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Ross

The sign at the entrance of Old Oraibi says: "All white people keep out...you have violated the laws of our people as well as the laws of nature." Beyond the sign is a heavy chain, stretched tightly across the road, prohibiting access.

I proceed to drive my old step van around the chain and over to a squat rock house on the side of the village. The temperature is mild for mid-January; and, although the sky is blue. I can see wisps of gray clouds beginning to bunch up. I know that it will soon snow.

The door is slightly ajar and I knock, calling out: "Ross! Ross! It's Jeff, with Bradford and Alfonso." "Come in," replies Ross in his high-pitched voice. I enter the tiny rock house and breathe deeply the aroma of burning juniper that pervades the air. Ross Macaya, a small Hopi man, about five feet tall, has lived in this house most of his ninety years. He is seated on the floor with branches of cedar and juniper surrounding him. On the tree stump in front of him, Ross is using a small rock and all his attention to grind bits of juniper and cedar into powder, dividing his shavings into two piles.

I ask what he is doing, and Ross replies, his bony, wrinkled fingers still working: "I keep coughing and getting mucous in my throat, so I grind up this juniper and mix it together with water," pointing to a tin on the stove. He continues, "I drink this mixture all day long, and I keep adding water. It gets stronger and stronger and stronger, and I keep drinking until the congestion goes away."

Ross is looking all of his ninety years. His sneakers are filthy, pants baggy and at least four or five inches too long, a set of three turquoise jacklaw necklaces around his neck, the bottom beads stuffed into his shirt. Ross' eyes are set deep...they are dark and fierce-looking, a contradiction to the gentle and peaceful man that he is.

Looking around the room, I see his loom, with a half-finished sash on it. Traditionally a male job, Ross is one of the few weavers still working. His sashes are very much in demand not only by the Hopi, but also the Zuni and the people of northern pueblos. Over his long life as a weaver, and a bachelor, Ross has been a successful trader. At dances he is always wearing more turquoise than anyone.

Ross asks if I like the sash on the loom. Of course I reply that I think it's exceptionally good work. "Great" says Ross, "because I am weaving this one for you". I have been lucky enough to trade with Ross many times during the years that I have known him. Ross has traded his weavings to me in exchange for many different and unusual items that have caught his attention, including a back-strap woven blanket from the isolated mountain village of Momostenango in Guatemala, as well as macaw feathers, turquoise, and green chili, just to mention a few.

In a traditional Hopi home, where theft rarely exists, Ross is extremely paranoid. He tells me, more hurt than angry, how the local youngsters keep coming to his house and taking his things. I had noticed earlier that all of his possessions were painted red: ax handle, shovel, tools, parts of furniture.

Years ago, Ross converted an old refrigerator into a vault, putting six or eight hasps and locks on the door, then laid on its side. The fridge is camouflaged with a cover of old blankets and cartons. Recently he misplaced all his keys and actually drove his old white Chevy pickup to Winslow and bought a small safe to keep his weavings and jewelry.

Now, as I sit with Ross in his house, listening to his story, watching mice run around his storage area, I see that the safe has been mauled, the handle broken off ...and I am able to understand why the Hopi village of Oraibi does not want the influence of mainstream America on their children.

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