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Life Arts

Space Ships, Skin Walkers, Ghosts, and Beyond

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"The Whites don't understand so we don't say anything to them," Byron said.

Byron (the names have been changed in this post) was a young student at our high school on the Navajo reservation in New Mexico.

"We see them all of the time," Byron goes onto explain. "What you saw is not that unusual. I know people that are abducted by them."

Well what I saw, and what I asked the student about, was a giant orange UFO that had remained in the sky for an hour and then shrank to a white orb and took off. It had amazed me, my family, and other teachers that saw it at the teachers' compound. Up until that time, I had never seen a UFO in all of my 40 something years but since that time I have now seen several UFOs. Some of the sightings I have had since that time have been quite astounding. But back then, I wanted to know if the other students had seen that big orange ball, the size of a big moon, that sat low in the sky. I noticed, though, that many students had seemed uncomfortable talking about it. So Byron was telling me that the Navajos didn't like to talk about these things with the Whites since there is the danger of ridicule and misunderstanding.

I had only been a school counselor on the Navajo reservation for a short time. This is the world of Tony Hillerman books, and although I don't read them, I know that many of his stories occur around this high school located at Pueblo Pintado. It's mainly a trading post almost in between Crown Point and Cuba on Indian Rd 9., the Navajos believe this area has the same type of significance as a Transylvania does to our modern culture. It is desolate and seemingly strange even by Navajo standards.

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Life is difficult and most families are without running water and a lot have no electricity. One room hogans are common and they are heated with "woods" that my students have to keep going throughout the night. One meal a day is common among the Dine' out there. Depression is also a common affliction but surprisingly I find that the more modern a family has become the more the children suffer from depression. If the children are kept busy with survival then they aren't as afflicted with the boredom and isolation that brings on some of the heavy gloom. The children generally live many miles from each other and it was not uncommon for a child to travel up to 50 or 60 miles to go to school.

In this high school one out of 2 students suffered from depression and the school district had one of the highest suicide rates in the country. There were 15 suicides in the school district the year before I came down to New Mexico. (Fortunately, over the last couple of years our school district has had no student suicides and I think our suicide awareness program has made a tremendous difference.)
Drug usage is rampant and alcoholism is a major problem. Neglect and physical and sexual abuse is also a major problem.

This was a new high school, only a year old, and I am a counselor from Northwest Ohio that has arrived with my family to try to be of some help. But I knew that if I wanted to be of help to my students then I would have to enter their world. Counselors call it empathic understanding and it is probably one of the most, if not the most, helpful of techniques in counseling.

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At first entering the my student's world was a little difficult because in the Native culture silence is something that they are comfortable with. My students expected me to talk to them and to tell them stories like in the oral tradition that they were used to and that had been carried on for centuries. But I soon learned that the conversation would come when the trust was gained. Counselors are respected by the Navajos and I think the respect is carried over from the medicine man and the spiritual tradition of someone in authority helping.

For me, it wasn't hard to understand my student's "world" since, after years of meditation, I have realized that an individual's "world" is made of the energies that a person focus' on and the energies they allow into their narrow "realities." I know that we are only able to perceive a small amount of the available energies that exist and I am open to trying to understand those energies.

In a short time, I realized that the Navajos were experiencing a world much different from what a modern would experience. My students began to trust me and with the trust came the wonderful stories. Their eyes would get big and they would become more excited displaying a mix of fear and enjoyment. In the same way we enjoy a scary movie, the kids would talk of skin walkers, little people, ghosts, space ships, and voices.

Skin walkers are shape shifters that appear as human and then may take on a half human and half dog, wolf, or some other animal shape. I don't think I ever met a Navajo student on the rez that didn't see a skin walker. I have even met several white teachers that, to their horror, have seen a skin walker. When one sees a skin walker it is not pleasant and although I have never seen one, I can tell by the way people describe them that it is not a good experience.

One student, Shane, told me that he was seeing a skin walker that was coming to his window several times. But Shane had a deeper perspective then just about any student that I had ever counseled. He told me, "I saw that skin walker and he looked directly at me."
I said, "Well, what did he look like?"
"He had a man's body and a dog face and he was looking at me from my bedroom window. He had this strange look of fear in his eyes, though. I realized that he was as afraid of me as I was of him but he was also curious."
"So," I asked him, "What did you do?"
"I just yelled for my dad and we got our guns and went after it. We never got it. He comes back often and I don't bother trying to kill it," Shane said.

Although I am no longer a high school counselor on the reservation I am still working with mostly Navajo students in a middle school in Gallup, and my Navajo students will tell me pretty much the same stories since most live on the reservation as well.

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I got to thinking about those kids and their fantastic stories when I was out for a walk today. I noticed a young girl out on a trail off the small rugged mountains that we call "Hogbacks". She was only 9 or 10 and had blond hair. She was all alone and she wasn't really walking on the trail. Instead she walked across the trail from sage brush to sage brush and not too far in front of me. At first I wondered what a young girl was doing far out all by herself. I was only 15 or 20 seconds walking distance from her and when I got up to where she should have been she was gone.

Then it dawned on me this was the same little girl that I saw in my bedroom several months ago that was watching me play with my dog. I looked up at her and at first I thought she might be my daughter since they both have blond hair and are about the same size. The little girl was so interested in what I was doing with my pug and then she completely disappeared right in front of me. It also dawned on me that this was the same little "ghost" girl a Navajo lady had told me about that was walking the Hogbacks. The reservation is right behind my house and the Navajos say they see this girl out there. She not only walks the trails of the hogbacks but she also visits my home.

This is the world of the Navajo. It is a fantastic world that exists beyond what we call a normal level of reality. From the moment I arrived in this Navajo world I have been at home, since for me, seeing and hearing things that the modern world dismisses is not unusual. But, in fact, I never arrived to the Navajo world since in some way I have always been there. Like the Navajo, I live in this "normal" material experience but it is just a temporary world of shared experience. The other "worlds" are there with us at all times. The Navajos, and others like me, know that there are these other "worlds" because we experience them all of the tim

 

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