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By Wings

My older brother, Roy Wayne Bernal, went to Spirit one month ago today, June 3, 2012, at about 5:30 in the morning.

Roy's former wife was a Jehovah's Witness, and his four children were all raised in that faith and remain devout members of that church.  Roy was baptized into their church a couple of years ago, and he wished to have his final rites conducted according to their faith.  I respected that and supported it, and I made sure that his family was able to carry out his wishes without interference.  

But there was another side of Roy - his Indian side, his Tiwa side.  Actually it was much more than a side, it was a fundamental part of who he was.  I don't want him to be forgotten, but it would not have been appropriate for me to do this at his formal services here in town.  But I want to make sure the world knows who my brother was and all that he accomplished for his people.

Born October 26, 1947, Roy was not quite two years older than me.  His grandparents collectively chose his Indian name, Black Shouting Water.  Like most of us, he was raised using his "white name," but his Indian name appeared in various forms in his businesses and in other ways in his adult life.  He never forgot who he really was.

We grew up together in the traditional way.  For a few years after I was born, we lived in our family's old house in Taos Pueblo's old village, where the buildings are more than 1,000 years old.  Even today, some people still live in those ancient homes,  Some are no more than two rooms, and there is no electricity, running water, or other modern conveniences.  But they are built of traditional adobe, which makes great natural insulation, with old roof entries that are now skylights and real kiva fireplaces to heat them in the cold.  In the 1950s, our father built a beautiful family-sized house for us with his own hands.  It still stands, down a narrow dirt road outside the old village.

Roy and I grew up together doing all the things that traditional Indian boys in this part of the country learn to do.  We were both runners in the footraces every year.  Even though we were almost two years apart, we were initiated into the same kiva together at puberty.  That was when Roy's future with our people was assured.  He took the proper steps to ensure that when he someday went to Spirit, his own spirit would follow in the footsteps of our ancestors.  It's why I know, in spite of his additional baptism into his children's religion, that I will see him again someday in the way of our people.

Our father also made sure that we were taught all the traditional skills we would need, including hunting, fishing, and farming.  Back then, what is now my land and Roy's land was part of a huge tract belonging to our parents, and our family planted and maintained crops on these acres every year.  In the summer, the whole family would sometimes travel the few miles out to this land by horse-drawn wagon.  We would build arbors to have a place to get out of the sun and heat, and we would work in the fields, planting corn and other crops, irrigating, and maintaining the hayfields.  Often, Roy and I would be sent out here together to stay indefinitely and do the work.  Of course, we were adolescents, so we mostly didn't appreciate the opportunity we'd been given.  I still remember how Roy and I used to get into fistfights over nothing, mostly because we were teenage boys and we'd rather be in town doing whatever the white boys were doing.  We probably didn't even know what that was, other than that it didn't involve day-long physical labor in the fields and sleeping out under the stars at night.

But we learned what we needed to know.  And we both appreciated those lessons after we grew up.  And now I'm grateful that we had that time together in our lives.

In high school, Roy was a typical oldest son, a high achiever.  I remember when he was about eighteen, he was asked to join a singing group, and our parents agreed to let him do it.  The group was called Sing Out '65, and it was a brand-new thing and a really big deal at the time.  It still exists today, only now it's called Up With People.  I don't think Roy or our parents knew anything about the founder or the group and their conservative connections.  It was just a great opportunity for an Indian boy from Taos Pueblo to be able to travel the world and meet people.  I still remember getting postcards from him from Tokyo.  When it's the sixties and you're a sixteen-year-old Indian kid stolen from your family by Mormons, stuck up in Utah doing physical labor and Bible study for a white man's religion, just knowing that your brother is singing in Japan gives you hope.

Roy went on to college, and then came back home to work for his people.  Our father's brother was Paul Bernal, who along with our cacique was the man most responsible for getting Blue Lake returned to us more than forty years ago.  Uncle Paul (like our father, Louis Bernal) was everything I always thought an Indian man should be - an expert on our people who kept to our traditional ways, but who learned the dominant culture's ways so that he could use them to help our people.  Roy was the one in our family who carried on Uncle Paul's legacy.

For a while, Roy had his own shop in the old village, and he had other businesses over the years.  But he never lost sight of the fact that our Indian people needed a voice in the outside world.  He was perhaps best known as the chairman of the All-Indian Pueblo Council (AIPC).  AIPC lists their mission as follows:

The AIPC provides the administration of social service programs to the twenty Pueblos of New Mexico.  Our mission is to promote justice and to encourage the common welfare of the Pueblo peoples.  We address governmental policy and social issues.  We strive to revitalize Pueblo culture and to preserve our Pueblo languages.
Roy was instrumental in building the organization and making it what it is today.  He was an expert on our own language, Tiwa, and spoke it fluently.  I know that he saw early on the need to keep our languages and traditions alive.  I also know that he believed strongly in the need to use the outside world's governing structure and institutions to make sure that our peoples' needs were met and that we always had a place at the table going forward.  

Roy was not a lawyer, but he was an expert on tribal law, and especially on tribal sovereignty.  He had a deep understanding of our rights as Indian people, how they were constantly under threat from the dominant culture's governments, and the effects that their laws would have on us if we were not watchful.  He worked with politicians at all levels, and testified before Congress on tribal sovereignty and immunity issues.  [Note:  Link goes to complete hearing transcript; search Roy's name to find his testimony.]  Aji found some of his Congressional testimony for me on the Internet and I re-read it for the first time in many years.  I was again amazed at his eloquence and the depth and breadth of his knowledge, and I'm so proud of him for calling things out for what they are.  Roy was always honorable and always showed respect, but he refused to mince words about colonialism and its effects.  Here is a brief example of my brother's words, from a hearing before the Indian Affairs Committee when Congress and disgruntled non-Indians sought once again to overturn our sovereignty:

To heed a few disappointed persons such as those complaining to Congress and other authorities with their wrongful assertions or inevitable exaggerations, would Congress upset existing tribal sovereignty, the concept of self-governance, and the necessary independence that tribes enjoy? Are non-tribal courts better, fairer, more learned, better informed, more conversant with Indian tradition? The answers to these queries are, of course, a resounding no.

It is a sad fact that multitudes of persons who live — who believe they have been treated fairly and even-handed by tribes do not feel compelled to come forward.

This was a learned man, a wise man, an honorable man who fought for his people as surely as any ancient warrior.

Like Uncle Paul, he knew that some of us would have to walk in two worlds, and he took on the responsibility and all the risks and others' resentments that would come with it.  I have spent my adult life being proud of Roy for what he accomplished for all of our peoples.

When Roy left AIPC, he was hired by the Kickapoo as their tribal administrator, and he moved to Eagle Pass, Texas.  He lived there most of the last decade or so, and although we remained close in spirit, our contact with each other was greatly diminished.  That changed about four years ago.

Our father, Louis Bernal, became ill in the summer of 2008, and he went to Spirit early on the morning of December 17, 2008.  That summer, Roy and I began to stay in touch more regularly, and after our father's death, my brother decided that it was time to come home and take up his responsibilities as the head of our father's household.  I was very happy, because his home and land are only a quarter of a mile down the road, and our lands adjoin in certain areas - close enough to walk to each other's homes.  He returned permanently in early 2009, and got to know Aji better.  She helped him with writing and other projects (and made him frybread), and loved him as a brother.  Of course, we were busy with our lives, and often one of us would simply stop by the other's gate to talk as we drove on our way to other errands.  When he would stop by, he would always park in the same spot just north of my gate and I would meet him out there.

That same year, he had some concerns about his health, but he went to the doctor and was told he was fine.  He went on about his life.  Then, early last year, he told me that it was clear that something was wrong.  he went to Albuquerque, where the told him that he had non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, very advanced.  They told him he needed chemotherapy and radiation immediately - that he had no choice.  They also told him he had no more than two months to live.

Spiritually, Roy walked in multiple worlds.  He was a traditional, initiated into the kiva, and he spent his early life dedicated to those duties.  He was also a follower of the Tipi Way (also known as the Peyote Way, or the Native American Church).  Our father was a traditional elder in the kiva and a Road Man in the Tipi Way, and we were raised to know and practice both traditions.  When he married and had children, he attended his wife's and children's church services, but he was not formally baptized into their religion until April of 2010.  But none of his spiritual practices involved putting poison into his body.  He decided that he did have a choice and that he was going to choose what he felt was the healthiest course of action.  He informed the clinic doctors that he would not undergo either chemotherapy or radiation.  Instead, he went to a holistic practitioner in Mexico who put him on a natural regimen.

His doctor was angry.  He told Roy that he would die.  Then he abandoned him, refusing to give him even basic information when he went in for periodic check-ups or return phone calls.  When Roy asked him, at one of those check-ups, what he should do to keep his energy levels up. the doctor shrugged and said, "Well, you could eat ice cream."  That was all the advice he had.

But Roy beat the odds.  They told him two months, and he lived more than a year beyond that.  Maybe more important, he lived that extra year the way he wanted to do it, in his own home, on his land, with good quality of life, mostly feeling well.

In May, we knew he wasn't feeling as well as he had been.  He admitted that he was tired.  His legs were swollen, which is common with lymphoma.  He was going to go back to Mexico in late June, rather than wait for his regular appointment in August.  One of his daughters talked with us, talked with him, then talked with the clinic, and got them to prescribe a diuretic.  But the clinic doctor didn't bother to tell him that he needed to increase his water intake, nor that he needed to keep his sodium levels and electrolytes up.  On the evening of May 31, his daughter called us to let us know that she'd taken him to the hospital, with his consent.  It turned out that he was dehydrated, so they put him on a drip - but they didn't account his sodium and electrolyte levels, so they had to start all over again.  Meanwhile, when he asked what he could do at home to prevent it from happening again, the physician in charge said to him, in front of his kids, "Well, you're going to die."

That's it.  That was all the advice she had for him.  And the next day, another doctor said the exact same thing.  

His daughters called us that morning, June 1, and we went to the hospital.  He admitted that he was depressed - but all of the tests on his organs showed that they were in great condition, and he said that he felt like he had a lot of living to do yet.  So we helped them get him out of there and back home.  I spent time with him at his home off and on the rest of the day and the following day.  His former wife was there, too (they had been divorced for ten years, but still loved each other, and I'm grateful that he had her).  His son and three daughters were there, with their spouses and children.  And at one point on Saturday, June 2, he looked around the living room at each of his children, looking them in the eye, and I saw that he was happy.

At 5:40 the next morning, the dogs began to bark furiously, and my cell phone simultaneously began to ring.  We looked out the window; a car was at the gate and someone was walking in.  I got dressed and went outside to meet Roy's son and put my arms around him as he wept, telling me that his father had walked on ten minutes ago - in his own house, with his children surrounding him.  

I went over to the house to help, then came back for Aji a half-hour later.  We said our farewells to him personally, before the body was taken for cremation.  Because of his recent baptism into his family's faith, and for other reasons, he did not want a núnpala, our traditional four-day death observances.  I helped his children ensure that his wishes were respected.  Roy is survived by his son, his three daughters, their respective spouses, five grandchildren, and his former wife.  Among our family, he is survived by myself, one younger sister, and another younger brother.

The following Saturday, June 7, his family held a memorial service for him at the local Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses.  We attended, and I was glad to see that many people from the Pueblo came to pay their respects, as well.  The next day, we went to the house to join his children and former wife in placing his ashes on his land.  At the moment that they were laid to the earth, Aji saw an albino monarch butterfly float past, between his resting place and his loved ones.  

It was very hard when we lost our father almost four years ago, but he was 92, and so it was more a part of the natural order of things.  But losing my brother has been more difficult than I could ever have imagined.  He was much too young - only 64.  And we were very close.  Not a day has gone by this last month that I have not thought, "I need to tell Roy that," and picked up the phone . . . only to realize that I can't call him anymore.  I can't hear his voice, yet I hear it in my head every day.  I can't see his face, yet I see him in my mind's eye every day, the way we always felt - young and strong and alive and happy.  I love him more than I can say, and it hurts my heart that he's gone.  I miss him so much.

Three weeks to the day after left us, I had to go the village to pick up Aji.  The gate locks on the south side of the entrance, and normally, I lock it and get back in the truck immediately, because that's the driver's side.  On this day, for some reason, I walked around the back of the truck to the north side.  There, lying in the soft grass on the verge, lay a wing feather from a young bald eagle.  I picked it up and put it on the truck seat.  When I picked Aji up, she asked where I got the eagle feather, and I told her.  She said, "Roy."

I think so, too.

Roy, I love you, brother.  Ta'a for everything you have done, for me and for everyone else.  A'semu'ia.

A note from Aji:

This is written by Wings.  I helped a bit with editing and took care of the links, but what appears here are Wings's words and memories of his brother.  He wanted to remember Roy publicly in a place that would appreciate his brother's accomplishments and respect his identity, so I promised him that if he wrote it, I would post it here.

Originally posted to Aji on Tue Jul 03, 2012 at 01:43 PM PDT.

Also republished by J Town, Street Prophets , and Native American Netroots.

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