`I want to tell you this story because I don't want it to get lost.' She recited the story that had been told to her many times." Not all of us walked the long walk. Some of us only knew families that did. I experienced many things as a young woman. I was home alone taking care of the camp when they came…"
I was standing at the balcony window of my apartment holding two sheet of paper, a letter from long ago. I've had the letter for the past seventeen years and the writing was now becoming barely legible.
My Aunt Betty had written this letter. She would help my grandmother Nellie and I keep in touch. Nellie did not speak English - much less read or write it. Nellie would speak and Betty would transcribe the oration the best way she could. Much of the letter was written matter of factly and was very descriptive. I didn't know what affect it had on me until recently.
As a young man I rarely made it to the reservation. My parents relocated to the city to make a better life for themselves. They were busy trying to make in the "white mans world" that they forgot what the reservation offered. They had suffered the effects of the BIA boarding school systems that taught more value in progress in the non-native society.
The correspondence with Nellie was the only ties I had with Native life. Nellie regularly told me pleasant life stories and the happenings in Navajo Land. However, this particular letter was different. Nellie's words were filled with a flared passion that she rarely showed. I knew something was wrong. I felt the end of something beautiful was coming but I was too young to understand. Weeks later Nellie passed on. I was heart broken. I lost a person I loved. I lost what may be my only connection to my people. I lost my grandma.
This is the last letter Nellie sent: "My great-grandmother Hazbaa was a strong woman. She killed two cavalrymen with their own guns. She was only sixteen when Kit Carson and his troops were ordered to round up the Dine' people and forced them to march to Bosque Redondo. Carson went on a killing spree through out our lands. Many people died on the way. Many families were torn apart. But Hazbaa was able to keep her family safe from the torturous walk. This is how she told me and so this is how I'll tell you:
`I want to tell you this story because I don't want it to get lost. Not all of us walked the long walk. Some of us only knew families that did. I experienced many things as a young woman. It was a very hard time. The Dine' people were being invaded by the white man. Our sheep herds were not a big as they us to be. Many children did not live more then a couple weeks after birth.
I was home alone taking care of the camp when they came…I saw a dust storm coming from the east. I thought it I had better bring in the meat that was hanging to dry before it got covered with dirt. As the cloud got closer I realized that it was dirt from the trotting of cavalry horses. Scared I ran off to hide. I knew what they did; they killed that was their job. Our cousins in the east tell stories so horrifying that it's hard to imagine people so cruel. Deathly afraid but still I turned and watched as the Calvary approached closer. Obviously, they were looking for something. They arrived at the camp and about 45 minutes went by before they left to the next camp. While they were at my camp they set fire to our home and supplies. They shoot our lambs that stayed behind for they were too young to graze. They stole our food and water. I watched as our livelihood was destroyed without a second thought. I seen these men act more savage then any Indian I ever met. I stood and watched in shock and anger. I had so many emotions that I didn't know how to react.
I hid in the bush and saw two soldiers had remained behind drinking and joking. I don't know what came over me but I crept closer and as the wind shifted I smelt there the alcohol from them. One soldier turned away from where he laid his bayonet-rifle. I sneaked up while he faced the opposite direction. I saw an opportunity for revenge. It must have been no more than five seconds that I realized what I was doing and what I had to do. My thoughts were running wild like when horses fight from being broken. My sorrow weight, heavy. The future seemed hopeless. What were we going to do for food or a home? If they do not find us now will they be back to do more damage. Well my family ever be safe again.
I crept up and in my anger I drew his bayonet and in a split second I stabbed him. The other soldier was facing the opposite direction and I did the same to him when he turned to face the commotion behind him. After I had killed the two men I went in search to look for my family. I found them near by and I told them what had happened. I use to wonder why I did it. It was only the lives of two soldiers. What difference well that make. They still came back and hurt more of my people. I know if I didn't fight to protect my family even for that day that I might as well have let the soldiers find me. It was winter so we hid in at the summer camp in the mountains till we felt it was safe to return home. We rebuilt and lived."
Nellie ended her letter. She said, "Do not forget we are warriors. You well face many new enemies in the years to come. Always be ready to fight no matter how small the battle. Do not forget where you come from. Tell your parents I miss them too and I'll be seeing you soon. Love, Grandma"
Reading the letter again on the balcony to my apartment with a tear in my eye, I realize she knew her time was coming. I eventually choose my fight. My fight is to connect to the family I have remaining on the rez. I'm 32 years old. I accomplished many positive things in the white mans world. I know it is due to the strength this letter gave me whenever I read it. I must reconnect with my past to ever really be happy. I use to wonder why she told me this story. She knew a lot. She knew I would have trouble with my identity, with belonging, with a need to know where I come from and who I am. I think she knew it would one day bring me home. I come from a family that fought for me.