In my first post I mentioned that I was a Southwestern Native American, and a few of you wanted to know more about my nationality. Well, I can say that I DO NOT wear a headdress, wear face paint, and have a spear to scalp people (ok, that’s debatable). Nor do I live in a teepee, wear a loincloth, create smoke signals or read them, and scream at the top of my lungs when an enemy comes into my territory — though, that would be so hilarious if I actually did! Would totally scare a few people, and maybe you too.
I am a legit full-blooded Native American here in the good ol’ US of A! Yes, we Native Americans still exist, though there are very few of us who are full-blooded “Indians.”
I’m from the Navajo tribe, which is located on the western side of New Mexico (yes, New Mexico is part of the United States of America; look at a map if you don’t believe me) and the northern part of Arizona. We have a huge area of land that belongs to us, which makes traveling to your relatives so boring! That part of the area is in the desert of the Southwestern region, but there are some trees here and there.
What my people practice in the Native American religion is very hard to describe, but I’ll do my best to explain to you guys what I know. I’ll be going over a few things about my Native background which are important to me and are the basics to my heritage, so hopefully I don’t bore you guys to death! Slap yourselves across the face if you find yourself falling asleep, and keep on going!
First of all, we do have our own native language when we speak to each other. Sadly, I can’t speak it, but most of the elders (old people) of the tribe can speak it fluently with one another. From there, they passed it down to their sons and daughters, ranging from 35 to 55, and most of them can speak it perfectly and interpret to those who can’t speak or understand it, like their children or grandchildren.
Unfortunately, the millennial generation is losing the language, mostly due to stubbornness or due to boarding schools where they aren’t allowed to speak Navajo at all, and we’re thus fearful of their children sharing the same fate. Sad to say, I wouldn’t be surprised if we lost the whole language within the next generation.
Second, we do have our own religion! Whatever you’ve seen in the Hollywood movies, it’s almost like that. That’s the best way I can describe it!
It’s a pagan religion with a polytheistic view which ranges in worshiping some Supreme Being that created us, to a sun god, to whatever earthy nature god that blesses us. But, it’s mostly a religion that is scared of bad luck and bad omens.
We even believe there’s a spiritual world that we cannot see with our physical eyes. Also, we believe there are demonic creatures, those who walk around the Navajo land, looking to cause trouble and sometimes hurt people too. We call them skinwalkers, or shape-shifters, who want to cause harm to people in whatever way possible, whether it be to curse them, scare them, or physically attack others. Sometimes, these creatures are actual human beings, wanting to cause trouble for their family members or someone they despise.
If a person puts a curse or a bad omen over us, or encounters a skin walker, we have our own witch doctors, or medicine men, to be exact, to do rituals to cleanse us and bless us. Sorry to say, I have no idea what this ritual entails, or how these medicine men do the cleansing process, because my parents never wanted me around that. All I know is that it takes a few days to do it, and they have a night dedicated to native dances to help the blessing/cleansing process. This is an all-nighter thing, and it involves the whole family.
Third, we have our own cultural houses called Hogans. These are six-sided hexagons or eight-sided octagons, built by very large wooden poles, mud, and branches from the land. There is one door to get in and out, facing east, where the sun rises in the morning. There is also a hole in the middle of the roof for the fire stove, so that the Hogan will be heated during the winter months. These structures still exist today; even a few relatives of mine live in them. However, they’re located in poverty-stricken areas across the reservation.
Poverty is a frequent thing on the Navajo reservation, where people who do not have running water or indoor pumping. Again, I have relatives who are in this situation, where they have to go get water from their local water wells every week. Sometimes that means getting up at 5am to drive some long distance, like 30-45 minutes away, to retrieve their needed water supply.
Another thing that plays into the poverty-stricken ordeal is alcoholism. Family members are stuck in this cycle of alcoholism, trying to break free from it, and they lose because they don’t want to be a burden to their families. A lot of broken families are due to someone not wanting to get help from their addiction to alcohol or being too afraid to confront this issue in their lives. Unfortunately, it’s very sad that this is part of my native culture, and it’s very common to see this from day to day.
All the more the reason why we need to tell them about Jesus.
Lastly, we have a system called Clans that tells us who we are as a person, and who are related to us in our family. It is definitely not the same as the word “clans” that comes from Ireland, which basically means a sect of family or descendants. It’s a system that can help us by telling us who we can marry in the future and make sure we are not marrying a relative like a cousin or an aunt/uncle who are the same age as us.
We have four clans that are bestowed upon us when we’re born.
The first is your own clan, passed down from your mom; the second is your father’s clan; the third is your grandfather’s clan on your mom side of the family; the last one is your grandfather’s clan on your dad’s side of the family. Those are the core essentials of our system, and this helps us identify as a Navajo within the tribe. I have my clans, which I can fully say in Navajo, to tell others who I am and where I belong.
Even though the Navajo language is dying, I assure you we can use it freely to teach people about Jesus; we can even pray and praise Him in our language because we know He understands us! We have our own hymnals to sing praises to Him, surprisingly!
The people on the Navajo reservation are still on the conservative side of the spectrum — meaning they value family time above everything else. Although it is a crappy view of family, they put family first. Yes, it is a good thing.
But for us Natives who are struggling with same-sex attraction (SSA) or view themselves as gay, it’s kind of hard to fit into this family dynamic.
The Native American people have a sort of distaste for the LGBT community, mostly because we’re still a few years behind American culture. Not all people on the reservation are like this, but approximately half of them still don’t accept someone who is SSA. Sad, yes, but we’re slowly getting there.
So, how does all of this affect me? Well I’m glad you asked! I grew up with this culture. I have a few family members who practice the Navajo traditions and relatives who still speak the language (like my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles). Yes, I am a Native American, but I do not dabble in the Native American religious traditions at all! I am not afraid of omens, things that are taboo, or people wanting to harm me for the Almighty God protects me.
I don’t need my Native American religion to tell me that I’m full-blooded Native American. I’m very proud to say that I am a full-blooded Navajo. You can take that to the bank!
Do you know anything about your family history? Are you proud of your nationality? How has your family/nationality and culture factored into your same-sex attraction?
* Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons.