April 28, 2019
I came back from my very short visit to the little house out in the trees with a light head—from the smoke of the special smoking tobacco that I had given to my friend as a present and a very heavy heart—from what I had to tell my friend and what I was afraid he would tell me.
Owl Man was now sitting in his hand-made, wood rocking chair and he had pulled a beautiful wool blanket over his chest and lap. He had stoked the small cast iron stove in the cabin but his pipe was out. I suspected he had finished the little bud I had given him when first he packed his pipe. The residual smoke in the little cabin and the three thousand feet gain in altitude gave me a feeling like I was at the top of the first hill of a roller coaster and I was in for a dizzying ride down to the bottom. We sat for a minute in silence and then Owl Man leaned forward and began to speak in a sincere, almost sorrowful voice that sounded as if he was reading a prayer, or was the result of a great meditation. Rather than trying to remember his words line by line. I’ll try to summarize what he had told me.
His people continued to be abused, defrauded and denigrated by the white people.
The white government continues to take away, year by year, more of the land they had originally designated for the tribes—when the great peace treaties were signed and the reservation boundaries were established—and give it to special white commercial interest groups, especially those groups involved in the timber, mining, and farming businesses. Even the Federal Government takes our land for national parks or other “public” interest ventures they deem important.
Our family structures have been falling apart for decades. Our young men don’t want to accept responsibility for their wives or children and domestic abuse has increased to epidemic levels.
The reservations are plagued by the increase of murders, drunkenness, drug abuse, and child abuse.
Our education system is totally dysfunctional.
Our people live in inadequate and dilapidated housing.
Our youth suicide rate is two and a half times your worse state’s rate.
Too many of our young men can’t find a job and our un-employment rate is double or triple the white peoples’ rate.
They are abandoning the Christian religion that was forced on them and have no interest in the principles and guidance that their elders had taught them before the Christian missionaries had come. They are morally and ethically “lost.”
And worse, they have no respect for their elders.
When he finished his telling of his Native America peoples’ troubles, he sat back in his rocker and just looked at his fingers which were hanging like useless appendages in his lap. His long silence hung his troubles in the air between us—like having a family’s dirty linens hung out on a clothes-line—before they were washed. I thought of the situation Owl Man had just described and then, trying to lighten up our conversation, said, ”My friend, that sounds just like life here in New Mexico.” Owl Man gave a little chuckle of agreement and then he said, “Every four years the great chiefs in Washington tell us that they really care about our welfare—and then they either do nothing to help us or pass laws which take away our sacred lands which we depend on for our livelihood. They gave us the right to vote almost a century ago but some of our tribes still don’t get voting machines when there is an election.
I gave Owl Man’s description of his peoples’ troubles a great deal of thought before I pulled my little flask out of my jacket pocket, opened the cap and offered it to Owl Man, which he politely refused, as I expected he would do. Then I took a long sip of the Kentucky nectar Hubris and I had carried up the mountain, wiped my lips and sat back in a state of thoughtful reverie. It was time for me to tell Owl Man my views about our Country’s problems even though he was one of the people who were last to be considered “citizens” but should have been considered our “first” citizens.
I started to tell him about the great divisions in our present society, the corruption of money in our politics, the inequity and disparity of income between men and women, the lack of appreciation and communication between management and labor, the growing and dangerous level of hatred of blacks and other ethnic minorities by whites, and the rise of the 1%’ers who not only control the great majority of wealth in America but also control both of our two main political parties. When I got to the point in my explanation where I had expected to define our current President in terms of his immoral character, I just broke down and said, “My old friend, I think the American people have lost their moral compass. They only believe in lust for power and privilege, avarice and greed!” I didn’t want to go on with such a terrible story of what our people had come to be, so, I just sat down and hung my head in desperation. After a few minutes of total silence, except for the snap, crackle and pop of burning pine in the small wood stove and the creak of Owl Man’s rocker, Owl Man cleared his throat and said, “My friend, we have the same problems, only yours are bigger than mine. Please come back when the warmer spring air makes the mountain flowers bloom and then, let’s try to find a solution to your problems and mine. Go in peace -and may all of our gods, yours and mine, bless you.”
The sun was about 45 degree from level with the horizon so I knew I had time to get us down the mountain, load up Hubris and get back to our little ranch in the valley just about dark. I un-wrapped the reins, mounted Hubris and with a very soft Hi Ho Hubris, Aawaay!- we were headed down the mountain and back to Corrales. I had a lot of serious thinking to do.
Copyright, April 28, 2019, Louis J. Christen