In the weeks leading up to the MMDR Forum, I had a lot of time to think about what we meant to accomplish. I imagined myself in a ceremonial setting . . . sitting in a Hogan, as a patient… the Hataałii looking over at me and asking gruffly, “What do you want”? It sounds harsh, but I don’t think it’s truly harsh. It is direct. All Hataałiis are direct. They don’t have time, or energy, to ‘beat around the bush’. They are in a place to communicate your concerns to Diyin Dine’é, so this is a serious question. What do I want?
I visualized us all in a Hogan… I am sitting as the patient… my wife is next to me, and all our kids next to her. All around are familiar faces sitting in reverence, with patience. The smoke is all around from burning cedar and hot coals in the center of the Hogan. This setting is exactly what we need to build the MMDR Data Institute. We need a home for our data set. Each of the logs must be blessed with tadidiin, and everyone who enters must be protected.
Going forward, the person sitting as the patient next to the Hataałii is not me. We do not know who that person is because they are missing or they have been murdered. They have a question, “Who did this to me?” We owe each one of them an answer.
Some of the relatives trying to solve the issue are reluctant to enter the Hogan. They may not feel comfortable in the sacred home for our heavy work. That’s okay. We have a duty, as relatives, to welcome them inside, but we cannot force them to sit down with us. We can only offer the nourishment of the sacred foods, the prayers, the songs, and the herbs we use to cleanse and heal. Our souls are starving… our minds are at peace… our pain on full display.
This imagery, this message, is what I wanted to share with those in attendance at the MMDR Forum. It is not an original idea. It is something that has always been. For me, I think, out loud, about how it must have been to discover a light off in the distance of some sort. I think of the Diné story about the discovery of the baby that would become Changing Woman. What must it have been like to bring this to the attention of a spouse… To go out into the darkness and discover that a newborn baby is on the Earth all alone and needs our help. How did it feel when First Man and First Woman discovered the baby that would grow up to save the world? Did Diyin Dine’é put that baby there long ago? Did First Man and First Woman not notice the baby at first? Did they notice immediately? What if every MMDR individual is placed on the earth for us to discover, care for, raise up – but we just didn’t care enough to see it through? We just didn’t accept the responsibility? And, so, they keep dying? K’adí – T’áá Nihí Hasht’e Da Diinííł! NO MORE! WE WILL TAKE CARE OF THIS PROBLEM OURSELVES!
Thinking this through, I thought to myself, ‘Maybe we need a travelling song to guide us!’ I said this to the Hataałii in attendance at the MMDR Forum, Rita Gilmore. She and I were having this conversation when Council Delegate Amber Crotty came over to us. Amber jokingly remarked, “What do you think you are talking about? Rita knows what she’s doing. She doesn’t need you to MANsplain it to her. She taught you everything you know!” We all laughed, and when Rita took the stage, she sang a Mountain Soil Bundle song (Dził Biyiin) to bless the forum and all the attendees. From what I was taught about the Dził Biyiin, it is a song that constructs a cosmic Hogan stretching across all of Diné Bikéyah. It protects us. It heals us. It teaches us how to be that 102 year old elder.
To me, Missing and Murdered Diné Relatives (MMDR) are like that baby we just found on the ground. The baby has no parents. We must step up and be the parents. We are MMDR’s father. We are MMDR’s mother. This child is growing very rapidly, more swiftly than any human baby has ever grown. Within minutes, we see that this baby is a toddler, then a tween. This baby is now ready for their coming of age ceremony! We aren’t ready for this, but MMDR needs us to be ready RIGHT NOW! The Hogan must be ready NOW. The medicine person must be hired NOW! The nourishment must be prepared NOW! The singers must be ready NOW!
The Sanii are here. They are ready to mold MMDR into a woman, to guide MMDR into manhood. Our people require tools necessary to live, to ‘be an elder in training’, to be a wife, a mom, and a grandmother, a husband, a father, a grandfather. Before old age, we are all elders in training. And, to live to elder status is a privilege that so many Diné relatives don’t get to experience. It is time taken from us. We need songs and prayers and protection. We need community and k’é. This MMDR issue can no longer be ignored. We cannot step over these bodies and disregard them. They needs us NOW! So, I refuse to turn away. I refuse to ignore those cries in the night. NO MORE! WE WILL TAKE CARE OF THIS OURSELVES! T’áá Nihí Hasht’e Da Diinííł!
We will gather the robes and blankets. We will sing the songs. We will cloak our relatives, and we will teach them how to command others to treat them properly – with respect and dignity. We will build a world in which any deviation from this teaching is not tolerated. We will go outside the Hogan and bring in whatever is needed to ensure that our daughters and sons are well cared for. We will stay within the Hogan and ensure our relatives are fed songs, prayers, food, and teachings. And, over time they will become a shield for their spouse, their children, their clan, and their People. And, we have to do all this because without these individuals, there may not be another world to give to our grandchildren.
Imagine… what if First Man and First Woman did nothing when they discovered that baby girl? What if they let that girl die? We would not be here today. Monsters would roam the Earth and consume whatever was left until they ran out of sustenance and there would be no more life. And, still, late at night, my wife and I wonder, “What more can we do?” We know we tread a very treacherous path. We understand that these monsters will try to take our lives. They will try and turn us against one another. But Diyin Dine’é gave me Adrian, and I am hers. I will protect her and she will heal me. She will protect me and I will heal her. This arrangement, as modeled by Mother Earth and Father Sky, was given to us by Diyin Dine’é. For that we say ‘Ahxe’hee’. With that we will persevere! And, we will continue to do our part to fight for justice for our Missing and Murdered Diné Relatives. T’áá Nihí Hasht’e Da Diinííł!
This write up was written by YKD’s Director of Research & Development, Michael Lerma.