- Hwéeldi Bééhániih:Remembering the Long Walk
It was like any summer day driving from the rez into Gallup on Friday afternoon to pick up groceries and supplies. The DJ on the Navajo Hour spoke of a gathering of people for a walk. When we arrived in the northern part of Gallup, he gave information about a walk and about a gathering place, something about Hwéeldi Bééhániih. I was still a child, so I asked my mother what a long walk was. Her answer did not satisfy my curiosity and only left me with more questions. It was the 1960s and people were marching in the streets, burning flags and bras, carrying signs protesting war, and advocating love and peace. I suppose some of that spirit of political protest emerged in me. Whatever the gathering was about and this long walk was for, I wanted to be a part of it. I was never told about what my ancestors went through and how they were forced out of our homelands a hundred years ago.
My only experience of walking long distances took place when our car occasionally broke down. Hitchhiking was a way of life for many people on the rez who did not have a car or had theirs break down, as ours did occasionally. One day I got out of school and hitchhiked with my mother into Gallup. As we walked past the cornfield near the Fort Defiance junction, I was secretly excited to be on this road adventure. Danger and the possibility that no one would pick us did not enter my childhood mind. [End Page 77]
On that summer day in the car, the DJ continued to give out information about Hwéeldi Bééhániih. What is Hwéeldi and why should it be remembered? Why were people gathering for it? Was it an athletic event? And why walk such a long distance? I wished to be part of it, and, if not, I wished someone in my family was. I wanted to know more about Hwéeldi, but no one around me spoke of it.
When I got to college, I came across a book of transcribed narratives of Diné people telling stories about the Long Walk and Hwéeldi, the place the soldiers named Fort Sumner in south-central New Mexico. All the stories came from the elders who remembered what they had heard from their families. I had never heard or been told any of these Hwéeldi stories by my family or read it in my history textbooks. The history I was taught exalted American imperialism and nationalism. Not one mention was made of the other –ism, colonialism. The Long Walk and the other death marches of indigenous peoples in the United States were omitted in all my history textbooks. The closest I came to learning of Southwest history was from a Louisiana schoolteacher who came out of retirement to teach for one year on the rez at Navajo Pine Junior High School. She was the only teacher in all my public school education who taught about Popé and the Pueblo Revolt and how the Pueblo people drove the Spanish out of their homelands. Mrs. Strother pronounced the Pueblo with an emphasis on the u as "pew eblo."
My Grandmother's Stories
In college, I chose the Long Walk as my research topic for my English class. Reading these stories was like clearing the fog from the lens given me by colonialism. On my next visit home I asked my grandmother if she knew any stories of the Long Walk. My grandmother had grown up in the box canyon area at Lupton, Arizona, near the New Mexico and Arizona state line. Our Tsénahabiłnii clan lived and raised their families on private land deeded and signed to them by a former U.S. president. Shimásání said she did not know of any family stories of the Long Walk, but she told of an attempted kidnapping by a Mexican raider who captured one my great-great-grandmothers, who managed to escape and walk home. She knew one story that someone...