Very near Canyon de Chelly National Monument deep on the Navajo Nation in northeast Arizona sits Chinle. People here call it “The Rez”, short for the reservation. A place of awesome beauty, rich culture and vast open spaces. Two brothers who have worked for me in the construction business that I have owned for many years are from here. They still reside here on the weekends, but must travel about 4 hours to Durango, Colorado where I live currently to find employment. A sad but typical scenario here as poverty and unemployment are commonplace and opportunity is sparse.
The Navajo culture believes that if you take a picture of someone you steal their soul. So there are no pictures of Gibson and Fabian Blacksheep in this post, nor will there ever be……But I wanted to write about this part of the U.S. because most people in this country have no clue that anything like this place still exists. It closely resembles a third world country because our government has forgotten about these strong, proud people and their culture. I am truly fortunate to call these two men my friends and even more fortunate to have been invited into their home to see how they live and experience their way of life.
I rolled into Chinle around lunch and Fabian was in “town” doing laundry and getting supplies for his parents that day. I am glad he was because there is no way I ever could have found the land his family lives on. There are few road signs here and if you are not from here then it is inevitable that you WILL get lost. Everything is described by the landmarks in the area and if you are not familiar with them than you are screwed…….
He met me in the parking lot of the only grocery store with some fried chicken and a big smile. He said “Be careful here, my people might burn your wagon.” I replied that I had brought gifts of trinkets and blankets so they wouldn’t…… As we sat in Annie eating lunch I noticed a man circling my rig like a hungry shark circles his prey before an attack. He was looking for something to steal! Fabian let out a stern warning (it involved profanity!)to the man that he didn’t want to mess with this rig, and he scurried off to look for easier pickings. Fabian looked at me, smiled and said ” Whitey, they’re going to lynch me for bringing you here!”
Alcoholism and drug addiction are rampant here, and everywhere you look in town you see desperation and despair of those who have no hope. Alcohol is illegal on the Navajo Reservation, and bootlegging is big business. Stray dogs and people looking for their next meal roam the streets. Its is a sad, but harsh reality of life on the “Rez” and the first day of each month is a freakin’ madhouse in town because that is when the government subsidy checks come. There are very few jobs here and the pay is usually minimum wage.
After finishing our lunch we set out for his families place WAY outside of town. It was about a forty minute drive and once we left the pavement the roads became increasingly muddy and rutted, and I was informed that after bad heavy rain or a big snowstorm sometimes its is impossible to get in or out for days and sometimes weeks.
Following Fabian in his “Rez rocket” for what seemed like an eternity, bumping and grinding down a dirt two track, we pulled on to his families land. Fabian pointed out Fish Point and told me ” As long as you see that you won’t get lost. Just drive toward that and you’ll hit pavement.” The Blacksheep’s have lived here for many generations and there is a deep connection to the land and his family raises sheep, corn, and a few cows they sell, trade and eat.
The Blacksheep family has carved out an existence on this starkly beautiful and unforgiving land. They are very proud and capable, living in the old ways without electricity, running water, indoor plumbing or refrigeration. A generator is his only source of electricity and he only uses it for a few hours after dark each day to power a few lights and charge his electronics. He cooks on an old pot belly stove that sits in the center of the hogan or outside when it is to hot to cook inside. It is a way of life that you must become accustomed to as you structure your day around the sun and moon. Fabian has constructed a traditional eight sided Navajo hogan on the property and his carpentry skills are impressive. He is currently constructing a more modern home right next to the hogan which will have solar and all the amenities that our modern culture is accustomed to. There is no floor in this hogan except for the dirt it was built on and Fabian told me that his people believe that it keeps them close to the earth.
The next morning we hiked up the hill to look for a sheep that had gone missing the day before. Fabian grabbed his rifle and we set out to go find it. ( we never did and I assume it became a meal for the coyotes. I heard yelping in the night while I was sleeping in Annie.)
On the way up the hill I hiked thru literally thousands of pot shards from ancient Pueblo inhabitants that were at least a thousand years old and saw the remnants of some masonry walls still standing. Fabian steered clear of this as he believes skin walkers (ghosts) still roam here.
Shortly there after I climbed in Annie and set out back to the “real world.” I found a new appreciation for this simple life…….The last thing Fabian said to me was “Make sure you get your mind and heart in the right place before you head out …. Take care honkey and if you ever need a place to land you know where I’m at now…..” Thank you Fabian. I just might take you up on that offer!