By Sandra Rambler
San Carlos Apache
The white snowflakes had barely began to make its way to the the northern portion of the Navajo Nation to the community just west of Black Mesa in Arizona. It was in the winter of 1999. An all night prayer meeting was being held and I was a guest that had been invited.
I remember arriving on a Friday afternoon and met with the esteemed traditional Navajo medicine man that only spoke in the Navajo language. He had summoned for me to meet him at his hogan after I had checked into the nearest hotel.
Upon meeting him, he explained in the Navajo language that he would prepare some medicine for me and that I had to drink it before going to sleep for the night. This medicine will "cleanse your body and your soul" is what he said.
Without hesitation, I drank the cup of medicine he had prepared for me in the hogan while he prayed. It had an odd taste and it was somewhat bitter. He had a Navajo name for the medicine. About half an hour later, he handed me a container that I threw up in which was later disposed of outside away from the hogan. I felt like I was going to faint and I tried to be strong. I kept thinking " I'm Apache" and "I'm strong" and managed to sit through the four songs that he sang. Immediately following that, I drove back to the hotel and told me to come back the following morning.
Back in my hotel room, I slept like a baby. About four o'clock in the morning, I heard my late grandmother's voice, "Shi'wouye! Nun'daa!" She told me in Apache "Mt granddaughter, wake up!" She kept talking saying, "Today is an important day for you. These Navajo's asked you to be here to pray with them and you will learn about their spiritually. Don't disappoint them. Be strong and I will be by your side."
About eight o'clock that Saturday morning, I drove back to the hogan. The medicine man and his wife were both ready and he said in Navajo "We are going to go buy groceries" and that we did. We went to the local store and bought mutton (lamb meat), flour, oil, baking powder, salt, coffee, sugar, potatoes, chili, soda, cookies and so forth. We returned to the hogan and prepared food for dinner and some members from the surrounding neighborhood began arriving with their pillows and Pendleton blankets and some of the men carried a small wooden case that looked like a tool box.
After dinner, I was summoned to come into the hogan and join the group that had gathered and were sitting down. There two rows that filled the teepee that was put together earlier. Entry into the teepee was always counter clockwise. Just like the hoop of life I was told. It never ends. So you enter the teepee and go to your left all the way around to your right until you have made a complete circle. In the back of the teepee sat the medicine man and he summoned me to sit by him. He sat directly in front of the fireplace. It was nice and warm inside the teepee. Then the ceremony began.
There were lots of singing and praying. I had also taken part when the medicine was given to us. It seemed like I fell in a deep sleep but I could hear every lyric of the songs that were sung and the words by the medicine man as he prayed. I could see the eagle that flew into the hogan as it loudly flapped it's wings against the poles that were used to put the teepee together. Then I could hear the voices of tribal leaders from various tribes throughout the United States and in Arizona. They were talking and planning and analyzing. They were speculating on the social ills faced by indigenous people. I was honored to be in their presence. Then I heard the voice of Peter MacDonald who was the former President of the Navajo Nation. He asked me to relay a message to those that were present at the ceremony. He told me to tell the Navajo men "to take care of their women, their wives, moms, sisters, grandmothers and aunties." He said to tell them "to make sure they have groceries, that they have water and help them with generators because they gave no electricity." He continued and said to tell them "to haul wood and prepare for a long cold winter" and "times are going to get harder and take care of your livestock." He then said, "My nephew is sitting right there on the left with a white shirt and tell him to tell the family that I will be coming home!"
Then I heard the whistle outside and I could hear some Navajo words "She's sleeping! She should be awake and singing with us ladies!"
Then about four o'clock, I opened my eyes and looked around and saw the young man in the white shirt and the medicine man told me to share what I had seen and heard all night while they were singing and praying.
Then I began telling my story. You could hear the drop of a pin since there was complete silence. I saw tears rolling down of proud and strong Navajo men and I saw their women clinging onto their men as they wept. I had never experienced such spirituality and still remember that ceremony like it was last night.
In the morning, we were fed with a hearty and delicious breakfast. I had grown accustomed to the taste of mutton so I enjoyed every ounce of that mutton stew and fry bread.
Upon my drive home back to Bylas, I continued praying and asked our Creator God to watch over our Apache people. I was happy to go home to my children and family and my parents. I was thankful for learning how to speak our Apache language and the opportunity to learn to speak the Navajo language as well.
In January of 2001, a year and a half after that particular ceremony, United States President Bill Clinton commuted Peter MacDonald and he was able to return home to his family within the Navajo Nation. There is more to this story, but out of respect to former President MacDonald and his family, this is all I can share with you.
Being a tribal leader carries a lot of responsibility. With the current pandemic and the number of positive cases increasing, we need to pray for our tribal leaders that they will continue to make wise decisions in the best interest of our Apache people. We must respect their decisions.
My sincerest condolences to all the families that are mourning at this time. Happy Belated Father's Day to the dads. I miss my dad Jerry Pechuli Rambler, Sr., but I know he is resting in peace.
Don't forget to wear your mask, practice 6 feet social distancing, constantly wash your hands and stay safe! Ahi'yihe! Gozho'nas'glii'doleel.