Night Skies in Diné Bikéyah

The Navajo (Diné) have a rich tradition of starlore that maintains everything is connected. The stars above, the Earth below, and every plant, animal, and human. All are an integral part of nature and the Creator’s greater whole.

To Diné, the night sky is a sacred place. One does not speak of sacred things casually. Talk of the stars only takes place between October and February in Winter Stories, told when bears, insects, and plant life are resting. The only exception is limited discussion around the summer solstice

Starlore has been passed on through oral tradition and differs slightly from region to region. Such knowledge is mostly held my elders and medicine men. Certain parts of the sky relate to healing and societal messages, such as the importance of family. Many parts of the sky are too sacred for discussion among the uninitiated.

The Big Dipper, Casseopeia and Polaris are known to the Diné as one constellation known as Náhookǫs. It is perceived as a male warrior (Big Dipper) facing his female companion (Cassopeia) with the central fire (Polaris) between them. These circumpolar stars remain in the sky all year and represent the eternal nature of the family. During the course of the year, the Big Dipper portion changes orientation as it revolves around Polaris, its position indicative of the seasons.

Waxing Crescent Moon

The Pleiades are known as Dilyéhé, which translates as “seed-like sparkles.” Their appearance in early May on the western horizon indicates the time to plant crops. When they disappear later in June, it’s considering too late to plant and still harvest before the first frost. Orion is known as Átsé Ets’ózí, a young, strong warrior responsible for protecting his family and people.

His association with Átsé Etsoh (Scorpio) has an amusing story behind it. These two constellations are never seen in the night sky at the same time.  Their story declares the wise admonition that a mother-in-law and son-in-law should not see one another in daily life. A traditional Navajo mother-in-law might even wear a bell to warn that she is in the area. How much easier would life be if that were the case in all cultures?

Predawn is an important time that’s considered the beginning of a new day, not midnight as it is for western cultures. The Navajo month begins with the first sliver of a crescent moon. The young moon, combined with the first star or constellation seen in the eastern predawn light in the days following, indicate the beginning of a new month.

More delightful information accompanied by beautiful illustrations can be found in “Sharing the Skies: Navajo Astronomy” by Nancy C. Maryboy, PhD and David Begay, PhD available from the Southwest Indian Foundation here as well as on their website

As a side note, astronomy plays an important role in “The Curse of Dead Horse Canyon: Cheyenne Spirits.” It was something Charlie and Bryan shared as teens and helps solve the mystery.

Thoughts on Indigenous People Day

“Powwow” (Photo by Laura Hamilton courtesy Pixabay)

According to USA Today, if you live in Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Vermont and Wisconsin – plus the District of Columbia and more than 130 cities, then you observe Indigenous Peoples Day instead of (or in addition to) Columbus Day. To the others, including the U.S. government, it’s still Columbus Day.

When I went to the post office in my small Texas town to mail some books on that day it was closed. I mentioned this to a friend, but referred to it as Indigenous People Day. His response was a crack about revisionists. That got me thinking.

There’s been a lot of ruckus this year about discrimination, racism, and the darker side of United States history. Destroying national monuments and tearing down statues because some group finds them offensive as part of a violent protest of the past reflected in the present displays generations of anger and righteous indignation.

But it doesn’t change a thing.

Most law-abiding white people see only violence, disrespect, and lawlessness.

They don’t get the concept of generations of visceral resentment.

“Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

It’s important to consider the context of those times. With 20:20 hindsight it’s easy to see how events and situations that were acceptable centuries ago are now recognized as barbaric and reeking of white supremacy.

More often than not, this is a factual statement.

By today’s standards they were wrong.

Please pause a moment to watch the following video of Marlon Brando saying it far more eloquently than I ever could.

When I was in school many decades ago history class provided biased information. Any journalist knows that a story must contain who, what, when, where, why, and how. Back then history textbooks left out a critical element:


We were taught to regurgitate events and dates, perhaps the location, but that was it. BORING! Furthermore, we were not taught to think about what happened, much less why, but simply to accept it as fact.


Let’s talk about facts.

History books failed to mention that Native People were here first, had no understanding of the principle of property ownership, often held higher moral and spiritual values than their conquerors, and were defending territory given to them centuries before by the Great Spirit.

We had one side, that of the victors. The Baby Boomer generation grew up thinking Native Americans were savages who were simply in the way. This was further reinforced by movies and westerns on TV to say nothing of backyard games of cowboys and Indians.

History books failed to mention that Native People were here first, had no understanding of the principle of property ownership, often held higher moral and spiritual values than their conquerors, and were defending territory given to them centuries before by the Great Spirit.

Can you begin to see how offensive a holiday celebrating Columbus’ “discovery” of American would be to First Americans after generations of oppression in the supposed “land of the free and the brave?”

At the time of westward expansion–Manifest Destiny, if you will–these atrocities reflected the prevailing attitudes of the western world. The deeds and behavior now recognized as evil were considered normal, even heroic. And sadly, still are, in some parts of the world.

Fort Robinson Massacre

In many cases, Native American cultures were more advanced back then than the United States is today. Granted some were barbaric by western standards, such as the Maya and Aztec, but it’s important to remember that we invaded their land. Most tribes in North America were far more peaceful.

Treaties with First Americans were (and still are) broken as a matter of course. Chiefs would sign a document in good faith, often having no idea what it said, only to have what they thought was agreed upon never occur because Congress refused to ratify it. As far as they were concerned they had agreed to its terms and couldn’t understand why the white men who signed the document didn’t have the proper authority to guarantee their side of the agreement.

And it’s obvious that when indigenous people refused to give away their country, then genocide became the logical alternative.

Did you know that the Pope granted explorers permission to kill or enslave indigenous people? To the Catholic Church’s credit, this opinion eventually switched to missionary and education efforts, except the intent initially was to annihilate their culture and Anglicize them by forcing Native Americans to cut their hair and punishing them for speaking their own language. Thankfully, that has changed. Today’s curriculum includes respect for their culture and history as well as retaining their native languages. The private schools today are doing penance for the past, which is more than can be said about anyone else.

Pike’s Peak Goldrush Map

Indigenous people in the United States were murdered and those that remained driven off their land, usually to reservations in locations no one else wanted. At least until gold or silver was discovered, in which case they were driven off again. Many today live in conditions comparable to those of a Third World country.

How is this okay?

Consider this: The USA helped Europe defeat the Nazis in World War II. Our troops decimated Germany in the process, but we helped them rebuild. Adolph Hitler was a vile threat and avowed enemy. We bombed the hell out of them.

Then stepped in after the war and helped them recover! And did the same thing for Japan, who attacked our fleet at Pearl Harbor!


Photo by David Mark (Courtesy Pixabay)

Yet, for First Nation people, from whom we literally stole this country, we do little to nothing. Rather, we continue to steal and desecrate their sacred sites, then hover somewhere between ignoring their situation and the typical narcissistic response of placing the blame on them.

“Sorry, guys. You were in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

How would today’s Americans respond to Chinese hoards swarming their borders? How would you respond? Would you welcome them with open arms? Or defend your country by embracing your 2nd Amendment rights?

Columbus should be remembered. The sea voyage alone at that time was incredible. He led the way for Europeans to be free and escape oppression. Ironically, this came with a price that imposed far worse circumstances on the First Americans, when millions were slaughtered and brushed aside as vermin. Columbus belongs in the history books, but the effect his “discovery” had on the First Americans needs to be told and acknowledged (as well as some of his less than stellar personal deeds).

The USA has a long way to go before they quit being defensive and admit this behavior was antithetical to what was supposed to be a Christian nation espousing “liberty and justice for all.” We must balance the history books and acknowledge the darker side. It takes a big person (or country) to admit when they were wrong. It doesn’t change the past, but it could heal the present and certainly the future.

Meanwhile, the least we should do is eschew Columbus in favor of Indigenous People Day.

It’s not much, but it’s a start.

Recommended reading: “Great Speeches by Native Americans” edited by Bob Blaisdell. I suggest you buy it here, from the Southwest Indian Foundation.

Finding Life’s Answers

Excerpt from “The Curse of Dead Horse Canyon: Cheyenne Spirits.”

“The Enlightenment” era did more to stop people from being enlightened than achieve it. True, when Galileo et al succeeded in disproving the solar system is geocentric, that was a good thing. Some things deserve scientific scrutiny. However, even to this day, hundreds of years later, there are phenomena many have experienced to be true while those blinded by science debunk them.

That attitude has done more to destroy faith and spirituality than Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. It took decades before technology advanced enough to prove Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. Just because it can’t be proven in a lab doesn’t mean it’s not true. Having an open mind is the most scientific thing you can do. My ongoing criticism of skeptics is that they don’t have to prove anything. I think they should have the same standards imposed on them as they expect of others.

Don’t believe astrology works? Prove it.

Don’t believe in telepathy? Prove it.

Don’t believe in past lives? Prove it.

Space Shuttle Columbia Recovery Team, Hemphill, Texas, Spring 2003

Indigenous people as a rule believe in animism, i.e. that everything has an innate soul. We are all  brothers and sisters. Everything and everyone is connected. We all came from the Earth, are part of her, and will return there. Having such beliefs, they’re in tune with their surroundings. Situational awareness at its best. Like the Navajo shown in the picture on the left. We grid-searched the fields outside of Hemphill, Texas together, picking up debris from the space shuttle, Columbia. Men and women who could spot a copperhead sunning on a rock from fifty yards.

Do you have a question? Pay attention. “Ask and ye shall receive” or perhaps, “The truth is out there” are valid principles.

One way Indigenous people find answers is through Spirit Animals. This goes beyond identifying with one particular animal, such as a wolf, lion, bear, mountain lion, etc. Admiring and assimilating the qualities of any animal you encounter can teach you something about

Available at Amazon

yourself or your situation.

How do you know what they are teaching you? Often it’s intuitive, because you’re already looking for an answer. Charlie Littlewolf, the main character in “The Curse of Dead Horse Canyon: Cheyenne Spirits” knows this. Coupled with prayer, fasting, and traditional rituals his grandfather taught him, he’ll find answers.

If you prefer more specific help, an excellent book on the subject is “Spirits of the Earth: A Guide to Native American Nature Symbols, Stories, and Ceremonies.”

The stories in particular are delightfully reminiscent of Aesop’s Fables and most are suitable to read to young children. They explain the traditional meaning of various animals, indigenous archetypes, if you will.

But first you have to pay attention.

Excerpt from “The Curse of Dead Horse Canyon: Cheyenne Spirits.”

Since expanding my awareness to this hidden realm I have encountered numerous valuable insights, from birds in particular. A small flock of sparrows and a single male cardinal at my feeder. Two bald eagles soaring directly above my house. A raven squawking from the top of a phone pole. Hundreds of white pelicans circling above my house as they arrive at their winter home.

What are the odds? Those birds are not out there whenever I happen to look up. We have buzzards galore, but that is not what I have seen when I was pondering an issue. Buzzards, too, have meaning, but when they’re out there most the time, there’s far less meaning unless they do something unusual that catches your attention.

How do these animals know when to appear? Pure coincidence? Or, as part of this web of life, are they drawn to us by our asking to provide an answer only they can deliver?

Many would declare such beliefs in the realm of superstition. Have you ever noticed that superstition has the same root as supernatural? The world of the unseen?

There is so much that fails to meet the untrained eye.

Excerpt from “The Curse of Dead Horse Canyon: Cheyenne Spirits.”

The Astrology in These Books is Real

Excerpt from “The Curse of Dead Horse Canyon: Cheyenne Spirits.”

As a physicist who’s also a professional astrologer, clearly I’m a bit of an enigma…

A bit?

Probably more like a humongous anomaly.

However, as a novelist, my affinity for the unknown and all things weird and wonderful comes in handy. All my stories have a touch of technology as well as the paranormal and supernatural. Of course in this book, my coauthor, Pete Risingsun, provided plenty of support for Charlie’s experiences as he returns to his culture with its intimate connection to the Earth and its Creator.

I didn’t plan to have a character in the story who was an astrologer. However, rarely do I actually “create” a character. They just show up. And that’s how Patrice came on stage.

While Patrice Renard is a fictitious character, the astrology represented in this story is real. I swear I am not making this up. No one is more astounded than I am. The birth dates of the characters were made up and used with places close to the imaginary ones in the story. How the astrological influences on fictitious characters for the time frame chosen for the story could tie in perfectly with the plot is beyond my comprehension. To be honest, it actually blew my mind.

For those of you who might be astrologers or interested in it, here is the hypothetical Birth Chart for Bryan Reynolds, one of the story’s characters.

In fact, at times when I wasn’t sure what would happen next, all I had to do was refer to the astrological implications of that moment to figure it out. Being a professional astrologer, this was easily done. Ironically, this is one of the few times when my dual career with that of an author has been in my favor.

Many times I have been ridiculed and even ostracized as an author because of the prevailing prejudices in modern society against this ancient art. The most avid debunkers tend to hail from religious and scientific circles.

I live in the “Bible Belt.”

Do the math.

Many years ago as a physicist I set out to disprove it myself. Pardon the cliché, but it’s not exactly rocket science how that turned out.

You astrologers out there will recognize this as a “biwheel.” It comprises Bryan’s chart with the transits for when the accident occurred, which is what Patrice is delineating in the first graphic.

If you think astrology is weird, study some of the speculations associated with quantum theory and entanglement which, to any rational person, are even farther out than us having a relationship with the stars. Even astronomers are the first to admit we’re all made out of “star stuff.” As a physicist I personally think the concept of parallel dimensions where we exist in all of them is ridiculous, regardless of what the math may say. Seriously! I’ll admit to random memories of past lives, but simultaneous existence in more than one dimension? One is enough to handle, thank you very much.

Another irony in this technological age is the renewed interest in energy healing and various other ancient techniques long practiced by medicine men and healers among indigenous people worldwide. The Great Spirit is once again revealing them to those with an honest heart and open mind. And there’s more evidence for that, albeit anecdotal, than most of that supposedly scientific hocus-pocus.

Also of interest in the context of this story is the fact that Indigenous Americans have a form of astrology associated with the Medicine Wheel. While it doesn’t employ the predictive side like Western, Traditional, or Vedic astrology, it delves even deeper into the psyche and seeking inspiration as needed.

Rather than the familiar zodiac signs such as Aries, Taurus, Gemini, etc., the Medicine Wheel includes animal, plant, and mineral totems along with various other analogies, all closely tied to the seasons and nature. The moons associated with the Medicine Wheel line up exactly with those that define the zodiac signs of western astrology, their meaning essentially the same.


Not in my world.

If you’re interested in reading the story you can get a copy from Amazon here. I’d love to hear what you think.

Italy without tomatoes? Ireland without potatoes? What do YOU know about the Columbia Exchange?

1. What is/was the “Columbian exchange?”

A. The currency exchange rate between the U.S. and Columbia.

B. Trading Columbian coffee for other commodities.

C. The transference of plants, animals, and diseases among the Americas, Eurasia, and Africa unleashed by Christopher Columbus’s geographical miscalculation.

D. The expressway bridge across the Columbia River that connects Portland, Oregon with Vancouver, Washington.

2. Europeans brought which of the following the New World?

A. White rice, wheat, barley, oats, and rye.

B. Turnips, onions, cabbage, and lettuce.

C. Cutting for fruit trees such as peaches, pears, and apples.

D. All of the above.

3. Indigenous peoples introduced which of the following to European immigrants?

A. Corn, pineapples, and sweet potatoes.

B. Peanuts, tomatoes, cocoa, and papaya.

C. Squash, pumpkins, white potatoes, and avocados.

D. All of the above.

4. Which of the following animals were brought to the Americas by Europeans?

A. Donkeys, goats, and sheep.

B. Chickens and horses.

C. Pigs & cattle.

D. A & C

E. All of the above.

5. Some of the animals brought to American had a negative effect. (TRUE/FALSE)

6. The Europeans also brought birds such as starlings, insects, black rats, and honeybees. (TRUE/FALSE)

7. Which of the following diseases were introduced to the Americas by European explorers?

A. Small pox and measles.

B. Malaria, cholera, and yellow fever.

C. Cholera, thyphus, and  bubonic plague.

D. All of the above.

8. Exportation of which of the following plants indigenous to America made colonization viable and profitable due to its popularity in Europe?

A. Potatoes

B. Tobacco

C. Corn

D. Cocoa


1. What is/was the “Columbian exchange?”

ANSWER C: The transference of plants, animals, and diseases among the Americas, Eurasia, and Africa unleashed by Christopher Columbus’s geographical miscalculation.

2. Europeans brought which of the following the New World?

ANSWER D: All of the above

These items are included in American diets without thought to the fact they were no indigenous to this continent–early settlers brought them here. They brought that with which they were familiar to cultivate and maintain their previous food culture.

3. Indigenous peoples introduced which of the following to European immigrants?

ANSWER D: All of the above

Can you even imagine Italian food without tomatoes? The Swiss without cocoa? The Irish without potatoes? Halloween without pumpkins? Baseball without peanuts? These staples in European and modern American culture all originated on North American soil with Indigenous people.

Potatoes are the 5th most important crop worldwide, surpassed in harvest volume only by its fellow American veggie, corn or maize, then sugarcane, wheat, and rice.

4. Which of the following animals were brought to the Americas by Europeans?

ANSWER E: All of the above

Can you even imagine the Navajo (Diné) without sheep? The Native Americans of the Great Plains–the Lakota (Sioux), Comanche, Cheyenne, and Apache–without horses? The equestrian cultures of the Plains were, in fact, the direct result of the Columbian exchange.

5. Some animals brought to American had a negative effect. (TRUE/FALSE)

ANSWER TRUE: Hernando de Soto brought 13 pigs with him in 1539. Three years later, that number had grown to about 700, which was destabilizing and often destructive to native crops. Not only did they eat some of them, but trampled the rest.

6. The Europeans also brought birds such as starlings, insects, black rats, and honeybees. (TRUE/FALSE)


Bees may have been intentional, but it’s possible those others were stowaways of some sort on European ships. They certainly could have kept their starlings and black rats to say nothing of non-honey producing insects.

7. Which of the following diseases were introduced to the Americas by European explorers?

ANSWER D: All of the above.

Each of these diseases triggered what is known as a virgin soil epidemic where diseases were unleashed that had never been seen before and to which the Native peoples had no immunity. When smallpox was introduced to the mainland in 1519 it spread through the Mexica (the Mesoamerican people commonly referred to as Aztecs) quickly with devastating consequences.

8. Exportation of which of the following plants indigenous to America made colonization viable and profitable due to its popularity in Europe?

ANSWER B: Tobacco

SOURCE: “Native Peoples of North America”, The Great Courses, presented by Professor Daniel M. Cobb, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Image by Sabrina Ripke, Pixabay

12 Things You Didn’t Know About Astrology

Glyphs for the Signs of the Zodiac

1. Kepler, Copernicus, and Galileo were all astrologers first and astronomers second. They studied the planets to obtain more accurate data regarding planetary movement to use in their astrological readings.

2. Your sun sign does not necessarily reflect the constellation where the Sun was located when you were born. The Tropical Zodiac is aligned with the Earth, not the stars.

3. The equinoxes and solstices reflect the sun’s ingress into what is known in astrology as a Cardinal Sign, or turning point.

HemisphereSeasonEventZodiac Sign Ingress
NorthernSpringVernal EquinoxAries
SouthernSpringVernal EquinoxLibra
NorthernSummerSummer SolsticeCancer
SouthernSummerSummer SolsticeCapricorn
NorthernFallAutumnal EquinoxLibra
SouthernFallAutumnal EquinoxAries
NorthernWinterWinter SolsticeCapricorn
SouthernWinterWinter SolsticeCancer
Seasons Association with the Zodiac

4. The markings on a globe known as the Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn are where the Sun is directly overhead for the respective solstices. The Sun is directly overhead on the equator for the equinoxes.

Earth’s alignment with the Sun creates the seasons.

5. Many Native Americans have sacred sites known as Medicine Wheels where they go to pray and meditate. It has twelve divisions based on the lunar cycle with meanings that line up with those of the Tropical Zodiac used in western astrology.

6. There are several different zodiacs. Western astrologers use the Tropical zodiac described above. Vedic astrologers in India use a sidereal zodiac based on the constellations which is approximately 23 degrees different from the Tropical version. Some use a whole sky zodiac that uses all constellations.

7. Certain cultures interpret the meaning of constellations differently depending on the season.

8. Authority figures from the emperors of the Roman Empire to modern day Popes know astrology works but don’t think their subjects are to be trusted with what it can reveal because they want to maintain control.

9. The Magi’s knowledge of astrology is what led them to the Christ child.

10. Total solar eclipses carry strong astrological implications along their path of visibility. When an eclipse path crosses a country (like the one on August 21, 2017) it portends a country divided.

11. Your sun sign is only one small part of who you are. If you don’t feel as if you “fit” the description it can be explained by the placement of the Moon, ascendant (sign on the eastern horizon when you were born) as well as the planets. Another possibility is a cluster of planets (known as a stellium) in another sign.

12. Mercury and Venus are never more than two zodiac signs away from the Sun. Astrology is geocentric with those two planets between Earth and the Sun, limiting how they are viewed.

* * *

20+ Ways You Can Make a Difference

“Buffalo Hunt” painting by John Stanley.

Conditions on many Native American reservations resemble Third World countries. Unemployment is high due to their remote location. Educational opportunities are limited. Some live in shacks without electricity or running water. While many have been able to overcome these conditions, there are still too many in need. The COVID19 pandemic has been especially hard on those who struggle to survive in normal times.

If you would like to help, here are some charitable organizations to consider. Some provide food, water, shelter, and other necessities. Others provide quality education for youth from Kindergarten through high school, or in some cases, college tuition assistance. Work to preserve their culture can always use donors as well. Check them out, then follow your heart.


General Assistance

Catching the Dream

8200 Mountain Road N.E., Suite 103

Albuquerque, NM 87110

Native American Emergency Relief (Water barrels for Navajo families)

P.O. Box 218

San Dimas, CA 91773-9998

Native American Heritage Association

830 John Marshall Highway Suite F

Front Royal, VA 22630-9925

Native American Rights Fun (NARF)

1506 Broadway

Boulder, CO 80302

Native Americans Veterans Assistance (NAVA)

P.O. Box 3800

Rapid City, SD 57709-9824

Northern Plains Reservation Aid

2401 Eglin Street

Rapid City, SD 57703

Running Strong for American Indian Youth

P.O. Box 52144

Phoenix, AZ 85072-9612

Soaring Eagle (Assisted living for elders)

922 Wyoming Avenue

P.O. Drawer 879

Billings, MT 59103

Southwest Reservation Aid

P.O. Box 1841

Merrifield, VA 22116-9605


American Indian College Fund

P.O. Box 172449

Denver, CO 80217-2449

American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES)

P.O. Box 90454

Albuquerque, NM 87199-9954


Cheyenne River Indian Outreach

121 Landmark Avenue

P.O. box 969

Eagle Butte, SD 57625-0969

Dakota Indian Foundation (Scholarship assistance for books and tuition fees)

209 N. Main Street

P.O. Box 340

Chamberlain, SD 57325-0340

First Nations Development Institute

P.O. Box 8601

Denver, CO 80201-8601

Oglala Lakota College (Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges)

537 Piya Wiconi Road

PO Box 537

Kyle, SD 57752-0537

St. Ann’s Indian Mission

P.O. Box 2020

1115 Louis Riel Drive

Belcourt, ND 58316

St. Bonaventure Indian Mission and School

P.O. Box 610

Thoreau, NM 87323-0610

St. Labre Indian School

P.O. Box 216

Ashland, MT 59003-9989

St. Joseph’s Indian School

P.O. Box 300

Chamberlain, SD 57325-0300

Sky People Higher Education

533 Ethete Road

P.O. Box 1500

Fort Washakie, WY 82514


Southwest Indian Foundation (Help by shopping their great online store!)

P.O. Box 86

Gallup, NM 87305-0086

Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian

P.O. Box 98099

Washington DC 20090-8099

The Mixed Legacy of 19th Century Mines

1. Which of the following benefits did the United States derive from mining activities in the American West?

A. Presented economic opportunities of “striking gold” or other valuable minerals to anyone willing to risk confronting the frontier.

B. Facilitated laws to maintain order as well as to define and document property rights.

C. Influenced the location of state lines along with the vitality and location of cities.

D. Created jobs in all sectors.

E. All of the above.

U.S. Geological Survey. Eagle River running through mining area at Gilman zinc mine on Battle Mountain, between Redcliff and Minturn. Eagle County, Colorado. ca. 1980. (Photo courtesy USGS)

2. Which of the following were negative outcomes?

A. Depleted and abandoned mines left scarred terrain no longer suitable for other uses.

B.  Abandoned mines left safety and environmental hazards behind such as unprotected mine shafts and toxic tailings.

C. Environmental impact to streams and aquifers from acid mine drainage (AMD)

D. Native Americans were driven from their ancestral homeland to reservations on land no one else wanted.

E. 19th Century miners escaped all responsibility for damage they caused.

F. All of the above.

3. Which of the following chemicals constitute AMD?

Tailings produced from a gold/silver mine on Quartz Hill, southwest of Central City. Gilpin County, Colorado. October 1992. (Photo courtesy USGS)

A. Zinc, arsenic, and lead

B. Copper, selenium and cadmium

C. Iron, aluminum, and silver

D. A & B

E. All the above.

4. How many abandoned mines are in the west?

A. 8,000 – 10,000

B. 12,000 – 30,000

C. 50,000 – 100,000

D. Over 100,000

5. How much does abandoned mine clean-up cost per site?

Different view of Eagle River running through mining area at Gilman zinc mine on Battle Mountain, between Redcliff and Minturn. Eagle County, Colorado. ca. 1980. (Photo courtesy USGS)

A. $5 million – $10 million

B. $15 million – $20 million

C. $30 million – $40 million

D. As much as $583 million

6. How many miles of Western United States waterways are contaminated by acid mine drainage from abandoned mines?

A. 1,500 miles (5%)

B. 3,000 miles (10%)

C. 12,000 miles (40%)

D. 20,000 miles (67%)

7. Who is responsible for cleaning up old mines?

A. Property owners


C. State environmental agency

D. Volunteers

E. It depends

Tailings produced from the Climax porphyry molybdenum deposit. Northwest part of the Climax quad. Lake County, Colorado. July 1992 (Photo courtesy USGS)

8. Acid mine drainage is only caused by mining. (TRUE/FALSE)

9. Which of these constitutes how AMD pollutes the environment?

A. Contaminated water drains out mine entrances and tunnels.

B. Rainfall, stream water, and snow melt come into contact with discarded ore and tailings, then enter stream and aquifers.

C. Acidity and metals are released into the environment when oxygen and water react with metal sulfide minerals.

D. All of the above.

Silver Lake Mine and Arrastra Basin; near Silverton. San Juan Mountains. San Juan County, Colorado. August 21, 1980. (Photo courtesy USGS)

10. Which group is most affected by AMD?

A. Humans

B. Aquatic life (fish, frogs, salamanders, etc.)

C. Wildlife

D. All of the above

11. The Clean Water Act helped mitigate the AMD situation. (TRUE/FALSE)


1. ANSWER E: All of the above.

The California Gold Rush of 1849 inspired thousands to make the difficult passage across the American interior with major rushes in 1859 to the areas that would become Colorado and Nevada.  Mining settlements grew into towns and then cities that offered employment in a variety of manufacturing and service industries.

Sneffels mining camp. San Juan Mountains. Ouray County, Colorado. July 16, 1972. (Photo courtesy USGS)

2. ANSWER F: All of the above

The physical and environment damage of abandoned mines goes without saying. The geographical complexities and limitations of treaties related to Indian territory resulted in numerous conflicts. Thus, the U.S. government took possession of many areas of the Northwest, the Rockies, the Great Basin, and the Southwest which ultimately sent native populations to reservations.

3. ANSWER D: Both A & B

Acid mine drainage is water that typically carries unusually high concentrations of dissolved metals such as zinc, arsenic, cadmium, lead, copper, and selenium.

Collapsing mill at old mining town of Middleton. San Juan Mountains. San Juan County, Colorado. June 30, 1972. (Photo courtesy USGS)

4. ANSWER D: Over 100,000

As of May 2019, the Forest Service, BLM, the Park Service, and EPA together identified in their databases at least 140,652 abandoned hardrock mine features—of which over 60 percent are known to pose or may pose physical safety or environmental hazards. Officials from 13 western states also identified from their state databases about 246,000 abandoned hardrock mine features on federal and nonfederal lands within their states, including about 126,000 features that pose physical safety or environmental hazards.

North fork of Clear Creek 5 km down stream from Blackhawk. Reddish color in the stream bed is due to precipitation of iron oxyhydroxides as pH increases. Gilpin County, Colorado, October 1992. (Photo courtesy USGS)

While there may be some overlap between Federal and State databases, officials estimated that there likely are hundreds of thousands of additional abandoned hardrock mine features that they have not yet captured in their databases. Of the 140,652 total features, about 89,000 features are known to pose or may pose a physical safety or environmental hazard, according to information in the federal agencies’ databases. Specifically, agencies  confirmed 7,802 features pose a hazard, of which 6,439 pose a physical safety hazard and 1,363 pose an environmental hazard; and identified 81,541 features with an unconfirmed hazard (whereby agency staff had not assessed current conditions in person to confirm the hazard), of which 60,279 may pose a physical safety hazard and 21,262 may pose an environmental hazard.

5. ANSWER D: As much as $583 million

According to EPA documents, sites with environmental hazards can cost hundreds of millions of dollars and take many years to address. For example, as of July 2019, the actual costs at the 25 most expensive mine and mineral processing sites ranged from $50 million to $583 million per site, and EPA had been working on some of the sites for over 20 years. Furthermore, agencies monitor remedies after completion to help ensure that they are achieving the desired results.

6. ANSWER C: 12,000 miles (40%)

The U.S. Bureau of Mines estimated that 12,000 miles of the waterways of the Western United States, or about 40 percent, are contaminated by metals from acid mine drainage, mostly by abandoned mines, while 180,000 acres of lakes and reservoirs are tainted by abandoned mine runoff.

7. ANSWER E: It depends.

Theoretically, the owner of a polluting mine is responsible for the water discharged from it. But regulatory agencies find it impractical to take legal action against the vast majority of private owners. Most unwittingly inherited the problem, and could not begin to pay for remediation. They are, by virtue of having little or no financial means, “judgment-proof ” should someone sue them for environmental violations. Under current legal circumstances these private owners are often inclined to leave their mines alone. Old mines belonging to such private individuals must simply wait for some third party to clean them up.

Agencies, especially those responsible for federal land, use some of their budgets for remediation. These include the National park Service, Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, Forest Surface, Bureau of Land Management and the Environment Protection Agency. (See below)

Federal Expenditures to Address Abandoned Hardrock Mines by Agency, Fiscal Years 2008 through 2017, in Nominal Dollars

8. ANSWER: False

Undisturbed nature can and does generate acidic and metal-laden water without the intervention of miners. In the Animas River watershed in Colorado, much of the metal contamination in the water has been attributed to natural oxidation, or weathering, of the metal sulfide deposits. However, this “background” weathering produces for the most part only aluminum and iron, the other metals having long since leached out over the eons of geological time.

9. ANSWER D: All of the above.

Corroded 6 inch steel pipe caused by acid mine drainage from gold/silver mine on Quartz Hill, southwest of Central City. Gilpin County, Colorado. October 1992. (Photo courtesy USGS)

10. ANSWER B: Aquatic life

While all are affected in one way or another, those damaged the most are aquatic life.

Only some of the dissolved metals in acid mine drainage—cadmium and lead, for example—are potentially harmful to humans. Fish, however, are much more susceptible to the toxicity of these metals. Fish have to live in the water; we only drink about two liters of water a day.

The soluble metals, however, continually pass through and are absorbed by fishes’ gills and gastrointestinal tracts. Add in the metals absorbed from the insects they eat, and it’s not hard to see how fish in AMD-tainted water are highly vulnerable to these lethal poisons. The EPA says that we humans can tolerate copper in our drinking water at concentrations up to 5,000 micrograms per liter of water, but the fish in an alpine stream can tolerate only 65 micrograms per liter.

Severely polluted streams affect all wildlife when it becomes an unsuitable drinking source and can eventually kill vegetation along its banks.

11. ANSWER: False

Surprisingly, the Clean Water Act of 1971 enacted by Congress presents an obstacle for the treatment of acid mine drainage. To clean up polluted water issuing from a mine, you must obtain a Clean Water Act discharge permit (a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit or NPDES). The permit requires that the treatment you undertake will meet Clean Water Act water quality standards, which are very stringent, and that whoever attempts the cleanup will remain responsible for the source of pollution in perpetuity (that could be you!). When a third party—a nonprofit organization, community group, government agency, or corporation—attempts to clean up acid mine drainage coming from an abandoned mine, that third party legally assumes liability for the mine’s discharge.

Another risk to such “Good Samaritans” can come from citizen groups, especially environmentalists, who oppose any laws which allow an exception to or variance from the standards and provisions of the Clean Water Act. Under the law, citizens are allowed to bring a suit to force a mine operator to meet the strict water quality standards laid down by the Clean Water Act. Clearly, the high cost of penalties, remediation of the site, and long-term maintenance are formidable obstacles to any party interested in acid mine remediation.


 1. “Cleaning Up Abandoned Hardrock Mines in the West: Prospecting for a Better Future,” by Patricia Nelson Limerick, Joseph N. Ryan, Timothy R. Brown, and T. Allan Comp; Report from the Center #7, published by the Center of the American West, University of Colorado at Boulder; 2006.

2. GAO-20-238, Report to the Ranking Member, Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, Committee on Appropriations, U.S. Senate; “Abandoned Hard Rock Mines:  Information on Number of Mines, Expenditures, and Factors That Limit Efforts to Address Hazards;” March 2020.


How much do you know about Native Americans?

“Leaving,” Painting by John Stanley, 1920


Most people know little to nothing about the First Americans. If you cannot answer at least three of the following questions maybe it’s time you learned more.

1. How many Indigenous tribes are there in the United States?

A. 15 – 30

B. 30 – 50

C. 50 – 75

D. Over 100

2. Native Americans have their own religion.


3. How many unique Native American languages are there?

A. 4 – 6

B. 7 – 10

C. 20 – 50

D. 50 – 100

4. How many people are enrolled members of recognized tribes in the United States?

A. 100,000 – 250,000

B. 250,000 – 500,000

C. 1,000,000 – 3,000,000

D. 4,000,000 – 5,000,000

5. Which tribe has the most enrolled members?

A. Cherokee

B. Navajo

C. Apache

D. Cheyenne

6. How many places have names that originated with a Native American tribe, chief, or word?

A. 10 – 25

B. 35 – 50

C. Over 100

D. Over 1000

7. Which of the following references do Native Americans prefer the least?

A. American Indians

B. First Nation People

C. Indigenous People

D. Native Americans




There are literally hundreds of Native American tribes in the USA! How many can you name? Some of the ones that are most familiar include the Apache, Algonquin, Blackfoot, Cherokee, Cheyenne, Chickasaw, Comanche, Cree, Crow, Iroquois, Mohecan, Navajo, Paiute, Seminole, Seneca, Shoshone, and Sioux.

2. ANSWER: Neither or Both, depending on how you look at it.

Native North Americans consider spirituality a way of life, not a specific religion. In many of their languages, a word does not exist for “religion.” Their spiritual beliefs incorporate all of life, whether animal, vegetable or mineral–even the Earth herself. It includes their treatment of the land, gathering of food, crafting of objects, etc. Rituals, sacred lands, sacred objects, ancestral remains, and all of life are one.

Ceremonies include prayer, fasting, and the sweat lodge, among others. Morality, kindness, generosity, honor, and bravery are all important principles.

The “Lakota (Sioux) Instructions for Living” passed down from White Buffalo Calf Woman states:

Friend do it this way–that is, whatever you do in life, do the very best you can with both your heart and mind.

And if you do it that way, the Power of The Universe will come to your assistance, if your heart and mind are in Unity.

When one sits in the Hoop Of The People, one must be responsible because All of Creation is related. And the hurt of one is the hurt of all. And the honor of one is the honor of all. And whatever we do affects everything in the universe.

If you do it that way–that is if you truly join your heart and mind as One–whatever you ask for, that’s the Way It’s Going To Be.


There are 32 different language “families” as well as several more considered “isolates.” Language families, which are spoken by many tribes, include: Algonquian, Athapascan, Caddoan, Chimakuan, Chinookian, Chumashan, Eskimaleut, Iroquoian, Kiowa-Tanoan, Kalapuyan, Kusan, Maidu, Miwok-Costanoan, Muskogean, Palaihnihan, Pomo, Sahaptian, Salinan, Salishan, Shastan, Siouan, Timucuan, Tunican, Uto-Aztecan, Wakashan, Washoe, Wintun, Yanan, Yokutsan, Yukian, Yuman, Yakonan.


In 2000 there were over four million American Indian and Alaska Natives.


In 2000 there were 729,533 Cherokee; 298,197 Navajo; 96,833 Apaches; and 18,204 Cheyenne


Here are a few examples, the list far more lengthy than you can imagine.

Native WordTribeMeaning
AlabamaMuskogean“I clear the thicket” or to camp
ChinookChinookTribal Name
ConnecticutMohegan“the long river”
DakotaTribal name“allies” or people also known as Sioux
ErieIroquoian“long tail” in reference to wild cat
KentuckyWyandot“land of tomorrow”
ManhattanTribal name“island mountain”
MassachusettsTribal name“at the range of hills”
MinnesotaSioux“reflection of sky on water”
MississippiAlgonquin“big river”
MontaukAlgonquin“at the fort”
NiagaraIroquois“thunder of waters resounding with a great noise”
OklahomaMuskogean“red people”
PontiacOttawaOttawa chief
SeattleDuwamishChief Seatl
TacomaAlgonquin“mountain” or “gods”
TahoeWashoe“big water”
WinnebagoTribal namefrom Algonquian “people of the dirty waters”


Preferences vary from tribe to tribe, but most dislike being called “Indians.”

ANSWERS SOURCE FOR QUESTIONS 1 – 6: “Atlas of the North American Indian” by Carl Waldman

Research Notes & Bibliography

“Village” by Albert Bierstadt c. 1920

The list of websites I accessed researching “The Curse of Dead Horse Canyon: Cheyenne Spirits” is far too long to list. It included such subjects as where to report water contamination issues in Colorado, seasonal wild flowers, fracking risks, and drilling for oil. But by far, the most extensive research related to Native American history.

Quite frankly, I hadn’t given it much thought before. My experience with Native Americans had been limited, but positive. I was aware that reservations harbored numerous issues, but hadn’t considered why. The indoctrination I’d received in public schools as a child had never addressed their side of the story. I didn’t think of it as right or wrong, simply historical fact.

I grew up in the glory days of westerns and tales of cowboys and Indians. I never thought of the latter as bad, only different. Of course in history class they were portrayed as uneducated savages. Medicine men were somewhere on par with witches and sorcerers.

Then a few years ago I read a book that sensitized me to the harsh realities associated with colonization. It at least made me think. Then, as I was writing this book, Charlie Littlewolf came on the scene. That’s how it works in my novels. I get an idea and start writing, then the characters show up. I immediately knew there was a lot to learn about who he was and where

Want to know what really happened? Read this first.

he came from, both genetically and geographically.

So I started reading. I ordered several books, most of which I read cover to cover. The quotes at the beginning of each chapter mostly come from “Great Speeches of Native Americans.” That book literally made me cry as the reality of how Indigenous Americans were treated began to register.

It was nothing short of shameful how many treaties were broken, largely because they weren’t ratified by Congress. The U.S. side of the agreement, which often promised food and other supplies, was never fulfilled, but what the Indigenous people brought to the table was long gone. One Native American noted how he couldn’t understand how there were so many “chiefs,” none of whom were authorized to sign such an agreement on behalf of the government.

A beautiful glimpse of Native American spirituality.

The first book I read on spirit medicine was “The Making of a Healer: Teachings of my Oneida Grandmother” by Russell FourEagles. It was one of the amazingly beautiful books I’ve ever read. For the first time I realized the spiritual nature of Native American beliefs. I knew they believed in a “Great Spirit” but had no idea how that related to how they honored the Earth. If you happened to see the movie “Avatar” a few years back, then you got a taste of their view of life as well as the brutality of colonization, whether on this planet or a distant one.

By the time I’d finished writing the first version of the book I wanted a Native American to read it and tell me if anything was incorrect or culturally insensitive. That goal ultimately led me to my co-author, Pete Risingsun, a Northern Cheyenne who’s well-versed in his culture. He pointed out the many things I had wrong and not only helped me correct it but brought it to life.

Which begs the question, was all my reading prior to finding Pete a waste of time?


Without that background I don’t think we could have communicated as well as we did.

The heartbreaking story of the Northern Cheyenne’s journey.

Knowing the history was essential to us being on the same page. The first thing Pete did was send me the book “Morning Star: Let Us Make a New Way” by Richard DeSirey, which told the story of the Northern Cheyenne. Northern Cheyenne traditions, rituals, and ceremonies are very specific and often differ from those associated with the Southern Cheyenne. His knowledge was worth his weight in gold.

Nonetheless, for anyone who wants to learn more about Native Americans, here are the books that I acquired and read to a greater or lesser degree before Pete came onboard.

Those with asterisks (*) are those I dub essential reads, plus the DVD course “Native Peoples of North America” from The Great Courses if you really want to know the part of American history you weren’t told in school.


Bennett, Hal Zina: Zuni Fetishes: Using Native American Objects for Meditation, Reflection, and Insight. ISBN 0-06-250069-4

Blaisdell, Bob, Editor; Great Speeches by Native Americans; Dover Thrift Editions; 2000. ISBN 978-0-486-41122-4*

Brinkerhoff, Val W.; The Remnant Awakens; Digital Legend Press; 2016. ISBN 978-1-7295451-9-5

DeSirey, Richard D.; Morning Star: Let Us Make A New Way; 2017; ISBN 978-1-976355-4-7*

FourEagles, Russell: The Making of a Healer: Teachings of my Oneida Grandmother; Copyright 2014, Quest Books. ISBN 978-0-8356-0927-2*

Lake-Thom, Bobby; Spirits of the Earth: A Guide to Native American Nature Symbols, Stories, and Ceremonies. ISBN 0-452-27650-0

Maryboy, Nancy C. and Begay, David; Sharing the Skies: Navajo Astronomy; Rio Nuevo Publishers, Tucson, Arizona; 2010. ISBN 978-1-933855-40-0

Mose, Don Jr.: The Legend of the Navajo Hero Twins: Illustrated by Charles Yanito: Copyright 2013, San Juan School District, Blanding, Utah. ISBN 1-931489-59-9

Parnwell, E.C.; Translated by Marvin Yellowhair; The New Oxford Picture Dictionary English/Navajo; Oxford University Press; 1989. ISBN 0-19-434362-6

Sun Bear and Wabun; The Medicine Wheel Earth Astrology; Simon & Schuster; 1980. ISBN 978-0-671-76420-3*

Sun Bear, Wabun Wind, and Crysalis Mulligan; Dancing with the Wheel; Simon & Schuster; 1991. ISBN 978-0-671-76732-7

Waldman, Carl; Atlas of The North American Indian 3rd Edition; Checkmark Books; 2009. ISBN 978-0-8160-6859-3

Waldman, Carl; Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes 3rd Edition; Checkmark Books; 2006. ISBN 0-8160-6274-9

Native Peoples of North America; The Great Courses No. 8131 (c) The Teaching Company; presented by Daniel M. Cobb.*