Photo by Melissa Tso
Ernest Tsosie Jr. and John L. Tsosie started Walking the Healing Path, Inc. in 2003 to "create solutions to end domestic violence."

Walking the Healing Path: Navajo Father-Son Team Lead People Away From Abuse

Jason Morgan Edwards

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. This disease touches all communities, but Native communities especially. According to Futures Without Violence, American Indian women residing on Indian reservations suffer domestic violence and physical assault at rates far exceeding those of women of other ethnicities.

John L. Tsosie is working hard to raise awareness and find solutions to stop this epidemic. He and his dad, Ernest Tsosie Jr., founded Walking The Healing Path, Inc. (WTHP) in 2003 to “create solutions to end domestic violence and child abuse/neglect in the many homes and families that make up not only the Navajo Nation but the entire U.S. as a whole.”

The Tsosies and their group of volunteers will begin their journey from the Veteran’s Memorial Park in Window Rock, Arizona on October 14. The walk will encompasses a little over 104 miles—about 15 miles a day, and ends October 20 at Hopi. The Tsosies expect about 10 to 20 volunteers for each leg of the journey.

Special guest Judge Reinhold, best known for his role as Detective Billy Rosewood in the Beverly Hills Cop movie franchise, will speak at the closing. A chance meeting on a movie set in Gallup, New Mexico brought John and Reinhold together. Making polite conversation, they discovered common ground.

“He told me about [WTHP] and I was very moved. I couldn’t say I am a community activist, but I am involved with several community-based nonprofits,” Reinhold told ICMTN. “What really grabbed me was this was a community effort, as opposed to a large federal program. I’m all about communities finding ways to solve their own problems. I’ve always had an appreciation and a gratitude for the Navajo Tribe. I met many Navajo people when I first moved [to New Mexico.] They were so welcoming, I felt like I had found a whole new life after being in L.A. The personal part was that I overcame my own alcoholism 27 years ago. My father was an alcoholic. What John was telling me was that he was involved with an organization that wanted to break the cycle, that wanted to make an educational intervention; to help people see that cycle of alcohol/substance abuse, and sometimes domestic violence. It’s something that I have a real heart for because I felt like they really grew me up, being in the 12-step program. There’s a lot of similarity between the AA meetings and community organizations providing support for people that want to break the cycle. I attend as a volunteer, now. It’s like giving back what I received. The sincerity and dedication in John and his father’s work, that seemed very genuine to me. They create awareness, especially for kids.”

The issues of domestic violence and substance abuse are very personal to the Tsosie family. John is a former perpetrator and victim of domestic violence. His father has struggled with domestic violence issues as well. He is open about how the disease has affected him. “This issue has been swept under the rug for quite some time. With the new [Navajo Nation] leadership, these issues are getting into the forefront. It’s time that we start focusing on these issues that affect our families, especially our children. I feel for us to begin to make a dent [toward] ending domestic violence, we need to start educating our children. Domestic violence is a learned behavior. So, anything that’s going on at home, anything that’s going on at school, our kids are absorbing it.” He credits his mother with teaching him awareness and knowledge at a young age. “I witnessed my father’s abusive behavior. But, I was also given the opportunity for my mother to educate me. If she didn’t sit me down and talk to me about things like alcohol and drugs and treating women with respect, I don’t think I would’ve turned my life around. So, I’m grateful to my mom for being that first teacher.”

John broke the cycle, but he doesn’t call himself a counselor. Rather, he speaks from life experience. He feels it is essential to take responsibility in order to begin healing. “I think owning it, and taking full responsibility for whatever actions or circumstance you may be in is the most critical thing. Really wanting help is key. A lot of people are pushed to get help. Or they go through an intervention. But you know when it’s time.”

But what comes from making that change? “I think for me, it’s genuine happiness,” John said. “When we’re abusing, that’s a false happiness. You’re searching for a happiness that’s not real. At the end of your high, at the end of your binge, you come down. And, you’re right back where you were. For me, especially with my children, I am truly happy. I love what I do. I love being a dad. I don’t think I would be able to express that if I were still abusing any substance, or being an abusive individual. I cherish where I’m at right now. My hope and prayer, for everyone, is just to find that happiness in being sober, in being a role model… I hope to inspire others. I hope to motivate others. That’s the reward I get... knowing I'm making a difference. It’s an amazing thing.”

People who can’t participate in the walk can support the effort through a variety of methods. Donations may be made through GoFundMe or by contacting John at [email protected].

You need to be logged in in order to post comments
Please use the log in option at the bottom of this page