It is with a heavy heart that I write this letter to you in order to say some things that I never had a chance to tell you before you left this world. I can only say 'I'm sorry' for not being able to get together with you again to have lunch and to speak some more about our collective experiences.
I regret not getting to know you sooner for many of your friends and former colleagues speak highly of you, impressing upon me that you were a man of great knowledge and wisdom. You imparted some of that knowledge to me upon our very first meeting, and a lot of that will stick with me in the days, weeks, months and years to come.
With regard to your respect for our natural world and the multitude of natural resources which we use, your words resound just as strongly now as if you spoke them to me today. Some of these words I wish to share with everyone today in light of several issues that are affecting a lot of our Native brothers and sisters throughout this world.
Late last year, you spoke of a gulf that exists between Native Americans and non-Natives in our shared struggle for a cleaner, healthier world. You spoke about the importance of prayer, which is not always an understood custom in today's predominantly non-Native world. Yet, you spoke of prayer as a means of bridging this gap and allowing for non-Natives to see that this is our way of showing reverence to the higher powers responsible for creation and for the never-ending circle of life. You told of how Native American spirituality resembles "religion," and how our traditions arose from direct, intimate contact with our natural world.
You spoke about the importance of our Native traditions and how it is a major positive force, "keeping individual religious-based biases out of the public sector and encouraging equal treatment for all, whether they choose to follow a certain faith or practice no religion at all."
Now more than ever, we need to remember and share that knowledge as our Havasupai brothers and sisters battle proposed uranium mining near the Grand Canyon; as our Navajo brothers and sisters battle a proposed coal-fired power plant near the Four Corners regions; as our Navajo and Hopi brothers and sisters contend with uranium-contaminated drinking water; as our Laguna and Acoma brothers and sisters fight to protect Mount Taylor from uranium mining; and as a number of our Native -and non-Native - brothers and sisters here in Flagstaff continue the fight to protect the San Francisco Peaks from artificial snowmaking using reclaimed wastewater.
It is my hope that you will continue to impart this means of understanding in whatever way you can. Although you are gone from this world, your wisdom will continue to guide us as we continue to bridge the gap between traditional knowledge and western science.
As you so eloquently state, "This knowledge is a part of who we are as Native people. It takes no great leap of imagination to recognize how such concepts relate to the present state of the world. Science and traditional knowledge represent two ways of knowing. Neither is better or lesser than the other. Embracing both ways of knowing can bring us to a greater harmony when dealing as partners with the challenges we face. The key is respect."
Indeed, you were a man of great wisdom, and I felt very honored and privileged to have known you for this time that you were upon Mother Earth. You have reiterated on more than one occasion your deep spiritual connection to the "higher powers" that govern the delicate balance that humankind - in their arrogance - have shamefully neglected.
Needless to say, my friend, you will be greatly missed. Elahkwa hom kuwaye. Hom do' emma' anikk'ekkya (Thank you my friend. You have taught me much).
(Editor's note: The quotations used in this letter are from the Fall 2008 issue of the ITEP newsletter entitled, "Native Voices.")