Dave Martine, Ramah Peacemaker

This article appeared as a Special Feature in Navajo Times, Thursday, August 3, 1995. We feel that this article deserves a wider audience. The implications of what Dave speaks of –spiritual connection, tradition, relatedness, friendship, finding oneself in Nature, his experiences as a veteran and the roots of peacemaking–are global. He likes to joke with people that he’s a “Wanna-be.” “Yeah, I want to be an Indian,” he tells them.

The Tracking Project is proud to work with Dave Martine. He is a great tracker, a close friend and a member of our Native American/Hawaiian Advisory Board. His work with us since 1988 has included: Tracking in the Southwest trips 1988-1995; our Native Men’s Team 1990-1992; Arts of Life school visits, outings, retreats and camps with students from Pine Hill Schools and Zuni, 1991-1996; Moloka’i Auwana camps 1994-1996; and he was a member of the team that took part in the healing ceremonies for Kohemalamalama o Kanaloa (The Hawaiian island known as Kaho’olawe) in 1992.

This article is reprinted with Dave’s permission.

‘Tracking’ the spiritual trail of a Vietnam veteran


Dave Martine

Dave Martine

RAMAH – “Spirituality plays a major role in my life these days. It is the primary thing for me. After the Vietnam War, I somehow felt I wasn’t a whole person. I needed a medicine man to bring me back, but I didn’t know how to go about it and no one in my family was interested to help me.”

It has taken over 20 years, but Dave Martine finally found help on his journey back to wholeness. This is his story of how Tracking saved his life.

Martine, a Ramah Peacemaker, defines “tracking” as “Bringing the pieces back together again.” Tracking begins with wilderness survival skills. These skills can then be expanded and applied in many ways.

Martine was introduced to tracking by John Stokes, who demonstrated his tracking and survival skills for Pine Hill students in 1988. Stokes’ demonstration reawakened things Martine learned as a child. The connections were so powerful that Stokes and Martine have become as close as brothers.

After meeting Stokes, Martine began searching within himself. He has studied the Diné way of life and the history of the Diné people to reacquaint himself with who he is.

Martine’s spiritual story begins with his birth in a hogan. Two days following the birth, he was still without a name.

David Skeets, a community leader and clan relative, came by with his assistant on horseback. Skeets saw the baby and asked, “When did this guy ride in and what is his name?”

When told that the baby hadn’t been given a name yet, Skeets replied, “I’ll give my grandson my name, David.”

Martine thinks this was a special gift from Skeets, who felt and saw something in him. He commented how this is an example of k’e relationships at work.

Before Martine’s birth, his grandparents converted to Christianity. With this conversion, his family called Navajo culture demonic. For this reason, Martine wasn’t given a Navajo name, a sacred name that the Holy People know you by. This is something Martine regrets today.

Martine was born of the Salt Water Clan, Todikozhii, and raised that way. He was born for Todachiinii, the Bitter Water Clan. His maternal grandfather was from the Meadow People Clan and his paternal grandparents were from the Salt Water Clan.

Research on his family history led Martine to discover that he is not really from the Salt Water Clan, but rather from Ma’ii deeshgiizhinii, the Coyote Pass or Jemez Clan. In sharing the history of his family, Martine’s grandfather noted, “You are of the Jemez Clan. The Salt Water people only adopted you.”

On his family’s journey home from Fort Sumner after the Long Walk, Martine’s grandfather said that they camped along the Jemez Mountains. The family stayed, intermarried with people from Jemez Pueblo, and later gradually moved back to the Zuni Mountains.

To Martine’s knowledge, he is the only one in his family who identified himself this way, and he takes pride in his Jemez Clan. Martine proudly remembered meeting Jose Rey Toledo, a renowned artist of the Jemez Clan, who came to call him a grandson. He refers to this as another example of k’e.

Martine was raised as an only child in an area outside Ramah by his grandparents. He remembers staying in the woods most of the time, playing with young animals. When he was five years old or so, he first entered “civilization,” riding on horseback with his grandmother to the nearby trading post.

Being raised in the woods taught Martine the nature of his relationship with all creation. He learned to respect animals as his relatives. Martine says that, “When I hear a medicine man pray about animals as relatives, I know what he is talking about and it makes me feel good.”

From his grandfather Martine learned how to hunt. They hunted almost anything when they needed food. His grandfather shared Navajo traditional knowledge about hunting and a wealth of tips learned from years of experience.

After boarding school, evangelistic efforts and his military experience, Martine faced a very difficult period of trying to readjust to being a part of all creation. The journey to restore balance and harmony has included many obstacles. Many times Martine felt like giving up, but he kept tracking with the support of his brother Stokes.

According to Martine, “Since 1988, Stokes and I have had many hours talking, walking, campin, tracking, praying, and fasting together. This is k’e in its purest form. K’e is indiscriminating, universal, and it has no boundary.

Martine spent much of one year in the wilderness, always thinking, listening and studying nature. Most of his days were spent in solitude. Martine believes he was taught many good things by nature, ”our first teacher.”

While Martine put many pieces of his life back together bit by bit, he found that he could not bring all the pieces together in just a few years. He realized this would take a lifetime.

His clan father, a medicine man with the Native American Church, told him, “Son, you don’t need to travel in search of whatever it is you are looking for.” While pointing at the fireplace, his clan father said, “It’s all right there.” After puzzling over this advice for years, Martine now thinks it relates to each individual’s search for his center. He believes that “the center for me is finding myself, who I am, and where I fit within the universe.”

Finding this center has led to peace within himself, growth, and knowledge. Martine noted how this “centering” fits with Diné traditions, with the circles and spirals of almost everything in our lives.

Confirmation that he is on the right path occurred with two experiences. The first one happened in 1991, after a year of yearning for an eagle feather.

Martine recalled, “I was so obsessed by this that I began dreaming of eagles and how I was plucking out their tail feathers.” In hearing of his dream, his dad said, “The eagles know when to give you one, when you are ready.”

One day Martine was hiking with a group of Boy Scouts on Zuni Mountains when they approached a cliff. They stood on the cliff, looking down into a valley on the other side.

Martine saw a lone tree. He told the Scouts, “We’ll go down below, all the way down across the flat area to that tree on the other side. “

When Martine walked beneath the tree, there lay a tree branch, and on the branch was an eagle feather. It looked like the feather of a young golden eagle.
Martine remembers being overjoyed. He told his dad, “I found an eagle feather.” His dad said, “No, son, the eagles found you. You are ready to carry the feather. It is a very special gift for you and your family only.”

Because the feather had not touched the ground, Martine said that it was “hinaabitsoh,” a feather that is alive or of the living.

From his paternal grandfather, Martine discovered that three of his grandfather’s brothers also experienced finding an eagle feather. All three later became medicine people.

The other confirming experience for Martine came during the Native American Church ceremony. Through prayers and singing, Marine felt that, “I was made whole again. Before this, I always felt incomplete because of the Vietnam experience. It was on this special night that the whistle of an eagle brought back what I was missing.”

Throughout the journey, Stokes has stood by and supported his brother. When asked why the two became so close, Martine replied, “John welcomes me unconditionally.”

To him, this is another way of k’e.

Martine believes that traditional values and traditional teachings are still present among Diné people today. What is lacking is the practice of these values and teachings.

Martine stresses the importance of following traditional teachings. He favors the old style participatory method of teaching and urges a return to traditional beliefs and practices. According to Martine, “You can learn while putting these beliefs into practice.”

To illustrate, Martine said, “I never saw my paternal grandparents, but through k’e, I can look at other older people, trees, or animals, and I can see what my grandparents were like.”

Retracing his history led Martine to where his umbilical cord was buried, a very sacred tradition of the Diné. Marine built a sweatlodge close by. When he wants a powerful experience, this is where he will go.

Martine declared, “One day, maybe soon, I will have a ceremony at that place near where my umbilical cord is buried. I am always looking to get to the next level of spiritual experience.”

To Martine, “Tracking is a study of tracks, but it’s more than that. It goes beyond our world sometimes. It is a journey that consists of multiple things that have brought me closer and closer to an awareness of myself and the meaning of life, physically and spiritually.