Reflections on Wearing the Manta
When I wear Hopi dress
do I take on thousands of
years of spiritual tradition
over 500 years of
Do I become Hopi?
Is Hopi a state of mind
or solely a
Twenty years ago, I lived in Austin Texas and was the director of the Austin Women’s Peace House. That year, 1992, was observed as the Quincentenary, 500th year anniversary, of the “discovery” of the “Americas” by the Spanish explorer, Christopher Columbus. Even though I had little personal experience with Native Americans at that time, as a black woman, I shared a disdain for the observance of October 12th as a national holiday. So, I was excited when I learned that Indigenous nations and peoples throughout North, Central, and South America organized the Coalition of Reconciliation to present their historical and cultural perspective of the devastating effects on their lands and cultures that resulted from the colonialism that Columbus’ discovery initiated and to share their continuing living cultures. Because black people were brought to this country as slaves, we had a story to tell too. I not only joined the Coalition but also created the Cultural Reconciliation Project.
In an editorial about the project I wrote, “Now is the time for us to educate ourselves about the many Indian nations, to learn of their struggles, to benefit from their relationship to the earth and their traditions. Many of us (black people) will never have the opportunity to go to Africa and to experience those still holding on to their ancient traditions. Yet, here in the U.S. we can benefit greatly from learning of Native American traditions, culture, and practices.”
I never imagined then that I would be fortunate enough to live in a Native American nation and receive the benefits I wrote about. But, I am now entering my third year here in the Center of the Universe – the Hopi Nation. Every day I am grateful for being able to live and work in this spacious, spiritual, beautiful land. According to the Hopi Traditions, many of the other indigenous nations are descendants of the travels made by the ancient Hopi peoples. To this day, the Hopi continue to practice their traditional ceremonies and dances which allow their corn and other vegetables to grow in the desert and their children to speak their language.
Two weeks ago we attended the Harvest Festival at First Mesa. It is one of the few events opened to non-Hopi in which we are allowed to take photographs. So, today I observe, what the Latinos call this day, Dia de la Raza – the day of the peoples of many cultures – by sharing a little of the wealth of the Hopi culture.
This Buddhist tale is a Jataka Tale, a story of one of Shayamuni Buddha’s earlier lives. It is a touching story of compassion and kindness.
Click on the link below to hear the story.
Since today is National Voter Registration Day, I’m sharing my voting story. It has been revised and shortened for a presentation I will be making as part of Native Vote Action week for Elementary students. PLEASE REGISTER TO VOTE AND VOTE. No one person is perfect, but if we do not contribute our vote to those who most closely represent our interests we really can’t complain if those who don’t at all care about our interests in up in the decision making positions.
Grandmama’s Dream – Valiant Ones Transform Events – VOTE!
Once, it is said, in a time when change arose unexpectedly like a rainbow on a sunny day, a storyteller named Windsong made her Saha’s dream come true. This is her story.
Windsong was also a college professor. She worked at a large university in Pennsylvania. But every year at spring break, Windsong returned home to First Mesa to visit her Grandmama. Since she was a very little girl Windsong helped her Saha bake. Windsong peeled and cut fruit while Grandmama’s strong hands kneaded dough.
Saha often said, “Life is like a pie. You have to take time to gather all of the right ingredients. The people you choose to be with, the actions you choose to do must be mixed with love and care to bake a good life.”
This visit Windsong was going to talk to Grandmama’s students about the history of voting and why it was important for Hopi people as well as all Americans to vote.
Grandmama said, “So, how are you going to make voting interesting for my students?”
Windsong was quiet for a few seconds, smiled, and said, “I’ll approach it like you always do Saha, like I’m baking a pie. I’ll show them that to make America work and to make Hopiland work,we have to combine all of the ingredients in the right balance. The ingredients for voting are the right to vote, the ability to vote – to be able to read and write, and to be registered, to have good people to vote for, and then to vote. Right?”
Her Saha said, “Right.” And stretched out the dough to prepare for her pie.
Windsong began by asking the students why do you think it is important for adults to vote? Voting is important because it is how people select how they want to live in the country. When people vote they choose people who make laws that effect water, taxes, driving, travel, health care, education, and jobs.
This country celebrates the Fourth of July as the date it declared its freedom from rule by England in 1776. But, even though the Declaration of Independence said all men are created equal, the U.S. government was not set up to allow all men – (women weren’t even mentioned) – to vote or to participate in government. Every group of people in this country, except wealthy white men who owned property, have had to fight for the right to vote.
Windsong ended her presentation by saying, “The U.S. is a work in progress like every country. What is important to remember is that ideals and visions only succeed if people continue the hard work that keeps those ideal visions alive. We must always remember that our ancient traditions teach that all life is sacred, and only through the daily practice of kindness, patience, generosity, humility, and courage can any government or people flourish.”
The next morning Windsong woke up and found Grandmama sitting at the table writing quickly. When she finished she said.
“I had a very strange dream last night. I was sitting at a round table with a sword in the middle. The sword changed into a pen and paper. Then I was standing at the head of a long table on top of First Mesa beating a drum, chanting, ‘Valiant ones transform events, valiant ones transform events, valiant ones transform events.’ You appeared and stood next to me and began chanting with me. Then one at a time other people appeared, stood around the table, and joined in the chant. Asian-Americans, Latinos, Arab-Americans, black people, white people, and Native Americans. We stood around the table chanting, ‘Valiant ones transform events, valiant ones transform events, valiant ones transform events.’ Then the Corn Princess appeared carrying a tri-colored corn cob, red, white, and blue. She walked up to each of us and touched us on top of our heads with the corn cob. We became beams of light bursting over the mesa in all directions and a double rainbow appeared over the mesa.Then I woke up.”
Windsong said, “That’s a wonderful dream Grandmama, and I have a friend named Penny Cho, she does traditional Japanese dances and interprets dreams.”
Windsong called Penny and told her about the dream. Penny said, “Let me think about it a few minutes and I’ll call you back.”
Penny called back and said, “The first letters of the phrase Valiant Ones Transform Events spells VOTE. I think the dream is about organizing all of the different groups of people in the U.S. to come together and register all the diverse people to vote. Your Grandmama’s dream was about empowering the USA to become a true rainbow nation with all of the diverse races and cultures organize to vote and make this country a better place for all of its people.”
And so it came to be, that Windsong and Penny found all of the people Grandmama dreamed about and they began to organize their communities.
Aisha and Jamal Hafiz were Arab-Americans and organized their communities. Socorro and Manual Hernandez organized Latino communities. Adam Stewart was a paraplegic and organized the differently abled community. Javon Taylor, a black football player and Francine Bordeaux organized black communities. Lolana Kaikala, from Hawaii, organized all of the people in the islands who can vote. Hannah Zubinsky organized women. Amita Jaya organized the East Indian community. Adrian Hughes, coordinated Native American voter registration drives.
That year more women, diverse people, and more Native Americans than in history voted. Each year more and more positive political change happened from the seeds of Grandmama’s dream. More women and people of color were elected to state and national offices and governments reflecting the many colors and cultures living in this nation.
Our environment improved with a flourishing of alternative energy and conservation of natural resources and habitats. The economy was stronger than ever in our history with poverty on a steep decline. Our health care system developed into a wellness promotion system available to all citizens, and prisons closed for lack of inmates. The Defense Department became the Peace Department and assisted our citizens and people around the world experiencing natural disasters, mediated peace negotiations, and coordinated refugee relocations. Finally, our country took the lead in nuclear arms reduction and enforcing the pursuit and prosecution of illegal arms sales.
On the tenth anniversary of Grandmama’s dream, all of the organizers finally met on First Mesa. Windsong’s Saha, beamed seeing the manifestation of her dream. Once again, she had combined a variety of ingredients and spices mixed with patience and care to bake the perfect American pie.
In July the family moved from Minneapolis to Duluth. The new house had two stories and an attic where Denise and her sisters slept. The house was attached to other houses that looked the same. Denise settled into her new home and wondered where she would go to school. She hoped it wouldn’t be the one where they went to church. Sacred Heart was all dark brick and concrete. The family that lived next door, the Clark’s, knew about a nicer school. Mrs. Clark said she could drive Denise and her daughter, Judy, to school so they could start together and not feel lonely because they didn’t know anyone. Denise was so happy. She and Judy ran through the house singing “We’re going to school together.”
The school was spacious with a large playground filled with swings, slides, monkey-bars, and a merry-go-round, just like her kindergarten school. Denise felt at home immediately. She liked the large, brightly lit hallways with students’ art work hanging on the walls. The teacher let Denise and Judy sit next to each other. At recess the girls began to make friends with other children who had lived in Duluth all of their lives.
At the end of the first week, Denise said, “Mama, I love this school.”
Her mother stopped washing dishes and turned around. Narrow brown eyes smiled gently, “Denise, I’m glad you like your school, but you know Daddy and Judy’s dad are still in the Air Force. When they get transferred you will have to leave your school.”
“Well, maybe they won’t get transferred ’til I’m in sixth grade and can graduate.”
Every day at school was an adventure for Denise. At recess she ran through leaves, swung on the swings, and played games with her classmates. She liked learning to read.
The first PTA meeting was held in October and everyone was given a book of raffle tickets to sell. The prize was a large toy fire truck. Her mother bought a whole book and told Denise to put her name on all of the tickets. The raffle was held at the end of the boring meeting Denise and Judy sat through. They weren’t paying attention until they heard the words,
“The winner is Denise Walker.” Denise laughed as people applauded. Denise walked up to the front of the room.
The principal said, “Congratulations.”
She handed Denise the large, metal toy fire truck and placed a plastic fire chief’s hat on her head. Someone said, “Give me a big smile,” and the camera flashed in her eyes. When she saw the photo in the school paper, Denise thought she looked silly, her broad smile showed a large gap of two missing front teeth. The fire hat sat on top of the scarf tied under her chin. But, Mama was proud of the photo and put it in the scrapbook.
One day, before Christmas, Mama called Denise to her bedroom. She looked in the mirror as her long, polished fingers arranged her short, curly coffee-colored hair around her earth brown face. Then she turned and sat on the bed and patted it next to her, “Come and sit down, sweetie.”
Slowly, Denise walked toward Mama, looking at the colors in the throw rug. She knew Mama had bad news, but she couldn’t think of anything she had done wrong. She sat on the edge of the bed near her mother.
“Denise, Judy’s dad’s been transferred. They will be moving during Christmas break, so you’ll to have to go to Sacred Heart in January.”
“But, Mama why can’t you take me to my school?”
“I can’t drive and the bus doesn’t go there.”
“Why can’t Daddy take me to school?”
“Because he would have to leave too early to get to the base and wouldn’t be able to pick you up. There’s nothing we can do.”
Tears welled in Denise’s eyes as she looked away from her mother.
“Mama, I love this school and have friends. I hate Sacred Heart, it’s ugly. It’s just not fair.”
She jumped up from the bed and ran upstairs to the attic.
Tears rolled down her face as she walked to the arched window and looked to the street below. What if I just ran and jumped through the window, she thought. Leaning close to the ledge, she looked down to the sidewalk. Maybe if I jumped the wind would pick me up and I could learn to fly. I could fly to my school. The thought of flying brought a smile to her face as she wiped away her tears.
The last week of school before Christmas vacation arrived too quickly for Denise. Every morning she sat outside waiting for Judy and her mother to drive her to school. But, on their last Thursday tears filled her eyes as she sat on the porch waiting. Mrs. Clark had told Denise she’d might not take Judy to school on Thursday because she had so much packing to do. But, Denise hadn’t told her mother, in the hope that Mrs. Clark would get the work done in time to take them to school.
Now, Denise knew she wasn’t going and she couldn’t stop the tears. She knew she would never love any other school as much as this one. She hated the Air Force. Why didn’t their daddies have jobs like other kids so they wouldn’t have to move all of the time? Life just wasn’t fair. Tears streamed down her face as she thought about the school. She didn’t see the dirty snow and grey skies. She didn’t feel anything, not the passage of time, not the freezing cold. She didn’t hear Mama open the front door.
“Denise, Denise, come on inside. Mrs. Clark just called, she can’t make it today.” Even Mama’s arms wrapped around her, lifting her up, and carrying her into the house did not stop her tears. Denise had never felt this badly before. Everything seemed dark and she couldn’t find any reason to smile.
The porch disappeared
The snow melted.
The cold thawed.
she saw only dark
burdened with frozen
lakes of tears.
is not my soliloquy
it is another’s
This African folktale of love, loss, courage, and resurrection is one of my favorite. Enjoy.
Just click onto the link below.
This is the first story in the series I began two weeks ago with the poetic story of my birth. This is a story I have told to children in schools. Your children may enjoy this story too.
The fun days of summer were coming to an end but Denise was not sad. Sure, she would miss the afternoon concerts at Lake Superior with Mama and wouldn’t be able to spend the night with Mama’s friend, Mary. Denise did enjoy spending time alone with a grown lady eating Chinese food, and sleeping in her big bed. But, beginning kindergarten was even more exciting and special. She was away from her sisters, Sherri and Lisa’s arguments and baby Boo-Boo’s crying. But, she was home in the afternoon to watch the Howdy Doody Show and Popeye.
When they first moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota from Mobile, Alabama, Denise wanted to play in the school’s large playground with swings, slides, and merry-go-round. But, Mama told her the playground was just for school children. Now, she was able to play there. Every morning Mama walked her to the school, came back at noon, and they walked back home.
One mornng, Mama left Denise at the entrance of the school as she went to “get her hair done.” As Denise walked through the long, dark hall, she saw older boys and girls but not any of her classmates. When she opened her classroom door and didn’t see any one, not even Sister Marie Therese, she thought, Mama must have brought me to school early. She hung up her coat and looked around the large, open classroom. Each corner of the room was a special area, one for reading books, one for coloring books, one for arts and crafts, and one for games. The middle of the room was filled with round tables and chairs and against the back wall sat a piano.
Denise headed straight to the reading area. Even though, she couldn’t read many words, Denise loved books. As long as she could remember, Mama read books to Denise and her sisters. She taught Denise the alphabet so she was ready to learn to read when she began kindergarten. Sitting on a pillow, Denise lost herself in the colorful worlds of the picture books. She stretched out on the floor and slowly looked through all of the books she had wanted to read but not been able to before. After awhile she realized she was tired of reading and looked around the room. Still no one had come in the classroom. This is strange, Denise thought and wondered where everyone was.
Coloring books called out to her as she looked around the room for something new to do. She found a jungle coloring book filled with pages of animals and plants. The page she chose to color was a picture of a lion, elephant, trees, and flowers. She colored as carefully as she could. All of the colors stayed within the lines. When she finished coloring she felt very proud of her work and wanted to show it off but still no one was in the classroom. Denise couldn’t tell time, but she felt she had been alone a long time. So, she got up and walked to the window to see if her teacher and classmates were outside. Many children were playing outside but none of them were her classmates.
Now what can I do, Denise thought. She looked around the room until her eyes settled on the old upright piano sitting in the back of the room. When Sister Marie Therese was there she didn’t let any children touch the piano. But, since Denise was all alone, she decided no one would mind if she played. The piano stool was too tall for her to get on, so she pushed a chair next to it, stood on the chair, and slid onto the stool. Denise had never played a piano and was excited. Loudly, with both hands she hit the keys, then stopped immediately and looked around the room. She breathed a sigh of relief when she saw her loud banging hadn’t brought in anyone. Then she began to play one key at a time starting at the lowest keys and traveling to the highest. She experimented with keys, playing more than one at a time, playing fast, then very slowly but always softly. She didn’t want to get in trouble if her teacher came in. Time passed as she played on the piano. Then she stopped, looked around and said aloud, “I’ve got to go to the bathroom.”
Usually when she said that Sister Marie Therese would take her and other students to the bathroom. But Sister wasn’t in the classroom. Denise was all alone. Students weren’t allowed in the hall without a teacher or hall pass. But, she couldn’t wait any longer. Denise slid off of the piano stool and cracked open the door, looked up and down the hallway, and saw it was empty. Quickly she ran to the bathroom. Just as she was preparing to run back to the classroom a nun appeared, it seemed, from thin air and grabbed her hand. Denise looked up and saw the stern, unsmiling face of the principal.
“What are you doing in the hall alone?”
“I had to go to the bathroom.”
“Your teacher let you go alone?”
“Where is your teacher?”
“I don’t know.”
“Who is your teacher?”
“Sister Marie Therese.”
“Oh,” said the principal as she placed her hand over her mouth as if she was surprised. Just then the outside door opened, Mama entered, and walked toward them.
“Mrs. Alexander, I am so sorry,” the principal said. “Sister Marie Therese was not here today. We thought the secretary called everyone last night.”
Denise’s mother smiled, paused a moment, and then said, “We were out late last night, so we missed her call.” She looked at her daughter, “You stayed in the classroom all this time by yourself?”
“Uh huh and I had fun all by myself,” Denise said as she took her mother’s hand and led her into the classroom. “See what I colored.” Proudly Denise showed her mother the page she had colored.
Today, for the listening pleasure of young and old, is the story of a young man who used changing circumstances and confidence in himself to achieve his goal.
Just click on the link below and enjoy.
Beginning a new career path as a school nurse at a small elementary school in the heart of the Hopi Nation causes me to reflect on this journey that has led me here. My childhood dreams have changed through time. I began reflecting on my life when I was in fourth grade with my first diary. Unfortunately, I lost my early diaries during my gypsy life in my twenties. However, I have written many stories and poems about this life and maintained journals intermittently. So, in order to understand how I have arrived at this point, I will reflect through my writings.
The story of my birth is the beginning. I wrote this poem when I was living in Evanston, Il, working as the secretary for the Linguistics Department at Northwestern University. One of the professors had written a dictionary of slang. I used it to find expressions for a child born out of wedlock and making love. Some of the phrases, as you will see, lent themselves easily to poetry.
The Ballad of Mama Queen and Her Darling Daughter
Oh, but they did Adam-and-Eve-it,
in that act of darkness, an accident.
Mama was bright, beautiful, young and free.
Daddy, a struggling, father of three.
His wife called, “Daddy, you I got to see.”
Yes, with his family he had to be.
Mama got hulled between wind and water
floating with a darling daughter.
were you misbegotten
come by chance
Now, you’ve got a yard child.
She’s an off-girl
making music in a
You can hear this poem and the song refrain by purchasing my CD at
When I was eight years old my sisters and I spent a semester living with Mother, our paternal grandmother. She was a large, round woman who ruled with an iron hand. Her large wooden house had a wide, screened back porch that ran the full length of the house. A well was on the back porch and we pulled up water from it in the early morning chill to wash up for school. One day I was sweeping the porch and saw the largest spider I had ever seen crawling slowly across the floor. When I tried to crush the spider with the broom, its back exploded into dozens of tiny spiders scurrying across the wood. Mother came and stood at the kitchen door with her hands on her wide hips.
“What are you doing?”
I hung my head, feeling badly about the baby spiders. “I tried to kill a spider. But I didn’t know it had babies.”
Mother shook her head as she watched the last few baby spiders run away and looked at me sternly. “Child, don’t be trying to kill no spiders. Spiders are good luck. They mean you’ll always have money. And they eat up all the bothersome insects, flies and roaches. So, just leave them spiders alone.”
I followed her advice. I became a storyteller and learned of Spider Woman’s significance in storytelling. So for my fiftieth birthday I had my storytelling staff carved with a spider on top. After a few years my husband began to use my method of catching spiders with a paper cup and index card to carry them outside. When I became a Buddhist I learned that all sentient beings, even grasshoppers and flies, could have been my mother in a previous life. We do our best to carry the many insects we find in our house back outdoors.
But in July, I was confronted with a dilemma when I discovered squash bugs devouring my young winter squash leaves. I had no choice but to destroy them after they killed two of my plants. I felt badly and chanted “Om Mani Padme Hum” as I crushed them into the sand. I try to justify my murders with the thought that my prayers will allow them to be reborn as humans sooner than if they were allowed to destroy all of my squash plants.
To my sorrow this has been a daily battle. I did find a natural garden site, Planetnatural, http://www.planetnatural.com and ordered neem oil and a high powered hose attachment to control their population, and not harm the feeding bees. But, every afternoon when I go out to check on my plants, I find from one to dozens of squash bugs. Just when I learned what their babies look like, and how they can consume a full squash, they have appeared and added to my challenge.
But, I am managing to see some squash begin to grow and hopefully will have a few to harvest. Now, I have the added challenge of trying to save my corn. Yesterday I checked on my first ripe cob and saw it is being eaten up by black beetle like bugs and worms! So, I’ll try the high powered hose on them and cayenne pepper which I heard discussed on the radio during a Hopi agricultural conference. For next year’s garden, I’m going to find plants that are bug repellents, mint was mentioned against squash bugs, and research other ways of preventing pests. (Any and all suggestions are welcome!)
When I use the high power hose, I have to put on my water resistant jump suit or I get thoroughly soaked. Brian, my husband, took photos of my work last week. I have interspersed them with some of the haikus I wrote this summer.