I tell this story through the author. I am Jicarilla Apache, and this is the tale of my early life.
For some reason unbeknownst to me then, as now, I was gifted with the ability to retain large amounts of data and to replicate that data in a logical manner. I was in St. Francis School on the Jicarilla reservation where I lived when my teachers noticed this ability early on in grade school. They contacted the administration of the Santa Fe Indian Schools and the Archdiocese of Santa Fe Catholic schools to have me tested. A special advanced curriculum was designed specifically for my education and learning.
This is the background of how I, Tommy Jon, entered Harvard from the Jicarilla reservation and then went on to Harvard Law School. The odds against that happening to a young Indian boy from a Rez with a population of 3,300 and a history of devastation must be tremendous.
I have to tell you that the culture shock of going from northern New Mexico to the East Coast to live and learn is almost more than one can bear. I spent the first couple of years dodging conversations and in constant social fear. But to really understand how that could be, allow me to tell you a little about my heritage.
My home, the Jicarilla reservation had a land area of 1,364 square miles. That sounds like a lot for such a small tribe, but the land was not suitable for agriculture. The only available income was from the sale of timber. In 1907, additional land was secured for the reservation that was suitable for sheep ranching, which became profitable in the 1920s. During this period, many of our people suffered from malnutrition and up to 90% of the tribe had tuberculosis. By the 1920s, there was a great chance that the Jicarilla Apache Nation may become extinct due to trachoma, tuberculosis, and other diseases brought from Europe. Somehow, we survived all of this.
The term “Jicarilla,” pronounced “heek-ah-Ree-ah,” comes from Mexican Spanish meaning “little basket.” Neighboring Apache bands like the Mescalero and Lipan are known as “Kinya-Inde” (“people who live in fixed houses”). We call ourselves “Haisndayin,” which translated means “people who came from below.” My people have colorful mystic beliefs that we honor. We believe that we are the sole descendants of the first people to emerge from the underworld, which was the abode of Ancestral Man and Ancestral Woman who produced the first people. You could say that this our Adam and Eve story.
My ancestors lived a semi-nomadic existence in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and plains of southern Colorado, northern New Mexico and into the Great Plains beginning some time before 1525 CE. They lived a relatively peaceful life for centuries, traveling by season to traditional hunting grounds, gathering grains and cultivating along riverbeds. This history has always meant a lot to me.
By the early 1700s, colonial New Spain had been created with the Pope’s mandate to conquer and colonize. The Spanish were constantly pushing forward and establishing churches, colonizing and propagating. While this placed some pressure on native food sources, it wasn’t until the massive western expansion of the Europeans in the late 1700s and forward that the native food sources were literally destroyed. Native American tribes who had lived together for centuries began to fight each other for territory and access to hunting and gathering grounds. Native American tribes like the Comanche, who had acquired guns from the French Canadian allies, raided both settlers and other tribes alike. Tribes such as the Jicarilla faced significant loss of property, removal from sacred lands, and ultimate devastation of tribal members from Western disease and loss against both Comanche and the US military. Finally, forced relocation took away the last remnants of the natural bounty the Jicarilla were used to.
From the Jicarilla creation story I mentioned earlier, our land was bounded by the four sacred rivers that were provided to us by the Creator. There were select places for communicating with the Creator and Spirits, sacred rivers and mountains to be respected and conserved. There were very specific places for obtaining items for ceremonial rituals and a reverence for the dead, as you will get a sense of from my story.
Taos is believed to be the “heart of the world.” The Jicarilla leader Victorio, who defeated many US cavalry and Mexican army troops, traveled in Northern Mexico and West Texas along the Rio Grande with his band. This area became their country, and they lived, and fought, and died there. There is much more that can be told about the Jicarilla, but that is not this story.
My story picks up today in the modern 21st century. It is the story of a young Indian boy thrown into white academics and judicial culture, or clutter, as it were. It is the story of being charged with murdering a Supreme Court Justice, with ample motivation to do so. It is a story of how one religion takes over Congress and the judiciary. It is a story of love dreamed of, lost, and re-found, a story of either natural death or murder and of a forced prosecution to reach an answer. You can accept it for what it is and make your own judgment. But above all, this is my story of a young, intelligent Indian man learning what the real world of law and politics is about.
Of course, there were things happening as these events occurred that I learned about later. The storyteller tells of them as they happened. While this is my story, it could not have happened without those who played their part. There is Justice Anton Sacerdozio of the Supreme Court, his clerks, the beautiful Catherine Welch, the arrogant Tim Bulgari, and me. You will meet the throwback Apache, Rio, who lives in the wilderness mountains of West Texas. Then, there is the Sheriff from Sierra Blanca and his buddy from New Orleans, detective Jacob Stern, and finally, you will watch the trial lawyer, Jonathon Boudreau, in action.
I leave you with this thought before the storyteller begins. Washington DC is a terrible place to be if you have a heart or one iota of ethics. You shall soon see. But you shall also see that the scale of justice is tipped not by a preponderance of evidence but by the political view of the appointment of a justice in the halls of power and influence. It begs the question, “How will real justice survive under the judicial appointments of the new administration?”