In the tiny community of Kayenta, Arizona, on the Northern edge of the Navajo Nation, there have been four homocides so far this year. Perhaps the one that has effected the community the most was that of Jamie Nix, 18 yr old daughter of Lisa Charley. Jamie was a senior at Monument Valley High School, and her mother has worked for the Indian Health Services Clinic in Kayenta for 20 years. Jamie had asked a man whose kids she had babysat for in the past for a ride one late night in April to go pick up her wallet she had left somewhere. He ended up raping her, strangling her, running over her with his vehicle, and then leaving her body out in the desert. Alcohol was involved. A few weeks later, Lisa Charley’s youngest nephew, Dallas Tracy, 26 years old, was shot and killed at 5am on his mother’s front porch as he was returning home from work. Alcohol was apparently involved. Meanwhile, in the adjoining community of Chinle, five teen girls, five other young adults under the age of 30, and several others committed suicide in the last two years.
Lisa and I began talking shortly after the death of her daughter and quickly decided to try to make some major changes in our community in memory of her daughter and the others who have been killed. Realizing that the extremely high rates of substance abuse, violence and depression are directly related to the unhealed traumas of the past, we decided to begin ‘The Sacred Dream Project,’ which is dedicated to ‘healing the soul wound’ and bringing the community back to harmony. The Navajo word, ‘hozhonahaslii’ encompasses our vision as it means ‘everything will return again to harmony.’
The first week of September, 2014, Lisa Charley, Marie Salt, provider of cultural education for children and parents in Kayenta, Amanda Blackhorse, LCSW, at Kayenta Counseling Services (Indian Health Services) and myself gave talks to the Kayenta clinic, Inscription House clinic, and Chinle clinic, as well as the Kayenta community.
We spoke about the need to heal from the traumas of the past–in the case of the Navajo that would include The Long Walk and boarding schools, as well as forced herd reduction. At the community meeting, the parents of Dallas Tracy stood up and his mother spoke through her tears. She said that ever since her son was murdered, she’s felt very alone, and she has spent her time thinking about how she could have prevented his death. But during our meeting she began to feel that we were her sisters and brothers and she is not alone. She feels she has the strength and support to go on.
Vicky, a Navajo grandmother, also spoke up at the meeting, saying that she thought when her children were young she was a great mother. She raised her children how she had been raised, with whippings for most infractions of rules, and no hugs or acknowledgements of love. After the suicide of her 24 yr old nephew, her family realized that how they were raising their children was not right, and she is working on making big changes. Her 39 yr old daughter, recovered meth addict, and her 21 year old granddaughter exchanged hugs as they listened to Vicky speak.
It was heartening, in the face of so despair, that healing was happening at the first meeting of The Sacred Dream Project. On November 6 and 7, Dr. Eduardo Duran, one of the foremost authorties on intergenerational trauma in indigenous peoples, will return to Kayenta to give workshops. He will speak to the 7th and 8th graders, the entire high school, the community and teachers in separate workshops. The following day he will speak at Dine College, close to Chinle. In the late 90’s, Dr. Duran was instrumental in helping our community begin to heal the soul wound. At that time he visited our community five times, providing workshops on historical trauma. We eagerly await his return. We anticipate that The Sacred Dream Project will continue for many years.