We are the children, descendants of Navajo shepherds who grew up on the northeast rim of the Grand Canyon.
To survive, we were physically stronger than the dark granite rock. We survived dust storms, snowstorms, hail, rain and heat.
About the only force we could not escape were government policies. They include the Navajo-Hopi land dispute and assimilation. The latter caused many of us to attend federally operated boarding schools during the 1940s through the 1980s.
Our jobs and opportunities took us away from our home but we never left the land we knew, not as Grand Canyon East, but as Bidaa, the Edge, or Tse Taa, Among the Fields of Sagebrush.
We never moved too far away from the land. We continue to return to the land to restore our mind and soul.
Many of us belong to the earth-based faith. We journey to Bidaa, where we take our fine yellow corn pollen, sprinkle into the deep chasm of the rim that falls off into multi-tiered shadows. We pray to the Colorado River, the Little Colorado River, we know as a holy deities and ask for blessings.
These are some of our stories.
My father Superman
by Brian Wilson
It’s easy to see there are many stories behind his eyes.
The stories would take you from the jungles of Vietnam, to the dusty rodeo arenas of Arizona, and to the industrial power plants of the southwest. One look at a picture of him in his late twenties and you would easily recognize the similarity. Except for the birthmark on his right cheek and shorter stature, you would swear we could be the same person. Age has left its mark with the wrinkles around his eyes, a salt and pepper dusting to his thick hair and patchy facial hair, and soft loose skin left around where his muscles once bulged. When at a closer look, you’ll notice the scars carved into his skin, each one telling their own story. His name is Clyde Wilson and he is my father. Three words describe him best, provider, protector and strong.
His story begins with his family. He is the third oldest in a family of 6 boys and 3 girls. They grew up without the luxury of electricity and running water at the edge of the east rim of the Grand Canyon. From a young age, he was given much responsibility; this included maintaining the livestock and assisting with family financial needs.
I believe the second story is one only his eyes would tell, because he never speaks of it.
It’s how at the age of 19, while working in the California automotive industry, he was drafted into the United States Marine Corps. His first stop would be to the basic training facility in California and then off to assist in the efforts of the Vietnam War. It was there in the hot and humid jungle that he sustained a gunshot wound to the leg while saving his fellow Marines when their choppers were shot down; an act of courage that earned him the Purple Heart.
The next chapter is quite possibly the most important for me because it shows my dad’s commitment to family and hard work. He was 31 when he met my mother Lilly. She was 27 with 3 kids. He looked past the fact that my older siblings were not his biological children and accepted them as his own.
He was big into the rodeo lifestyle and used it as a means of income; but it wasn’t always steady. On a good week, he would compete in 3 to 6 rodeos and would win anywhere from $75 to $300.
Knowing this would not always get the bills paid, he took up the welding trade in the industrial construction industry. This involved him being on the road a lot so it was rare, from the earliest time I can remember, for my dad to be at home. Including myself, there were five kids in the house so expenses were high. I didn’t like how he missed out on a lot of important events in our lives, but know it was the only way he could provide for our family. He made sure we always had a meal to eat, clothes to wear, a reliable vehicle to drive and a warm home to grow up in.
My dad is 63 years old now and still travels the United States working as a welder or ironworker. With the exception of my youngest brother, whom my parents adopted 10 years ago, the five of us are all out of the house. He has four grandchildren and I believe he works to make sure they, as well the rest of us, still have whatever it is they need. I’ve told him countless times to retire but being committed to hard work the way he is, who knows when that will happen.
When I graduated from high school I followed in my dad’s footsteps and began working in the construction trade; first as a helper and eventually working my way up to a welder and ironworker. I had big shoes to fill, and most of the guys at the jobsite never let me forget it.
Over the years my dad earned several awards with the company. The most prestigious would be the Top Gun Award, given to only l person out of 7000 candidates. He was the third person and the first Native American to ever receive the award.
It was hard laborious work and the conditions were not always the best. I remember working in 120-degree temperatures and below freezing temperatures. I often wondered how he had worked in the trade so long. After five years I decided it wasn’t the best fit for me and quit. It was a decision I knew my dad would not be too happy with but I wanted more for myself. More importantly, I knew if I had a family of my own, I needed to be home with them.
I may be seven inches taller than my dad but I still look up to him. I rarely get to go home myself because of my schedule and it’s even more rare that we’re home together. But when we are, I’m amazed by how, after worked a grueling shift at work and driving eight hours to get home, he still manages to work around the house.
You’ll usually find him raking the yard, fixing the fence or the roof. He gives a 200% effort at everything he does. I’m thankful that after the things he went through in Vietnam he didn’t succumb to the levels of post traumatic stress and even if there may have been times he did, he never let us see it. He’s always been a strong figure in my life. I’ve learned so much from him and I’m grateful that I can call him dad.
Earlene Reid’s story
I’m a grazing permit holder near the Confluence or Bidaa at a place called, “where the earthen dam is fenced in.” I grew up here and did my time as a sheepherder.
I now own cattle.
I’m out there three times a week chasing cows. Other times, I hire urban Navajo city slickers to help me.
Several years ago, one of these Tuba City wannabe cowboys with the potato-chip -shaped cowboy hats signed on to help. He and his brother pulled a horse trailer to the area.
Apparently, the help had not climbed onto a steed in awhile. When he climbed into the saddle, the horse was startled and bolted toward the edge of the canyon with the rider.
The horse rider’s brother chuckled and remarked, “there he goes.” But he quickly became concerned because the horse was barreling toward the Colorado River and, soon, vanished behind a hill.
The brother kept an eye out for a sign of his brother.
Well, the city slicker and horse did not go over the edge. When the rider returned to camp, he told of how he took control of the horse 50 feet before the edge of the rim.
The horse then darted north on the rim edge giving the rider a full view of the Colorado River. Apparently, he did not gawk at the canyon.
“I shut my eyes tight, leaned to the right in the saddle away from the canyon until the horse stopped,” he told us.
His brother laughed.