Gratitude to My Navajo Family


I had posted this photo as part of  a life event on my Facebook timeline.  From the left you will see Ferlin Clark, Damon Clark, Gwendolyn Clark and Ruby Damon (Gwen’s mom and great granddaughter of the powerful Navajo chief, Chief Manuelito) at Damon’s graduation from Navajo Preparatory School. The response to the post was amazing.  It had me reflecting once again on how blessed I have been to have come to know the Clarks/Damons and even more wondrous…that they love and accept me as one of their family.  The “crazy bilaagana (white person)” they call me because  I am a total goofball and when Gwen,my Navajo sister, and I get together…it is non-stop laughter…born of a deep and abiding sisterly love for each other.

I met this family years ago when I was on a tour of the Southwest Tribal Colleges.  The tribal colleges are something near and dear to my heart.  They offer a wonderful technical, agricultural or liberal arts education while maintaining the culture, language, traditions, spiritual beliefs and ceremonies of the tribe.  What a change from the days of the boarding schools when the children were snatched from their family Hogans, brought to boarding schools run by whites, had their hair chopped off, their religious ways denied them and their language forbidden.  My “grandmother” Ruby was one of the last generation of these boarding school enforcements.  

Ferlin Clark made a wonderful tour guide with a mix of deep spirituality and humor.  At that time, he was president of Dine College and then/ as now. was passionate about education.  Since the tour was small in number he was able to bring his beautiful wife, Gwen and their then 9 year old boy, Damon.  When Gwen and I met it was like finding a best friend and sister that had been lost for eons.  We became inseparable.  The last night of the tour she gave me a gorgeous turquoise necklace that she had actually bought for her sister but gave to me instead.

As the years passed, Gwen and I would travel back and forth from Florida and New Mexico to have “sister time” We have always been there for each other in times of life crises.  But the biggest honor was to come when I went out to the rez to help Gwen and her family prepare for a blessing ceremony for the Hogan she had built on her land.  It was a ceremony for protection and to keep safe from outsiders….being white, I guess that would have included me.  But after assisting in the morning preparations, I was invited by the Medicine Woman conducting the ceremony to come and be part of the all night prayer and blessing ceremony.  It was a humbling surprise.  It was sacred.

Now her son is grown and off to Harvard for his freshman year.  How proud we all were at his graduation.  How we prayed for him in his Pride Ceremony to see him on his way East. I am his Aunt, officially :)!  And Gwen’s mom is like my mom/grandmother. 

My heart is open and grateful that I am so unconditionally loved and accepted.  It is a rare thing whenever one encounters it. I hope we can all hold close the gifts of love, the gifts of miracles, the gifts of light that are bestowed so generously on each of us.   

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