In which I present the last installment of my Flagstaff adventures, with help from my wonderful boyfriend
13/08/2012 - 15/08/2012 30 °C
Among the amazing things I did in Arizona included a trip to the reservation on the second Monday I was there. A bunch of people invited me to a health-promoting walk in Leupp (pronounced "loop") just inside the rez border closest to us. We left after dinner, but had forgotten to account for the time change. Arizona doesn't go on daylight savings, but the Navajo reservation does, so even though we left an hour before the event on our time, we got there just as it was ending.
The rez is to the northeast of Flagstaff (which is south of the Navajo Nation's western mountain) as is at a lower elevation that the town's 7,500 feet. It's also a lot drier and doesn't have the pines that literally blanket the higher plateau areas. The dirt is red, and on our way out they showed me some small mountains that were being stripped for the dirt to be used in making some bath and cosmetics products. They also showed me some hill-sized cone-shaped tar-looking ash piles from the dead volcanoes out there (cinder cones), and a giant crack in the earth that once swallowed up a man and a horse that were never found. It's fenced in these days to keep people and their roaming herds from falling in. They also told me to look for pronghorns, but we didn't see any.
So instead of walking for T-shirts (which are really popular incentives to get people to come to things), we drove along a few washboard roads to go see what's left of a WWII Japanese internment camp on the rez grounds. It was relatively small, bordered by a small embankment of dirt with a space for cars to drive in. There's nothing left in the camp proper except for small artifacts you really have to look for to find. I didn't find anything but they found me a shell casing and a old piece of rusted sheet metal.
One of the grad students showed me some plants, tracks, and other natural phenomena like the salt deposits that form on the ground after it rains and the earth dries up. She explained to me how you go about harvesting plants from the earth, what prayers you say asking and thanking Mother Earth (and Father Sky) for sustenance. She also told me what they were used for, like making a loom or supplementing your cattle's diet. Then we went out to the surrounding area and looked at more tracks, more plants, and some concrete ruins of cisterns, wells, and other unidentifiable piles of rubble.
On our way back we stopped at the trading post in Leupp, which is what thy call the local gas station store. And when I say it was third-world, I mean it was missing a back wall (it had a tarp covering an unfinished frame along the back wall with the cement blocks some ways beyond), it had a toilet you wouldn't want to get within ten feet of, and it looked like it hadn't been cleaned in weeks. There was very little real food there, but also cleaning supplies and toys and other things that made it clear this was the only store within fifty miles. All the drugs, even the OTC ones, were behind the counter, including the energy drinks, which had a sign next to them explaining that their sale had been approved by some local governing body and that anyone could complain about it to them. I asked the grad student about it and she said that some people mix it with alcohol to get high off it, which is very dangerous. Outside these was a mural painted to the side of the store, and someone had spray-painted on it. There were also some feral rez dogs wandering around.
That same Wednesday we went to an event at the Salina Bookshelf, a publishing house of Navajo materials. They were serving Navajo tacos (fry bread with the regular toppings), but I looked at their children's books instead. They'd had a table at the teaching conference, so I was really excited to look at the early readers and most especially their textbook for teaching the language, which is very good. The main entertainment was James Peshlakai, a local singer who won an award for doing a CD of traditional Navajo dance songs. He told stories and jokes and did a few of his songs for us.
Afterwards I talked with some of the teachers and students form the NLA and we looked at a couple maps of the rez. One of them showed all the local chapters of the reservation government, including a big gaping hole where the Hopi reservation is - inside the Navajo one. (Apparently all the Navajo residents there got shipped off to L.A., Chicago, Texas, etc.) There's also checkerboarding at the fringes, where you can two miles on the rex, two miles off, and then be on it again, as a result of old land treaty policies. There was also a topographic map showing the four mountains and a lot of the rivers, lakes, and other landmarks, along with their Navajo names; so I could see that the Navajo Nation sits literally on top of the four corners area. Before we left, one of the teachers showed us her great-great-(great?)-grandfather in a photo of a Navajo delegation that went to Washington in the 19th century, and I got to buy a CD from James' granddaughter. (You can listen to some of his music here.)