Santa Cruz, California, October 28th, 2014

Santa Cruz, California, October 28th, 2014

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Why should I care? Huh? WHY?

This is a poem written by Ben Grove. His mom, Bonnie Grove, posted this on her Facebook page a few days ago.  The poem is about a Native boy in a residential school. The poem hit me like a tonne of bricks and spurred me to talk a little more about why I write what I do. And yes, I was given permission by the author himself to post this.

At Kuper Island
by Ben Grove

At Kuper Island now for six years.
Jerry's mean and the food is gross.
I miss my family
Will has gone home sick,
Thomas is happy here.

The beds are so different even after six years.

Stumpy is here and we plan a getaway.
We get food from Thomas and push off in a canoe.
We paddle across the lake and declare ourselves free.
Walk by day, and sleep in the forest.
We want freedom, and we'll get it.

We finally make it home and we hear stories.
Stumpy's grandpa died
I don't know where he'll go.

I finally get the comforts of home.
I get to see how Will is doing
feel free.

But, in the end, I go back to Kuper.

Oh my word. Doesn't that just kick you in the gut?


So, WHY?

Every writer is asked "Why this subject?" 

Some day they liked the subject matter, some were inspired and some say "It found me".

Now before you get all "Ohhhh, ya flake! How New Age-y is that?"

So why do I write about Navajo people? I don't know, when I finally decided to write , I knew I wanted a Native American thread in my work. But when I was researching, I found an article that upset me and burned a hole in my heart.
I guess you could say "it found me."

In 1864, the US Army "accepted the surrender" of the Navajo Nation, a pastoral society who lived quietly until the Spanish and Anglo settlers came along.
Oh yeah, the surrender. That was right after the Army burned their orchards, killed their livestock, poisoned their get the idea, right?

The Army forced 9500 Navajo to walk from their homes in Northern Arizona to south eastern New Mexico to a place called 'Bosque Redondo'. Spanish for 'round grove of trees'. For some, it was a 450 mile march at gunpoint. Which started in January. The dead of winter. On foot. Most arrived near death, the clothes on their backs long blown away by the harsh winter wind, to no place to shelter them from the elements. 

They went from their homes, which are called hogans, to a flat, sandy ground that had no shelter. They had to dig holes in the ground and live in them. The Pecos River was alkali and could barely support human life. Crops failed year after year. At least 2000 people died. That's 20% of the population.

These are photographs taken of the people at what is commonly called The Bosque.

Here is what the commanding officer, General Carleton wrote:

“The exodus of this whole people from the land of their fathers is not only an interesting but a touching sight. They have fought us gallantly for years on years; they have defended their mountains and their stupendous canyons with a heroism which any people might be proud to emulate; but when, at length, they found it was their destiny, too, as it had been that of their brethren, tribe after tribe, away back toward the rising of the sun, to give way to the insatiable progress of our race, they threw down their arms, and, as brave men entitled to our admiration and respect, have come to us with confidence in our magnanimity, and feeling that we are too powerful and too just a people to repay that confidence with meanness or neglect—feeling that having sacrificed to us their beautiful country, their homes, the associations of their lives, the scenes rendered classic in their traditions, we will not dole out to them a miser’s pittance in return for what they know to be and what we know to be a princely realm.”

(Okay, stop for a see me there on the right with that tiny lady? That's my dear friend Helen Yazzie. Now imagine men on horseback pointing a rifle at HER and forcing her to march. Only, one of her legs is crippled. She would most likely have slowed the march. Guess what they did to anyone who slowed them down?)  

Doesn't that sound noble?Yeah. 
Read what an inspector from Washington wrote:

“The sooner it is abandoned and the Indians removed, the better. I have heard it suggested that there was speculation at the bottom of it. . . .Do you expect an Indian to be satisfied and contented deprived of the common comforts of life, without which a white man would not be contented anywhere? Would any sensible man select a spot for a reservation for 8,000 Indians where the water is scarcely bearable, where the soil is poor and cold, and where the muskite [mesquite] roots 12 miles distant are the only wood for the Indians to use?. . . If they remain on this reservation they must always be held there by force, and not from choice. O! let them go back, or take them to where they can have good cool water to drink, wood plenty to keep them from freezing to death, and where the soil will produce something for them to eat. . ..”

In 1868 , they were escorted home. Wagons, horses, food, water and supplies went with them. Sheep were promised to every man, woman and child. 

I met quite a few people whose ancestors survived the Bosque, or 'Hweedli' as they call it. They ONLY spoke to me because I was with Native American friends who vouched for me.

So much pain and suffering to such a gentle people.What had they done? Lived on some fertile, beautiful land. 

Which was usually how the trouble started.

So. WHY?
Because someone needs to take this story and frame it in the light of God's love. 


  1. So sad. A nation suffers because of another's greed and mindset--better subdue them before they rise up against us. Puts me in mind of the Egyptians and Israelites.

    1. Very sad, isn't it? As it is, the team with the biggest guns win. They fought hard, but didn't stand a chance.

  2. Jennifer,

    I love how certain things "catch" us, and hold us. I love how you've embraced this, and how deeply it's become a part of you.

    Write on, baby!

    1. Yes, this has caught me, all right. Injustice has always bothered me, but this one seems different. Don't ask me why, it just does.

  3. It's easy to hate people that one mistreats. The way the American government dealt with the native Americans is a shameful chapter in our country's history.

    It's sadly not rare. The Hausa slaughtered the Ibo in Nigeria during the Biafran War, the Japanese killed untold thousands of Chinese from 1931-45. the nascent Israelis massacred Arabs at Deir yassin, and the Arabs returned the favor at Kfar Etzion. it's all based on marginalization leading to dehumanization...but that process is never complete, and the unquenchable humanity of those oppressed is an indictment of the oppressor, leading to more hate.

    1. It never ends, does it, Andrew? Over and over, everywhere people are.

  4. So glad God has put this burden on your heart, so we can learn of these things and learn FROM them. What beautiful countryside in those last pics.

    1. Sometimes the burdens become a joy. We can learn from what happened, but only if we want to.

  5. Oh, Jennifer--thank you for posting this. You choked me up there at the end. I've been feeling discouraged lately about the response to trying to write about such things, and I needed this push to why it's important--needed that picture of you and your friend, needed to remember who we're writing about. Thank you, friend, and the Lord bless you for blogging and writing and speaking and caring.

    1. Oh, my friend. I know you understand why we write about The People. You feel it the same way do, from the heart on out. I understand the discouragement, too. Laura Frantz told me once that we write about "messy history". Many people don't want to know how bad things were. But if someone doesn't speak up, nothing will change.

      Ahe'hee, shik'is.

    2. Such a thoughtful piece, Jennifer. What I see as most important, is that you are helping to ensure that their HUMANITY shall not be forgotten.