Monday, June 24, 2024

Ancient Ways Abandoned to Fend for Themselves at Big Mountain – Pauline Whitesinger Interview

December 11, 2008 by  
Filed under Voices from the Land

(Left Photo by Akilla Kojima. Inset photo is Dineh elder, Pauline Whitesinger’s traditional earth lodge and still under construction that the BIA tribal authorities say is illegal because Pauline has never signed any kind of agreements with the Feds in regards to the 1974 relocation law.)

Early 21st Century: The Last Days of Traditional Indigenous Life (Was) at Big Mountain
[Author’s Note: “Free & Easy” is not your typical fashion magazine where it exploits flashy or plastic glossy and saturated colored clothing that imitates the latest Paris, or that U.S. gangster look. Instead, it is like an alternative look and presentation of fashion that remains as a traditional look, which might have survived because of its utilitarian and comfortable wear, but can still be withheld as a fashion trend. “Free & Easy,” a Japanese magazine also does featured stories not related to developing trends, but stories about cultural entities that is not of popular interest and should be reported for the benefit of addressing the human searches for reassurance and understandings.
America’s Freedom of Speech and Press has long denied stories that come out of indigenous resistance communities at Big Mountain. Then, we have a magazine that is published in the Japanese language and thousands of miles away that decided to come out to Dineh elder, Pauline Whitesinger’s home in remote Big Mountain country to hear her story about “the once upon a time (to be),” The Indian Way to Live as Human Being.]
F & E: According to your traditional way, what is Life like in a day?
Pauline: Plans and schedules were important and are made in advance. However, such disruption that we had earlier are unexpected and those kinds of events take away the time delegated for priorities and goals. But here, at Big Mountain, we live with a lot of threats from the police and guns of the United States. And unfortunately, we just saw that this morning and you yourself have seen it personally.
In the old days, a day would start when you leave your dwelling place and as you make your first step outside your doorway, your day begins. What lies ahead is not clearly predictable because you may ‘tripped.’ You need a family or community to be part of your day and within that, there is a culture. Others would be there to share with you or support you in case you ‘stumble and fall.’ It was taught to me when I was young that we should limit the use of the word, ‘no!’ We were to always be there for someone in need and have empathy because ‘you’ may need that help someday.
Today, you may ask for help like borrowing tools to mend your clothes or repair something. The method of borrowing is a test of the human ability to be considerate, and it is an expression of attitude. How you achieve in that test will ultimately determine your mental balance, if you have empathy and humbleness, and it basically determines where your ‘heart’ is at: love and kinship. Certainly, these things were expected of every new born back in the old days. For instance, the new born will give to the community or if he is a boy, he will cultivate the fields or become builder of dwellings. This is probably how my father was raised because he was always there to help build a lodge or help maintain the values of the community.
I don’t think I can define Life. It has to be how much the human mind can take. Utilizing faith is key so, that you can pray when it is difficult and never give up on that faith no matter how painful. The modern-day, human mind seem less durable and it resorts to degrading others, or alcoholism. Modern way of life has separated our children from us and they have become ‘uncivilized.’ The family units of the Indian are gone. The reliance on horses and sheep herding is the past and the automobile is now the future.
My childhood times required us to haul water by hand and I remember making the climb out of this canyon, Sweet Water. I helped with carry bundles of firewood and sometimes when we moved, I helped carry the grinding stones. A day’s job did not involve going to the grocery store to get soda pop, a dangerous form of drink which we didn’t realized, and other unknown American products.
Our time as traditional elders is a time where we are no longer honored by the youths. What has happened to their brain and hearts, I wonder? The white society is becoming unstable, too, and one example is like hearing about an eight year old shooting and killing his father. At eight years old, you are just starting to learn about your responsibility! A very joyful time! I learned about life not through punishment like the whip. When I whined as a young girl, my mom said to me, ‘your complaint cannot be accepted now because it has expired.’ My father was much kinder. You were told to listen and you did. I know about abuse and dishonor, and I knew of love and respect.
That has been the way I tried to based my Life all these years.
F & E: Tell me about the Dineh (Navajo) concept of Life after death.
Pauline: The old ways, which I still live according to, prohibited the Dineh to talk about such matters. It was prohibited when a state of Life is happy because it is not in a state of mourning. This moment we have now is in a state of enjoying each other’s company and (that) other subject matter must not be discussed.
F & E: I hate to use the word ‘myth,’ but does the Dineh have a myth about the creation of the humans?
Pauline: Big Mountain communities use to have all the descendents of the original core clans that were created in the beginning of the humans. The Dineh (The People) were created right before White Shell Woman left to live in the Pacific Ocean. She is said to have rubbed off her skin little rolls of dead skin material, oil and dust from the four different parts of her body. In a ritual manner and aided by super natural forces, the four rolls of skin material, body oil and dust became living human forms. So, my Taa’ba’ha’ clan was a group that broke off from those people who use their feet to make water seep out of a wet stream bed and gathered water but eventually were cover in mud as well. The Taa’ba’ha’ then separated into two other bands when they settled in the mountainous country and so today, there are the Hal’t’soh Dine’eh (Meadow People) and the T’sin’ii’ahaa’ (Standing Tree People) of the Taa’ba’ha’.
Nowadays, these living human branches are being altered by human manipulations and that is why there is much imbalance and aggression. The Hopi way is abused, too, because we have Hopis in uniforms and carrying guns who are telling us we need ‘permission by them’ to exist. The great ways of the deities are no longer valued and that is why, I am under attack because it has been decided that my ceremonial lodge is illegal. Where does the root of aggression come from?
F & E: I am sure your parents have taught you so many things about traditional Life, but can you tell us about one or two of which you think were the most impressive?
Pauline: Oh, like I have lived it all correctly or accordingly? (Laughs) Well, my father was a Medicine Man and my mother was a herbalist. If they were both here, today, they would noticed that Life at Big Mountain is not in accordance to the ancient ways.
Three days prior to my father’s passing he began to tell me about a vision or predictions which sounded strange to me at that time. He said that life is well then with all the goats, horses and cattle, but that era is coming to an end. ‘Someday,’ he said, ‘the Hopis will bring a police force.’
He said for us to, ‘hold on to the tails of all the animals, hold on to their legs and do not ever let go! Despite all the threats about going to jail or with their all their weapons, grab onto the roots of the trees and the longer you maintain you grips, you shall prevail!’
Do not be afraid. Here is your mother, Great Mountain. Hold on to the fringes of her dress. You and your clan relatives are the greatest of peoples. Try to make sure that your peoples, Mountain Meadow People of the Near the Water Peoples, conduct themselves according to the spiritual laws of life and ritual procedures.’
F & E: Do you ever think about ‘relocation?’
Pauline: I have no plans about that nor do I prepare for that. If such time does come upon me, (they) will have to tie me up and carry me off to where ever they want. But when I do seriously think about the relocation law, I think of its real purpose and that is to extract all the valuable minerals out of the earth. I wonder about a time when the sky will no longer be blue and when mega-machines will dominate these lands. Then somewhere far away from here the corporations responsible for the explorations will be indulging on the profits and in the meantime, the indigenous life is no more except for a small remnant of poor, disabled, and sick Indians.
F & E: If you were to ask of the U.S. government any strong desires you have, what would that be?
Pauline: The U.S. government has never made any kind considerations for the indigenous desire to live and be as Great Spirit wanted the Indians to be. Even when we told the government that, mother earth is sacred, they never listened. Now, there are only prophecies that we, the few and the last, traditional ones have to try and interpret. It has been told that ‘when the Dineh language is gone, the communication among society will be lost, too. A great fire will be ignited at the middle of the continent and which will spread outward. All Five-Fingered Race (human beings) will try to scramble away but they will either burn or drown.’
F & E: How many people were here before the relocation laws were enforced by the government?
Pauline: I cannot provide you any numbers or amounts but I can tell you that the Dineh cultural life covered all these lands around us. It was like blankets that cover the lands with daily Dineh cultural ways that include: herds of livestock and horses, cornfields, people out gathering seeds or herbs, travelers on horseback and wagons, and their seasonal homesites. However, all these are are now empty except for a few, very old ones who are still determined to live out their lives on their ancestral lands.
F & E: My final question today is, can you give me some examples about the meaning of indigenous, traditional way of life? What does ‘traditional’ mean?
Pauline: Growing your own food by having fields of crops. Having the traditional, earth lodge dwellings. There should be a Male and a Female earth lodge. One’s time of birth shall take place in one of those lodges and thus, the roots of one’s life will always be connected to that lodge. Acquiring your water from the natural springs. No visits to western doctors at the hospitals but you make attempts to heal yourself through your knowledge about herbs and the proper prayer chants, or utilizing a traditional medicine man. Utilizing your livestock for milk, meat and to carry your cargo. Use of the ‘modern’ wagon. A weaver’s loom in her home and as families still sit and sleep on sheepskins.
F & E: Thank you very much, Pauline-san, for your time and patience.
Pauline: You’re welcome. And thank you also for wanting to hear my stories. I am much honored because none of my own people, who live closer than Japan, choose to hear about the old ways.
[Translated by NBKKeediniihii, Dineh, Dzil ni’st’aa’]
©Sheep Dog Nation Rocks 2008

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