You can read part one, the Journey, here. I would make that journey over twenty times while I lived on the Rez.
I had always wanted to work on the Reservation. I was willing to leave my home and husband and live almost 300 miles away to do it. I was hired after an over the phone interview as a K-12 media specialist, new fancy title for librarian, at Rock Point Community School.
The school superintendent, Jimmy was giving me my first tour when I got to Rock Point, and he introduced me to Molly, the only other white woman in the area when I lived there. Everyone called each other by their first names, even the students called the teachers by first names,
I asked about it one time, and Louise, an English teacher, told me, “Otherwise, they would be saying, Mrs. Begay, Mrs. Begay, Mrs. Begay,” and we both laughed, because there are about five main last names for the Navajo. Really there are others, but many share the same surnames, and we had at least four women teachers with the last name Begay (and a few men). I liked the way the kids would call me Deborah with a musical lilt in their voices.
The Navajo have a great sense of humor and love to laugh. We would laugh a lot at our teachers’ meetings, something I can’t say about the schools I worked at off the Rez. They always looked nice too, the women in their long beautiful print or velvet skirts, many with black hair down to the small of their backs, sometimes braided, men in pressed jeans, boots and cowboy shirts with bolos, wearing cowboy hats. The Diné, what the Navajo call themselves (meaning the people), were always decked out in really fine silver and turquoise jewelry.
One time I had to give an opening speech at an awards ceremony. The wind had been blowing 50-60 mph all day, the red sandstone grains that permeate the Rez, hitting the skin like miniature bullets. I looked out over the sea of faces and saw not one hair out of place on anyone. I started my speech, “I don’t know about you....but, I’ve been having a really bad hair day.” They all cracked up. They like white people who make fun of themselves.
Molly lived down the street from my part-time home (a one bedroom duplex I rented for $200 a month), and we became good friends. Molly worked in administration for the school and had lived in Rock Point five years. It was a nice looking high schooll and fairly new.
Molly’s husband had taught at Rock Point until that year but, he was in Southern California teaching at a university when I lived there. I sucked Molly into my dog rescue operation, and she would help me find people to adopt them and feed the dogs when I went off the Rez. We would go on shopping trips together to Cortez, Co or Farmington NM. In Cortez we would take her daughter, Nina, to the park to feed the ducks. A couple of times we went to Flagstaff together, where our husbands met us for the weekend. Almost every other weekend, Skip would come to the Rez to stay with me on the weekends I didn’t go home.
I spent all my time on the Rez, when I wasn’t working, rescuing dogs, feeding dogs, getting dogs rabies shots, spading and neutering dogs and even on one occasion having a dog put to sleep. She had been hit by a car and spent three days on the side of the road. I had tried to talk a Navajo man who worked at the Mission into putting her down for me, but when he followed me over there, his wife and children showed up in a truck. She started yelling at him. He looked at me and said, “I can’t do it. My wife is afraid I will give the children “ghost sickness”.
Ghost sickness strilkes the sufferer who may be mildly obsessed with death or a deceased person whom they believe to be the source of their affliction. It can involve all kimds of physical symtoms and lead to depression and death.
I got a blanket, wrapped the dog and gently put her in the back of my car. I drove her fifty miles south to the white vet in Chinle (most Navajos do not want to be around death at all because of ghost sickness). I was driving 85 mph the whole 50 miles, passing a tribal cop, mentally daring him to stop me (he didn’t), to get to the vet before he closed. After examining her, he asked me how long she had been by the road, and I guessed, “A few hours?” “No,” he said, “It’s been at least three days. Her eye socket is dried out (her eye had been hanging out) and her leg is gangrened.” I cried and cried, and a Navajo lady and her son, who were also at the vet’s, hugged me and cried with me. I cried all the way home.
In Navajo religious belief, a chindi (Navajo: chʼį́įdii) is the ghost left behind after a person dies, believed to leave the body with the deceased's last breath. It is everything that was bad about the person; the "residue that man has been unable to bring into universal harmony". Traditional Navajo believe that contact with a chindi can cause illness ("ghost sickness") and death. Chindi are believed to linger around the deceased's bones or possessions, so possessions are often destroyed after death and contact with bodies is avoided. After death the deceased's name is never spoken, for fear that the chindi will hear and come and make one ill. Traditional Navajo practice is to allow death to occur outdoors, to allow the chindi to disperse. If a person dies in a house or hogan, that building is believed to be inhabited by the chindi and is abandoned.
Everywhere I went the dogs knew me and my car and would come to meet me. After my first trip on to the Rez, and seeing hungry dogs everywhere, I always traveled with a fifty pound sack of dog food in my trunk. I would have a line of dogs waiting outside my duplex every morning, because they knew I would feed them all. Some came from far away to be in line in the morning. I had a kiddie pool full of water on the side in my yard for them to drink.
I had names for them all. Snarley, Missy, Puppy, Snaggledog, Rags, Blue (who I took home and kept. I also took Snarley and Missy home the last time I left the Rez. Puppy got adopted. More stories.). I brought a lot of dogs home to Rimrock. We still had our doodle, dachshund /poodle, Mary, who was diabetic and needed two shots a day. Our Great Dane, Dude, had died at age eleven the month before I left for the Rez. My husband was ready to leave me. (not really, but he would jokingly threaten to).
I let dogs come in my duplex at Rock Point. Missy had puppies there. The Diné thought that was really strange. Most Diné never let their dogs come in the house. I would have dogs waiting for me at school when I got there in the morning. The Diné where I lived called me the dog lady.
Nina, Molly’s five-year-old daughter, found this puppy by the side of the road, dehydrated and barely hanging on. Many Navajo just desert the puppies somewhere in the desert or by the road instead of taking them to the pound, which was really far for most people to drive. There are great distances from one place to another on the Navajo Rez, and the Navajo are famous for the desire to live in hogans in remote areas without towns or neighborhoods. It is part of their culture. That is why many of them do not have electricity or plumbing, although many were buying solar panels large enough to power a few things in their hogans when I was there.
Nina, a blonde haired, blue eyed child of Nordic ancestry, could speak and sing Navajo like a Native. She came in second in the children’s Navajo singing contest. I think she didn’t get first, because she wasn’t Navajo, but that is MO. She has a very beautiful singing voice. Navajo is a very hard language to learn. That’s why the Navajo Code Talkers became Code Talkers. The enemy could not understand their language. No one that doesn’t speak it can.
I was going south for the weekend, I would go home to Rimrock about every two weeks, and Molly asked me to take the puppy off the Rez. We took all the dogs we thought were adoptable off the Rez. I hadn’t seen her, but I said I would. I never really looked at her in her doggy cage, which was plastic except for a small wire door in the front, because she was going to the pound. I did not want to get to know her or like her. They had a better chance of being adopted off the Rez in a pound than the ending they would face staying on the Rez. Run over by cars, dying of dehydration, (no water anywhere), starvation, death by other hungry animals, ticks as big as the end of my thumb.
I picked my daughter Sarah up in Flagstaff, where she lived, on my way home to Rimrock. My parents had come to visit from Iowa, so we were both going to see them. I told her, “Don’t take that puppy out of the box. Don’t look at it. Don’t even talk to it.” I used my best parent voice, which I have perfected over twenty years. Sarah ignored me and kept talking to the puppy and making remarks all the way home, “She’s so cute.” We got to the house. The next thing I knew, Sarah had the puppy out of the box and was playing with her. My parent voice doesn’t work as good as my husband’s. We played with her all weekend. She was already out of the box, so she was hard to ignore. And, she was just so cute.
On our way back north, we stopped at Skip’s store to say goodbye. My husband was a jeweler. Skip had learned to make jewelry thirty-five years earlier when he was living on the Rez with a family in a hogan. I had not met him yet. The father told him he should learn to make jewelry and teach his sons how, so he did. He was a master jeweler and knew all the Native designs and their meanings. He made silver water birds, also called thunderbirds and peyote birds, of his own design for everyone in our family.
Skip’s bolo, my peyote bird with a garnet and opal, Skip’s watch band he always wore. All tourquoise is natural Bisbee Blue. All made by Skip Waters.
The Water Bird is a symbol of the renewal of life, rainy seasons, rivers, distant travel, distant vision & wisdom. It is often also referred to as the Peyote Bird because the Water Bird plays a significant part in the Native American Indian Church Peyote meetings and, in fact, since the early 1900′s has been the symbol of the NAC.
My husband looked at me and said, “Have you taken that puppy to the pound yet?” I looked down....around....just not at him, “nooooooooo.” Then he said, “I’m going to take that puppy to the pound.” He was using his parent voice. When I came back two weeks later, he still had her. We named her, Mauley, and I have her still.
I know Mauley’s a herding dog. She’s a born herder. She has the instinctive nature. The Navajo have a long history of sheep raising, and they use herder dogs to help them. They use the wool to weave their famous rugs. But overgrazing has also led to land erosion on much of the Rez and they are trying to work on the problem.
"Sheep is in every essence an important part of our culture and traditions. It is important to celebrate our sheep traditions and our lifeways. Our Sheep Is Life Celebration re-centers us in the cosmos of our universe; it is our blessingway ceremony for our continuance here on earth, and for the next generations to come."
Roy Kady, former President of DBI
The Long Walk and its consequences were so devastating that the Navajos have never fully recovered. Most of their 2 million sheep were lost during the Long Walk. They were then issued about 14,000 sheep and 1,000 goats in small family lots and encouraged to breed more, but overgrazing and erosion nearly destroyed the land. By 1933, erosion was so critical the Roosevelt administration urged Navajos to drastically reduce their numbers of horses and sheep. The government introduced what it called "better breeds" (merinos, Shropshires and Rambouillets) and slaughtered churros. Some of the churros were hidden in the canyons of the reservation and managed to survive, but the churro sheep culture that had become a Navajo tradition was ravaged.
Mauley used to herd our other dogs, flocks of birds and even the grand kids on the playground in the park. She would circle the play area and make sure the kids stayed in the perimeter. She had a way, when she was just a few months old, of nipping our heels with a sharp bite that hurt like hell but didn’t break the skin. She would herd our others dogs into the corner with this nipping at their heels method. They were all terrorized by her, and she was just a puppy. That’s how she got her name. Mauley. To pay back Molly, my friend, and because she had this nipping terrorist streak in her.
She would take all our clothes and shoes she could find in the house outside down stairs to the lower yard while we were at work, because she was lonesome. She never tore anything up, but we would come home to find our clothes, shoes and laundry scattered all over the yard.
Mauley loves children. She never met a kid she didn’t want to kiss. Children love her back. When we first got her, our neighbor’s son fell in love with her and gave her a bone bigger than she was. She looked funny carrying it around. She also loves Navajo rugs and when people speak to her in Navajo. My friend always picks up his beautiful, handmade, Navajo living room rug when I’m coming to visit because Mauley will go crazy rubbing herself on it. She was always funny and loves to play, but now she’s older and has a tumor growing in her side and a huge one on her knee. In the pictures she looks fat in, it is before I found out she had a thyroid problem. She has lost ten pounds the last year on her thyroid medicine.
I have written diaries about how Mauley saved my life, and how she stayed in the caroutside the VA hospital for two weeks while Skip was dying. This is the story of how I got Mauley. She is one of the best dogs I have ever had, and I am never sorry we kept her. My husband has died, Mary has died, but I still have Mauley. I love her, and she loves me. She’s my souvenir from my time on the Rez, my little Navajo.
Me, Skip (two months before he died) and Mauley. We are laughing because any time we would get lovey together Mauley would want to get in on it.
Dedicated with love to my husband, Skip Waters
(I always told him I was going to write a book and call it “Rez Dogs”.)