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Navajo (Dine) Bahais

Howard McKinley - Diné (Navajo) Baha'i declared as a Baha'i in the 1950's.

Howard McKinley was born November 15, 1909 on the Southern Navajo Reservation in Arizona. He died on February 15, 1998 in Fort Defiance, Arizona.

The following is a story taken from a paper written in 2007 by an anonymous author titled: Direct Teaching on the Navajo Reservation in the 1970's.

Who was this Howard McKinley? He was a very dignified old man in his eighties. Chester and Ben Kahn had gone to his home and told him about the Faith and invited him to the meeting. After shaking hands with him, I learned that he was not only an old Indian Medicine man, who held a great station among the people, and now was one of the tribal leaders serving on the Indian Council, but I found him to be extremely funny and very likable.

He and quiet, kind, gentle Chester were sitting next to each other. I asked Chester

if he shared with Mr. McKinley the story of Bahá’u’lláh’s Revelation. All I got back was a warm smile. Then I knew that Mr. McKinley was told enough about the Faith to be approached for enrollment. I asked Mr. McKinley, “Do you believe that Bahá’u’lláh is true?” I did not get an answer right away. However, after a few minutes of silence, which seemed like ages to me, he broke the silence very calmly saying, “Truth is truth whether I believe it or not.” As profound as that statement was, it was not a sufficient answer for me to bring out my enrollment card. The silence ruled for a while, and I asked him the same question. He had a bigger smile and gave the same answer. Then I told Mr. McKinley that I knew he believed this was true by his smile, but I needed his word because it was important for his people to know his beliefs. Then he realized the importance of the occasion and said, “I do not have my glasses with me to sign the card.” We replied that was not an issue; therefore we read the card and held the card at a distance (since he was far-sighted) where he could see it. He did become a Baha’i.

Seeing the smile of Chester was more precious than a pile of gold, for it is still with us. After signing the card, Mr. McKinley looked at me seriously and asked where the water was? I asked, “What water?” He said, “Aren’t you going to baptize me now?” I did not know then of his sense of humor and depth of his faith, I thought he was serious. I started to explain, when suddenly both he and Chester started laughing, and then I got the point. Mr. McKinley said, “I have been soaked in so many waters in so many years that I did not need to take a bath anymore.”

After the enrollment, he looked at me and said, “These are my people, may I have a word with them.” He took the microphone, and addressed his people by saying, “You all know me, I am Howard McKinley, your leader, but you do not know that I knew there exists in this world a truth, a spirit that I wanted to find and tell you about, before I die, I want you to know that now I am ready to die, for I found that truth, it is Bahá’u’lláh, and that spirit is the Most Great Spirit that we have been waiting for. I just joined His group and put my name under His banner, and I am finished now having fulfilled my duty toward you. For those of you, especially you young people, if you want, follow my example.”

After that moving testimonial, people got in line to sign their cards. I wish you were there to see this amazing historic happening. Of course, we shared with them the entire Message and invited them to become Bahá’í. Among them was that old lady who could not move. I saw her in her wheelchair from afar and asked Ben to take a card to her and see what her feeling was? Ben returned with card unsigned, I asked Ben what happened. He said that she believes, but did not want to sign the card; all she did was raise her finger, as if she was pointing at something. I asked Ben to take the card back to her, but this time to put some ink on her finger and see what happens. This time Ben returned with tearful eyes and a marked enrollment card with fingerprints of our giant spiritual sister.

Since then, Mr. Howard McKinley, our spiritual giant sister in the wheelchair, Jim Stone, and Benjamin Kahn have joined the forces on high; may they continue to progress in the worlds of God. I heard that Mr. McKinley was faithful and supportive to the Faith to the end of his life.

May they all have a blessed life. Article written in 2007

The following story is taken from "Traditional Navajo Foods and Lifestyle Bring Health and Strength" by Brenda Norrell - printed in Indian Country Today

Navajo elder Kenneth Foster said the Navajo Creation story tells how Changing Woman, the first Navajo woman, was transformed into a sacred being. Corn meal was used for the blessing. When Mother Earth gave birth to Monster Slayer and Son of Waters, the twins journeyed to their father the sun. They were told that they had come from the "land of growing corn and rain."

Before his death, Navajo elder Howard McKinley, who lived to be nearly 100 years old, recalled how corn pollen was used in ceremonies and corn silk was used for healing teas. Navajo women sang corn grinding songs as they ground corn on grinding stones. Parched corn was ground together with pinons for nut butter similar to peanut butter.

McKinley remembered picking wild yucca bananas and wild potatoes. He remembered how blocks of frozen water from Blue Canyon were stored as chunks of ice for summer months in cut-rock houses near his home in Tse Ho Tso (Meadow between the rocks) known as Fort Defiance, Arizona.

"People wouldn’t be getting cancer today if they were still eating the wild foods," McKinley said. He served as a tribal councilman most of his life and traveled with Annie Wauneka, who became a legend, encouraging Navajos to adopt safer health practices in the fight against tuberculosis.

When McKinley saw Navajo elderly being served corn dogs on a napkin, he helped revolutionize Navajo food programs in the mid-20th century.

It was called "the corn dog harvest" in Washington.

McKinley, a storyteller, received a masters degree and always walked long distances. If he needed to go to Albuquerque, about 175 miles away, he would just start out walking, sleeping in trees to avoid coyotes. While sharing stories on the front porch of his home, he credited his long life to walking and laughter.

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