An ancient traveler scanned the horizon to the west. The “Paayu” (Little Colorado River) was spilling over its’ banks like a red writhing snake. The Cloud People were forming over “Nuvatukya’ovi” (San Francisco Peaks). He must hurry to finish his task so that the ceremony will be completed. With his sharp stone, he began pecking, rubbing, incising an image on the large black boulder. As “Tawa” (Father Sun) was setting, he could see the high point of Wupatki, his clan village. The shadows of the stone began to take form on the image to mark this important time of the ceremony. He was pleased that the ceremony was now complete.
Yesterday, another traveler stopped in his tracks when he saw rock images pop out of the rock boulder. Maybe it was a Navajo person or a Hopi person. He remembered what the medicine man instructed him to do to put an end to his sickness and witchcraft. He began earnestly pecking, rubbing, scratching the image on the large black boulder until it was completely erased.
Is this a tuuwutsi (an oral story of ancient times)? No, it is 2018. The intentional desecration of prehistoric rock images on the east side of the Little Colorado River on the Navajo Reservation has reached a final result of destruction, an erasing of our presence in the Americas. Who is the culprit? A Navajo person practicing the “Healing Way” or a Christianized Hopi or another Native American. It is not a Pahana or Balagana (Anglo) who is stealing the rock images. It is a Native American who knows the meaning and importance of the images of the ages. The evidence is stark. We are intentionally erasing our existence from the land.
The “Paayu” (Little Colorado River) is rich in ancestral sites, petroglyphs and pictographs from its’ headwaters in Springerville to the Confluece of the Little Colorado River and Colorado River. The stories of habitation by the ancient ones from a time before memory is etched in stone. It is OUR STORY. Our evidence of Native American presence in the Americas. Why are we erasing our history?
Desecration Panel in Utah is a well-known place of this erasing of history. “In the 1960’s a number of Navajos who lived near rock art in Utah mysteriously fell ill. Upon seeking the help of a local Medicine Man, they were told that the source of their illnesses came from this rock art panel along the San Juan River. The medicine man said that ‘altering’ the rock art images, if done with the proper knowledge and ceremonial approach, would put an end to their suffering. This alteration would stop the malevolent power coming from the images on the rock and return the world to a state of balance and beauty. The result is what we see today on the Desecration Panel.” ExpeditionsUtah.com
At Inscription Point across from Wupatki National Monument we see the same extensive intentional desecration. “The most disturbing example of such actions is visible where a huge serpent-like image some 5.1m long has been chiseled out of the rock. Other examples of purposeful destruction are three of four masks that have been rubbed out by abrading away the soft sandstone rock.” Donald E. Weaver, Jr., Robert Mark, and Evelyn Billo
The same intentional desecration is well documented at Tutuveni, a sacred Hopi site near Willow Springs. Fencing, digital cameras, publicity and tribal co-management has not stopped these desecration practices.
“Purposeful destruction being carried out by Native Americans follows a pattern of erasing sexually explicit images, snakes and horned faces, targeted by Christian or Traditional Natives who live on the east bank of the Little Colorado River.”
As the Navajo and Hopi Governments press to protect cultural and rock art sites at Bears Ears, it is hypocritical that we cannot protect these same petroglyph sites on our own reservations. How can we expect to enforce federal and tribal laws on others if we don’t clean up our own house?
Are Native American people exempt because it is “traditional” or that we have adopted the Christian ways? Law Enforcement seems to be looking the other way when it comes to our own people or our governments are lacking the resources to protect land based cultural resources.
I ask everyone to think about what we are doing to ourselves by erasing our history and presence on this sacred land. I ask the younger tribal generation to seek out ways to resolve inter-tribal issues and social issues that cause sickness. I ask local reservation communities to adopt site stewardship activities to monitor these important cultural sites. Let’s have a constructive dialogue about this. Once the ancient image is erased, it is gone forever!
The Navajo and Hopi people must respect and preserve what little we have on our own lands as true Sovereigns. We may have lost the battle at Bears Ears, San Francisco Peaks and Uranium mining on and off reservation lands. Why are we rushing to erase ourselves on our own lands? Usqwali.
By Marilyn Fredericks, Bacavi Village