Eric Gibson of Cullman Guitars & More Making a Difference In Navajo Nation
Eric Gibson of Cullman Guitars & More
Making a Difference In Navajo Nation
For the past five years, during the first week of June, Eric Gibson (of Cullman’s Guitars and More) treks to the high elevation desert of northeastern Arizona and the Navajo Nation.
He is both a participant and a leader in Camp Pollen Circles.
Camp Pollen Circles is a youth organization that provides culturally-based holistic wellness activities, camps, and workshops in and around the Navajo Nation.
Camp Pollen Circles defines their purpose this way:
“Through the facilitation of wellness activities, weave together the Navajo (Diné) components of the holistic self – emotional being, mental being, physical being, spiritual being and social being – with “internal and external holistic wellness” as an intended outcome.”
Eric’s face illuminates as he smiles and fondly recalls his experiences at Camp Pollen Circles:
I originally got involved through a dear friend of mine, Scott Collier. He’s a drummer for the band, Brother Cane. He shares some Choctaw Blood. Through my mother’s side of the family, I carry Cherokee and through my father’s side, I carry Creek.
Scott and I enjoy hanging out and sharing primitive skills and each other’s company. One day, he called me out of the blue and said “I know it’s short notice, but in two days I’m leaving for Window Rock, Arizona and I’m going to a Navajo camp to work with some kids. I think you would like it, do you want to go with me?”
So, we dropped what we were doing and we jumped in a tiny 4-cylinder Honda CRV (with probably only 72 horsepower) and we got all the way out to Window Rock in two days!
We drove like maniacs. We left at 4 a.m. and crashed at a KOA campsite and it was so close to the interstate, you could have sworn it was in the median.
We were so tired after driving 13.5 hours. We were tired of hearing that engine scream on that CRV; we were ready to crash. So, we got up the next morning at 5 o’clock and drove all the way from Oklahoma to Arizona. It was about a 16 to 17-hour drive. The interesting thing was that when we got there, it was pitch-black. It was a new moon and overcast. All you could see was the road out in front of you, like a black serpent in the night.
The next morning, I woke up to see the desert for the first time and it was incredible.
We went to the house of Molly, Big Knife, Gino, and Antonio (Executive Directors of Camp Pollen Circles). We stayed in their home and drove out into the nothingness of the Arizona desert.
It’s a holistic camp for kids who do not have an opportunity to attend camp and could not afford it otherwise.
The campers range in age from 6 to 6, both male and female. They learn fire-building skills (friction fires), water filtration, tracking, escape and invasion, martial arts classes, yoga, hiking and hear stories and cultures from their elders.
One of the primary goals is to connect the youth with the elders of the tribe because knowledge is being lost and is not being handed down. They learn about these rich traditions and their heritage. It wasn’t until 10-12 years ago that they had their own Diné (Navajo language). They weren’t learning anything in their indigenous language. They all speak the English language.
The camp provides love and support to children in many ways – some of them come from single-parent households and campers and the teachers have become more like a family.
Year after year, many of the same instructors and campers return and it has been a great pleasure for Eric to see these bright young minds progress.
He pauses and shows me a picture on his phone. It’s one of those photo graduation invitations displayed front and center on Eric’s home refrigerator. He points to the photo and enthusiastically explains to me that the boy in the photo is Asa Antonio – he is the recipient of the Bill Gates Award and both of his siblings are full scholarship students. There are a couple of other students who have attended Pollen Circles – Ty Matiba went to Dartmouth and a couple of others are pursuing Ivy League educations. They believe you can affect change from within.
Eric speaks of how he wishes that he could be in attendance and his eyes even smile, as he continues to describe how beautiful it is that even though he can’t be there physically, that it’s the fact the kids think enough about you to send a graduation invitation to you in the mail:
“I’ve seen these kids grow up. They apply themselves and work hard. This camp helps give these kids some confidence and for the ones who are already confident, it strengthens that.
In addition to my kids, it has given me a purpose, it has given me something to do. I think everyone should do something bigger than themselves. People can be so selfish. When it comes time to roll your sleeves up and get sweaty, you have to be the one to do it. You have to be the change in the world that you want to see.”
The camp is taught by experts for survival skills:
Jason Hawk – On the TV show Mountain Men
Knife Smith – Seen on No Man’s Land on the History Channel.
David Holladay – One of the founders of BOSS – Boulder Survival School – one of the most prestigious and original survival skills schools.
Denver Risley – Homesteading expert – has property off-grid in Colorado and has all of the answers Tracking skills from the Tahota Otem Nation and the Shadow Wolves.
John Slater – Desert Tortoise Botanicals – Herbalist
Emerson Gorman – Elders in the Native American Church
Every night around the campfire, Eric smiles and reminisces about playing music:
“They are into the same stuff that we are in to out here. You know, classic rock, some Pink Floyd, Metallica, they like heavy metal .. just into a lot of music and then you have Scott Collier out there, it’s just good to get out there and unplug.”
Gibson goes on to say that the food and way of living at camp are as natural as possible.
Almost all of the food is organic.
They slaughter their own food – the sheep are brought in and prepared for the camp. Some of the kids have never seen an animal give its life for the nourishment of their body. After consuming the meal, they do not waste any part of the animal, they use as much as possible. It is performed in an ancient, proper and ceremonial way in which the proper respect is given to the animal.
The food is prepared in a massive adobe oven. He describes the variety of delicious, unique dishes that consumed as he laughs and exclaims, “man, we eat, that’s for sure!”
Campers are taught about composting and compostable outhouses in three different stages, beginning with the waste being expelled from the body and eventually it’s able to be used as fertilizer. Everyone takes turns shoveling the outhouse at some point.
Reflecting on his experience, he says, “The whole thing has been a rewarding experience that I hope to be able to share with my sons.”
“It’s expensive. We have to provide food for 50 kids, 12 staff and just the water consumption is expensive. There is no water on the property. We have to take a 250-gallon cistern and a 500-gallon cistern and drive to a well, fill it up and bring it back and the water has to be managed.”
You learn to look at this resource differently than we do around here when you get back, you know? It drives me insane when people waste it. We don’t realize it, but it’s finite and every day we come closer to having to manage it differently. It’s different being off the grid and realizing what we can and cannot live without.”
Eric Gibson is making a difference in the world around him and the lives of others. He is living with a purpose to do something bigger than himself. We wish him safe travels and another trip full of incredible and life-changing experiences at Camp Pollen Circles.
If you would like to donate, Camp Pollen Circles is a 501-c 3 organization and all donations are tax-deductible.
Please contact Eric Gibson at (205) 200-5760 or drop by Guitars and More on Highway 31 in Cullman if you would like to contribute to this great cause.
For more information about Camp Pollen Circles, please visit: http://pollencircles.org/
Eric Gibson of Cullman Guitars & More Making a Difference In Navajo Nation
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