Nov. 11, 2006
By TOMIE LUNSFORD
Telegram Staff Writer
He didn't know about his Chiracahua Apache heritage until he was 10 years old. Born in Belton, Rafael Montez said he thought he was just another kid.
But he wasn't.
The Belton High School graduate would grow up to be 'Tall Bear,' president of the Tribal American Network, the organization that keeps people of Indian ancestry in communication with one another.
'I was walking down a street in Belton one afternoon when a lady rolled down her car window and said, 'You're Indian, aren't you?' 'No, I'm not,' I told her. 'Yes, you are,' she says. And we went back and forth like that a few more times until I ran home,' Montez said, describing the day he learned of his Native American ancestry.
His mother and grandmother soon confirmed the woman's accusation. He was, indeed, an Indian.
'My path to know the Creator had started,' Montez said.
He shared his story last Sunday with the congregation at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Bell County in Morgan's Point. Almost 50 people attended the presentation on Native American spirituality.
Dressed in full Indian regalia, Montez began the program playing a flute. He then gathered the children close and told them 'How the Night Spirit Came to Be.'
After the children were dismissed to the playground, Montez spoke about his Indian heritage, highlighting these topics: the Creator, Mother Earth, nature's imagery and Native American prayer rituals.
An important figure in Montez's Indian identity is his 'Spiritual Mother.'
'She always answered my questions, showing me where to find truth,' Montez said during his presentation. 'The truth always came in the form of a riddle but was never impossible to find.'
His first task was to know the Creator.
'Everything is because of the Creator. We are all the Creator's children, no matter what tribe you come from,' Montez said. 'And Mother Earth is Creator's wife.'
To be close to the Creator is to be close to nature. It's a bit different from praying in a pew, Montez said.
'You pray with your heart,' Montez said. 'And if you want the Creator to really hear you, you pray with nature. You hug a tree, pet a dog or look at Creator's land. Nature is the way to the Creator.'
In early days, Montez said the white Christian society thought Indians were stupid savages, which was why his family raised him in ignorance of his ancestry - to save him from prejudice.
'But Creator is God,' Montez said. 'We are more the same than different.'
Montez said he considers himself a Christian but because he is Indian, Montez said some people still won't acknowledge his faith.
'They say I am not a Christian because I have no congregation and because I don't go to church on Sundays,' Montez said. 'I have a response to these people. I tell them to re-read their Bibles. The first church service was outside on a rock under a tree, not in a building with a label.'
For an Indian, prayer is just as much about action as it is thought.
'Respecting Mother Nature and giving back to Her is just one way to pray to Creator,' Montez said. 'Another way is to sacrifice ourselves for those who are unable to pray. We go four days and four nights without food or water.'
This self-sacrificing ritual is called Sun Dance. Indians from all tribes in the United States meet once a year in Washington D.C. to dance, sing and pray for anyone who isn't able to take part in the rejoicing.
'We pray for the well-being of those in wheelchairs, in hospitals and trapped in comas,' Montez said. Indians do not expect direct answers from the Creator, but Montez said the Creator does visit his children.
'You never know when the Creator comes by what you see. You know by how you feel,' Montez said. 'If a puppy starts rubbing on your leg, let him. That could be the Creator giving you some love.'
Just as the Creator takes nature's forms, plants and animals symbolize certain aspects of the Creator, which is why Montez said most Indian prayer rituals involve animal parts.
'We use the eagle wing in prayer blessings,' Montez said. 'When somebody's sick, we wave it over them chasing the bad spirits out.'
Horsehair is also often used in prayer.
'With the horse comes speed, agility and strength,' Montez said. 'All the things an ill person needs.'
During the question-answer portion of the program, one woman asked how Montez got the name of 'Tall Bear.'
'On a visit to my Spiritual Mother, she started calling me Tall Bear,' Montez said. 'She said my spirit was mighty like a bear's.'
He then concluded his presentation with a warning.
'People, the time is near when we will not have the luxury of gas, cars and computers,' Montez said. 'Start learning about nature and land. Know the Creator. He does not want his children to die. He wants us to live with nature and by nature.'