"Sometimes when I close my eyes, I can remember the sounds of sheep bleating, horses neighing, fire crackling, and children laughing. I can almost hear the sounds of men repairing fences or the sounds of silver being smithed; the sound of ma sani’s (grandmothers) pounding the batten on the weaving loom against sturdy, colorful wool.
Sometimes, when I’m very still, I can almost hear the same sounds I heard as a child growing up on the Edgewater sheep camp."
The Edgewater camp of Jeddito (Antelope Springs) was established a few years after the Long Walk and Treaty of 1868.There were many large camps of clan related families within a thirty square mile area of grazing land. K’é’ kinship was understood and practiced by all the camps. The land and water was shared. The matriarch was Ahadebah Nez, “Big Woman”, who was a weaver and lived to 105 years and the headman was John Slim Nez “Hosteen Slim” who was a medicine man and silversmith.
Their daughter, Mary Nez Begay, was the next matriarch and Goldtooth Begay “Cowboy Man” was the headman.Together they had five girls and two boys. Mary was a medicine woman, storyteller, and a weaver. I was the youngest of all their children and received my mother’s medicine bundle (jish).
The camps sustained themselves with gardens, orchards, livestock (sheep, goats, horses), and other animals (chickens, pigs, and rabbits), silversmithing and weaving. Camps often came together to celebrate new seasons, births, sheep shearing, and ceremony. The women in the camp often gathered to weave rugs, butcher, and wash laundry. The children helped care for the livestock and other animals.
During the winter months, the elders gathered the children for storytelling. The men often gathered to trade, barter, and play social games. The men and women often attended sweat ceremonies in separate lodges.
Unfortunately, our camp, like many others, began to deteriorate with the massive sheep reductions and other government policies.These assimilation policies forced many adults, including my parents, Mary and Goldtooth, to find wage labor far away from the camp. The children were forced to attend boarding schools.
The final blow to our way of life came in the 1970’s when most of the grazing land was ceded to the Navajo-Hopi Relocation settlement. Most camp families were relocated. Our camp was able to retain some of its original land. We shared that land with four other families who had lost all their land.
Today, you can no longer hear the sounds of the sheep, the rug makers, or the men singing ceremonial songs. There are no children playing or fires cooking roasted corn. The Edgewater camp no longer has livestock, gardens, or orchards. The grazing land is no longer managed and my few relatives who still live in the camp struggle to survive. Yet, I have a plan to revitalize the beautiful, resilient Indigenous lifeways of the Edgewater Jeddito Camp. Will you join me?
-Dr. Alta Piechowski
HISTORY IN THE MAKING.
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