Indian Life Newspaper -

Crying Wind

A One Legged Indian


Last updated 12/8/2020 at 2:28pm

When I was young, I spent many years volunteering at a Navajo Indian Mission in New Mexico. It was one of the happiest and most rewarding times of my life.

At times it was also frustrating and heart breaking.

The missionaries were good people but after 20 years they still struggled with the Navajo language and culture. They were becoming tired and burned out.

Everyone is familiar with the "mission barrels." Well-meaning people all over the world send used clothing and supplies to missionaries to be used or given out to those in need.

People spent a lot money mailing and shipping boxes of items to the mission, believing they were doing something good. The missionaries should have handed out the best of things to the Indians as soon as they were sorted instead of leaving them in boxes and storing them in the shed for years where they mildewed, rotted and were eaten by mice. The storage shed was packed floor to ceiling with boxes of clothing that would never be used or worn.

I remember one box contained a tuxedo for a 300-plus pound man. I've never seen a 300- pound Indian wearing a tuxedo. The box also contained several fluffy, net, formal evening gowns from the 1940s. Apparently someone had just cleaned out their attic and sent the contents to the mission. There was also a mink stole, which was shedding fur. We were in New Mexico-no one in New Mexico needs a mink stole, especially one with half the fur missing.

One of the worst boxes contained 20 pairs of men's pajamas that had one leg cut off above the left knee. A note enclosed explained a woman's father had diabetes and had his left leg amputated, he'd been confined to his bed for years. The woman had cut the left leg off of his pajamas and neatly hemmed them. Her father had died and she hoped there was a one-legged Indian who could use the pajamas.

I wanted to dispose of the box of pajamas but the missionary said, "Well, you never know when you might run across a one legged Indian who needs pajamas." She sealed the box and carried it to the shed to join the hundreds of boxes of clothing.

I didn't think any Navajo man would want used pajamas with a leg missing but the box of pajamas remained in the shed for the next 20 years . . . just in case.

A storeowner in Ohio shipped a 100-pound block of hard Christmas candy that had melted into a huge lump. He said he couldn't sell it but perhaps we could use a hammer to break it up and hand it out to the children for Christmas.

A lady in Colorado sent an old, electric sewing machine. I didn't know one Indian at the time who had electricity.

Used clothing arrived that was stained, torn, faded, and had broken zippers and missing buttons. No one ever sent a "new" anything.

The worst thing people sent by the hundreds were the "Christmas Bags." They contained a bar of soap, a tube of toothpaste, a toothbrush, a comb and sometimes deodorant. Can you imagine expecting a nice Christmas gift, hoping for a nice Christmas gift, and you get a bag of personal hygiene products that say, "You stink. You smell bad. Clean yourself up. Merry Christmas." And yet, hundreds of churches send these bags to missions every Christmas. They were insulting. Nobody wanted a bar of soap under the tree on Christmas morning.

Don't send anything to missions that you would not allow your own children to wear. Send new jeans, new shirts, new blouses, new blankets. Send flashlights and batteries, new jackets, new shoes. One new pair of jeans for a young boy is worth more than twenty pair of used jeans that have broken zippers, stains and holes in them.

Things have changed over the decades, but just two years ago a pastor told me they were collecting things to ship to the reservation for Christmas. I asked him if they were planning to send the usual bags of soap and personal products, and he answered yes, that was what they sent every year. I asked him not to do it.

Bless his heart; he listened to me. We made a list together that included 50 throw blankets with beautiful scenes on them, Del Henderson Jr

50 baby blankets, 50 bags of assorted toys, 50 children's books, and 50 fleece hoodies of various sizes and 50 Christmas stockings of candy. It was going to be a good Christmas.

Since the time I was at the mission, dozens of missionaries have come and gone. I hope things have changed. I hope the shed isn't still stacked with hundreds of boxes of clothing and supplies that have never been given out. I hope there isn't a box sitting in a corner marked, "Pajamas for One Legged Indian Man."

Crying Wind is the author of Crying Wind and My Searching Heart, When the Stars Danced, and Thunder in Our Hearts, Lightning in Our Veins.


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