FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — While much of the country gawks at the solar eclipse, Bobbieann Baldwin will be inside with her children, shades drawn.
In Navajo culture, the passing of the moon over the sun is an intimate moment in which the sun is reborn and tribal members take time out for themselves. No talking. No eating or drinking. No lying down. No fussing.
“It’s a time of renewal,” said Baldwin, a Navajo woman from Fort Defiance, Arizona. “Kind of like pressing the alt, control, delete button on your computer, resetting everything.”
Across the country, American Indian tribes are observing the eclipse in similar and not-so-similar ways. Some tribal members will ignore it, others might watch while praying for an anticipated renewal, and those in prime viewing spots are welcoming visitors with storytelling, food and celebration. For the Crow Tribe in Montana, the eclipse coincides with the Parade Dance at the annual Crow fair, marking the tribe’s new year.
Many American Indian tribes revere the sun and moon as cultural deities, great sources of power and giver of life.
The Crow’s cultural director, William Big Day, said the sun is believed to die and come back to life during an eclipse. In more nomadic days, Crows would offer each other “good wishes” for their travels, and elders would advise them to do a cleansing ceremony to start anew, he said.
U.S. Bureau of Indian Education spokeswoman Nedra Darling said the agency’s schools, most of which are on the Navajo Nation, were given the option of closing Monday. Navajo Nation employees have Monday off, and other schools on and off the reservation that extends into Arizona, New Mexico and Utah earlier decided to close in respect of the culture that teaches that looking at the sun during an eclipse can be harmful not only to one’s eyesight but for overall well-being.
“You’re welcoming negativity into your life, or turmoil, or troublesome times ahead of you, as well as socially, health-wise and spiritually,” Baldwin said. “You’re observing something that should not be observed.”
Farther east near the Great Smoky Mountains, the Eastern Cherokee tribe is expecting thousands of spillover visitors from the national park.
Stickball games during a two-day event will reinforce a lesson about cheating and the appearance of the moon. Fairgrounds supervisor Frieda Huskey recalled a legend of a player on the losing team picking up the ball, which is against the rules, and throwing it against the solid sky, so its appearance is small and pale.
When the moon or sun is eclipsed, it’s because a great frog is trying to swallow it, she said.
In response, Cherokees beat drums and fire guns to scare off the frog and ensure the moon or sun don’t disappear forever — just as they will do during Monday’s solar eclipse, she said. Once the eclipse is over, Cherokee warriors will dance to celebrate the great frog’s defeat.
When the sun and the moon disappeared during eclipses in the past, it frightened indigenous people who believed they displeased the gods, said Stanford “Butch” Devinney, an Eastern Shoshone spiritual leader and teacher at Wyoming Indian Schools on the Wind River Reservation. The way he sees it now, the eclipse is an opportunity for renewal.
“Maybe our way of thinking might change, our behaviour,” he said. “People will have a different outlook on life. Maybe it will change for the better. Be a different person.”
Students at two Northern Arapaho schools that share a reservation with the Eastern Shoshone will be using telescopes donated by NASA and special glasses to view the eclipse. Principal Elberta Monroe said teachers have been talking to students about the solar eclipse for months.
It’s “something students are going to remember for a lifetime,” she said.
Baldwin will call her children into the living room Monday, share traditional Navajo stories and ask them to meditate and reflect on what they want out of school, athletics and life, she said.
For one daughter, the focus would be acceptance from elders on her role in rodeo. Baldwin will ask the children to concentrate and wish for happiness and health for their family, friends and all of humanity.
“There’s a little conversation, but there’s that constant reminder that we need to be quiet,” she said.