The Language of Connection

In the late 1990s I was working on the Navajo Nation as part of a research project I was managing that was designed to evaluated the effectiveness of Navajo Peacemaking to prevent and reduce interpersonal violence.
One day I was relaxing in the yard of a traditional healer and I noticed that he was speaking to a tree in Navajo. Navajo people heat their homes with dead limbs that they carefully remove from living trees.
The healer noticed that I was watching him and he asked me if I thought he was a “California New Ager who spoke to trees?” I was a little startled by this abrupt question, but I answered that I wasn’t thinking anything. He then asked me if I thought the tree could understand his words. Again, I answered that I didn’t know. To my surprise he said that he didn’t know either.
He then explained that he was asking permission from the tree to cut off several of its dead limbs so that he could heat his family’s home during the cold Northern Arizona winter. He also prayed to the tree. He further explained that although he couldn’t say if the tree could understand his words, that he was making the best effort to be grateful. This is reciprocity he explained. “If the white man did only this, the world would be transformed.”

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