Message from White Eagle, Hopi indigenous leader,

March 16, 2020:

This moment humanity is going through can now be seen as a portal and as a hole. The decision to fall into the hole or go through the portal is up to you. If they do not repent of the problem and consume the news 24 hours a day, with little energy, nervous all the time, with pessimism, they will fall into the hole. But if you take this opportunity to look at yourself, rethink life and death, take care of yourself and others, you will cross the portal. Take care of your home, take care of your body. Connect with the middle body of your spiritual House. Connect to your spiritual Home. Body, house, medium body, spiritual house, all this is synonymous, that is to say the same. When you are taking care of one, you are taking care of everything else.

Do not lose the spiritual dimension of this crisis, have the aspect of the eagle, which from above, sees the whole, sees more widely. There is a social demand in this crisis, but there is also a spiritual demand. The two go hand in hand. Without the social dimension, we fall into fanaticism. But without the spiritual dimension, we fall into pessimism and lack of meaning.

You were prepared to go through this crisis. Take your toolbox and use all the tools at your disposal. Learn about resistance with indigenous and African peoples: we have always been and continue to be exterminated. But we still haven’t stopped singing, dancing, lighting a fire and having fun. Don’t feel guilty about being happy during this difficult time. You don’t help at all by being sad and without energy. It helps if good things emanate from the Universe now. It is through joy that one resists.

Also, when the storm passes, you will be very important in the reconstruction of this new world. You need to be well and strong. And, for that, there is no other way than to maintain a beautiful, happy and bright vibration. This has nothing to do with alienation. This is a resistance strategy. In shamanism, there is a rite of passage called the quest for vision. You spend a few days alone in the forest, without water, without food, without protection. When you go through this portal, you get a new vision of the world, because you have faced your fears, your difficulties . . .

This is what is asked of you. Let them take advantage of this time to perform their vision seeking rituals. What world do you want to build for yourself?

For now, this is what you can do: serenity in the storm. Calm down and pray. Everyday. Establish a routine to meet the sacred every day. Good things emanate, what you emanate now is the most important thing. And sing, dance, resist through art, joy, faith and love.

Quarantine Stories From Beyond the Border:

Aunt B & The Hopi Prophecies

The morning after I glimpsed into eternity from the precipice of the second mesa, Aunt B announced she wanted to shop. For me, shopping is akin to torture, and knowing this might turn into a three-hour excursion, I cringed, which made Aunt B laugh. “Honey, you can go to the museum,” she suggested, adding with an impish grin, “Bring me back a full report on the prophecies.”

Much preferring this assignment, I agreed.

Ever since Aunt B had met the Grandmothers, a group of women who lived off the land and slept under the stars somewhere in the Southwest desert, her life mission, along with sampling every frozen desert ever concocted, became all about the prophecies. Today I suspect Aunt B, a cancer survivor with a pacemaker, had another mission in mind. “Someday,” she’d casually suggested one night after polishing off a pint of strawberry bliss frozen yogurt, “after I’m gone . . . maybe you’ll write about all this.”

Fifteen years later, who would have guessed I’d be stuck beyond the border in a small Mexican mountain village as a pandemic swept across the planet, with time to do just that. And looking back I can’t help but wonder if Aunt B knew she wasn’t long for this world, but back then, she seemed too filled with presence, curiosity and zest to imagine her being “gone.”

“It’s not like any museum you’ve ever been toooooo,” she used a sing-song voice to tease me. Cranking down the throttle, she took off shouting playfully over her shoulder, “You’ll know where to find me!”

I’d trained her to lean heavy on the throttle. Not wanting a repeat of our virgin run in Sedona when I’d heard her utter a soft, “Oh, oh,” as she, and the scooter, over 300 pounds of mass in motion, began rolling backwards—towards me and a very busy street. Tourists scattered, while I frantically pushed from behind shouting, “RABBIT! RABBIT! Put it on RABBIT!”

“Oh dear, oh dear,” Aunt B sang, sounding more gleeful than frightened as the scooter banged into a curb and stopped. Smiling at me, as the blur of traffic barreled by, she exclaimed, “Lucky someone put that curb there!” As if some long-forgotten soul had purposely planned that curb for her personal protection that very day.

This was the magical way my Aunt looked at the world.

 The joyful child-like qualities that bubbled out of her always made me laugh, and as I stood watching her disappear into the shop, I felt grateful for our shared adventure. But mostly for my Aunt, whose inner adventures equally inspired me, including her commitment to recovery from alcoholism and a willingness to help others.

The museum was housed in a small adobe building. Inside there was a vestibule with a rack of children’s books and a sign in bold black letters: NO PHONES. NO PHOTOGRAPHY. Like the scattered sea of brown and green glass I’d encountered the previous day, this put me on alert. Shouting its sub-textual reminder: I am a guest here. I can look. I can learn. I can experience. But I must not “take” anything that has not been offered freely. Something I knew had happened far too often to the original people of this land.

The picture books reminded me of an earlier time, my five-year-old son snuggled in my lap, as I read about the history of Native Americans. When we reached the part of the story where the white man arrived to “conquer a new land,” an unexpected wave of emotion rose up inside me and I found myself choking back tears, forced to stop reading.

Quinn looked up in puzzlement. His serious brown eyes and coffee-colored skin, the legacy of the French-Canadian Ojibwa lineage on his father’s side and the Chouteau’s, French fur trappers on mine. A family that founded the City of St. Louis, helped finance the Lewis and Clark expedition, lived, married, and traded among the varied Osage tribes along the mighty Mississippi.

“Mom?” Quinn emphatically closed the book. “If you’re going to cry, I am NOT going to let you read to me!”

The indignation in his voice made me burst out laughing, so that I was laughing and crying at the same time, which must have confused him even more.

Quinn first grade

How could I tell him there was so much more to this story?

It’s unlikely the author had set out to romanticize genocide, yet as I stared at the rack of Hopi picture books, by Hopi authors, from a Hopi perspective, I understood in a way I never had before the inherent power of stories and the importance of people owning their own stories.

Bringing me back into the moment, a Hopi man who’d been standing behind a counter reiterated in a voice that was neither friendly, nor unfriendly. “No phones. No photos.” Feeling self-conscious for loitering so long, I pulled my phone from my pocket. “I’ll turn it off.” He nodded and waved me into the main room.

The museum was not large, and certainly not fancy, but it was filled with pictures, maps, letters, official looking documents and a variety of artifacts. There was one other patron, a tall man standing in front of a glass case, his bald head tinted green in the dim light. Not knowing where to start, I simply moved to my left along the wall. Initially, I scanned each exhibit briefly, looking for anything on the prophecies, not bothering to read in depth, until my eyes landed on a letter. Handwritten by a Jesuit Priest for a Hopi Chief in the early 1800’s.

Today, I remember only it’s essence:

Dear Great White Grandfather in Washington,

We do not understand why you send men to mark the land . . . who can divide the land or the sky? The land is for all people and all creatures . . . we must give thanks for the plants, the rivers, the mountains . . . how can land be given for papers . . .  everyone knows the land belongs to the women.

Wow! I’d heard many references to Mother Earth, but I’d never heard—everyone knows the land belongs to the woman. Letting this idea sink in, I studied the neat cursive handwriting, the dots where the priest had dipped his quill, the places where the ink had faded. How strange it must have seemed to the Hopi people, how foreign, how odd, for a culture grounded in the natural world to imagine dividing up land or rivers or sky.  

Even as a child climbing high into the soft-needled arms of a white pine or building dams with my cousins in the cold running creek water at Jacobus Park or lying in a damp pile of autumn leaves, I believed the Earth could feel me like I could feel her. That we shared a reciprocal relationship. This proved even more evident as I grew older and my body’s own rhythms danced with the tides and the moon.

Hungry to learn the secrets of this matriarchal culture, I moved from exhibit to exhibit. Traditionally the men left their families to join their wives when they married. They were farmers and weavers, providing clothing and blankets. The women ground the corn, cooked and cared for the children. For all the Hopi people, spiritual practices were integral to their lives and just as it was unfathomable for the Hopi to conceive of dividing up the land, it was impossible to separate their nature-based religious and spiritual practices from their way of life.

Everything was connected, everything was sacred.

Hopi Mesa, Arizona

Behind the glass case where the tall man had been before me, there was faded black and white picture of government surveyors marking the land with stakes and flags. Two strong lean Hopi men looked on. Behind them corn stalks grew in small circles, not machine-made farm rows. Their resolute expressions sent shivers down up my spine. A wave of sorrow swept through me. Did others experience the same overwhelming grief when they saw these images? Was some sort of subterranean guilt rising up in me due to the actions of those who’d come before me? Was it simply true that I was being what I’d always been accused of being—just too damn sensitive?

Deeply empathic by nature, I often get confused about what feelings belong to me and what I am picking up on from others, so I looked around for the tall man. For any sign that he too, may have felt the sense of loss, injustice and confusion in contemplating the clash of two very different cultures. But, he must have exited without me noticing.

 Returning my attention to the photograph before me, memories of additional injuries, injustices and images began to collide like a train-wreck in my brain. Perpetrated intentionally or perhaps unintentionally by those who had presumably lost their own connections to the natural world. Profound shock and horror the first time I saw a scar-savaged clear-cut mountain in the state of Washington. Disbelief and despair looking outside the train window from Portage Wisconsin to Red Wing Minnesota, seeing one of the most magnificent fertile forested landscapes in the world scraped clear for handfuls of fracking sand. Land untouched by the glaciers, an echo system thousands of years old, turned into a decimated desert used to train soldiers for combat in Iraq. And on a recent visit to the Jacobus Park pond, the putrid stench of foaming blue green algae and bloated fish.

What part did I play in all this? What could be done? Could the beauty and balance ever be restored? Perhaps this was why my Aunt had been so focused on the prophecies, perhaps they would provide answers to the questions that haunted me. Wiping my eyes, I pushed myself forward, searching for clues, comfort and yes, some semblance of hope.

I learned a lot that afternoon, saw many incredible photos and records, but when I’d reached the end, I realized there was nothing on the prophecies. Nothing. Zip. Zero. Was this intentional? If so, why? I wanted to ask, but the man behind the counter waved a hand without looking up and I left, disappointed, knowing I’d have to report back to Aunt B that I’d struck out. Little did I know, at that very moment, Aunt B who’d been busy buying silver bracelets, had struck gold.

Enter Kay (her name has been changed) a soft-spoken Hopi woman in her mid-fifties who’d spent the last two hours educating Aunt B on Hopi artisans, silversmiths, pottery and Kachina dolls. When I entered the shop Aunt B waved me over. After introductions, the conversation shifted, and Aunt B in her irrepressible way began to pepper Kay with questions.

At first Kay seemed reticent, but something shifted when we began to talk about our children. Fresh in my mind, I shared the story about the time I’d wept with my son in my lap. Kay asked, “What is your son’s name?” I explained that Quinn was Gaelic, from my mother’s Irish side, it meant “wise one.” She nodded in apparent approval, and then spoke about the importance of names. “If your boy had been born Hopi, the Aunties would take him to the edge of that canyon,” she was pointing in the direction of the incredible canyon I’d visited the day before. “They would give him two names, one to be known by, and another between him and the Creator, never be spoken.”

Soon we were three mothers, talking about our children and their future, providing Aunt B with the perfect stepping off point to ask about the prophecies. But when the man who’d been in the museum appeared at the shop door with his wife, Kay shifted her attention. Handing Aunt B her packages, Kay suggested we tour the third mesa the following day.

Thrilled with this invitation, which was apparently rare, Aunt B was up and dressed usually early the next morning. We packed a small cooler with fruit and water. I folded the scooter and put it in the trunk of the rental car. Once again, we were off. Traveling to the third mesa filled me with a strange sense of déjà vu. Another distance mirage on the horizon, it too, stood like the shadowy silhouette of a tall ship on an endless sea. When my ears popped, I knew we were close. Aunt B who’d embraced rabbit speed on the scooter pushed the rental car to its limits. More than once I had to close my eyes as we climbed the narrow road, an engineering feat that defied all odds since the Hopi people had used vertical zig-zagging paths up and down the side of the mesa for thousands of years.

When we reached the top, Aunt B pulled in front of an baked brick building. I got out and surveyed the uneven ground worried that the scooter could traverse it. A group of children laughing, shouting over the wind, raced along the edge tossing a frisbee back and forth. There were no fences, no stone walls, only a thousand-foot drop-off and an endless horizon. It made me dizzy watching them. “It’s pretty bumpy up here,” I voiced my concern.

Aunt B who could walk short distances got out of the car and made her way into the building, saying, “Get my scooter.” Translated, this meant “come hell or high water” she was doing this tour, even if she had to strong-arm that throttle, pop wheelies or climb rock ledges.   

As I pulled the scooter from the trunk Kay, herself, appeared in the doorway. “We’ll start here, out of the sun.” Inside the small building was a metal desk, a phone, two beat up metal chairs, one on which Aunt B sat and a wooden bench where I sat down. Kay leaned against the desk. Soon Kay and Aunt B’s were talking like old friends. About overcoming alcoholism, a hard-fought battle they’d both won, their children, grandchildren, and the prophesies.

I sat and listened.

As with most women, they processed their feelings aloud often circling back to earlier questions that had previously gone unanswered.

Kay said she’d seen many signs that the times her grandparents warned of were close at hand. Earth changes, including draughts, floods, earthquakes, wars and famine. And pollution, not only of the planet, but in the minds of the people, who’d become so distracted, so plugged into screens and technology, they couldn’t focus, couldn’t be “present,” anymore. She’d seen it in her own grandchildren.

Kay worried about the junk food, the high rate of diabetes and alcoholism among her people. She explained that as the prophecies had foretold, the lure of conveniences, such as electricity and running water, were weakening the Hopi people. Separating them from their spiritual traditions and the natural world, making the young generation uninterested or unwilling to live in the old ways. She worried the children would forget how to call in the rain.

She shared other predictions and reflections, but there is one that feels particularly relevant in this time of quarantine. Kay, her face radiating pain, told us that she, along with many of the Hopi people, believed the twelve-year-draught that had dried up the land and starved the cattle was a symptom of a spiritual virus, caused by conflicts among the Hopi themselves.

That’s right, you read that right. A spiritual virus!

Is it any wonder Aunt B’s been on my mind as Covid-19 brings our planet to a halt? As we wonder what to do with these days that fly by. Sometimes successfully fighting off fear, other times resting for the first time in years, letting go of endless distractions and busyness that have kept us from experiencing the present moment: both its beauty and its pain. At the same time one world’s poison has become another world’s medicine. And the crocodiles happy to have their beaches back, are sunning themselves on the pacific coast of Mexico and hazy skies across the planet are clearing up and rare birds are nesting in places they haven’t been seen for years. The planet is beginning to breathe again, resting, healing, like us.

It has been fifteen years since I stood on the third mesa with my Aunt, and almost twenty-five since I held my boy in my lap. Over that time the Earth has issued countless warnings that the way we human beings have been living is not sustainable. Last year alone dozens of unwelcome messengers arrived in the form of some of the deadliest storms, typhoons, cyclones, tornados, heat waves and floods ever to hit the planet. Only a few weeks ago, a 6.5 earthquake rocked Idaho, and haze from fires in the mountains of Mexico, similar to those that devastated the California coast, hung over the Sierra Mountains outside my window. But back in 2005, as I stood on the third mesa, wrestling with vertigo, listening to Kay, learning about the prophecies, all this seemed a remote possibility. At least not in my lifetime, and hopefully, I remember thinking not my son’s. Still, I asked Kay, “Are the they set in stone?”

Kay got very quiet. Though I can’t remember her exact words, what I understood was that the prophecies were a kind of story, a teaching tool, a road map with signposts. A picture of how things could unfold and how to prepare and proceed under certain conditions. Though nothing was set in stone and outcomes could change, disasters might be avoided, but this would depend on the people themselves. Their relationships, with one another and the Earth. Making it clear she’d shared all she was going to on that subject, Kay waved us outside, concluding, “At least now, we have grocery stores.”

After Aunt B got situated on her scooter, we followed Kay along a well-worn path. I forced myself to look straight ahead because Aunt B in an attempt to navigate the smoothest route kept steering erratically close to the edge. I worried she might plunge over the side and this time there would be no magical curb to stop her descent!

 “When the moon is full you can still see their footprints.” Kay stopped and pointed far below. She spoke of her ancestors who’d traversed the paths to the river valley where they’d planted their corn, sometimes running up to twenty-five miles there and back. The picture in the museum popped into my brain. The two Hopi men, their strong bodies and somber stare as they watched the surveyors mark the land, divide up their fields, eventually, leaving them only what was allotted on the reservation.

Hopi Dry-Farming Technique, melons and corn

As we made our way slowly toward the end of the mesa Kay walked in silence for periods of time. The midday sun burned my cheeks and chapped my lips so that I longed for cool water. I had a million questions, like how they got water up there to drink, and if it was true that they had outhouses along the edge that they’d tip onto the heads of advancing enemies, and who were their enemies, anyway? At one point I remembered wondering if they still grew corn, and then without me having to speak a word, Kay answered. “Blue corn,” she explained, “needed to be seeded with a sacred planting stick and sown in ceremony in small circular mounds, so that the meager rains (6-8inches a year) could collect along the edges and seep in.” Grown partnership with the Earth, Kay claimed Hopi corn had been scientifically proven to contain all the nutrients a human body requires to sustain itself in a desert climate. A single food source to ensure their survival, given to them by the Creator. This explained the corn growing in circles instead of rows, the ancient dry-farming technique I’d seen in the museum.

Kay pointed at the ground where several large flat rocks had been strategically laid out and she signaled us to be quiet. Aunt B bumped the scooter around them, and I looked at my Aunt with curiosity, seeking clues as to what the rocks meant. Aunt B whispered, “The women are down in the Kivas praying for the balance of the Earth.” At the time I didn’t know what a Kiva was, and Kay didn’t offer an explanation. Aunt B would tell me later that the medicine women descend down into earthen caves, holes in the ground, where they’d stay for weeks at a time in total darkness, fasting and praying for the balance of the Earth. A tradition thousands of years old, that continues to this day.

The Grandmothers had told Aunt B that the Hopi believed they had a covenant with the Creator to hold the world in balance. If they did not, if their spiritual lives were not in order, if there were conflicts among the people, if people did not heed the ancient wisdom or honor the natural world then surely the devastations that had been foretold would come about.

Hopi Ceremonial Kiva 1901

That night, after we’d returned to the little motel on the second mesa, Aunt B left the TV remote untouched. Breaking out two frozen chocolate banana bars that she’d somehow managed to snag in the cafeteria restaurant we sat up and talked.

My Aunt believed people needed to “wake up,” be warned, prepare, for a world that was moving into a “new dimension.” She spoke of civilizations, other worlds, before ours that had not heeded the warnings and perished or disappeared. “Someday I will take you to meet the Grandmothers,” she promised, “You can write about how they live in harmony with the land, how they collect rainwater and sleep under the stars, how they keep alive the ancient prayers and talk with the Earth, how they’ve preserved peace in all of their relations so they can help others survive what is to come.”

I was becoming more and more convinced that my Aunt must have lived a previous life that compelled her to revisit these places, that ignited the fire and urgency in her regarding the prophecies. At the same time, I wondered if both her perspective and the prophecies weren’t a bit too dire? Too ominous, fatalistic.

Still I could not explain the grief that had erupted out of me all those years ago as I held my son, or the pit of sadness still hollowing itself out in my stomach after visiting the museum the day before, so I felt impelled to ask. “If the prophecies are so important, why aren’t the Hopi trying to share them? Why don’t they say boo about them at the museum?”

Aunt B finished the last bite of her bar, savoring the cool smooth texture in her mouth and making yum, yum, noises. She reminded me that the prophecies were based on oral traditions and that Kay had explained they were to be revealed at the right time, in the right way, or people would not respect or believe them.

This made sense, especially given that I, myself, had plenty of doubts.

Moreover, anyone who believed in magical curbs that could save a runaway scooter could not be called a doomsayer. And no matter what was going on Aunt B had a natural propensity to respond to each moment with curiosity and joy. Thus, my next question grew out of the logical progression of our talk, “Even if all this stuff happens what can we do about it?”

Aunt B, who’d been partially reclining on her bed, shifted to face me. Her expression uncustomary serious. “I didn’t believe I was an alcoholic.” Her voice was steady as she continued, “I denied it. Even when the DT’s shook by body. It wasn’t until I found AA that I found a better way. I think the prophecies are like AA, they offer people a way forward without so much suffering,” With that Aunt B pointed to my half-eaten chocolate banana bar and winked, “Speaking of suffering, do you need help with that?”

Smiling, and instead of letting her finish what I could not eat, I shoved what remained of the melting bar into my mouth, “Goooootithandled!” I mumbled with my mouth so full, ice cream dripped down my chin soothing my sore lips. “Oh you!” Aunt B exclaimed, “Now, you’re making me suffer!”

Then we both cracked up.

Today, I believe the most important lesson I learned from my Aunt was that it is possible to heal, change, adapt, and grow through joy. The message from the Hopi Indigenous leader White Eagle is that we must “resist” through joy. He describes resistance as a “strategy.” What does he mean by this? A strategy for what? Survival? Growth? Healing? Perhaps all of these, and more. Too strengthen our immune systems, we speak of building resistance to pathogens, viruses, things that weaken us and make us sick, whether in our bodies, minds or hearts. It appears that Covid-19 is symptom of a larger sickness and it will give us as much time as we need to collectively and consciously come together to co-create a new story.

So why not, as this wise Hopi elder suggests, take this time to grieve our losses, acknowledge our mortality, sing, dance, make art, rethink our lives and envision a beautiful brave new world. The world we want to build. For as with the prophecies, the outcome is up to us.

Final Note: As I write this the Hopi and Navajo Nations are being hit hard by Covid-19. This inspiring article on the response from Ireland gives me hope that we will find ways to inspire one another to move beyond fear to pay-it-forward:

Korene Atene, a certified nursing assistant gets information from people lined up to get tested for COVID-19. The Navajo Nation has one of the highest per capita COVID-19 infection rates in the country. (Kristin Murphy / The Deseret News via AP)

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Jorge Medico

    I really enjoyed your pierce. One of my best friends is Navajo, currently in Gallup, and reading your piece reminded me of recent conversations we’ve had. Keep up the posts!

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