Last night I was asked what is the scariest thing that ever happened to me on the Navajo Reservation?

I paused for a long time and thought back through some pretty horrific things that happened to me during my 13 years on the Rez. The prelude to the Ceremony happened the first night I slept in Greasewood, Arizona. I was sleeping in the newly refurbished ranch house in an old bedroom. I had a dream of ancient people who were trapped as if buried alive. It was a woman and her two children and they were terrified trying to escape their dwelling. The fear was palpable and it was as if I were there with them. I woke in a cold sweat and never forgot those native people trapped eons ago below the house – dying.001-12-copy

Fast forward four years and our horses had suffered from witchcraft and were sick. Our good friend and medicine man made the trip to the house with his extended family and I helped dig two pits for two fires, one close to the house and one about 1/4 mile away. The ceremony consisted of some of the family members gathering to rid themselves of the evil of witchcraft and we all sat on the hardwood floor in a circle in our front room.  A large metal tray was filled with hot coals from the fire so the medicine man could see into the netherworld and find the evil. We all gave our clans (origins) and talked briefly about the evil that was infecting us. I was quiet because I am non-native and sat respectfully listening.

Hours of prayers, chanting and cedar burned and the smell of fresh cedar washed over all and renewed us. I was pleased the ceremony was going well and love the songs and chants in Navajo. It makes one feel as if they have been transported back to the early days of ceremony and song. My good friend the medicine man asked me to go and tend the second fire with him. He had extracted the evil from the home, horses and relatives and would now burn it in the second fire. I stoked the fire to great height and and the pit roared with fire in the crisp starlit night. The medicine man’s father accompanied us and stood watch with me. I will confess, I was a bit proud to be chosen as the “watcher”. The medicine man told me to watch to the south of us and I diligently complied. He began to chant behind me and the fire roared. In a moment, I saw not 50 feet away as the souls of the dead trapped in the earth – rushed forth. Like wraiths writhing in the starlight I was rooted to the ground, frozen, horrified! The medicine man yelled and told me to turn around – he said lift your feet so I can put ash on them. I was so scared I jumped in the air both feet forward. The medicine man laughed and said one at a time – and he and his father chuckled. They knew what I had seen and knew that they could not bother me.

Skinwalkers came next and watched as he burned the evil and sent it back into the ground. He cast them away with Navajo words and

souls of the dead released
souls of the dead released

protected me from their harm. When I re-entered the house everyone looked at me in a strange manner and asked what I saw. I just sat down and waited till the ceremony was over. I had never seen souls released and I still only call them that for lack of a better description. Thousands of souls pouring from the ground – ground I have run cattle over many many times. It still in the cold light of this Montana fall day – scares me to the core of my being.

Crow Pow Wow

Pow 5A call comes in and I am invited to Pow Wow by some friends. I will admit that I was a bit apprehensive – but it seems in life I am the only white guy wherever I go. All good!

It starts over dinner with a family of Crow people – eating steak and drinking cowboy coffee  over the fire (irony – cowboy coffee made by an Indian). The host is gracious and I tell some funny stories and everyone relaxes because the white guy is okay plus I remembered bug spray 40% deet and we exhausted that can right quick! My friend Clarence ThreeIrons says that if a mosquito bites a Crow man it will die…I guess these mosquitoes did not get the memo.

The children are all anxious and as sun sets grandpa, grandma, son and daughter in law all work together to adorn the children in their elaborate Pow Wow regalia. I politely ask to take a few pictures (not wanting to intrude) and they smile – crazy white guy – now who invited him. My buddy Tristan’s little girl is the first ready and I get a couple wonderful pictures with her next to the Teepee (no all Indians do not still live in Teepees). To quote my friend Dr. Mike Weddle ” She looks so proud and self confident.” – speaking of Tristans daughter! –  Eagle feathers, Elk Teeth, and a myriad of beadwork adorn this native child!

Family – I am moved by the sense of family!

The jingle, shing shing shing and beat of drums mixed with chanting from the Pow Wow grounds is overpowering my senses. I let my mind drift as Tristan’s dad gives me an oral history of his families Pow Wow dancing. I see the dancers moving in grace, young and old,  love for culture, for being Indian and keeping tradition. He explained face painting and outfits, the Crow Hop and other dances all moving to the drum and chanting. I let myself slip back 100 years to when his great grandfather was dancing at this very same Pow Wow ground and saw the fires, the feasting, the love. I knew I was the only white guy to have this privilege, this honor, to witness this beauty! I only wish my words could convey the intensity of this one evening.







getting ready