Note by Hunterbear:

For months, now, our website page on the then forthcoming Skinwalkers [PBS]
film -- which now includes as well my November 24 review of the just and
finally shown production -- has been drawing a fair number of visitors.  But
Sunday's visitation to the page [obviously before and after the showing] was
almost 150 and Monday's was about 200.  In addition, my review of
Skinwalkers has been widely posted on Native news and other outlets
and is appearing on various websites.  And I've been getting a good many
inquiries about Skinwalkers and their witch context which I've answered,
of course, with careful discretion.

Here's one of my responses -- this to a Native colleague in California,
interested in learning more about good medicine and bad, with
especial reference to the Navajo [Dine'] setting:


Thanks much for your very interesting comments. If you have, readily
available, a link to your paper on Bear medicine, I'd be interested in
getting it and going to the piece.  Don't let this request be any
inconvenience -- and, in your letter, you've already given me a look into a
California dimension of which I know little.  My oldest son, John Salter
III, now in the Fargo area, got his MA in English from UND in '88 and then
spent several extremely interesting and productive years as director of the
Roundhouse Council, the primarily Mountain Maidu program out of Greenville,
CA.  He also linked-up closely with other Native directors of comparable
programs in the central and northern parts of the state.  From him, I heard
some interesting things.

What I'm saying in my Skinwalkers review is that I believe that "good
medicine" and "bad" are real in every sense -- including that of
supernatural theology.  In short, I'm a believer -- who often has to do
battle with agnostics and atheists on some of these radical [Left]
discussion lists. Our own family religious beliefs are a now very
old mix of Jesuit Catholicism with Wabanaki and Iroquois beliefs.
But I grew up within and immediately around the Navajo, and with
close Laguna connections as well, so I'm pretty ecumenical.

A Navajo medicine man trains intricately and rigorously, as I mentioned, for
as many as seventeen  years before he's a full-fledged practitioner.

Although not much is known of "witch preparation and sociology," it seems
clear that a full-status  witch trains very intricately and rigorously as
well. [Skinwalkers are lesser-degree witch-types who, usually working for a
full status witch, travel into the field planting spells and robbing.]

None of this, good medicine or bad, is hokum -- nor is it "psychological

Anyone who has observed a medicine man at work in a healing capacity always
recognizes the presence of a very significant non-tangible and intensely
positive  dimensional force. The physicians of  U.S. Indian Health Service
[PHS] in the Navajo country -- and in many other Native settings as well --
are very respectfully aware of this.

It's not at all uncommon for a person to be suddenly or insidiously and
slowly stricken with a profound and mysterious malady -- and to then bring
in a medicine man  who will, with all careful speed, locate  the "spell"
which a Skinwalker had secretly planted  at night -- say, just outside or at
least very close to, the victim's hogan.  The medicine man will immediately
destroy the spell in several ways, heal the victim, and purify the general

If there is a "rational" or "western" explanation for this -- good medicine
and bad -- it would probably lie in the realm of one particular
parapsychological dimension especially:  telekinesis [TK] which is now more
often called psychokinesis [PK.]  This, in essence, is mind-over-matter.
The existence of TK [or PK] has been amply proven in a myriad of spontaneous
cases over the eras of human existence -- and, within the last century,
under rigorous lab conditions.  In the latter context, this has been global
in scope:  e.g., the early research by William James at Harvard, decades of
work by J.B. Rhine and Laura Rhine at Duke and J.G. Pratt at University of
Virginia -- and an enormous amount of TK [or PK] research in the USSR and
Czechoslovakia over many decades [work which still continues even though the
Red East has changed.]

Boiled down to the very basic essence, this means that certain people can,
in thinking good thoughts, make things bloom and live -- whereas others, via
thought, can make things wither and die. The potential for all ESP -- TK/PK,
telepathy, precognition, clairvoyance, etc -- may well exist in all humans
[and animals as well.]  Much "Western" thinking and narrow scientific
methodology can  frequently suppress [but not kill] this -- but tribal
thinking encourages its conscious development and usage.  And there are
certain people, who for good and ill, appear to have this much closer to the
surface and more readily at hand.

The practitioners of good medicine are far more numerous -- and, in the last
analysis -- far more powerful than those of bad medicine.

For my part, although I am a member of  the very staid and august American
Society for Psychical Research [which studies various ESP phenomena,
including TK or PK -- and the survival of the human personality beyond
bodily death], I much prefer the traditional Native theological

At the moment, the most interesting thing around here was a group of
frightened mule deer a couple of  mornings ago -- in all probability
spooked by a successful mountain lion  -- that all came rushing down
an extremely steep slope in a rugged setting a few miles from our
house, at pre-dawn. They came very close to me.  I had walked 'way up
there in the early morning moonlight, quite large lion tracks in the snow
immediately ahead of me. It's possible whichever lion [there are several
living in that particular deep valley/canyon] was hungrily involved
with the deer and had just gotten one -- and the frenetic survivors
came close to trampling me as I was climbing up the very high slope.
I do hope the lion did get a deer -- and I'm grateful the panicky deer
didn't get me. After a life thus far of close calls that began early, it
would really not look good  at all to be "done in" by deer.

Take care and all best always --  Hunter

Hunter Gray  [Hunterbear]
[formerly John R. Salter, Jr.]  Micmac / St Francis Abenaki / St Regis Mohawk
Protected by Na´shdo´i´ba´i´
and Ohkwari'


Note by Hunterbear:

There's been a small but intense discussion on one of our lists about Tony
Hillerman, the very prolific New Mexico-based popular fiction writer, most
of whose work is focused on the Navajo. Hillerman is author of Skinwalkers,
on which the just shown PBS film is based. Hillerman is Anglo. Our family
has discussed Hillerman and his works for many years and here are some of
our thoughts on it all which I pulled together and posted.  The whole issue,
of course, raises all sorts of questions in all directions -- and in both
fictional and non-fictional dimensions -- about author commitment and
integrity, knowledge and sensitivity.

Anyway, my post on all of this:

I'm certainly willing to see Tony Hillerman [author of Skinwalkers and much
more] as a reasonably decent guy.  He is, however, making money -- and many
mistakes.  Anyway, here are a few somewhat diffuse thoughts on all of
this -- and more:

Three people in our immediate family are writers.  I'm one. My oldest son,
John, is a well published fiction writer -- and my other son, Peter
["Mack"], is a major editor at a large newspaper.  Mack, an excellent
journalist as well as an editor, is quite properly an intricate stickler for
absolute factual precision [and absolute accuracy in spelling.]  John and I
have discussed the Tony Hillerman situation on a number of occasions.  We
both recognize that a fictional writer  does indeed need to tell a good
story.  But we do very much agree that, in dealing with any specific society
and its culture and history [whether Indian or otherwise], the writer has a
responsibility to be intricately accurate on those specific details  -- and,
very importantly, not to build a plot which would in any way distort any of
these dimensions.

We do recognize that, in any tribal culture [hell, any culture], there isn't
always absolute agreement on precisely what's accurate and what is not.  But
there's always a reasonably good consensus on What Is and a committed writer
can certainly determine that.  If he or she cannot, then it shouldn't be

And we also recognize that, in any culture and certainly those tribal, there
are things that should not be written.  The anthropologists who always
continue to be highly regarded by Native people are those who, in addition
to  empathy and good listening and subsequent accuracy, also knew and know
what not to write about [e.g., theological secrets.]

Neither John nor I are really Hillerman readers, although I did read
Skinwalkers and a couple of others. Early on,  even more than 20 years ago,
when Hillerman's things were becoming known in Navajo country, Eldri and I
were aware that he was more than just occasionally missing the mark on a
number of cultural dimensions -- and that some of his plots clashed at least
obliquely with  Navajo cultural reality. That was -- and is -- the opinion
of a great many Navajo people.

Mack, who went to  school for several years in a virtually all-Navajo
elementary setting, has read more Hillerman than any of us and is also aware
of the frequent inaccuracies.

In addition to missing important marks, there are a couple of other things:
Hillerman, whatever his conscious disclaimer, may have come to see himself
as more of an authority on Navajo culture than he could ever be.
Admittedly, that's speculative.  But what isn't speculative is that now,
both nationally and internationally and by a growing number of people, Tony
Hillerman is the -- I say, the -- authority on the Navajo [and even, in some
instances, American Indians in general.]  In fact, I even know some dubious
United States university courses that use Hillerman's stuff as text -- not
as fiction but as reality!

If a person,say, in or from New Mexico or Arizona, has a basic feel for the
Navajo and the setting, then reading Hillerman -- and really aware that his
stuff is fiction -- is something that can be done in an at least reasonably
discriminating and filtering sense.  The real problem lies with those who
know little or nothing of the Navajo and Navajo country.

I'm sure we all agree that it's imperative that more and more Native
Americans write -- write both fiction and non-fiction.   Some certainly are
and many more will. And many indeed  certainly do it well. That said, one
might ask me: are you saying that an Anglo, for example, can't write about

I'm definitely not saying that.  Many do -- and do it well.  A classic
Anglo-written novel about the Navajo in the earlier part of the 20th century
is Oliver La Farge's  Laughing Boy [Cambridge, Massachusetts:  Houghton
Mifflin Company, 1929. -- and many editions thereafter.]  I have my father's
first edition right here right now, purchased when it initially appeared.

Laughing Boy is a splendid work.  But La Farge, a close colleague of John
Collier and many Native leaders, was a life-long activist on behalf of
Native rights, didn't write the novel to make money and, more importantly
than anything else, knew what he was writing about very well indeed -- and
stuck, details and plot-wise, to that and nothing more.  And Laughing Boy
lives on.

Cordially to All -

Hunter Gray  [Hunterbear]
Protected by Na´shdo´i´ba´i´
and Ohkwari'


Note by Hunterbear:

Other nations, other cultures.  The Navajo Nation, geographically bigger than the state of West Virginia, presently numbers about 250,000 people.

In the wake of the very poor PBS film on Skinwalkers [and my scathing review], I continue to get inquiries about these Navajo "witch runners" -- and the two consecutive pages on our large website dealing with the topic continue to be heavily visited.
By Navajo traditional law, skinwalkers -- like the "master" witches -- are viewed as having consciously abandoned their status as human beings and should be killed [usually in direct, self-defense situations].  All of these are practitioners of extremely negative phenomena [possibly with a parapsychological basis -- e.g., telekinesis] that no genuinely knowledgeable person ever discounts.

Here's a personal excerpt from one of my [now on website] postings -- which evoked good questions from a friend in another Western state.  Following my excerpt is my heretofore unpublished response to her of several months ago -- and then her own basic message:

From Hunterbear posting:

I know a few things, at least.  And here is a short, personal anecdote:

When we lived and worked at very remote Navajo Community College [now Dine' College], seven thousand feet above sea level and almost right under the
much, much higher Lukachukai Mountains and just to the north of historic
Canyon de Chelly, our little house was on the far outer edge of the small
community of Tsaile [Say-Lee.]  We were 95 miles from Gallup, New Mexico
[where my youngest daughter was born in late '79] and 125 miles by road from Farmington.   Our area was split by the Arizona / New Mexico border which means virtually nothing on the Navajo reservation.  My Chev pickup had New Mexico plates and I had an Arizona driver's license from Chinle [Chin-Lee], the small Navajo town with a few BIA offices and a tribal police station 35 miles to the south. [Our good friend, Easy, now of Spokane, who posts regularly on our RedBadBear list, knows all about this setting.  He was there at the college, then, a top-flight computer expert for NCC,  and
that's where we first met and became firm friends.]

Skinwalkers and witches in general are a concern in this setting -- as they
are everywhere in the Navajo country.

It was a July night, 1980, with the brightest high-altitude day-light Moon
one could ever imagine.  I awoke suddenly at 2 a.m. in our rather isolated
house -- roughly the dimensional parameters of a traditional Navajo hogan,
but much larger --  and, through our bedroom window, I saw figures circling.

And I knew immediately.

Turning on the lights, I yelled and our house and its people and animals
came alive wildly.  Our three dogs jumped from the couch, barking.  One,
Ruggie, was a wonderful little terrier and the other her mother, Wendy.  The
third was the very formidable looking -- but eminently gentle -- Good:
half-coyote and half German shepherd.  Clad only in my underclothes and with
my always loaded Marlin .444 lever action, I went out the front door into
the moonlight.  There was movement -- revealing movement -- just inside the
ring of cedar trees around one side of our little house.  I held the rifle
high, the dogs now barking very wildly.

Then the shadowy but revealing motion  just inside the cedars was gone.

They were gone.

Basic Hunterbear response to some subsequent questions:

Circling the house in the bright moonlight. I'm a very touchy sleeper and
had obviously heard or sensed something.  They passed by the shut window; I
could see, maybe four or five of them, and, within a few moments, were
jiggling the partly open window in my daughter, Maria's, room. She awakened
immediately -- but concurrently I was going into action. The house was, as I
indicated, traditionally patterned after the hogan.  But it was much bigger
and had windows on every side. I don't know who they were name-wise, but,
once outside, my basic glimpse inside the cedars certainly indicated  people
in animal hides and thus skinwalkers.  A year or so before and a couple of
miles away, a Navajo neighbor had shot and killed one. The medicine man's
subsequent cleansing ceremony was necessarily extensive.

Around that time, eastern [Indiana] tourists ran over a skinwalker by
accident at early dusk on the outskirts of [a Navajo town]. . .
The man, wearing some animal hides,  who
had darted across the road, was obviously dead.  People gathered, but stayed
a very substantial distance.  Completely wrought-up, leaving the body as it
was, the tourists drove a short distance to a trading post on the outskirts
of the little town.  The trader directed them to the all-Navajo police
station inside [the town] -- but did not himself go to the scene.  The captain
in charge heard their story, then asked them to go over it again and again.
And then again. When a fair amount of time had passed, and it was quite
dark, he escorted the bewildered tourists to the scene of the accident.
There was no body. No one was around.  The officer told the tourists they
had obviously only slightly injured the man, who had obviously gone off on
his own -- and to drive on to Holbrook and the Interstate that night -- he
gave them directions -- and have a very good trip.  End of situation as far
as they were concerned.  The body would be disposed of -- covered -- in a
relatively small natural ditch of some sort.  There would then be a careful
cleansing ceremony.

When we had this experience, our security chief . . . and all his
staff were out of the Tsaile/NCC setting briefly for a police training
meeting up at Salt Lake.  It's possible that the skinwalkers knew this.
Their basic thrust was, I think, to try to frighten us away so they could
simply rob us -- something they often do.  But they also, in numerous other
instances, plant spells.

Best - H

Hunter Gray  [Hunterbear]
Protected by Na´shdo´i´ba´i´
and Ohkwari'

----- Original Message -----
From: "Martha
To: "Hunter Gray" <>
Sent: Saturday, November 16, 2002 4:51 PM
Subject: Re: Skinwalkers at PBS -- again my very critical comments and more

> I confess I'm mystified.  You saw human beings "circling"?  Circling the
> house?  Walking in a circle?  You saw human beings in or outside a
> grove of cedar trees?  Moving in a ritual circle or what?
> I suppose my reaction would be to start firing because nobody has any
> business on my property in the middle of the night .. so I'd call them
> burglars and murderers. . can you enlighten me here?  Did you ever
> them?  Out here we have "bear doctors" some of whom kill(ed) for gain. . .
> Martha
> At 11:43 AM 11/16/2002 -0700, you wrote:
> >and, through our bedroom window, I saw figures circling.
> >
> >And I knew immediately.

Hunter Gray  [Hunterbear]
Protected by Na´shdo´i´ba´i´
and Ohkwari'

In our Gray Hole, the ghosts often dance in the junipers and sage, on the
game trails, in the tributary canyons with the thick red maples, and on the
high windy ridges -- and they dance from within the very essence of our own
inner being. They do this especially when the bright night moon shines down
on the clean white snow that covers the valley and its surroundings.  Then
it is as bright as day -- but in an always soft and mysterious and
remembering way. [Hunterbear]