10/26/2014 01:30 pm ET Updated Dec 26, 2014

Where the Paths of the Jews and Navajo Crossed

Notes from Indian Country
By Tim Giago (Nanwica Kciji)
© Native Sun News

October 27, 2014

The Irish came to America because of the potato famine. Perhaps their move from Ireland to America was by choice and yet they were pushed to relocate because of the fear of starvation.

The songs they wrote and sang after landing in American often lamented the loss of the land they loved, but had to leave. "I'll take you home again, Kathleen," and "Tura Lura Lura," were some of the songs that affected a longing for the homeland.

Perhaps if the Irish knew that there were indigenous people living in South America where the potato originated who could have pointed out a cure for the potato blight if only they had been consulted they could have stopped the devastation of their potato crops and remained in Ireland. But unfortunately, the potato had by then become the "Irish potato" and its point of origin long forgotten.

But there was a darker side to the mass movement of people to America. There was the "unsettling" that involved the mass evacuation and relocation of the indigenous people. To the Native People it was the beginning of a genocidal onslaught that would last for three centuries.

A lesson of epic proportions addressing this topic took place in Albuquerque, N. M. on October 12, 2014, ironically and coincidentally on the day set aside in many states to honor the first immigrant to the Western Hemisphere, Christopher Columbus.

The event was the third Navajo/Jewish dialogue, "Healing the Wounds of History, The Long Walk and the Holocaust," was held between Navajo educator Frank Morgan and Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld at Congregation Albert, an event organized by Gordon Bronitsky.

In an article written for the Gallup Independent Diane J. Schmidt wrote, "When I first heard about the topic, the Long Walk and the Holocaust, I thought it unwise. I frankly I didn't expect my fellow Jewish congregants to be receptive to hearing about the suffering the Navajo people had endured by comparison with their own. My concerns dissolved entirely when Frank told me what he had chosen to talk about -- "the Navajo perspective on healing, rebalancing, rather than focusing so much on the process of damage and destruction, the endemic problems of what trauma does to the psychological self."

She continued, "His framework, the Navajo perspective on healing, suddenly shifted the entire conversation, and I understood that his emphasis on healing comes out of his years of teaching about the Blessing Way teachings that reverse the effects of trauma.

Morgan explained, "They sent the 'esteemed' Kit Carson, a small man, a trapper, to invade and force The People out to Fort Wingate, which is a place known as Bear Springs in Navajo, and from there the army marched them by gunpoint over 300 miles to Bosque Redondo at Fort Sumner, southeast of Santa Rosa, near Clovis, New Mexico.

"We had established our whole being, our life on our homeland and when we were removed from that land -- that was a huge, huge wound. In Navajo practices, we take a child's umbilical cord, where they want their child or grandchild to be psychologically oriented, and place it in the ground. The particular place where a child's umbilical cord is placed, that is the entire environment where the mind, thought and psyche are embedded or imprinted. If you remove the person, you're breaking that umbilical cord like it's still in the womb. People were later removed from their land to make room for coal mines, for example, but their whole lives were diminished.

"The Earth is my Mother; my umbilical cord is in the earth, feeling us, like we're feeling we're still in the womb. We still feel we're in the womb of earth. Sky and earth relate in harmony."

Several months ago I wrote about building a Native American Holocaust Museum at Wounded Knee, the site of the last massacre of American Indians in America. I realized at the time that the Jewish people could accept it as a comparison to their own holocaust at the hands of the Nazi's or push it aside as something with no similarity. I wrote the article because the holocaust of the indigenous people of North and South America is quickly forgotten except to those whose ancestors were the victims.

I began this column by talking about the Irish and their immigration to this land while all the time longing for Ireland. To the thousands of Native Americans forcibly relocated to places far from their homelands Frank Morgan's presentation on the relocation of the Navajo should be taught in all public schools and colleges because it was not just the Navajo who suffered the trauma of forced relocation, but hundreds of other Indian tribes suffered the same trauma of relocation.

It is ironic that the Irish were tied to America because of a vegetable called the potato, a vegetable that was farmed and developed in South America by the Indian people. The Irish and the other immigrants came, they stayed and they prospered unlike the indigenous people they replaced and relocated.

(Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, was born on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. He was the recipient of the H. L. Mencken Award in 1985 for his column on an Indian reservation Christmas. He can be reached at