goshute_280The Goshute reservation at the base of the Deep Creek mountain range counts a few hundred people whose backyard is an untamed frontier – stirred only by curtains of dust that linger over cattle trails and occasional cars headed down the single road ground into the land. Wind tears on stubborn underbrush covering the arid earth; some daring blades of long grass spear the space between knobby branches. Clouds smother mountaintops that surround the valley where the windy pavement straightens out into the vast expanse the tribe inhabits.  

Delia Moon and her mother Orlena sit at a table stacked with mail, toys and other trinkets. Wooden shacks surround the roomy trailer eight members of their family call home. Piles of firewood are stacked outside to warm their house in winter. The nearest neighbors’ roof is barely visible.

Inside the house, four children and a television do most of the chatting. The women don’t talk much these days. As the rain outside turns to snow, they know they will weather what life throws at them one day at a time. They say they are content despite their struggles.

Mother and daughter – one in her 50s, one in her 70s – are the backbone of a family of mostly women that spans four generations, all living under the same roof. And as life unfolds for the Moons, their routines embody the frailty of native traditions in their tribe.

Orlena still speaks Goshute, yet the youngest barely understands a few words. The eldest collects firewood in winter and tenderly constructs cradleboards in spring, while the kids watch Disney cartoons and dress up as cheerleaders. Their mothers are caught between trying to tend to their roots and family on the reservation and leaving for work in the casinos of Wendover. They’re lured by a life that’s faster; with ups and downs that leave them dizzy but independent.  

The Moons share problems that too often have come to define their people. Poverty, substance abuse, diabetes and a lack of access to health care to help deal with these issues have taken a toll on them as well.

As they live in the context of their family, share love for each other and the land they grew up on, they persevere. Their hardships don’t recede because of it. But their story goes beyond the troubles.
(Originally published in The Salt Lake Tribune, October 2011)

Djamila Grossman