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Reflections in the Silver Cup


A BIA school like the one I attended

This entry first appeared in The Gallup Independent on June 13, 2020. Published here with permission with minor changes.


I grew up in the Navajo Nation and in Gallup. My parents were white missionaries. For several days now, we have been hearing and seeing rightful outrage about the murder of George Floyd by a white policeman. We are being reminded about many others whose lives have been only because of their skin color. We see and hear the words, "Black Lives Matter." Some people object, saying "All lives matter." Of course they do, but not all lives are in danger the way black and red lives are. The signs should say, "Black and Red Lives Matter," because in the US, police kill Native people at a greater percentage than any other group. These are the people whose lives are in danger from the people who are supposed to serve and protect them.


As a white woman, I have benefited all my life from being white in the US. This looked a little different in the Navajo Nation from how it might have looked in other parts of the country, but without a doubt I benefited because of my skin color. My family always lived in a house with running water. When we lived at Teec Nos Pos, Navajo people drove miles with horse and wagon to fill their water barrels. It could take all day to do this, while we simply turned a tap many times a day, thinking nothing of our privilege. Today 30% of Navajo homes are still without running water, which is a major factor in the extreme force of COVID-19 in the Navajo Nation.


In 1954, when I started school, Navajo children were being forcibly taken from home and sent to government and mission boarding schools, where they were punished for speaking their own language. But what could they speak? Not English. They didn't know English. There were no carefully sequenced lessons to teach English as a Second Language. It was sink or swim. I already knew how, not only to speak English but to read it. The principal moved me up to second grade on my first day. I had these educational advantages in that school because I was white.


On my first day of school, after our lunch of government commodity cheese sandwiches and lumpy powdered milk that made me gag, the matron marched us to the dormitory for naps. I knew the matron because her daughters were my playmates. I tried to tell her I didn't take naps anymore, but she acted like she didn't know me and sent me to one of the beds. I thought it meant would have to stay there like all the other children. Never go home again. As soon as the matron left, I rolled off my bed, snuck across the hall, out the heavy metal door, and raced down the hill—home to the mission, sobbing all the way. My mother called the principal and arranged for me to come home for lunch after that. This happened because I was white. The parents of my Navajo classmates couldn't speak to the principal in the "right" language. They didn't have telephones. The government forced them into boarding school compliance.


When I was eight, I was sent to mission boarding school. Unlike the parents of my classmates, my parents weren't forced to send me; it was a choice. Because I was white, I went home every other weekend. The Navajo children went home once during the school year for Christmas vacation. I was terribly homesick. Navajo children were deeply homesick, too, with far more reason—silenced because they didn't know the language, punished for speaking theirs, ripped from land and culture, from all that was sacred to them. Everything but home was familiar for me. I could excel in school simply because of language and cultural knowledge. At the end of that year, my parents moved to Gallup. No more boarding school. They had that choice because we were white.


Once at lunch I asked a Navajo high school student to pass me the milk—in Diné, the Navajo language. I didn't even think about what I was doing. Years later he told me he had thought, "If this little white girl can speak Navajo to me, why shouldn't I speak my own language?" Nothing happened to me because I used Diné. At the end of the school year, that Navajo student was told he couldn't leave with his father until he paid 85 cents. "Why?" he asked and was told, "A nickel for every time you talked Navajo." He didn't know he had been observed and charged. In 1957, 85 cents was money his family didn't have.


I have benefited in literally countless ways––then and still today, simply because my skin is white. Not black or red. These are only a few examples. If you are white, please consider how you have benefited because of the color of your skin. Consider what you can do to dismantle this system of racial injustice.

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The cholla along the ditch surprised me yesterday, coming into full bloom suddenly––in just that moment, I thought. Or, more likely, I had passed unnoticing, thinking of other such important things. The little New Mexico bees are in love with her and not at all taken up with any concerns but this. They devote themselves utterly. We are here for a nano second, and when we are gone, the cholla will still be showing off her magenta glory; the bees will keep on gathering and scattering; the cholla's golden fruits will appear in the fall beside the prosaic ditch. We are here, and then we're gone, and the rest continue despite all the indignities to which we subject them while we're here.

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with the night falling we are saying thank you

we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings

we are running out of the glass rooms

with our mouths full of food to look at the sky

and say thank you

we are standing by the water looking out

in different directions


back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging

after funerals we are saying thank you

after the news of the dead

whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

looking up from tables we are saying thank you

in a culture up to its chin in shame

living in the stench it has chosen we are saying thank you


over telephones we are saying thank you

in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators

remembering wars and the police at the back door

and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you

in the banks that use us we are saying thank you

with the crooks in office with the rich and fashionable

unchanged we go on saying thank you thank you


with the animals dying around us

our lost feelings we are saying thank you

with the forests falling faster than the minutes

of our lives we are saying thank you

with the words going out like cells of a brain

with the cities growing over us like the earth

we are saying thank you faster and faster

with nobody listening we are saying thank you

we are saying thank you and waving

dark though it is


~ W. S. Merwin

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My parents were more equal partners in their marriage than many couples of their generation. My dad always made our breakfasts while Mom poured juice or cut up fruit and shouted at us children to get ready for school or church. Dad's breakfasts were never the same two days in a row, and there was plenty of variety: pancakes, waffles, fried eggs, scrambled eggs, oatmeal, Ralston, cream of wheat, ground beef in cream gravy on toast, creamed brains, cornbread (called johnnycake in our house). Dad saved bread heels, and when there were enough, he dipped them in beaten egg with cinnamon; it was essentially French toast made of pieces of crust, so we teased him and called it Dutch toast and slathered it in homemade, imitation maple syrup. Sundays we could count on coffee cake—always. When we had bacon, it came from a big square box of bacon ends—cheap. He made Grrt from ground liver, ground pork shoulder, and barley in loaf tins, which got fried up and eaten on toast. He could do something I thought was unremarkable until I started cooking: he took two eggs in each hand, cracked them all at the same time, the eggs falling into whatever he was making with nary a piece of shell. Dad was trained as a cook in the army during the war and later made his living that way several different times in our lives. He was creative in his cooking, experimenting with combinations of foods and spices. He was the one who taught my mother how to cook meat early in their marriage.


For years I ate the same thing for breakfast almost every morning: yogurt with fruit and nuts, a little granola sprinkled on top as a condiment. But in the Time of Corona, I have apparently channeled my father and am creating a much more varied repertoire. Perhaps it's because the sameness of the days needs some spicing up (pun intended). I make heart-shaped mini-waffles; roasted corn mush (pictured) with little surprises—date bites, sunflower seeds and walnuts ; oatmeal mixed with chia seeds; ta'niil (blue corn mush); a Dutch treat called dikke rejst, which is rice (sometimes mixed with barley) re-cooked in milk with maple syrup or honey; yogurt and fruit; the occasional fried egg.


Sometimes I make what Cheyenne's friend (and mine), Amber, calls an "Anna Redsand breakfast," which makes me chuckle because it's just a continental breakfast, really. It's not what some American hotels call continental. When Cheyenne and I lived in Cuba, we sometimes stayed overnight during an Albuquerque trip at a hotel on Menaul. Their idea of a continental breakfast was donuts and orange soda. In European hotels, a continental breakfast is a veritable feast of meats, cheeses, eggs, pastries and fruits. An Anna Redsand breakfast is something in between—no sodas, thank you very much. It might include eggs scrambled with veggies, toast, a couple of cheese choices, pinto beans, bacon, a fruit salad, perhaps mimosas, French press coffee and a variety of teas. Little can give me greater pleasure than having a bunch of Cheyenne's friends or mine over for breakfast.


Food is not matter

but the heart of matter,

the flesh and blood of

rock and water, earth and sun.


Food is not a commodity

which price can capture,

but exacting effort,

carefully sustained,

the life work of countless



With this cooking I enter

the heart of matter,

I enter the intimate activity

which makes dreams materialize.


~ Edward Espe Brown


What are you having for breakfast these days? Do you have a breakfast memory to share?


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