|Robertjohn (left, white shirt, blue cap) at Indian Services in a Prison.
The inmates are blurred out
in order to abide by current regulations. Also pictured, Gary Fourstar (centered, seated).
To make a long story shorter... I first met Robertjohn in 1993 on the Internet email before the days of the World Wide Web. I was invited to a local 'Social' that was held inside a grade-school cafeteria. From my first meeting with Robertjohn, I have come to learn the songs from many people's cultures including songs from the California Indian people. It truely has been an honor to have been singing with the Social for about 5 years now.
In the years that I have known Robertjohn, I have seen many things, and been to many places like Elders Gatherings, Weddings, Nixon's Funeral Ceremony, funerals of friends and loved ones, Indian services in prison, lectures with prominent members of our culture and more. He has been with me through my hardest times, and has been hard on me at the right times. Don't get me wrong, I am not Robertjohn's "right hand man" nor do I imply such. I don't know if anyONE is, because there are literally thousands of people that occupy that spot in a very large circle across the entire country.
I am grateful to know him and am honored to introduce him to you. I can safely say that I have never met anyone else that lives his life with such dignity and in a special form of 'grace'. Robertjohn is indeed a humble man, and it is not my intention that my interview be taken to harm that honored reputation.
For the purpose of this webpage, I asked to "interview" Robertjohn with some basic questions about the Save Our Sovereignty Walk. I copied the interview from an audio tape (please don't ask for a copy) and have used "creative English" to try and capture the 'spoken' intonation. No matter... the printed form of English does not convey what the oral tradition, or the strength a verbal presentation of the message can offer.
AN INTERVIEW WITH ROBERTJOHN
CW - Charles White
RJ - Robertjohn
What is the purpose of this walk?
The mainstream purpose, the current I believe is to Unify, or better, to create a Unification of California people. That Unification is going to be representative from each tribal nation of California. Recognized and un-recognized is irrelevant. Every People of California will have representatives and those representatives will have the authority to do two things.
One, to pick a time and place agreed amongst all of them and a location for their tribal chairs, their chiefs, and their council members, to meet and to hash out how this unification will come about.
Second, what I see in that Unification is the exercise of Sovereignty of California People, that they, the tribal chairs and the legal representatives of their people, legal in the sense that their people have chose them, are asked, requested, to send two representatives. Those representatives will be on the walk. Those representatives will pray with us all the way and actually, we are there to support them. To create such a spiritual force that when we reach Sacramento, this will take a form that will enable the leaders of the California tribes to come together.
This action, to me will be a message to the world, a message to all indigenous people that what we are doing here is far more outreaching, that we are the people of the land and as such, we identify with the land. We know who we are in relationship to the land. We love our Mother, the Earth. And in that way, what we are doing is maintaining our relationship for our children so that they too will know her, so they too will identify with the land.
We have been asked to be separated from this, we have been separated, isolated, pitted against each other. This prayer is to bring us back together, to reclaim our rightful heritage as the California People, the people of the land. Our Sovereignty will enable all people, every color, to live their life in a good way. This sovereignty to me is the seed for justice, it is the seed to stop oppression, it is this magical time. It is not any one person. It is a time of conscience, a time for the indigenous people to unify to protect the land.
We will not lose in this Unification. No one tribe will lose their identity. The Cahuilla will still be Cahuilla, the Serrano will still be Serrano, the Shasta will be Shasta and the Yukit will still be Yukit. But when we speak to any other governments whether they are the California Government, the United States Government, Nevada Government, Japanese Government it doesn't matter, when we speak to those governments we will speak as one voice with many heartbeats.
We will be the heartbeat of this land and we won't sell her. In other words, our voice is there to protect our homes, everybody's homes, not just one home, but everybody's homes. If we sell our Mother, then we sell our homes. We have no place to go.
If you are Chinese then you go to China. If you are French and want to know about French, you go to France. Ireland Africa we don't have no other place to go. We are from here, this is it. This is where we stand. This is where we walk.
How did this walk come to be?
How can we create a healing? This walk is from the collective minds of many people who have the foresight to see what could be done. This is not a one-person entourage, this is not a King or Queen leading this. This walk is for the people and the people are walking for the elders. The elders are walking for the children. This is the elders asking the young people to walk also, the elders will be waiting at Sacramento. That's what this is about.
This is about the young people, whatever that means, from the collective minds of many of the elders of California. Its not an overnight thought. It is not a spontaneous inspiration, but for myself, after years of listening I am the voice, the rattle, a singer. I'm not a chief. I am an urban Indian that loves the people. I believe what they have told me. Those that taught me, also loved the people.
What do you mean by "the people"
The People, are all of our relatives. Our relatives are, everything the Creator has made. Since the Creator makes nothing dead, everything is alive. So are the Rock people, the tree people, all our relatives, the two legged peoples, all of it is just the way of viewing the world. Viewing who we are and when we can connect them, that is when there is magic for me. That is when you have an identity. That's when you have roots and you can develop into that special being, that the creator made us to be. That's what I mean by "the people".
I have known you for about 5 years or so, and during that time we have done many things together. This is something that you have talked to me about for many of those years. My question for you is, why now? Why is now the time?
I don't believe that answer can come from me. I believe that it is a spiritual invocation that has inspired many people to have a sense that the time is now. I carry the message, and everybody I carry it to agreed. That is the feelings and sense that we have. When we stopped and looked around, we could see that there were 'forces' that we are under attack. Being under attack whether it is cutting funds for our educational benefits, cutting funds from universities, casinos under attack, cutting the hair off of Indian inmates, reducing our Sovereignty. All of these kinds of things, not any one of them, all of these combined together, with the spiritual inspiration, is bringing this to this time. We, I just know, feel its time to walk just like when I know its time to eat.
You mentioned attacks and the timing of the walks. Is this walk related to Proposition 5 and the Casino measures we are hearing about?
Well all things are related. There is nothing that is not related in some way or another. However, this did not motivate us, not this one thing. This proposition is just one more recognition of the fact that we are under attack. This kind of unification, this kind of prayer, has been a prayer for many of the elders that have passed away for 30 or 40 years ago, this is not a new thing, it is a fruition of all the prayers of all the elders that have done this, that have prayed for this.
We are just standing up to regain our strength from 500 years ago. We see that if we don't, our children will have a greater hill to climb, a bigger battle. I believe personally, that it must be done now. We are not confronting anybody. What we are doing is praying strongly for our Unification. It is our offering to all the politicians, all the non-traditional people, to other people that there must be unification of the California Native people. We know that there are many watching us. So we must be extra clean. We know our prayers, our songs, our ceremonies work.
What advice would you give for the walkers, the people who are joining us in the walk?
This walk, is a walk, is a walk that is a prayer, and a prayer is that which is a request to the spirit world, and a prayer that has gratitude in it, for a positive response that will be granted. So the prayer the walk must be handled in such a manner as our asking, our offering. Our offering is simply ourselves so that our offering is accepted we must make our offering the best we can to the spiritual world.
We must prepare ourselves physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. That kind of preparation we must leave our stuff at home. Put it in the fire. Get rid of it, but don't bring it with us. If we have emotional baggage, it will hamper us in the walk. It will cripple us. If we have baggage that doesn't belong there then it will bring bitterness. If you have a second agenda, leave it at home, don't come. Clean yourself up.
Come to pray, walk in such a manner that when we're done, you will be a much stronger person. I believe you will know more better who you are, your connection with the Earth, more fruitful. You will probably build relationships and bonding that will never break. I believe all of this stuff is in that kind of way. Not only to bring stuff like change of clothes and those types of things for the outside of us, we must also prepare ourselves on the inside as well.
Do you have anything to say for those that can't join us in the walk, like the elders, or the inmates of California too?
There is nothing more powerful than prayer. I would ask for the inmates to offer their incarceration as a prayer during this time, so that we stay strong, so that there will be no force that will deter us, or injure us, or put our hearts in the ground. That we may keep our hearts high so our prayers are strong. I would ask the elders that can't come, a likewise thing, for they to look back on their lives and be thankful, because we are not doing this for ourselves, but for the generations to come. It is to late for the ones who are already here. This is absolutely done for the next generations.
Many times, times I hear you, you have a clarity of vision, that you see what you want to say, and you say it using a vocabulary that is very exact. How is it that you can see things so obvious, that others have difficulty seeing?
I hear your question. <pause> If what you are saying is valid, <longer pause> I can remember working very hard trying to see what the elders saw. Those old traditional people, that is who the elders are, those people that carry on the tradition all their lives that help you change.
The worst thing that one can do is lie to oneself. My efforts are to honor those people that taught me, and that's to see what is there, not what I want to be there, and to know that everything is related. To learn the natural laws.
You mention prayer. Prayers can mean many different things to different people. Can you tell me what you mean by prayer?
A prayer or to pray, is to use your highest thinking, and not to hurt nobody. So in that highest thinking, it is to see how we are connected. To know that we are not accidents, to know that there is meaning if we just look for it. That is just why I am talking to you now. Understanding. To understand is not to be afraid. No one is to come between the one who is praying and the Being being prayed to. We don't have a word for prayer. I just talk to the spirit world. All our ceremonies have a 'asking' or a 'Thanksgiving'.
Do you consider yourself a 'modern warrior'?
What is a warrior? By definition in my mind, a warrior is the one that knows himself and that truly is a frontier. That truly is a place of sacredness and I think for myself I am always learning who I am and relationship to all life and the spirit world. I remember years ago asking that same question to my elders, and I asked that to Leon Shanadoah, Audrey Shanadoah and the definition that I received from them was, "the one that carries the bag of bones on their backs." In other words, the ones that pick up and to carry on and continue.
Is that all there is, just warriors? Are there not craftsman, feeders, and holy people? Are holy people warriors? If you look at Sitting Bull, he was a holy man but he carried a gun. Crazy Horse, Geronimo, Tecumseh, I believe that was our error picking up the gun.
There is no healing with a gun. It only makes holes.
The gun is a technological instrument, the result is, when it is used, only the biggest gun wins. The warrior or spiritual warriors lovingly takes care of his family, takes care of his work, and takes care to honor all life. All life is everything the creator has made.
And those that have more guns, wins.
The more and the biggest. Weather it is germ warfare, chemical warfare or anything, it is just another gun, a different form of a bullet but its all a gun. There is no healing that comes from any gun. How do we defend ourselves? I think, never letting it get to there. That is the spiritual. The holy people can see ahead to prepare a different place. I don't believe the creator made us to fight.
I don't believe the creator made us to watch 'ball games' either. Our old games, whole villages played against each other instead of watching others do it. That is to be useful, to be functional.
If you have a hammer and nail, you can build things. If you have a gun, you make a hole. It is an 'end product'.
You have often talked about hands being able to create or destroy. What do have to say about feet?
I believe that when I find myself at a particular location, I ask my feet, "Where are you taking me? How did I get here?" I believe my feet respond to the way my grandmothers and grandfathers came before me.
My hands are the extension of my mind. What I entertain in my mind comes out through my hands or my mouth. If we entertain in our minds, that we think bad thoughts, then that will come out of our hands or we say it. That is why we must keep our hands busy, by doing good work and helping. Putting ourselves with our feet in good places. Everybody has a dance, everybody has a song, and hands.
Look at peoples hands, you can see the people that work. You should see carpenters hands. They are all gnarled and thick. Farmer's hands, those guys have thick fingers. You can see the work in their hands.
The first time I went into a prison, I had to walk by myself about 2/5 of a mile alone, no guard or nothing. I was getting "cat calls" from the inmates as I was walking. I had no clue as to why I was here except to help or to pray with the Brothers. I remember asking my feet, "where are you taking me?" It was a scary thing.
I come to believe now that if I empty myself then my ancestors will guide me and put me where I should be. Then I must interrupt what it is I am to do for at a certain time in our lives we must exercise our Duty.
This is the end of the interview. I would like to thank Robertjohn for talking with me, for taking care of me, and for taking care of all of us in his own way. My hope, is that we can return the honor to not only Robertjohn, but to the many other elders of the California People, and elders that have died before seeing this day, by making the vision of a United Nations of California Tribes, a reality. This is for the generations to come. With deep respect. --Charles P. White
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