It had been about a month since I last heard from David Tejanna, when he called my office to share that the elders and the museum director had a project in mind.
Could I come down early next month to meet with them, and, attend a community meeting in the afternoon?
“Yes. I wondered if anything might come of the initial meetings. I was about ready to call you. I would like to spend a few days in Yuma. Before I left town last month, I had stopped at the used book store near the reservation. Do you know it?” I asked.
“One of my favorite haunts,” David affirmed.
“The owner helped me find a diary of an Army officer who was stationed at Ft. Yuma in 1851. I’ve read nearly all of it and have some questions for you.”
“Oh, dear Mr. Whitestone. He has a sixth sense. I hope you know he can read minds…he put the right book in your hands for this environmental education program,” he said, laughing into the phone.
David’s pause and change in tone of voice when he said “environmental education” communicated his understanding that it was I who was being educated. I kind of resented that, but I’d had the same thought not long after the first visit, so, I let it go.
“Well, I’ve got a lot of questions from what I’ve read so far. I’ll make sure to finish it before I see you next month,” I said. We agreed on a meeting time and place.
Just before I was ready to hang up, David asked me to be prepared to describe the kinds of resources my center will bring to the project. “The museum director wants to know.”
Later that day I met with my director. He was glad to learn there was some movement toward the education project but he’d not planned on providing any resources other than me. We talked for some time about this until I convinced him we should make a show of good faith by offering a small grant to cover costs.
“It might be that the project is part of the larger language recovery efforts . . . perhaps by incorporating a lexicon on the wildlife and natural history of the area.”
“Uh, huh,” the director said tenuously with a stern glance in my direction. “I’ve seen a lot of money go down rabbit holes working with tribes,” he shared.
“And they’ve seen their land and rights go down rabbit holes working with us,” I said. “How about $5,000 to start?”
He inhaled in a longsuffering breath. Straightening his back and turning squarely toward me. “Alright. But, that’s it.”