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Monday Photo Meditation: Becoming the Hawk

Lift-Off Resized

Today, the outside world will mark Memorial Day. Most will celebrate it, with only a passing thought, if any, to its original significance. For those who have survived actual military service (or who have lost loved ones to it), it will be less celebration than solemn remembrance.

It’s a day that will be marked here, too: There will, as always, be an honor guard procession in the old village, an event designed to pay respect to the Pueblo’s many military veterans in a year that has seen the loss of its last Bataan survivor. Despite our peoples’ treatment at the hands of a succession of colonial governments, our young people enlist in military service at a rate higher than any other ethnic group. Part of it is — or was — the hope held out by the G.I. Bill, the promise that, in exchange for such service, enlistees would be entitled to specific aid that could help lift our families out of the economic poverty to which the same colonial government had consigned us via the reservation system. That promise is, of course, long gone, and for our own, it was always more ephemeral than real anyway: Wings’s own father served honorably in World War II, and came home to be denied the vote. That vote is still denied in effect, if not always in law, in too much of Indian Country even in this “new” century.

But fair trade was never the whole, or even the most fundamental, reason for our peoples’ rates of enlistment. Of course, much of Native military service over the past century resulted from conscription — conscription without representation, forced servitude on the front lines, as cannon fodder, in the face of express and purposeful denial of civil franchise. But our men, and our women, too, also enlisted voluntarily, seeking to do what they regarded, with what information was available at the time, as the right thing. It’s part of the warrior ethos in which so many of our cultures are grounded: Often, the first duty is to protect The People, and sometimes, a willingness to go to war is the only way to fulfill that obligation. In the centuries since first contact, this duty to protect has assumed primacy of place, and rightly so: In the face of genocide, survival — not merely of self but of generations yet unborn — becomes the first requirement.

And so, our peoples have had to become warriors as a mater of course, not merely the men, and not merely in a formal sense, but all of us, as a matter of simple existence. We have had to fight, and fight daily, merely to be, and generations of such necessary and necessarily asymmetric warfare instill, at a genetic level, a form of systemic, collective, and individual trauma like no other.

We women are warriors, too; for better and worse alike, so are our children.

In geopolitical circles, someone inclined toward aggression and premature military response is known as a “hawk.” In our way, Hawk is a powerful being, a spirit of extraordinary swiftness and strategy, known for fierceness and for precision strikes. It is not necessarily associated with a warrior spirit per se; more often, that tends to be reserved for Eagle. But the eagle has been co-opted by the same military forces that massacred our ancestors, and while we reserve and reclaim all of the great raptor’s identities and powers, perhaps on this day, Hawk is the one we should reclaim for this purpose. It was Hawk, after all, who once played with the Thunderbirds, and while he is now confined to the lower atmosphere for his dereliction of duty, he is still one of the most powerful spirits of the skies.

In this place, we are fortunate to share this land with several of his kind and clan. A mated pair of red-tailed hawks, occasionally joined by a third clan member, make their home with us for much of the year. As guardians and guides, they are especially well-suited: They are indigenous to the land, and like our peoples, they are identified with the color red. They watch over this place, well versed in what is theirs to hunt and what is ours to hold, and they return, year after year, knowing that in this space, they are not merely safe but welcomed too.

And when the burdens of walking in two worlds become too great, when the generational trauma and the obligations of the warrior weigh heavy upon our shoulders, they remind us that it is no dereliction of duty, occasionally, simple to soar: to leave behind, for a moment or an hour, the binds of daily obligation and set our spirits aloft upon the winds.

There is always time to fight. On this day, it is also time to free the spirit. On this day, it is time to learn the wisdom of becoming the hawk.

~ Aji







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