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.

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  • Matthew, thanks for sharing about your heritage. Very interesting. I’m from Africa and it put me in mind of a lot of local traditions which are similar in many ways. But I’m a White African. Lol! Perhaps you would see that as a contradiction in terms, and it is not a term that is at all accepted, but one which I coin for myself because I am proud to be African and I resent that others think I can’t be because of the colour of my skin or my distant heritage. Both my parents were born in Africa and my grandparents on my mother’s side were also born in Africa. In the country where I live the law penalises homosexuality, so it does not matter if your are black, white or coloured (mixed race) your nation and your family don’t accept SSA. This means you have to live in the closet entirely or be very discreet, though opinions are changing and it is much easier today than it was when I was a teenager or young man. If I have to trace my white heritage, it is a typically, hopelessly mixed up background of English, Irish and German. How’s that for scrambled eggs!

    • Thank you for reading my post! But yeah, I’ve been noticing that there are certain tribal groups (I don’t know if I’m using that term right) that are similar to each other, but are not the same, which is very neat! I’m glad your able to share your heritage with me. It’s always great to hear stuff like that.

    • You’re welcome! There’s so much more depth in my cultural background, but I thought it would be best to give the simple stuff for now.

  • Yes, I am also interested to hear more of your Navajo culture and history. As I told you once, my great grandmother was half Native American, so I guess that makes me 1/16 th. Like most white Americans my ancestry is mixed. My mother was nearly 100% German and my father is a mix of English, Scottish, German, and yes Native American. I know some of my family history but I am especially grateful for my parents and grandparents. If you read my posts here you will understand why.

    • In due time, I’ll write more about the stuff going on in the reservation. But I think I remember us talking about this subject when you visited me years ago! I think I’ll steal your idea and talk about my family’s christian background in the future too! Thanks Marshall! 😉

      • Yes, we talked about my ancestry when I visited you maybe 5 years ago. Haha, I remember you said something like “So many of you white guys claim to be part Cherokee.”

  • I’ve always had a soft spot for Native people and culture. My background is pretty mixed. Mostly it’s made up of English, Irish, Scottish, and German. I grew up the typical, white, all-American, evangelical Christian way. I love your view of things and I’m excited to read more.

    • You’re such a whitey Kevin! Haha. But dude, I’m down to share more stuff in future post. As I said to Tom, there are a bunch of in depth stuff I haven’t even shared yet.

  • Thanks for sharing Matthew! My wife and I lived on a Sioux Reservation in South Dakota for a while. I enjoyed many of my native American friends (students I taught) but also saw many of the difficulties that you described as well.
    I know that my ancestors were European: English and Dutch. This is interesting to me, but doesn’t seem to have much effect on me one way or another. I mostly consider myself an American. I used to be proud of that, but in recent years, as our nation has increasingly turned away from the godly heritage of our founding fathers (who were mostly practicing Christians/Jews), I realize more strongly that ever, that my true citizenship is in heaven, and that this country which is my home now is only a temporary place. I have actually lived abroad for 18 years in the country of Ukraine and I return for visits every few years.
    My family (mother, father, brother, sister) were probably a typical family. We loved each other, but there was some troubles that are often common to families. My mother and father struggled with their own issues and so perhaps provided a weak foundation for my masculine development. I felt distanced from my dad and my mom kept me too close to her. Some cultural influences (ideas about masculinity) were probably most significant in leading to my development of SSA. I had bad experiences of being bullied by both adults and peers that made me fearful of men, envious of men, and insecure in my own masculinity. My need to be accepted by men in the world of men–without need fulfillment was a huge thing leading to my SSA. And to a large extent this was a result of some poor ideas in my own culture–about what makes a man a man. Thank God for His acceptance of me and His love for me–which was the beginning of my recovery from SSA. That journey has spread over many years and is marked by grace and mercy from my loving heavenly Father.

  • Matt, I am able to relate to you a lot; I am from Hispanic from New Mexico (which despite people’s ignorance is in the US as you said). We’ve been here for centuries after the Spainiards first came here (of course not as long as you have), and we are a very family oriented culture. Not every family is perfect, but it does come first. Culturally, we are a very Catholic religion, and that is the faith I practice and devote myself too. Struggling with same sex attraction is very hard, and my culture pretty much ignores its existence, which makes it hard to actually talk about. However, I have found hope and help in Jesus, and through him I am able to bear this cross.

  • Dude, makes me want to come visit the Southwest! I’m assuming that you’ve already written about this more (I’m catching up on all the posts), but how have you found or felt supported as you struggle with SSA within your community?

    • Thanks for reviving this post for me, Kevin. I had never seen it. Matt, this is so interesting. My family and I spent a few days at Canyon de Chelley years back. My son initiated a cool relationship with one of the grandmas who sold stones on the canyon rim. I spent some time with her son who was a shaman. We drove around together for a few days and talked about his love for the land and our differing views of faith. I would love to go back there sometime for a longer period. When we returned home from the trip we learned that my son’s taekwondo teacher knew the shaman and his family well from their many trips to the canyon. I wrote a fantasy piece about that trip with several scenes from the canyon. I will have to find it.

  • In my country Egypt they prison people with Ssa and most of them refuse to accept there is people struggling with that.
    I’m from upper Egypt and my family is very conservative about traditions

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