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December 11, 2007
Rez #1

An old Navajo singer sat in the winter firelight of his mud hogan. The place smelled of horse leather and sheep. He spoke not a word of English. I sat across from him on his dirt floor. He showed me a pouched he had, leather as polished as a knife scabbard. Inside was corn pollen. I asked if any cultural memory remains about how his people first acquired corn. His grandson, standing back in his denim jacket, translated and said back to me that corn has always been with the people. I dutifully pointed out that corn was introduced from Mesoamerica, and acted as a Pueblo staple long before the Navajo ever reached this area. My words were translated into the notoriously complex Navajo language. The grandson turned to me. "He says we have always been here, since the beginning." I wanted to tell him he was wrong. There was irrefutable evidence that the Navajo branched away from other Athabascan speakers in the vicinity of British Columbia, 1,500 miles from here. Then I realized what I was about to say and I clapped my mouth shut. Looking to make conversation, I asked how he managed to collect such a nice little cache of corn pollen. The old man gestured in the air, as if shaking the tassels of a corn plant. Exactly how you get pollen. Then he laughed. Silly white guy.

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