Grandfather Tell Me A Story
San’i Niyol was my mother’s father. His spirit is as old as the four Sacred Mountains that surround our people, the Navajo. His mind was sharper than the hunting knife always carried on his leather belt. Grandfather was my morning sun and my evening star. My whole world revolved around that loving and wise old man, just as Mother Earth lives in the light around Grandfather Sun.
Before I was born, Grandfather was a mighty warrior and fought in many battles. When I was old enough to talk and sit patiently, I would plead, “Grandfather, tell me a story about the old days when you were a warrior.” I only knew him as a mellow and quiet man, so, the thought of him as a fierce warrior was very intriguing to me. He loved to tell me of our history and all the battles fought. It is so important to our people to keep history from being lost, for it defines who we are and Grandfather kept this tradition strong in our family.
Grandfather was proud of his warrior skills. Every time he told of his battles, he began with Manuelito, a great warrior chief and prominent leader of the Navajo. Grandfather greatly admired Manuelito and often said, “Manuelito, Hastiin Ch’il Haajini, saved our people from a life of slavery and worked tirelessly to have our children educated.”
Grandfather told me the stories many times, but, I never got tired of hearing them. He loved to speak about Manuelito, his hero.
“For many years I fought in battles with Manuelito and I learned a lot from him. He and the warriors he led were successful in resisting federal efforts to move the Navajo to Bosque Redondo in New Mexico. For several years Manuelito kept our people free. However, without food or shelter to sustain us through the winters, and being continuously chased by the U.S. Army, our people began to surrender.
“Starting in January 1864, many bands and their leaders—Barboncito, Armijo, and finally in 1866 Manuelito, surrendered or were captured and made what is called the “Long Walk” to the Bosque Redondo reservation at Fort Sumner, New Mexico. Our people suffered greatly on the “Long Walk” to captivity.
“Still, Manuelito did not give up doing what he could to help our people and make life better for us. He and other Navajo leaders signed a treaty in 1868, which ended four years of imprisonment in United States government interment camps. Our leaders were then able to establish a reservation, here where the sacred mountains surround us. Manuelito continued to work hard for progress and was a strong supporter of education for Navajo children. We live free here in our valley, because of leaders like Manuelito.”
Grandfather also told stories that taught me and other children about life and wisdom. He would tell the story of how ‘Wisdom Guides Coyte the Younger’ and the lessons he learned about life. Brother Coyote was a favorite in many stories.
I am old now. My own grandchildren run to me to beg for stories of the old days and of Brother Coyote’s life lessons. It will take time for the children to fully understand the life lessons, but one day they will and it will guide them on their path. Like Coyote, I also searched for wisdom and it was Grandfather who taught me. It was not till Grandfather walked on to the land of his ancestors that I understood the Coyote lessons and embraced them fully in my heart.
I gaze at the stars on clear nights and yearn for stories of the past and the future. I find them in the stars, and when I find Grandfather’s star, it is like he is sitting right by me, telling me a story.
© 2018 Phyllis Doyle Burns
To read about Coyote the Younger and learn more of the Navajo people, click on the following links.