rocks Drive and saw that, albeit shrouded in haze, our businesses which are embraced by a red-rock alcove and topped by the towering Navajo Twins, was still intact.


Since the matching monoliths are both majestic and significant to the Navajo people, they are a constant reminder of the unique and always interesting culture and traditions we interact with every day. Since we were young men, the artists and craftspeople who sell their wares here have told us the stories that inspire their art. We learned of Changing Woman and her mate Johonaee (the Bearer of the Sun), the Hero Twins, Talking God, and Fire God. Early on we were introduced to Mai'i' the Coyote, Changing Bear Woman, and Water Creature. Through the generosity of The People, we discovered their creation stories. Because we believe the people and the story behind the art is significant, we have, naturally and enthusiastically, shared it with buyers and collectors visiting Twin Rocks Trading Post.

The hours Steve and I have spent sitting with Mary Holiday Black, all nine of her children and now their children, have helped us to know them on a family level. The same goes for the Johnsons, Rocks, Yazzies, Clys, Begays, Bitsinnies, and numerous others of our neighbors. They share their creativity, lives, and legends from the Navajo reservation. Through those interactions, Steve and I have been educated to their world and have gained a wide-ranging perspective on the unique character and beliefs of the individual artists.

Occasionally Steve and I have come under fire for "co-opting Navajo culture." Like the smoke from recent fires, these charges make it more difficult for me to get through the haze. The accusations aggravate me, because I feel we endeavor to respect and honor each individual who walks through our doors. I recognize, however, that everyone has the right to his or her opinion, and that when the fickle finger points in our direction, we need to do our best to understand why. It is as important to consider the thoughts of others and is as much our responsibility as it is theirs to grasp our actions.

To the casual observer, our position may seem opportunistic; we do make our living from the trading post and cafe. The truth is that both the traders and the artists depend upon each other for our livelihoods. While doing so, however, we keep an open mind and do what we can to give back. We promote the people, their art, and their culture, and show the necessary respect in the process. It is our hope that the people we represent and work with will grow and prosper right along with us. 

As time goes on, the smoke will clear and the ash settle. When it does, I hope our family will be viewed as individuals who did their best by those we associated with. We have studied the texts of the Navajo People and try to stay abreast of current affairs. We realize there were those who completely misinterpreted and/or mistreated the Dine, and we prefer not to be placed in that category. As I am laid to rest with an image of the Twin Rocks etched upon my monument, I hope it will be a peaceful slumber, with no guilt or malice to bedevil my spirit through eternity.