Saturday, March 3, 2012

Water and Power

The other day I was at Twin Rocks Cafe visiting with Tara, one of our Navajo servers. Tara is intelligent, and I like to discuss Native American issues with her. We often joke about how the “white folks” treat “us Navajos” so badly. As we talked, Tara’s cousin sister came by to discuss a matter of great importance, so I excused myself and went off to find something else to occupy my time. As I walked away, I heard the visitor ask, “Do you have water and power?”

These days, the answer to such questions is quite often “yes.” Although it seems impossible to conceive, when Twin Rocks Trading Post opened in 1989, many, if not most, of the people living on the Utah strip of the Navajo Reservation did not have running water or power to their homes. As a result, the local Navajo people frequently hauled water in 55 gallon drums.

Not 75 feet from the trading post is an artesian water well that flowed freely and openly when Craig, Barry and I were kids running barefoot along the sun-baked, goathead sticker infested, rock-strewn, dirt streets of Bluff, Utah. This particular well had a large ninety degree metal elbow protruding about 12 inches off the ground which briskly and perpetually poured out the most deliciously cool, clear water imaginable. After any climbing, running, dirt clod throwing or exploring expedition, we always found ourselves at the well, gulping what seemed like gallons of water.

In those days Navajo people from this area drove their pneumatic tired buckboard wagons or old pick up trucks into Bluff to fill barrels with the delicious water. The loads were then transported home to provide for families and livestock.

When the trading post was established, this tradition was still very much alive. Almost every day there were Navajo men and women in Ford, Chevy and Dodge trucks lined up to obtain their weekly supply of water. As soon as one vehicle would leave, another would replace it, in what seemed like a never-ending cycle of re-hydration. By that time, however, the well had been contained. Instead of the metal elbow, a faucet had been installed and the precious water was no longer allowed to run freely.

Back then, one of my favorite pastimes was meandering out to talk with the Navajo people who had come to the well. I enjoyed seeing the old turquoise jewelry they wore; cluster bracelets, concho belts, necklaces and brooches of a quality not often seen today. To me, these individuals were living symbols of a rapidly changing world. In most places in the United States, they would have been considered obsolete, but not Bluff. Here they were accepted as part of the mainstream, an every day experience.

Over the intervening years, infrastructure has come to the Reservation, and it is more common for Navajo people to have both water and electricity to their homes. While there are times I long for the old days when the water flowed freely from the well and Navajo people came in their Levis, western shirts, velveteen blouses, silk skirts and silver jewelry to secure water. I am aware my nostalgia may be misplaced, and that I, like those older Navajo people, I may be at risk of becoming an anachronism.

With warm regards,
Steve, Barry and The Team


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