Heard about this on NPR the other day, and when I got back online, I found this article:
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. On the Navajo Nation where tribal members sometimes hesitate to open up to outsiders, they embraced Tony Hillerman as an honest and genuine man who wanted to learn about their culture and get the details right.
Hillerman, who died Sunday of pulmonary failure at age 83, was author of the acclaimed Navajo Tribal Police mystery novels. His books in the Navajo series were characterized by vivid descriptions of Navajo rituals and of the vast reservation in the Four Corners region.
But Hillerman's relationship with the Navajo Nation stretched far beyond the pages of those books, which featured two of the unlikeliest of literary heroes _ Navajo police officers Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee. He shed light on Navajo culture, his books becoming a bridge to the reservation for tribal members who moved elsewhere, and encouraged Navajo youth to ask elders about traditions and ceremonies.
"The people spilled their guts to him," said James Peshlakai, who is characterized as a Navajo shaman in one of Hillerman's books, "The Wailing Wind." "The elders, they told him stories about things their own children never asked about."
Hillerman returned the blessings he received from Navajos by donating money for a water delivery program at St. Bonaventure Indian Mission and School in Thoreau, N.M., to the Little Sisters of the Poor in Gallup, N.M., and to put up lights at a football stadium in Monument Valley, Utah.
Staff at the Thoreau mission, where a murder takes place in Hillerman's "Sacred Clowns," "have already been saying Mass for him and saying prayers," executive director Chris Halter said Monday.
Hillerman's daughter, Anne Hillerman, said the Navajo values of family, community, generosity and enjoying the beauty of the world, resonated with her father's own Catholic values. He felt blessed in his life and saw the needs of the Navajo Nation and responded, she said.
"He was a storyteller at heart, and so when people started buying his books and he didn't have to struggle so hard financially, he felt it was a good way to share the blessings," she said.