Maria Mocerino

Belinda Eriacho is a Native American healer that was born and raised in the capital of the Navajo Nation: Window Rock, Arizona. Although she grew up learning the medicinal traditions of her ancestors, Belinda decided to pursue a life as a healer when her brother fell ill with pancreatic cancer and she was diagnosed with systemic lupus.

Returning to her medicine roots, Belinda dug deep into herself and her trauma in an intensive healing process that included Native American techniques such as lightning medicine, sweat lodges, and sacred plants.

From her perspective, her illness was her teaching and initiated her on the path of the “wounded healer.” As a result, she started a company called Kaalogii that promotes Native American teachings and education. “’Kaalogii,’ in the Navajo language, is ‘butterfly,’” Belinda said, “which was born out of my transformation from who I thought I was to who I really am. I wanted to empower others to do the same.”

As a Native American woman, Belinda witnessed and experienced the effects of the intergenerational trauma afflicted by the US government and its policies that remain, to this day, ignored. Currently, for example, Native American women are being kidnapped, raped, and murdered in the US and Canada.

In this interview, Belinda Eriacho does not teach us a lesson on “Native American history.” In her words, “This is US history that we share.”

In this interview, Belinda Eriacho does not teach us a lesson on “Native American history.” In her words, “This is US history that we share.” This includes Belinda’s own experience growing up on a Navajo reservation, the intergenerational trauma afflicting Native Americans, the inclusion of Native American and Indigenous voices in the psychedelic conversation, and her healing journey using Native American medicine techniques.

Maria Mocerino: How do you introduce yourself to your people?

Belinda Eriacho: When I introduce myself to my people, I acknowledge myself as being from the Hónágháahnii (One-Who-Walks-Around) clan on my mother’s side. I was born from the Naasht’ézhi (Zuni). My maternal grandparents are from the Black Sheep clan and my paternal grandparents are from the Zuni.

On my mother’s side, I am Diné. On my father’s side, I am Ashiwi. I primarily grew up on the Navajo reservation in a little community called Window Rock, Arizona. It is the capital of the Navajo Nation.

MM: What is your lineage, and where did you grow up?

BE: On my mother’s side, I am Diné. On my father’s side, I am Ashiwi. I primarily grew up on the Navajo reservation in a little community called Window Rock, Arizona. It is the capital of the Navajo Nation. The Navajo nation, geographically, is approximately the size of West Virginia. It’s the largest geographic area for a Native American reservation.

MM: What did you see growing up on the reservation?

BE: As a child, in the summer months, my siblings and I spent our time working and helping our maternal grandma’s home in southern Arizona. She lived in a very rural area and part of our chores was to herd sheep. It was not uncommon for us to help gather wood and haul water for my grandparents, so I was primarily raised in that way. We had to find our own way of entertaining ourselves because there was no tv, electricity, or running water, so we spent a lot of our time outdoors riding horses and just being out in nature.

When I was growing up, I saw a lot of family dysfunction. There was alcoholism in my family and in the Native American community in general, as well as domestic violence, and intergenerational trauma.

When I was growing up, I saw a lot of family dysfunction. There was alcoholism in my family and in the Native American community in general, as well as domestic violence, and intergenerational trauma. I don’t think the adults really recognized what intergenerational trauma was until much later on. School was my escape. I spent a lot of time in my room reading and learning. I was a nerd.

MM: When you were growing up, did you learn about plant medicines? How much of your culture was preserved?

BE: My culture played a significant role. My grandparents were very traditional, which included the use of sweat lodges, traditional plants, and ceremony for healing. My maternal grandmother knew nature. She would pick plants and make medicines from the sap of the tree, which she’d use for her aches and pains. She had arthritis. I learned from her as I grew up, but I forgot about it until I got to college and my oldest brother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I took herbs and nettles, made medicines from the sacred plant medicine (marijuana) to make suppositories, so it got me back into re-membering.

MM: How did the reservation come to be?

BE: You got a week? This is a long story. 

Reservations were created similarly to states, but this issue goes back further than that. Let’s talk about a document called the “Doctrine of Discovery.”

MM: I do. 

BE: Reservations were created similarly to states, but this issue goes back further than that. Let’s talk about a document called the “Doctrine of Discovery.”

The Doctrine of Discovery (also known as the “Inter Caetera,” issued as a Papal Bull by Pope Alexander VI) was created in Europe in the 1400s. Essentially, the Queen sent out explorers to “discover” new territories that she believed were uninhabited; but, they were inhabited: by Native Americans.

There were four basic principles under this Papal Bull:

  1. Any land that was not possessed or occupied by a Christian was considered available. This did not consider the Native people that were already occupying the land.
  2. The first Christian to discover a piece of land received some kind of sovereignty over that land and its resources. Christopher Columbus was part of that, even though he was also declaring it for the crown. By the way, Christopher Columbus did not discover North America.
  3. They had full title, which means that they physically possessed the land. When the Pilgrims landed, they made that land theirs, but Indigenous people were already living there.
  4. Added territories were assumed and treated in the same way.

We were considered “savages.” We needed to be “tamed.” We needed to be put on “reservations.”

BE: Keeping that in mind, around this time, we were also in a Civil War. The US government knew that much-needed resources, such as metal, existed on our lands. In a roundabout way, the US government wanted to get access to Native American lands, so they created these reservations. We were considered “savages.” We needed to be “tamed.” We needed to be put on “reservations.” A lot of times these “reservations” were just a small piece of land. A lot of these “reservations” were passed by President Andrew Jackson in 1825. So, how did that piece of legislation impact me personally?

The Navajo reservation was established in 1868. That was only after the Navajo people were rounded up, marched to Fort Sumner, New Mexico and this is referred to as “The Long Walk” to Bosque Redondo. My maternal grandfather was required to sell his land for 80 cents an acre. My mom’s family was put on a reservation.

MM: How was the land distributed on the reservation?

BE: On the reservation, my maternal grandfather was entitled to a plot of land that he and his family could use. All rights to that land—surface rights, mineral, and sub-surface rights, such as groundwater—were relinquished to the US government. Native people were living on land that they didn’t have entitlement to, according to US policy. This plot of land was given to my great-grand father for the benefit of his family. When the land was initially given to him, there were five family members, but now, he has 200+ family members. People don’t usually understand that.

At that time, the mindset of the government was to “assimilate Native people.” They were marched to prisons like Fort Sumner and turned into farmers. However, the land was not fit to grow anything.

MM: What was the mindset of the US government in creating these reservations?

BE: At that time, the mindset of the government was to “assimilate Native people.” They were marched to prisons like Fort Sumner and turned into farmers. However, the land was not fit to grow anything. The winters were brutal. There was disease. Many of my ancestors and relatives died.

MM: What happened when your great-grandmother and her family arrived at Fort Sumner?

BE: As the story goes, my great-grandmother, her father, and their relatives survived Fort Sumner.  Her mom had been captured from the Mescalero Apaches, so she primarily grew up with her father and her father’s relatives.

My ancestors ended up walking back to what we know as the southern Arizona of the Navajo reservation, where my grandparents lived and where I spent much of my childhood. It is said that it took them two years to walk back.

MM: What happened to your maternal line at Fort Sumner once the Treaty of Bosque Redondo was signed in 1868 between the Navajo and US government?

BE: My ancestors ended up walking back to what we know as the southern Arizona of the Navajo reservation, where my grandparents lived and where I spent much of my childhood. It is said that it took them two years to walk back. Can you imagine a two-year-old walking in the dead of winter, sometimes without shoes? She ended up living to 102 years old. Her name was Bizh de bah, which, in Navajo, means, “The One Who Rides with The Braves,becauseshe would always travel with the men.

MM: “Assimilation policies” seem to be so central to White culture; any thoughts about that?

BE: The US policies of assimilation were well-intended and allowed for westward expansion, but they did a lot of damage to the Native people throughout this country. These impacts still exist today, including intergenerational trauma. I understand what the US government was trying to do, but conquerors only see things from their perspective, and not the perspective of those being conquered.

For instance, the Diné people is a “matrilineal society. ”Who we are as Dine’ people comes through our mother’s lineage, not our father’s, which is totally contrary to Western thought. Our religious essence of who we are comes from the women; it has always been that way and it will always be that way.

In the 1500s, White Europeans were trying to get control of the lands that the Native people owned. The Europeans started lacing blankets with smallpox and giving them out.

MM: Can you give an example of something that did a lot of damage to the Native American people?

BE: The arrival of Europeans into this continent.

In the 1500s, White Europeans were trying to get control of the lands that the Native people owned. The Europeans started lacing blankets with smallpox and giving them out. A lot of Native American people died of smallpox as a result.

MM: What about the Native American’s connection to the land? How did reservations affect that? Who are a people without land?

BE: As a Native American person, you become familiar with everything in your environment. This interconnectedness becomes a part of who you are: your essence. We have been going to sacred places to offer our prayers for eons. When you move a tribe, for instance, the Cherokee people, from the Southeast of the US to Oklahoma, there is no way maintain this interconnectedness and the culture. As a result, you lose some of your culture.

MM: Can you talk about intergenerational trauma and how that is affecting Native American people?

There’s a term called “disenfranchised grief.” That means that trauma upon trauma upon trauma is compounded because you never have the opportunity to grieve that loss.

BE: People ask me, “Why do you keep bringing up this stuff that was in the past?” A lot of these “things that happened in the past” still carry on today. That’s the intergenerational trauma that we have to deal with.

There’s a term called “disenfranchised grief.” That means that trauma upon trauma upon trauma is compounded because you never have the opportunity to grieve that loss. You have people with anger, guilt, sadness, shame, and feelings of helplessness. That’s why we, Native Americans, have such a high rate of suicide; about 2.5 times the national average. It’s the second leading cause of death for our Native American youth between the ages of 15–24.

MM: Besides the high suicide rates, what are the other issues pertaining to the Native American people?

BE: There are very high rates of substance use. A lot of our women have gone missing or murdered. It wasn’t until this year that President Trump put some legislation in place to try and deal with that.

The Red Dress Project is a community-driven movement to bring awareness to the epidemic levels of murder, sex-trafficking, disappearance, and rape among Native American women.

MM: Speaking of the Native Americans girls that are being sex-trafficked, raped, and murdered: What’s the Red Dress Project?

BE: It was a project started in 2011 by a Canadian artist, Jaime Black. She wanted to do this because they are dealing with the same issue in Canada. The Red Dress Project is a community-driven movement to bring awareness to the epidemic levels of murder, sex-trafficking, disappearance, and rape among Native American women.

MM: What is happening? What’s going on with the authorities, what do you know about who is perpetrating these crimes?

BE: Let me give you a legal framework. From a judicial standpoint, if a Native American woman has a partner who is Anglo, and he beats and murders her, the local jurisdiction on an Indian reservation cannot prosecute him because the laws do not apply to non-Native citizens. The local law enforcement has to go to the FBI in order to prosecute him and, realistically, are they going to go to a reservation for a person that gets killed?

On a federal level, there’s a federal database that is maintained for the US to track missing people. If a non-Native Anglo female gets murdered in the city, she is automatically put into this database, so they can figure out where she is. For a Native American woman, that doesn’t happen. A lot of times the perpetrators are law enforcement people. The sex trafficking issue is not only here in the United States. This is a worldwide issue.

From my understanding, there are Native American women that are being taken from the reservations and being put into these man camps to perform sexual favors and not allowed to leave. It’s a big issue.

MM: What about the construction camps in Canada that these Native American girls are being sent to?

BE: In Canada, they are building pipelines. A lot of times, the construction men have to live in camps, in trailers. From my understanding, there are Native American women that are being taken from the reservations and being put into these man camps to perform sexual favors and not allowed to leave. It’s a big issue.

At one point, I was probably taking 68 pills.

MM: Thank you. Let’s go into your healing journey through systemic lupus.

BE: I ended up getting diagnosed with systemic lupus, and I had to get hospitalized. I was losing my hair. You know when you pinch your finger, and have a kind of a blood clot in the skin? I had those all over. I was very fatigued.  My body was shutting down. At one point, I was probably taking 68 pills.

MM: 68 pills!

I was on my healing journey. I had to dig deep inside myself to figure out where this lupus was coming from. This process immersed me into my Dine’ traditional teachings, from my mom’s lineage.

BE: Yes, I remember sitting at my sisters, trying to pay for my bills, and I couldn’t even write. As part of my healing journey, I remember being in church on my knees, crying out: “What is happening to me?” Because up until that point, I always needed someone to help take care of me, because I couldn’t do simple things by myself. This was my initiation into the wounded healer path. Experiencing this from a psychological, spiritual, mental, and physical standpoint was my teaching.

I was on my healing journey. I had to dig deep inside myself to figure out where this lupus was coming from. This process immersed me into my Dine’ traditional teachings, from my mom’s lineage. I had to go through many traditional ceremonies that had to do with lightning energy, death, and the Beauty Way.

I had to sit on top of the sand painting of lightning strikes in the form of snakes, for example. The snake is the representation of the lightning and the rain in a lot of Indigenous cultures.

MM: Wait, what? Lightning medicine?

BE: Yes, “lightning medicine.” When a tree is struck by lightning, the plants that grow around them are then energized by that lightning energy.

I learned that the energy that comes through the lightning can impact us physically. I had to go through ceremonies day and night. During these nine days of ceremonies, I had to live out in a rural area without electricity, running water, and just be immersed in nature. Every day, my ceremony began outside at 4 am with prayers, with the medicine of nature, the cosmos, and the elements.

Some ceremonies were outside and involved the recitation of ancient chants and prayers, for example. I prayed and sang, aligning my voice with the frequency of the earth energies in order to come back in balance with who I was as a human being and everything that existed around me. I had to clean my body from these toxins that were inside of me. Part of that was being in a sweat lodge, taking plant medicines, and other rituals, such as sand paintings that held images of sacred deities. I had to sit on top of the sand painting of lightning strikes in the form of snakes, for example. The snake is the representation of the lightning and the rain in a lot of Indigenous cultures.

MM: Wow.

BE: So yeah, I went to the school of hard knocks (Laughter).

MM: (laughter) Belinda. I must share a nugget of Native American wisdom that fundamentally changed my life. I don’t know if you’re aware, but I studied clowning. I learned that the “Sacred Clown” is found in many Native American cultures.

BE: Every Native American tradition has clowns…

MM: I read somewhere that the initiation for a clown is that the individual person—obviously predisposed—realizes that people who love each other can be cruel to one another. This throws the individual into such a state of despair, to the point of death, maybe. But if that person can emerge from that experience, the person can emerge a clown and navigate that razor-sharp edge: laughter. I suppose that’s what makes the clown the social critic, or able to respond to “order” or the “hierarchy” that exists.

The way that I look at it is, we have clowns because they teach us as human beings that sometimes we take ourselves too seriously, and that laughter, too, is healing medicine.

BE: Yes, we have clowns in the winter ceremonies. The way that I look at it is, we have clowns because they teach us as human beings that sometimes we take ourselves too seriously, and that laughter, too, is healing medicine. That’s an essential aspect of who we are as human beings. That is what I have been told.

MM: Now, just to start wrapping up, what about the church that you’re working on right now; practically speaking, what info can we get to people?

BE: I live in the Tempe area, and we have about 40 members. I typically hold sweat lodges at my home every month. I also do talking circles and traditional healing ceremonies with my niece and one of my brothers, a Dine’ medicine man. We work with doctor Dr. Joe Tafur, who is a Colombian who comes from a Western medical perspective as well. We created a church that we call The Church of the Eagle and Condor.

MM: Please share the prophecy of the eagle and condor…

BE: There are many interpretations for that particular prophecy, but the gist is: When the eagle and condor come together, representing North (Eagle) and South (Condor) America, then humanity can heal. We learned this through the traditional teachings of the Indigenous people that were living in the Americas before the Europeans arrived.

I’ll read you something. According to the Eagle and Condor Prophecy, the essential feature of this age is extraordinary planetary crisis and upheaval:

Tied to the cumulative effects of alienation, separation, and deep amnesia, this crisis increasingly characterizes both humanity and the world. The defining moment of this age is the “re-encounter’” of all elements having suffered separation during humanity’s prior unfolding. It becomes a time of coming together of peoples, ancestry, and traditions, along with the restoration of harmony between humankind and Mother Nature. It culminates symbolically in the meeting of all races, and their “breaking bread” together at the table of the World Teacher. This event indicates the emergence of humanity from its illusion of separation.”

~Don Oscar Miro Quesada, Pachakuti Mesa Kamasqa Curandero, Alto Misayoq

Some Native people don’t like the term “American Indian” because Indian is associated with Columbus, who didn’t discover anything. He didn’t discover us. We like to call ourselves Americans.

MM: Can you talk about the language used to name Native Americans?

BE: There are many terms that are used to make reference to us; including American Indians, Native Americans, Natives, and Indians.  Some Native people don’t like the term “American Indian” because Indian is associated with Columbus, who didn’t discover anything. He didn’t discover us. We like to call ourselves Americans.

Like I mentioned, many of the tribes in North America are matrilineal societies. That puts a sacred responsibility on us, as Native American women, to care not only for our families and communities but also the environment in which we live.

MM: Since Native Americans view themselves as the caretakers of the land, how do you see your own responsibility as an American?

BE: There is a concept called “sacred responsibility.” There is also word in the Andean traditions of South America called “Ayni,” which means “sacred reciprocity.” Again, this ties back to the Eagle and Condor Prophecy. There’s always an exchange with nature; in other words, not only from a human standpoint, but also from an environmental standpoint. If I’m out there, harvesting a sacred plant for use as medicine for healing, then I need to give something back in return, because it has given its life for me to heal.

Like I mentioned, many of the tribes in North America are matrilineal societies. That puts a sacred responsibility on us, as Native American women, to care not only for our families and communities but also the environment in which we live. This includes the care of sacred plant medicines and making sure there is enough medicine for future generations. All the decisions that we make are not just for today, they are for tomorrow and the future. We have to think about our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren’s children. We cannot be selfish. But that is the not the mindset of Western culture.

Native American people were brought into the conversation after the “Decrim” legislation had already gone to the city for approval. And they put peyote on there! As you can imagine, this was very upsetting to many Native American people.

MM: How does this Western mindset show up in policy making around sacred plants in terms of how Native Americans are being treated right now?

BE: Right now, there is a big effort to “decriminalize nature,” which that allows people to use these sacred plants. It started in the Oakland, [CA] area. Native American people were brought into the conversation after the “Decrim” legislation had already gone to the city for approval. And they put peyote on there! As you can imagine, this was very upsetting to many Native American people.

Native Americans fought for the use of peyote all the way up to the Supreme Court in order to use peyote legally as part of the Native American church. The DM resolution was done in a way that reminded me of a colonialist approach.  Meaning that “you do what we tell you to do,” as opposed to you being “a part of a conversation.”

It is time now to come together and find something that works for everyone. What if we were to come from a heart place, instead of from the mind place.

MM: What do you say when you go to psychedelic summits and conferences and the like?

BE: It is time now to come together and find something that works for everyone. What if we were to come from a heart place, instead of from the mind place. “What’s best for all of us, and how can we get there?” I’m sure that there are many creative ways of doing that, it’s just that people have their own personal “agendas.”

MM: Right now, in terms of your interaction with this psychedelic renaissance world that’s emerging…what are Western people not understanding?

BE: People don’t understand Native American people or how we view the world. It’s part of the problem with the colonial mindset of “I’m going to do this.” This time is about “pulling yourselves back.” Western thought tends to put things into buckets and silos: mathematics, psychology, and medicine, for example. In Native American cultures, they are interrelated and cannot be separated.

I went to my first psychedelic conference in Arizona with over 200 medical people and researchers there. I got frustrated when they were talking about mental illness.
Finally, I said, “if I may say something? Where is spirituality in all of this?”

MM: What about “spirituality?” Where is that bucket in Western medicine?

BE: I went to my first psychedelic conference in Arizona with over 200 medical people and researchers there. I got frustrated when they were talking about mental illness.

Finally, I said, “if I may say something? Where is spirituality in all of this?”

When we arrive in this physical realm that we know as the Earth, we come in spirit first and foremost. Then, our physical bodies become a part of that. This is what we are taught in Native American cultures. It’s missing from the Western medical model. These psychedelic experiences take us into our own inner divinities, yet we don’t include them in our healing practices.

Everything that we have. This chair I’m sitting on, this computer I’m on, everything comes from the earth. Even my car, when I travel, I imagine it as a horse, I say, “thank you for taking me here and there, thank you for watching out for me.” I honor it in that way. This is about respect.

MM: What did you tell the people at the Psychedelic Liberty Summit?

BE: Number one, I told them to include all stakeholders, including Indigenous people and those from South America. Number two, how can we ensure protection for the sacred plants? First of all, these are living beings. It’s very critical that people understand that, now, at this time. Everybody wants to have these medicines, but no one wants to think about keeping them alive. I also said that professionals doing psychedelic work need to have some cultural understanding of Native American cultures. If you don’t understand who the people and individuals are, it’s going to be difficult for you to relate to a Native American person.

In Navajo, hozho means “to be in harmony and balance,” but it’s part of a larger concept. The way we say it is: Sa’ah naaghai bik’eh hozhoon–“old age will walk in the trail of beauty.”

MM: What is the concept of Hozho?

BE: In Navajo, hozho means “to be in harmony and balance,” but it’s part of a larger concept. The way we say it is: Sa’ah naaghai bik’eh hozhoon–“old age will walk in the trail of beauty.”

As a Diné person, that is always my responsibility. I always think about the good things in life that will give me health, a long life, happiness, wisdom, knowledge, harmony, and the experience of working with the Divine. It’s part of this whole concept of hozho.

Even though I may have ups and downs with my health, I have to embrace all of it, including what I have learned, so that I can walk into a longer life. That adds something to my “wisdom pouch.” My experience with my health gave me also knowledge of things that I didn’t know, and to walk in that balance of hozho.

MM: The concept of hozho then is also about knowing and not knowing?

BE: We don’t have to know everything, yes. I had to go through that nine-day ceremony as part of my healing journey from lupus. I had glimpses of the Diyin Diné, which, in Navajo, means “the Holy Ones.” My psychedelic experiences with ayahuasca and MDMA changed my life. And these mystical experiences with the Holy Ones are who I pray to now. I know who I am in my own being.

I am also from the stars as a cosmic being.
In our Native American cultures, they say that we are “crystal fire children,” meaning that we are from the stars. As an Indigenous person, as a Diné person, I embrace that.
I know who I am.

In our Native American cultures, they say that we are “crystal fire children,” meaning that we are from the stars. As an Indigenous person, as a Diné person, I embrace that.

I know who I am.

I am also from the stars as a cosmic being.

Art by Mariom Luna.



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