Interview with Joe Luna from The Ancient Ones series

Joe Luna is a Navajo medicine man and FBI Agent featured in “The Ancient Ones” series. He has been my inspiration for studying Native culture and history. My novels discuss factual elements of both prehistoric and modern-day tribes, including Hohokam, Sinaguan, modern-day Navajo and Hopi.

1. How do you feel growing up on such a remote reservation – Mystery Valley in Monument Valley – impacted your decision to become an FBI Agent? The main influence was the regular beatings I received from my father and that my mother received from my father. I told myself during one of his more serious drunken rages that I would not allow this to happen to another family. There is violence on reservations and in rural areas, but there is also violence everywhere. There is good and bad everywhere.

2. Are there any conflicts between your career as an FBI Agent and that of a medicine man? Being an FBI Agent involves physical ability and mental ability, a medicine man requires a certain amount of mental focus, but also calls upon the spiritual and that aspect doesn’t necessarily coincide with the skills of an FBI Agent. I love the fact that I can use the physical component, keep my mental faculties sharp while retaining and utilizing the aspects of a medicine man. I would never give up being able to help heal people holistically through mind, body and spirit.

3. In what kind of place do you feel most at home? The big city of Phoenix or the rugged, rural environment of the reservation? Definitely the rural setting of Monument Valley. It’s my home and sacred land. It is where I learned to become a medicine man, where I met my first love and where I learned who I really was.

4. Has living in the big city taken away from your Navajo values? No, like many other Natives of different tribes, living in such a big city challenges you to keep your values. Many feel they have to ‘blend in’ by becoming like their non-native friends or Native friends who know nothing of their culture. I have learned much about my Dine’ past and my culture through my education as a medicine man and by living among the beauty of Monument Valley.

5. How do you feel about social interaction? Does it feed you or drain you? It can do both. It feeds me when I require it and drains me when I don’t. Social interaction is an important part of life and makes you who you are. Of course, there are varying levels of social interaction—from hanging out with a friend or friends to attending parties or functions with hundreds of people. Though it can be challenging at times to interact with others, it is necessary to learn about ourselves and who we want to be.

6. What has been your most challenging case as an agent? They are all challenging, yet rewarding when the cases are solved. I suppose the most difficult was that involving a shapeshifter. It’s rather hard to gather evidence when the criminal has the ability to change form at will. He took the form of a skinwalker one minute, running alongside cars on the road, and the next, he transformed into a raven flying above. We had multiple witnesses who saw his metamorphosis’ from one form to another, but no one ever saw him in human form. Turned out he was a shaman turned witch from another state. Took us a year to solve that case, but one of our agents was undercover on the res and saw him change from human to a raven. He tailed him very closely and caught up with him when he changed back to human form at a politician’s home.

7. Native language and culture is disappearing from many societies – what do you think parents, tribal government and society can do to prevent young adults from forgetting who they are? Parents, communities, schools and young people themselves are responsible for holding on to their culture and values. Some grow up in traditional homes and learn about their culture starting when they are born, some grow up unaware of who they are and their history, but learn as they get older and some never learn. I believe there is more acceptance of Native culture than there used to be, but many are still afraid to become who they really are. Many schools have adopted a curriculum based on Native American culture and language. This is a good sign but there is still much work to be done.

8. Is one sense more highly developed than another? Has your career as an FBI Agent enhanced those senses? Sight and sound are necessary as an agent; however, intuition, or the sixth sense, must be very keen as well. People must take their hunches more seriously—everyone has them, whether it’s deciding to date a particular individual or a decision that could result in their death. For example, intuition tells them to avoid getting on a plane, only to find out later, the plane crashed.

9. Why did you decide to become a hoop dancer? Why did you give it up? The hoops symbolize a sacred part of the Native American life. It represents the circle of life with no beginning and no ending. The dancer begins with one hoop and keeps adding and weaving the hoops into formations that represent our journey through life. Each added hoop represents another thread in the web of life. I started hoop dancing when I was fifteen and made it to the World Championships at the Heard by the age of 18. It kept me in great shape, helped me learn more about myself and what I was capable of and provided much needed confidence. I lost the love of my life before the championships and didn’t have the heart to continue. Not to mention, I also began to focus more on becoming a police officer and working toward a career with the FBI. In a way, Hoop Dancing paved the way for a career in law enforcement.

10. Many Navajo are against visiting ruins where Chindi might be living – yet you visit prehistoric ruins for cases. Have you had any problems or do you do anything special before or after you visit such sites? One of our beliefs is that an evil spirit known as Chindi, ch’íidii, leaves the dying person’s body with their last breath. This spirit represents everything that was bad about this person so we have customs that protect us from contact. If this happens it can cause a “ghost sickness” or even death. I offer corn pollen to the spirits and say a prayer. My job occasionally requires visitation to such sites, and personally, I enjoy the peace, serenity and history. Actually, many archaeological sites are identified as the homes of the gods or as places of importance; for instance, Sun Temple on Mesa Verde, White House Ruin in Canyon de Chelly and Chetro Ketl in Chaco Canyon are all places where Navajo deities live. Haasch’ee’ooghaan (Calling God) is noted for living in old cliff dwellings.

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