Friday, March 09, 2007

Traditional medicine man heads to India on cultural exchange

Traditional medicine man heads to India on cultural exchange

Gibson Gonnie, a traditional Navajo medicine man, is preparing for a month-long trip to visit an Ashram in India to share and exchange cultural teachings. [Photo by Jeff Jones/Independent]

Gibson Gonnie is quite possibly the first traditional medicine man ever to be invited to share his knowledge of Navajo culture and way of life with spiritual leaders in India.

The idea surfaced following the recent World Uranium Summit in Window Rock. "When they were having this uranium summit, there were a few people from this foreign country who approached me and said that they wanted to have a prayer done for them," Gonnie said.

He performed the prayer for the East Indians and the idea of a cultural exchange emerged.

Next week, Gibson and his wife Saia will travel to the spiritual headquarters of Sathya Sai Baba, one of India's renowned religious leaders and world teachers, to provide insight into the lifestyle, religious and spiritual beliefs of the Din.

This will be Gibson's first time out of the United States.

Safe travel
"A lot of people, especially Navajos, when they go overseas, they get to have a ceremony done, like for safe travel ... the Protection Way Ceremony," he said. It is also used for persons going into the military.

"This has been done since the 1860s when the cavalry and the Native Americans were running around. Now we use it for safe traveling. When you come back, you have another prayer done for you. A lot of Navajos don't know this. They just go somewhere and then come back," he said.

Gibson is not quite sure what to expect once he reaches the ashram, but said he's pretty sure he is going to be asked how the Native Americans live, how they pray, what their everyday lifestyle is like, what kind of food do they eat and what is the reservation like.

"From their point of view, when people say Indians or Native Americans, immediately their mind goes through where there's a teepee: Everybody lives in a teepee, everybody lives on the plain, everybody still wears feathers in their hair and has horses," he said.

But times have changed. "So I guess that's what we're going to talk about."

Family tradition
Gibson, whose father was Dr. Hosteen Gonnie, comes from a Navajo medicine family. His brothers, Larry, Dale, Nelson, Gilbert and Leslie are all medicine people.

Based on what he was told by his dad, Gibson thinks that maybe the plan for this cultural exchange trip began many years ago.

Back when just a few people had vehicles on the reservation and there was still a lot of medicine people around, the elders gathered in Teesto at a place called Star Mountain.

"I guess the elders, they got together, including my dad, and they sat. One of the medicine men, he used to do the crystal gazing," Gibson said. His name translates to A Tall Person With Short Hair.

"He did the crystal ceremonies and the ceremonies that my dad does and then what I do today. It's been passed on from generation to generation. Now I have the things that they have," he said.

"I guess back in those days when they were praying, they had this crystal vision and then the hand-trembling also.

"They said, 'What we pray for, what we're doing here, we're just doing it on the reservation, we're just talking about it on the reservation.'

"They said, 'If what we pray for what we hope for is true, if it's to be a strong belief that what we pray for and what we have worked so hard for, if it were to become true, then it would travel as far as the eye can see,' " Gibson said, like the proverbial pebble dropped into a pond that sends ripples across the surface.

Gibson believes the elders were talking about taking their message overseas. Now, he said, what they talked about is about to come true. "That's kind of how I'm thinking about it."

Back in the days before they had electricity, the elders had a vision. "They said there were lights everywhere. 'We're not going to see it, but that's how it's going to be.' And that's how it is today. There are lights everywhere. Electricity is what they were talking about," he said. "Another thing they say is this cultural exchange I'm talking about will happen." That's due to prayer, Gibson said.

Now, this exchange discussed by the elders is about to happen. "It seems like I'm the key to turn that lock. I'm just there, kind of like a stepping stone. I'm trying to open that door. Somebody has to," he said.

"Everywhere I go I don't know how it happens somebody approaches me and they start asking me questions, then people start coming around and it becomes a group. So that's kind of what we're hoping, to share their culture and my culture and talk about spirituality, because that's what people do over there," he said.

There are teachings everywhere, according to Gonnie. All one has to do is look. "To me, if you're going to go see a holy man, a holy temple, or a holy place, it seems as though they already know you're coming," Gibson said.

"That's kind of how it's working for me. The time is now. I might go over there and then somebody might come over here.

"What I say over there, telling them about world peace, what's going on here, what's happening to the earth and what's happening to our environment, global warming and everything. This might also be a bridge where people can get together and just do a prayer," he said.

"Maybe there can be where people can get together, all nationalities, and pray about something like this. We have lights and everything now, but we can only go so far, and then it will shut off. We'll go back to where we started from.

"Nothing's going to change. The world's not going to split or fall apart, or anything like that. It's just going to change. It's just going to go backwhere we started from."

It's just like a little kid, he said. You tell them not to do certain things, but they continue doing it and doing it until they hurt themselves. "That's how this whole thing is going to go," Gibson said.