In his 2001 memoir, SELDOM DISAPPOINTED, Tony Hillerman (1925-2008) recalls the “life-changing miracle” that was meeting his future wife, Marie Elizabeth Unzner. “All else… [was] trivial,” writes Hillerman. In October 1947, Hillerman attended a dance at the university’s Newman Center, where he saw a slender, laughing woman with enchanting eyes. Unable to stop thinking about her, he offered to help her with her English composition assignments (she was pursuing a double major in microbiology and education).
Hello, I am the new Tony Hillerman Digital Fellow; I joined the crew in August. As the new fellow I was initiated into the project by being assigned to work on People of Darkness. My job is to research and define terms from the novel that would contribute to the digital encyclopedia. We have been taking terms from Hillerman’s books and, through these definitions, have been constructing a picture of the Southwest through Tony Hillerman’s eyes. People of Darkness takes place in the Grants, NM area: the checkerboard section of the Navajo reservation, Mount Taylor, and El Malpais. These were some of the very first terms I researched and defined for the encyclopedia. As it happened, just as I finished defining “Mount Taylor,” “Grants,” and “El Malpais,” a beautiful autumn weekend in late September presented itself as an opportunity for a camping getaway, and I decided it would be the perfect time to go explore landscape of People of Darkness in person, and on foot. It was Friday evening and already dusk when I arrived at the foothills of the mountain. I set up my tent in a quiet, deserted campsite, built a small campfire, and reread the first couple of chapters. Through the trees, in the dark, I could see the glowing, distant lights of a few secluded estates. Which one is B. J. Vines’ mansion? I wondered, imagining the wealthy villain’s house as Hillerman described it: the fireplace, the trophy heads on the walls, the grave of the “good Indian” Dillon Charley in the yard... The next morning, bright and early, I started my ascent of Mount Taylor. The air was cool and fragrant with the smell of juniper and pine, and the sky heavy with gray clouds. Soon enough I was sweating, trudging up, up, stopping occasionally to catch my breath and take pictures. Two hours later I was proudly standing at the very top of the sacred peak.
It was a historic moment in history on September 26, 2014: the Navajo Tribal Council approved a $554 million dollar settlement from the U.S. government, with a thirteen “for” and three “against” vote. In 2006, the Navajo nation filed suit against the federal government for $900 million dollars because of its mismanagement of tribal resources, and last month’s settlement is the result of eight years of litigation. The president of the Council, Ben Shelly, called this settlement for the tribe “a victory for tribal sovereignty.” However, while the settlement was approved by the Navajo Tribal Council, it was not unanimously approved. Three members voted against accepting the settlement, and did so not because they did not want the settlement but because they disagreed with the speed with which the settlement was approved. The bill was brought before the Council and voted upon without any public involvement or comment. The Council majority justified the speed of this approval, because it did not want to jeopardize settlement and wanted to publicly demonstrate union within the Council. However, some Council members felt that the settlement was never in jeopardy, and by not allowing people to comment on the legislation, “…the approval of the bill undermines the transparency that the Council often advocates amongst the Navajo people.”
September 26, 2014. "DSC05524" by Jared King is licensed under CC BY-ND.
The dust jacket of the first edition of Hillerman’s 1989 novel TALKING GOD positions a depiction of a Navajo Yeibichai mask at the center of a representation of a Navajo sand painting. Designed by long-time Hillerman collaborator Peter Thorpe, the jacket design depicts the mask as flanked on either side by iconic emblems of the national government that was responsible for the effective genocide of millions of Native Americans as well as the forced removal of the Navajo from their homeland in the Long Walk of 1864.