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Without Reservations

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2/21/04: What's in a Name?

Life on the reservation is not without hardship. Many locals live in a traditional manner - choosing to forego modern conveniences like electricity and running water. There are others who have no choice. And for the non-Native person who makes their life on the reservation working for the hospital, school, or trading post, there are times when water lines break, telephone lines go down, and power goes out. At least once a week we have patrons who visit the trading post gallery and ask in a most perplexed fashion, "So where do you live?" I'm always delighted to tell them that I live right here. In disbelief they ask again, "Right here… on the reservation?" "Yep. Right here," I tell them. I know what they're wondering, because if I didn't live here myself, I would probably wonder too: "How on earth can you live way out here - where there are no shopping malls, bank tellers, or movie theaters?"

The answer is simple - in fact, simplicity is the answer. I first came to the Hopi reservation about ten years ago. My initial reaction was one of shock and surprise. Most of the homes looked small. There was no grass growing in the "front yard" of the homes we passed. It felt somewhat like I was in a Christian Children's television commercial. But that was before I came to know them. After many months spent living among the Hopi, it was obvious that they had something that the outside world had long since lost. They had (and still have) a real sense of community. Material possessions are few, and priority is placed on the family - not on the family vacation. I was amazed at how welcome the Hopi people made you feel. We were invited into nearly every home we visited and were always invited to eat. That became a familiar call over the months following my introduction to the Hopi people: "Come in. Sit down, and eat!"

I couldn't help but smile as I watched the bread being passed from one sibling to another, and then finally to me. There was always plenty of food, and guests were always welcome to join in. I've since reflected on my many experiences among the Hopi and come to realize that the dominant culture of the Western Anglo world lives day by day compartmentalized. I was awakened to the reality that I had been born and raised in a society that focused on the self - a world where value-meals, video games, and headphones all cater to the individual. There is no more emphasis on relationships. I wonder whatever happened to the days when we used to know the milk-man, the butcher, and the postman by name. Fortunately for the Hopi, they still do. I imagine an era when the frontier was still expanding, and New World immigrants were working together to survive in small, rural communities. People depended on one another. Not any more. We keep our eyes to the ground as we walk down the street, and when a stranger smiles or nods, we wonder what is wrong with that guy!

It seems as though it would be quite possible for a man to live every day of his life without ever establishing or maintaining any real meaningful relationships anymore. In the dominant society, I can check my groceries through a computerized terminal. I can punch in at work, complete my tasks, and have minimal interaction with my co-workers. I can stop by the drive-through on my way home where they offer me single-serving meals. When I get home, I can kick of my shoes and sit in front of the television 'till I fall asleep and start all over again tomorrow. I realize that it's rather ironic that I'm using email and the Internet to share my insights with others, but it's living here that forces me "out of the box." What would I have done if I hadn't ever come here? Would I have ever realized that so many opportunities and valuable relationships were being forfeit? Probably not. It's mostly luck, I suppose,that brought me here - you can call it what you like. True, it's challenging, but I wouldn't have it any other way. And while not everyone can make a life on the reservation, there are some important lessons that can be shared and valuable principles that can be embraced.

The milk-man's name is Mike. The butcher is Darren. And the postmaster is Delores.

The Permanent Rezident

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