Read and listen to The Five Sacred Medicines story
Biography: Spirituality Is A Way Of Life
Hoskie Benally is a Diné (Navajo) spiritual leader, who resides in the town of Shiprock, New Mexico. Hoskie spent much of his childhood with his grandparents, living in the traditional ways practiced for thousands of years by the Diné. His grandfather was a sheepherder, and his grandmother a weaver of rugs. His biological father was a medicine man who worked in a Uranium mine, and although he died when Hoskie was only three, Hoskie has continued the healing traditions of his lineage. But this path came unexpectedly to Hoskie, when at the age of 22, he went blind within a matter of weeks from Retinitis Pigmentosa.
Initially, Hoskie turned to alcohol, as depression from losing his eyesight overwhelmed him. But it was this loss of sight that would help him find his true direction. A medicine man told me when I was going through depression, through some alcoholism, you have a purpose here on Mother Earth, and through this visual impairment either you can find your purpose in life and accept your visual impairment, or you may continue to fight it and let alcohol destroy you. That made a lot of sense to me. I believe this is the path Ive been chosen to walk, so I no longer question my visual impairment, but I look at it more as a blessing in finding my purpose in life.
One year later, Hoskie was offered a job at a youth treatment center, and today he directs Our Youth, Our Future, an intensive outpatient treatment center for Native American youth with chemical dependencies and related mental disorders. Hoskie led the transformation of this program from a Western-based Alcoholics Anonymous curriculum to a bi-cultural program, with Native American teachings and philosophies at its core. He is committed to helping Native youth from all areas of the country, and believes that a strong sense of identity and a cultural foundation is vital for true healing.
Spirituality to us is a way of life. Spirituality to us says that every day is a ceremony from the time you get up to the time you go to bed. And as we look at the rising of the sun, you know its a new day. As we move throughout the day its a ceremony.
Tribe: The Navajo (Diné)
A Sacred Relationship
A Navajos relationship to the land begins at birth when his or her umbilical cord is buried in the ground. In this way, the newborn makes a symbolic transition from being nourished by their natural mother to a life of nurturing by Mother Earth, the spiritual mother. In addition, the childs afterbirth is offered to a young piñon or juniper tree, creating a sacred bond the two will share throughout their lives. Thus begins the sacred relationship between a Navajo and the land.
The Navajo refer to themselves as the Diné, or The People. According to their own history, the Diné have always lived between the four sacred mountains which reside in the four sacred directions: To the east Blanca Peak in Colorado, to the south Mount Taylor in New Mexico, to the west the San Francisco Peaks in Arizona, and to the north Hesperus Peak in Colorado. Each of these mountains represent the spiritual and social laws of the people, and the Diné adorn themselves just as the mountains do, with the white shell to the east, turquoise to the south, abalone shell to the west, and black jet to the north. These mountains, and the homelands within them, were given to the Diné by the Creator, and they believe they have a responsibility to remain upon and care for the land and its occupants.
This story of creation is recounted in the Blessingway Ceremony, which is the cornerstone of the Diné way of life. In the Blessingway, the major deity of the Diné, Changing Woman, created the four original Diné clans from her body. (Today, it is estimated there are over 140 clans among the Diné.) She then gave detailed instructions about history and religious practices, such as the consecration of a familys hogan, the traditional Diné dwelling.
Lands and Language
The Navajo Nation is the largest federally recognized tribe in the U.S., with approximately 225,000 members and a land mass of 25,000 square miles (16.2 million acres). Navajoland, or Diné Be Keyah, is located in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, and while the Diné live on part of their ancestral lands, the tribe still faces constant environmental contamination from nuclear waste companies, and alleged land-stealing and forced relocation by the U.S. Government and Peabody Coal.
The Navajo language belongs to the Athabascan group of languages, which includes the Eskimo (Inuit) and Apache. While the language has a smaller vocabulary than English does, it uses its unique descriptive qualities to portray elaborate images. For instance, ké is Navajo for shoes, and tires for a car are called chidibiké, or the shoes belonging to the car.
Most of the elders today understand and speak only Navajo, while most of the generation under 30 speaks only English. Even though Navajo is being taught at schools on the reservation as a second language, it is rapidly disappearing as the tribes native language. Many Navajo feel that language preservation and revitalization is one of the most important issues the tribe faces today.
My names Hoskie Benally Jr, and Im the Chief Executive Officer of Our Youth, Our Future, Incorporated. Our program primarily provides chemical dependency treatment to Native American youth between the age of 12 to 19 years of age. Our programs based on a bi-cultural philosophy, which means that we integrate Western therapy with Native American philosophy, teachings, practices and belief systems. Because we believe that these young people that come into our treatment center need to go back to having self pride in being Native American Indians. We feel that with the bi-cultural philosophy, were able to help them begin to have self pride in their heritage, in their identity, and go back to their spiritual roots. And as Indian people, we know that our spirituality is something thats very important in our life.
The Five Sacred Medicines
Mother Earth and Father Sky had their differences at one time. And Mother Earth was saying Everything here on the ground and every living thing that walks on the ground belongs to me and are under my control and Father Sky said If thats the way its going to be, then everything from the air on up is under my control. So they had their differences and they decided that they werent going to interact for four years.
And during that time the air began to change. It got real thin, there was no rain. A lot of Creation began to disappear, the vegetation, some of the two-leggeds, four-leggeds and some of the creepy crawlers and eventually there was not very many left and these others all began to vanish.
And so they said there were four plants, there were four plants and a bird left. And they withstood all this dryness, lack of moisture, thin air. And so they went to Mother Earth and told Mother Earth, they said You know because of the difference with Father Sky were the ones who are suffering. So Mother Earth said We need to give message to Father Sky that we need to make amends and we need to bring things back to the way they were and make corrections on our own selfishness.
And so they decided thats what they would do. And so they sent this bird up to Father Sky. He flew way up, kept flying until he disappeared. And then about four days later, they say from the south direction, they saw a rain cloud and they heard thunder. And the second thunder got closer, third thunder came up almost above them and then fourth thunder right above them. And when they heard that thunder and saw that lightning, out of that lightning came this bird, flew back down to Mother Earth and brought rain, brought them moisture, brought the change in the air, in the atmosphere. And everything began to get moist again, everything began to breathe easy again, and all the creation that had been lost and had vanished began to reappear.
And so they said the ones that had survived was a cedar plant, a tobacco plant, a yucca plant and a sage plant. And then this bird they said was the eagle. And they said, so from that day on, the Creator and Mother Earth and Father Sky told these survivors that because of your ability to survive, because of your courage, your stamina, and your resilience you are going to be in the ceremonies of all the Indian people across all Indian land. And they said thats why today we use the tobacco, cedar, yucca, sage and we use the eagle feather.
And a lot of our young people, when we, you know, they come in, we burn cedar for them, they want to know why. Why do we use tobacco? So when we teach them that we teach them the story. So the next time they use cedar, you know, you breathe in that, you breathe in that, you breathe in that smell of cedar, what youre saying and thinking to yourself is Im going to be a survivor, Im gonna have resilience, Im gonna have courage, Im gonna have stamina. Same way when we smoke tobacco, the same thing, when we take a pipe or we take corn husk and fix tobacco like that and we smoke it, thats what we think to ourselves. And when we use those eagle feathers, the same way. We bless ourselves and take the energy off of it and we take that that spirit off of there and we think about these things.
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