About Perry Robinson
An Introduction to Perry Robinson
The Utah Navajo Health System is fortunate to have Perry Robinson available for “traditional counseling,” a type of healing he performed for twenty-three years in the tribe’s Navajo Medicine Man Association before retiring and coming to Utah. He was born Edgewater (mother) and for the Mexican and Water Flowing Together Clans (father), living his early life in the area around Piñon. In keeping with traditional Navajo custom, he does not wish to be in the spotlight of public attention, however, he has agreed to share some of his experiences in the hopes that it will be helpful to others.
Starting at age nine, Perry joined his father and grandfather in practicing medicine that healed people through songs, prayers, herbs, and ceremonies. He lived this traditional life until he went to high school in Brigham City, Utah, where he eventually joined the Marines. While stationed in California, he began drinking, a habit that led to a downward spiral in his life: only the bottle mattered. At the end of his three year enlistment, he returned to the reservation and brought his bad habit with him. For thirteen years he lived as an alcoholic, offending his family members and friends, who viewed with sadness the stark changes that now consumed his life. There seemed to be no hope for this lost member who lived on the edge of his family circle.
One day, as Perry staggered down the mile-long dirt road that led to his mother’s home, he noticed how all of his brothers and sisters began to leave. He became increasingly angry at their departure so that by the time he reached his destination, only his mother was there to hear his complaints. He unloaded, charging his family members with feeling they were so much better than him; he knew they were really the problem. Why did they treat him this way? His mother drew in her breath and told him—for the last time—that he was not living up to his destiny. In her words: “We are supposed to be special people on this earth—but look at you—there is nothing special here.”
She then recounted her experience of when she was pregnant and how she had grown deathly ill with a serious sickness. After a number of ceremonies, none of which had helped, she decided it was time for her to accept her fate and die. Her husband, however, had not given up. He obtained a very old medicine man to heal her through herbs, prayer, and songs, then encouraged her one last time to get better. She did, and during the process, learned that her unborn child would grow to be a strong medicine man appointed to help many. Perry was that person.
When his mother finished telling her son this story, she turned to him and said, “Are you special? You used to be to me, but now you are a drunk. You’re an alcoholic, a nobody. You’re not even that person, so I don’t know what you’re going to do with the story, but here it is. I knew that medicine man was lying to me back then and I know that the lying was about today. ”Perry was stunned. The story “really hit” him.“ That night I couldn’t sleep. I could hear my grandfather singing all night. That song was in my ears, my father’s song was in my ears, and I could hear them. . . . The next morning I felt different; I actually stopped using alcohol that day and never touched it again.”
There were still more experiences—the cleansing of his spirit by the flight of a hummingbird, his re-entry into the family circle with his surprised brothers and sisters, apprenticing with other medicine men, and time spent alone sorting through the details of his life. He began to reconnect with the old songs and teachings that poured back into his mind with miraculous clarity. Leaving behind years of alcoholic stupor was not an easy task, but one that fulfilled a destiny that an aged medicine man had predicted would take place. Perry is not alone. We all have a similar opportunity now to become the best we can be, living up to our full potential.
His career started almost by accident. Perry attended the Rainbow Bridge Treatment Center in Page, Arizona, with a friend to see what this program offered. They entered a domed-shaped Plains Indian-style sweat lodge with people undergoing detoxification from alcohol and leaving their chaotic lifestyle behind. Each person sought to organize their existence in a meaningful way. One of the primary practices was the singing of Native American songs to soothe troubled minds and to teach important lessons, but there was no central theme to bring healing. When his time came, participants asked Perry to share the songs he knew. Before starting he cautioned them to listen carefully and to think about the words, because behind them were helpful teachings. The group grew silent. When he had finished, people asked him to teach about what he had sung and to share more. This was his start.
Leaders at the treatment center recognized his ability and offered him a job if he would lead other sessions and organize his teachings into an effective program that could be used by others. In one sense, Perry had no official training, no degree to place on a resum4, but he had been deeply involved in the traditional teachings of his people and knew the power that lay behind those teachings. From this he developed his own stories and a program based in the counsel given by elders who taught aspects of Navajo culture. Patterned after life experience, these teachings were simple and tied to four activities—stop, think, observe, and move forward or implement. From these four steps came the framework in which to insert a wide variety of teachings for different situations.
Here are two. Perry compares a person’s life to that of a piñon tree. The small seed, one of many, falls to the ground where it is planted. With the proper nurturing of soil, sunshine, moisture, and protection, the seed grows.At first it is small and weak, but as it learns to withstand the storms, intense temperatures, and droughts of life, it becomes tougher and more solid, until one day, looking back, it recognizes that all of the challenges it faced allowed it to become what it is today—one that bears fruit, gives shade for others, provides seeds of its own, and is useful for many things—food, shelter, warmth, healing, and beauty.People have similar opportunities to become just as useful in their own way, depending upon where they are planted.
The four main elements of life teach an individual who enters a sweat lodge. One sits upon the earth, breathes in the air heated by fire, which causes water through sweat. All of them combine to direct one’s thoughts towards the heat and the darkness that cleans the body and purifies the mind. Although there may be other people present, it is the individual who undergoes the process, who turns the mind toward the sacredness of life. Indeed, the sweat lodge is an example of what life is like. People may feel alone, under tremendous pressure, with some things too hard to bear and a heat that seems endless, but it soon will conclude, allowing a person to move into the sunlight, drink cool water, examine their experience, and obtain a different view, new thoughts, and focused direction. Now one can see more clearly things in the distance that would never have been visible alone in the dark.
Traditional Practitioner/Medicine Man
Montezuma Creek Community Health Center 435-651-3700
Hello, my name is Perry Robinson, my clans are Edge Water born for Nakaii'dine. I was born and raised in Pinon, Arizona. I completed my high school education at Intermountain High School in Brigham City, Utah. I then attended Utah State University for a year, before I was inducted into the Marines for four years. After serving time in the military, I worked in construction, as a boilermaker and an iron worker for a few years. I then decided to continue my education and was grandfathered into traditional counseling (ceremony).
I was employed with the Navajo Nation behavioral health department for twenty-five years as a traditional practitioner. I decided to retire; however, I was given the opportunity to work with Utah Navajo Health System as a traditional consultant practitioner.
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