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Without Reservations

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October 5th, 2004: In an Indian Daze

Recently we celebrated "Indian Day" at First Mesa Elementary school in Polacca, Arizona. My daughter, who just started kindergarten, was excited about participating in her very first cultural event. She signed up for the Navajo dance, so we scurried around collecting items for her outfit in order to be ready in time for last night's performance. When she arrived, she was donned in a traditional Navajo manta, silver Concho, and red leather moccasins. It was an adorable sight. My wife and I were proud parents.

As I looked around the arena there were myriads of colors in clothing. Every child had signed up for a different dance. Some were dancing Navajo with my daughter; others took part in the give away dances. There were Supai dancers, social deer dancers, and many others. It was a great display of culture and ceremony. It was a wonderful celebration of the unique identity of the American Indian. It seemed fitting that this was taking place at nearly the same time as the Smithsonian's new museum was being inaugurated.

Still, as I observed the many different dancers, the many different families, and even a few different tribes and ethnic backgrounds, I couldn't help but feel that although we are all different, we are all really the same. I thought about the purpose of these dances, as they have been explained to me on many occasions, and each time the central focus is upon humanity and goodwill toward all living things. These ceremonies are an expression of the human element in us all. They are unique to the particular culture from which they originate, but their message and purpose is universal. They are blessings for all of mankind, and they unite us as children of One creator.

Later I ran into an old friend, and we stopped to talk for a while. One of the first things he mentioned to me was how amazed he was by all the people who had come to support these children. According to the MC, this was the largest turnout for a grade-school Indian Day performance. I'm sure some of this had to do with the fact that the new school just opened up, and many people were anxious to see the new facilities first hand. Additionally, there are, no doubt, an increased number of students enrolled here this year. Notwithstanding, it was a great thing to see so many families gathered together in a spirit of support and cooperation. I thought about the Navajo families who were attending in the midst of a predominantly Hopi community, and of course there were folks like me - the Bahana/Biliganna - and their families.

As we talked, I mentioned to him how unique this experience was for my daughter, even though she is half-Navajo. He laughed and said that his kids were a little at a loss for words when they first moved back to the reservation, having spent many of their first years in the Phoenix valley. One thing led to another and we both concluded that no matter where you go - no matter where you are - you might look different on the outside, but everyone is basically the same on the inside. He, being Hopi, explained to me that when he married his wife, who is Navajo, it was kind of an "alternative" thing to do. But over the years, he said he came to see her like anyone else. He said he didn't see her as being any different from himself - in fact, he said, he didn't see his family as being "Indian," but just as being people - his wife and children.

I was really able to relate since my wife is Native American from North Carolina and my daughter is half Haliwa-Saponi and half Navajo. Besides, I had spent many years living on the reservation and had come to feel quite natural in this environment. I have usually felt like part of the community. I stopped thinking of my friends and neighbors as "Indian" and saw them simply as other people. The funny thing is I probably stopped seeing myself as any different too. I guess I didn't stop to think about how other Hopi people saw me - but I'm guessing it was often with amusement or curiosity.

Ultimately, we're living in a great paradox: we're all very different, but we're really all the same. I'm just appreciative for the ways in which my Navajo and Hopi neighbors have sought to express themselves down through the ages. They have contributed something unique and meaningful to the fabric of mankind. Perhaps we can overlook our differences - or at least celebrate them with one another - and each make our own contribution to the benefit of society.

The Permanent Rezident

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