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I grew up in Colorado at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, then lived in Denmark and traveled throughout Europe before coming back to Colorado. I have two adult sons, whom I cherish. I started my writing career as a columnist and investigative reporter and eventually became the first woman editor of two different papers. Along the way, my team and I won numerous state and several national awards, including the National Journalism Award for Public Service. In 2011, I was awarded the Keeper of the Flame Lifetime Achievement Award for Journalism. Now I write historical romance and contemporary romantic suspense.

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Seductive Musings

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Where the wind knows me


Black Mesa, part of the Navajo Reservation, Arizona

And now for something completely different...

In Hard Evidence, I introduced a new character to the I-Team—Katherine James. A mixed-blood Navajo, Kat take the environmental beat at the paper after Kara leaves to go have babies with Reece. But if you read down this blog, you'll catch a couple of entries from the woman after whom Kat is named—my dear friend and sister Kat James.

I named the character in honor of Kat and her husband, Ray James, a traditional Diné spirtual leader. Ray and Kathee came into my life during one of my darkest hours, at a time when I simply didn't want to be on the planet any longer. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

I first began covering Native issues in 1994/1995. Part of it was my desire as a journalist to put my pen in the service of those who have no voice in the mainstream media, and part of it was entirely selfish. I had learned when I was 12 that I had a full-blooded Cherokee great grandmother who was the daughter of a chief, and not knowing how to explore what it meant for me, I started looking into American Indian issues from the safe distance of the newsroom.

Early on, I learned that Diné families were being forced off their homesites in order to make way for coal mines. It horrified me to think that we might still, in this supposedly evolved day and age, be forcing Indian families off their land. I decided to look into it, and I asked permission to come to the Navajo Reservation—the dinetah—and report on this. The elders said, "No." (Unlike a lot of journalists, I don't go where I'm not welcome.)


Window Rock near the Navajo Nation Council building in Window Rock, Arizona

I covered the issue as best I could from a distance for a number of years before I received a call asking me to please come to Black Mesa now. So, with a verbal map that included things like, "there's usually a cornfield planted near there," and "stay to the right for a while, then when you come to this pile of tires, keep to the left for a while," I drove down to the rez by myself to cover a blockade that feds & etc. had erected to prevent the annual Sun Dance from happening at Ana Mae. I drove through the blockade myself, and spent the next week encamped with the participants watching guys with guns and Ray-Bans surveille 500 Indians at prayer. (Note: There are no street signs or really any paved roads on Black Mesa. If you get lost, you better hope you've got a full tank and lotsa water.)

The experience was transformative in ways that I can't talk about on a blog. Suffice it to say, nothing was ever the same for me. Imagine listening to static on the radio all your life and then, suddenly, having the signal come in loudly and clearly—beautiful music after a lifetime of white noise. The connection with God that I had never found in a Christian church was suddenly so loud and clear.



Murals inside the Navajo Nation Council chambers in Window Rock, Arizona. These depict the history of the Diné people


I covered the conflict on Black Mesa for years, feeling that I was really able to help the relocation resisters with my articles. One year, the coverage resulted in TONS of supplies going down to Black Mesa. I covered hearings on the relocation held in the Navajo Nation Council chambers and interviewed their president. I spent nights sleeping under the stars in the desert on Black Mesa, eating fry bread in the morning and mutton stew at night. I discovered that the sound of a single drum can make you feel more alive than anything you've ever known and that you don't have to know the words to sing and you don't have to speak to communicate.

My reporting on the problems on Black Mesa led to my being asked to come to Pine Ridge and Cheyenne River and other Lakotah reservations to the north to report on other issues, giving me the opportunity to see and experience things most people never get to see or do. Including ruts in the road that could swallow the average car and the joy of sand in my teeth.

But then my own life got out of hand. I won't go into details, but every once in a while the experiences of a person's lifetime can catch up with them. I found myself struggling in ways that scared me. I had already been introduced to Kat and Ray, and I was gently nudged to go speak with Ray about my problems. I remember driving to their house late one night—they were living in the Colorado mountains at the time—and being terrified of exposing my inner ghosts to two people who didn't really know me. But that was better than, say, giving up on life altogether.

I had an hours-long conversation with Ray. Both Kat and Ray treated me with the utmost compassion. Several weeks later, after much preparation on my part, Uncle Ray held a special ceremony that enabled me to start my life over again—quite literally, in fact. It's not polite or permissable to discuss ceremony, so that's all on that point. But it's no coincidence that my writing career began shortly thereafter. Everything in my life changed.


Navajo National Monument, one of the most photographed places on earth. Hot as the blazes, too.


And so it came to pass that the people I had hoped to "help" turned around and helped me. Prayers came in from the dinetah from people who lived in traditional hogaans without water or electricity offering comfort and strength. People who owned a single chicken offered to slaughter it and hold a feast with me. I was given corn from people who'd grown it with their own hands in the hot desert sun. It was so deeply moving and humbling to find that hand reaching back to me. I'd found a home among them, a place that could and has always been a refuge to me. (Right now Kat and Ray are thinking, "So, yeah, when's the last time you were here, girl?" Soon, I promise.)

It's been five years since that ceremony, and now I live a new life, thanks to Ray and Kat. I have new names, a new birthday, a new life. In honor of them and all the Diné people mean to me, I have Kat James, mixed-blood Navajo reporter, in my next romantic suspense (after Unlawful Contact). It will give me a chance to write from a different point of view and to share some of the beauty I've found in the Diné way of thinking. Already, Kat has shown some of this in my books, notably when she tells Tessa that the Diné see a woman's tears as one of her healing strengths.

Anyway, to find Kat posting on my blog made me very happy. I guess this is my way of saying, "I LOVE YOU!" to my sister Kat and Uncle Ray.



Mitakuye Oyasin! Hágoónee'!

11 comments:

Libby Loo said...

Not only were the pictures absolutely breathtaking, but the story is very heartwarming, PC. Thank you so much for sharing that with us! Kat and Ray sound like the most wonderful friends, and it's really wonderful that you found each other and that that friendship helped your reach your dreams. XOXOXO

Debbie H said...

Isn't it amazing the people who come into our lives for one reason or another? You have a wonderful family in that tribe, as well as with Kat and Ray. There is a very spiritual feeling you get with the drums and the American Indian people that is hard to put into words. I have very distant Cherokee and Choctaw blood in me and I have always felt drawn to the Indians. I really should trace that part of my family tree.

Thanks for sharing the pics and your wonderful friends with us.

Ronlyn said...

((((((((((hugs)))))))))))

Joanie said...

When I read the comment from Kat and her sign off re the wind I wondered if she was your Kat from Hard Evidence. I love being right!

You are blessed to have such family in your life and to have received such grace. It is something I need in my own life.

I am home now, well, my concrete home, I am still searching for my soul's home. Blog update soon, as you there are things that I just can't blog about, but I will mention my airport Julian experience...you bad woman!!!

J xx

aho! said...

Ahéhee' - Pilamaya ye Sister. What a humbling and beautiful post you have created.

We are so very honored to be a part of your life and have you as our sister, niece and dearest friend. Our blood runs together like one river to the heart of our dreams.

Thank you also for honoring me in your book. I am excited to see the journey of Kat James. ;^)

Blessings and more blessings,
love,
Mitakuye Oyasin,
hózhó,
kat

Alison said...

Wow. This was beautiful to read, so touching. Thank you for sharing!

Libby — THANKS for last night! I had fun seeing you again and it was great to meet Mr. Libby. He's a great guy, and I really felt the two of you belong together. I could see how much he cares for you. I'm glad you liked the pictures. I wish I had posted some from the coal mines.

Debbie — You're welcome. And, yes, it's amazing how people come (and go) from our lives. And, hey, maybe we're related. :-)

Ronlyn — Thanks for the hugs. :-)

Joanie — You are too perceptive! Yep, that's my Kat. And I hope you do find your soul's home. Sometimes it's not a place so much as a way of life. I live 12 hours away from Black Mesa (by car), but I feel like it's always with me.

Alison — Great to see you! And thanks! I'm not exactly posting about romance this time, but certainly something that relates to my writing life. I hope all is well with you!

Kathee—Techi'hila! Ayor anosh'ni. I was so blessed the day I met you. I remember it vividly... my first inipi. I think you asked me if I was afraid, and, like a naive newbie, I said, "No." If you'd asked me again 30 minutes later...

You are such a joy and a talented artist and such a good friend. You and Ray truly are the wind beneath my wings. I miss you!

Wambli blessings,
Reunion,
Chocolate and coffee and more chocolate,
Mitakuye Oyasin,
P.

kat said...

Yá'át'ééh! Sister,

Techi'hila and again Ayor anosh'ni to you also. =)

We had a inipi this weekend and we said many prayers for you. We sat near the Sacred Peaks and heard the wind rustling the tips of the tall ponderosas. Quiet, cool and crispy-dry on the outside. Dark, warm and vast on the inside. Very powerful. Home again!

Spirit hugs to you,
chocolate, fresh brewed ice tea and more chocolate!
Healing and calm,
Mitakuye Oyasin,
kat

karmull said...

Wow. I can't even begin to say how much I was touched by this post.

It reminds me of a scene from Jet Li's Fearless. I won't get into too much detail of the movie, but his character is a fighter in China many years ago. He winds up in the mountains of China in a peaceful village. Whenever the wind blows, the villagers stop whatever they are doing and listen to the wind. And they always have a little smile on their faces. Jet Li's character does not understand this at all, until he has been there a while. And then he gets it, and he does the same. It is quite powerful.

Yá'át'ééh, Kat!

Pilamaya yelo for your prayers. I keep you always in mine — and in my dreams.

I'm so glad to hear you're back to the inipi and that it once again feels like the home that it should be. I'm looooooong overdue.

Don't hold your breath, but I'm hoping to make the drive over the Memorial Day weekend. It will be quick and dirty, but I really want to see you and Ray!

Karen!

Thanks so much (pilamaya ye) for your sweet words and for sharing the bit about that Jet Li film. That sounds wonderfully touching, and I might have to rent it now.

There are definitely things in life that must be experienced to be understood, and sometimes a person has to overcome a lifetime of thinking in a certain way or even fear to be able to experience those things. And there are things the mind can't understand that only the heart can. :-)

kat said...

And, out of the "blues" -- Today's message from your Uncle (as we pulled into our driveway tonight - about 20 minutes ago):

"Tell that Pamela White to get her butt down here and help you. She's been promising for five years now!" -insert his cheesy smile- Then he jumped out of the vehicle and into our hogan.

Hmmm!!! Oh my! I think he wants to see you soon.

(I had to remind him it's only been three years, but only FEELS like FIVE.)

A Memorial Day visit from you would make a perfect gift for our wedding anniversary. =)

Wanblee Cikala, we miss you!

Hugs, love and Hágoónee'!
Frybread, Roasted Mutton and Green Chili are calling!
Mitakuye Oyasin,
kjkj

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