Navajo Leadership Camp & Meeting with San Bushmen from the Central Kalahari

Meetings with Navajo & San Bushmen Leaders

September 2004

Last September we had the opportunity to facilitate and take part in a remarkable gathering in Canyon de Chelly, Arizona, deep in the heart of the Diné reservation. Our annual leadership camp with individuals and organizations working with Native youth in the Four Corners region was visited by a group of San Bushmen from the Kalahari who were traveling the US to bring attention to their land plight in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in Botswana. The cultural exchange which took place over a long weekend, including an encounter with the rains of Hurricane Javier and the flooding that followed, was an exciting adventure for all.

San Bushmen from Botswana

For the past three years, we have traveled to the Navajo Reservation to share our curriculum and youthwork strategies with other youthworkers from Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico. (Thanks to Gino & Molly Antonio in 2002 ; Kevin & Ann Reeves and others in 2003 & 2004.) This year we were invited to camp deep in Canyon de Chelly, on the land cared for by Grandma Louise Bia,her grandson, Dean James and family.

Participating groups in 2004 included: Window Rock Unified School District, Run to the Sun, National Indian Youth Leadership Program’s Web of Lifeand students from the University of Arizona. Sometime in late July, we received a letter from Kim Langbecker, founder/director of Journey to the Heart, a group in California which annually hosts a gathering bringing healers and elders from around the world to share traditions and teachings, as well as address the issues they face locally and globally. Kim wrote that she and author Rupert Isaacson would be hosting a group of Bushmen in September who would take part in the gathering of healers and then travel on through the Southwest to Washington, DC and New York City. The Bushmen’s Southwest itinerary included a visit to Hopi, the Navajo reservation and Pueblo nations. Kim wondered if we might be able to set up some tracking connections. “As you may be aware, the Bushmen exist solely by hunting and gathering. They are peace-loving and highly developed conservationists… I thought it might be a wonderful cross-cultural exchange for the Bushmen to be able to experience how a Native American tracker works and vice versa.” A press release sent by Kim gave us a brief report on the situation in Botswana:
The San, or Bushmen, of Southern Africa’s Kalahari are the oldest culture on the planet – dating back at least 70,000 years. Hunter-gatherers with a culture based around healing, they do not make war, and promote gender equality as part of their way of life. Yet in recent years these gentle people have been hounded almost out of existence by cattle ranching, diamond mining and cultural genocide. Today, the Bushmen stand on the edge of extinction: less than 10,000 traditional San Bushmen remain across the six countries of the Kalahari (Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe , Zambia and Angola). Everywhere else they exist as serfs on other peoples’ farms, often treated appallingly, or as dispossessed slum-dwellers on the edges of the Kalahari’s few towns. To make matters worse, in 2002, an estimated 1800 of these last traditional San Bushmen were forcibly evicted by the Botswanan government from that country’s Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR), to make way for new diamond mines (the area in dispute is about the size of Switzerland). Some who resisted were beaten and tortured. Now they sit in makeshift camps outside the reserve boundaries, forbidden to hunt and gather, slipping into an inevitable cycle of alcoholism and despair. However, with the help of a human rights law firm (Chennels Albertyn, South Africa), the CKGR Bushmen have now launched a land claim against the Botswana government, which comes to court in July, 2004. Public support is desperately needed to get the message out, and to raise funds to keep the case open until it is won.

Dawid’s Dream

From Rupert Isaacson’s website – – we learned that ” The expedition to the United States was a dream of Dawid Kruiper, leader of the Xhomani, South Africa’s last 35 traditionally-living San Bushmen. A year before the Xhomani won the largest land claim in Southern African history ( some 65,000 acres of their traditional hunting grounds), Dawid envisioned a trip to America which would allow him to: publicize the plight of the San Bushmen in the wider Kalahari, to meet with and learn from Native American leaders and healers who had survived a similar history; and to look at what he called ‘the power center, the place from which everything happens – America.'” We decided to help make this dream a reality. With Kevin and Ann, we began the planning which would bring the Bushmen to our camp for an international tracking event.

Elder Roy Sesana and John Stokes make a hand drill fire,

Our leadership camp began on Thursday evening. By Saturday afternoon when the Bushmen were due to arrive, we had already trained for several days with our youth workers: the plates of The Tracking Project‘s curriculum, martial arts training, tracking, peacemaking, silent movement and our workout system, Secrets of Natural Movement. We planned our day so that we would be working on traditional firemaking when the Bushmen arrived.

The team from Africa included: Xhomani San Izak Kruiper, elder; Vetkat Kruiper, artist; Belinda Kruiper, translator/co-ordinator from South Africa; Roy Sesana and Jumanda Gakelobone, directors of First People of the Kalahari, from Botswana; Beata Kasale – editor of Botswana’s newspaper The Voice;Achibald Mokoka – journalist from Botswana; Charlene Hollis, Afrikaans translator from South Africa; Rupert Isaacson, Journey facilitator, author and co-ordiantor of International Land Rights Fund (ILRF); Kim Langbecker, joint co-ordinator of the ILRF and Journey to the Heart; photographers Andrew Bailey, Connie Baxter Marlow, as well as a photographer from National Geographic and others. The afternoon sun allowed us to spend time comparing firemaking methods from America and Africa. Our students were busy with their “personalized” firemaking assignments: some were making bowdrill fires, some were on solo hand drill fire, while others were working on team hand drill fire. As they passed the different groups, Elder Ray Sesana and Archie Mokoka were quick to take the hand drills and demonstrate their style. Ray later complained that the wood here was not as good as the motsotsojane tree used in the Kalahari. Beata told us, “these guys can usually get a fire going with only a few pushes of the drill.” Ray also noted that the team style of firemaking with two or three other people was not useful to a hunter in the Kalahari who might be out by himself. He stressed the importance of each individual being able to make a fire. We had time to talk about the importance of practicing traditional skills on the land, proof that the traditions are continuing for those who criticize indigenous people for not following their cultural ways and because of this, deny them their land.

An evening fire and hurricane rains

Nearly 60 of us gathered around the fire that night to listen to the speakers from Dinétah and South Africa. When the first drops of rain fell, people cheered. But the drops soon turned into a downpour. Fearing a flood in the night, Dean had everyone move their camp to higher ground. Before the camp we had word that Hurrican Javier might come ashore over the weekend and rain itself out over Arizona. This turned out to be the case. The rains lasted through the night and the next day. Waterfalls cascaded from the canyon rim. We were able to hike over half of our people out of the canyon in two groups. Another group, including most of the team from Africa, drove out of the canyon with all the campers’ gear and four vehicles. An odyssey of more than 25 streamcossings, quicksand, vehicles stalled mid-stream, howling winds, and an extra night out in a make-shift camp was just beginning. Our experiences surviving these moments together with the Bushmen and our friends from Arizona gave us all a deep understanding of one another. Issues of leadership, safety, confidence and harmony were spoken of and agreed upon. We all quickly became a strong family. We parted ways with the Bushmen in Chinle, but a week or so later, a friend called from New York City. “We went to see some Kalahari people at the American Museum of Natural History… and they were all wearing Tracking Project t-shirts and talking about their experiences in the canyon.” Beata has written from Botswana and sent the articles she published there. We continue to be in touch with Kim, Rupert, and others from Canyon de Chelly. Part of Dawid’s ultimate dream it seems, is “for what he calls ‘the little people’ (i.e. the world’s indigenous people and those who support them) to forge a global community of their own. It has to start around fires… ” It was no mistake that fire and firemaking played such a large role at our gathering. We extend our greetings and thanks to the team from Africa, their organizers, to Dean, his grandmother Louise, Kevin, Ann and everyone who worked to bring this fascinating gathering to life. We encourage you to learn more about the history and current status of the Bushmen in Botswana and to support their struggle:

I Want To Go Home (The Bushmen of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana)