When things go as we want, our last developmental task is making sense of the life we lived, weaving that sense into something approaching wisdom and passing it along to the generations following us. Now, it is their privilege and obligation to lead. We have moved to the rear, but it is still our obligation to light the path, even when we are no longer determining its direction. In this month’s “Mature Content” column a young leader wrote about her grandparents lighting her way. – Ron Kokish, Carbondale Age-Friendly Community Initiative
By Danielle Hena
“Good morning, it’s time to get up. Let’s go to church!”
Grandad taught me about the idea of living in two worlds: the world that everyone functions in with work, school, grocery shopping, dental appointments and the world of being Native American, or Indian so to speak, where functions included everyone in the community, dance as prayer, our cultural language, hunting and gathering. It always made sense to me, even gave me this sense of “oh, that’s what it is,” while making it easier to function in life. We grew up Catholic, but we also grew up Native. So, what does that mean? We did both, we went to church on Sundays, went to catechism, and we danced our cultural dances and practiced our Native tongue.
Like most Native American families, I lived with my grandad (great grandfather) with my parents and younger brother in the home that grandad built. We are from the Pueblo of Tesuque, one of the 19 pueblos in New Mexico. Growing up, I remember viewing the elders as knowledge carriers, as people who carried stories, song, dance and ceremony. To me, they are and were the people who keep our culture alive. Respecting the elders in my community came naturally because I grew up with my grandad. I remember being four to five years old and taking breakfast that my mom made to my great grandparents in their room, helping my grandad walk down steps when he needed, watching my grandad sit with other elders from my community while able men stood and listening to stories that my grandad held of his grandparents. From watching the elders in the community, I was able to learn about the important role that they played.
Giving up my seat for an elder and resorting to the floor or standing was something that I never forgot. “If you’re sitting down and you see another grandma or grandpa standing, you let them sit in your place and you can sit on the floor or stand.” I thought, “Well, that makes sense,” and I will still give up my seat for an elder to this day. I think about my grandad and how he probably sat on the floor so that his grandmother could have a seat or so that his great uncle could sit.
As a twenty-four-year-old, with a husband and newborn, I reminisce about my days with my grandad and how valuable that was to me. I don’t think that I would have the insight that I do without that time I was able to spend with my grandad; going to Home Depot, camping, fishing, buying my first car or watching baseball games together. I can still hear his gentle, yet stern voice (when I want to, of course). “If you look at that mountain, you see the horse head?”
“Yes,” I say. “At the tip of the nose is where our ranch is.” And now, every time I look at that mountain I can picture him pointing and feel very grateful that he taught me that.
There are other times that I miss him. He went to every one of my sports games and after every game he silently gave me knuckles. I would have loved to get knuckles after I graduated from college.
There were times when I didn’t understand him. He went to church every Sunday. Yet, Native Peoples were forced to do this. Therefore, now that we have a choice, why keep that going after all the genocide? For me, I understand now that it wasn’t God that colonized or forced people to pursue inhumane acts, but the people themselves that acted upon their own interpretation.
There are times when I regret not being back home in Tesuque working for my community, because I can hear his voice telling me, “Get an education and then come home and help our people.” My excuse is that I’m still getting an education by working in the field that I do and gaining experience.
I have carried him with me since he passed and look to him for guidance when I need it. I symbolically view him as a hawk. He loved to travel, so whenever I see one, I think to myself,
“There’s grandad, I was wondering when he was going to check in.”