A Line in the Sand

by Matt Davison

     January 30th. Super Bowl Sunday. America was home watching TV. The highway was clear. Wylie and I left L.A. in a cloud of dust and made camp in Flagstaff that evening.

     Jan. 31st. We left early for The Alter. We could feel the anticipation build as we flew through Tuba City and headed south onto Hopi. I wanted to call Marsha first, and find out where we would be making camp this night. But I lost her number. Before coming onto the land, I wanted to go to the Hopi Cultural Center and check on Camilla and Bo, who were going to be staying there. Pulling into the Center, we were overwhelmed by the number of BIA Police cars and Hopi Police cars. Once inside, there was a constant coming and going of BIA, Hopi Police and FBI, all well armed. Not being one to be able to mask my feelings, I stared at them with obvious defiance. No words were said. The check-in person told me that Camilla and Bo checked out yesterday and went back to Flagstaff, because they couldn't get a vehicle to get them to Big Mountain. If only we had been a day earlier. We had lunch and doubled back past Hotevilla to "Purification Highway" and Big Mountain. We hung a right and stopped at Rocky Ridge Trading Post. Pulling in right behind us was Ruth Benally. We recognized and greeted each other with great happiness. We were home.

     It was time to look in on the woman that I love as I love my own mother...Mae Shay. It had recently snowed, rained and hailed. The paths (already bad) were made even worse with the buildup of mud. We took what we thought was the right path to Mae's. It was actually a wrong path that turned out right. After traveling a while, we finally saw another car approach. We past each other. Stopped. And back toward one another. Something... someone drew us to each other. The other car contained Swaneagle and Roberta Blackgoat, on their way to the Prayer Walk. They were headed to a snowy area and decided to put chains on their tires. We had no chains, and Swaneagle warned us not to go there without them. I knew from Uncle Jake's messages, that he and Roberta enjoyed tea together in the evenings, so I brought a box of Twinnings Tea with me specifically for Roberta. This was my chance to give her this small gift. Her smile and extended hand told me this was a good choice. We bid our friends goodbye, found the other right path, and continued on the Mae Shay's. Outside the Shay home, we saw a group of 4-wheel drive vehicles with people going in and out of the house. We pulled in behind them and said hello to Marsha and what I call the 'L.A. contingent' (SOL, Action Resource Network and a team of filmakers). They were checking on Mae, Kee and Elsie Shay. After a round of warm greetings and hugs, it was quickly decided that we would camp here. The evening was spent in reunion with Mae, Kee, Elsie, and the grandkids, Kevin and Sherry (who had grown into handsome teenagers since my last visit).

     Feb. 1st ('The Day') We woke early to pancakes and fry bread (Breakfast of Champions). Family members filtered back and forth from one house to another...one big extended family attacking the 'Geronimo coffee' that cooks all day long on the wood stove. We loved hearing the beautiful and melodic Dine' language, interspersed with giggles and expressions of joy in the midst of sorrow. We tried hard not to be a bother or be in the way. We brought the family coffee, corn meal flour, sugar, fruit and made sure they had money for hay and other needs. We did not want to be intrusive. Our translaters were Mae's son, Shay Benally, and the grandkids. It all worked out beautifully.

     After breakfast, we drove Mae to Roberta's home, a bone-rattling 13 miles away, which took a little over an hour with no traffic. They visited for a while and gave me a chance to finally meet 'Uncle Jake' (Bo Peep), an extraordinary human being. We didn't have a lot of time to visit before it was time to drive Mae to the media event of the symbolic cutting of the HPL/NPL fence...The Grandmothers on one side with John Benally, and Traditional Hopi, Dennis Kootsi, on the other side. Just before the fence cutters snapped the barbed wire and The Grandmothers cheered, a white Chevy drove up and out stepped our Sister Carina and Jim Windwalker of the American Indian Foundation for Law & Justice. More hugs and handshakes. Cameras whirred, reporters scribbled on their pads, and the 'men in black' were no where to be seen. Further down the fence line stood Katherine Smith, now 80 years old. Leaning up against the fence next to her, stood a glass-encased carbine and a billy club. Katherine explained about that day 21 years ago, when Tribal Hopi first attempted to put this fence up on Katherine's land. She said..."you know, I'm a damn good shot. I would never shoot to kill, but I was good enough that I could put one a couple inches over their heads...and I did. The fencers and Hopi Police took off runnin'. One of 'em dropped this billy club." There was no doubt that this warrior wouldn't be leaving her land any time soon.

     Now it was time to run back to Roberta's to greet the Prayer Marchers on their return from that day's march. Mae returned home, and Wylie needed to get gas, so I jumped into a jeep belonging to the L.A. contingent, and we raced by over the pock-marked road. We arrived just as the marchers stood with raise flags and Indian yells filled the air. Tents dotted the landscape to house the more than 100 marchers. A feed line was up and running, offering hot lamb stew and cold rice and beans, with a luke warm roasted potato and hunk of bread. There was also hot coffee for those who had cups. If you remember, not that long ago, a young woman gained media attention when she finally climbed down from an ancient redwood tree that was marked by 'big lumber' to be cut and sold. The young woman lived in that tree for two years, until enough money was raised to buy off 'big lumber' and save the tree. The young woman's name is Julia Butterfly, and she blended right in with all the other marchers. Carina and Jim Windwalker were here as well.

     As the sun set, temperatures dropped dramatically. Fires were lit and one of the marchers began to drum and sing. A little girl brought our her hoops and danced inside a circle of humanity. I kept watch for Wylie, but she never arrived. Strangers became friends and the sky turned black. It was time to head back to camp with the flim crew, who would spend the night editing film before running it down to Flagstaff and the CBS affiliate. Luckily, Shay Benally was with for the return run. Without his guidance, we may still be driving. The jeep's driver told me that he'd written a film script based on Katherine Smith (the first resistor), and offered to send me a copy. Shay then told us of a house his great grandfather had built back in the 1800's. He asked if we'd like to see it. The response was unanimous, so we drove off the rutted path and onto the land itself, weaving around trees until our headlights exposed a small stone structure standing at the edge of a canyon. You could feel the spirits of Shay's ancestors all around this in the silent blackness, and you knew that there was no way they were going to be relocated from their sacred home. Not far away, was a crumbling hogan, build long before this dwelling.

The L.A. contingent dropped Shay and I off at Shay's house. As is always the case, there were visitors, conversation, giggles and coffee. One of the visitors was a WWII veteran who was part of the Normandy invasion and a recipient of the Purple Heart in France. Now, his grateful country wanted him off his ancestral land in the name of greed. Our conversation reminded me of a Dine' man I spoke with at the Hopi Cultural Center. He was a Vietnam vet who was intimidated into signing the accommodation agreement. He left the land and his heart is still broken. February 1st, the 'final solution' was winding down. There was no violence. No one was hurt. No one arrested. The beast had issued its ultimatum, but nearly 200 people had drawn a line in the sand, and the beast blinked. Victory belonged to The Grandmothers and to all those who spoke with The Creator. I returned to my sleeping bag around 10pm. Wylie and Sherry (Mae's grand daughter) were not there. They had tried to make it to Roberta's but...took a wrong path. They finally made their way back at the stroke of midnight, tired but safe.

     Feb. 2nd. We wake early and have coffee. Wylie and Sherry attempt a second visit to Roberta's and the Prayer Marchers for the closing ceremony. I choose to stay with Mae, Kee and Elsie...walk upon the land and send out prayers for all my relations. In the afternoon, Wylie and Sherry return, successful in reaching their destination and taking part in the closing ceremony. I can't bear to say goodbye to Mae, so I write my feelings on a piece of paper and ask Sherry to translate my words after we're gone. She agrees to honor my request. Wylie has a load of wood in her trunk. We unload it and place it by Mae's wood stove. Elsie serves up lunch of a roasted potato and fry bread. And we begin to pack up. Before leaving, Marsha and the L.A. contingent race into camp in two jeep campers, today's version of yesterday's Dog Soldiers. There are hugs and words of encouragement all around. All warriors, we have become so much closer in the past few days. We vow to work together to increase our power, exchange contact information, and they are gone. It is time to begin the long sad journey back to Los Angeles, while life on The Alter returns to normal. Young Kevin is taking one of the cattle to auction. Shay is gathering wood, and Elsie is tending the house. The line in the sand remains undisturbed.


The night sky.
I never knew there were so many stars.

The Elders.
They are the power of Big Mountain.
I take with me the vision of Katherine Smith, still defiant at age 80,
and of Kee Shay, the old line resistor now deaf and in his 80's,
but like a rock.

Mae Shay.
Her home destroyed by the beast, her belongings tied to a tree,
she now lives with her son Shay Benally. Mae radiates a kind of aura
that draws people to her. Her eyes assure you that what days are
left to her will be spent on the land of her ancestors.
I love this Grandmother.

The silence.
There is no phone, no radio, no TV, no cell phones,
no pagers or beepers, no car alarms.
There is only the wind, an ancient
language and giggles.

The children.
They speak the language of their Grandmothers and
continue to pump life into the Blessing Way culture.

Those who have gone before us.
They are ever present.


Hopi Declaration of Peace

*Handed out by Dennis Kootsi,
Traditional Hopi, who stood with Traditional Dine' at the cutting of the fence.

It is in the Power of the True Hopi People to unify the minds
and spirits of all true peace seeking peoples of the earth...

"Hopi" means "Peaceful People"...and the truest and greatest power is the
strength of peace... because Peace is the Will of the Great Spirit...

But do not think that just because the True Hopi People have been told
by the Great Spirit never to take up arms...that the True Hopi People
will not fight...even die for what we know to be the right way of life.

The True Hopi People know how to fight without killing or hurting...

The True Hopi People know how to fight with
Truth and Positive Force in the Light of The Great Spirit...

The True Hopi People know how to educate by clear thoughts...
good pictures...and by carefully chosen words...

The True Hopi People know how to show to all the world's children the
True Way of Life by setting an example...by working and communicating
in a way that reaches the minds and hearts of all people who are truly
seeking the methods of a simple and spiritual life
which is the only life that will survive...


The True Hopi People know how to show the Right Way of Life
to all the world's people who have ears to listen..
.who have eyes to see...
and who have hearts to understand these things...

The True Hopi People know how to generate enough Power
to link up the forces of the Minds and Spirits of all the True Children
of the Earth...and to Unify them with the Positive Force of the Great Spirit
so that they may put an end to affliction and persecution
in all afflicted places in this world...