Navajo Marine given conscientious-objector status His calling as a medicine man prohibits fighting in a war or killing. The decision is a reversal.
(By Electa Draper, Originally published in The Denver Post, January 25 2007)
Durango - The Marine commandant reversed his earlier decision Wednesday and granted conscientious-objector status to Pvt. Ronnie Tallman, a 19-year-old Navajo from Tuba City, Ariz.
Tallman believes his newfound calling as a medicine man makes it impossible for him to go to Iraq without spiritually harming himself and his community.
Tallman learned late Wednesday afternoon that Gen. James T. Conway reversed a Jan. 13 decision denying Tallman a discharge. Tallman said he expected to be released within three weeks.
"The commandant himself overturned it, saying he had new evidence," Tallman said from his post at Twentynine Palms, Calif. "I'm really relieved my voice has been heard. There was a lot of grief and heartache before I was heard."
While home on leave in November 2005, Tallman said, he underwent a spiritual experience and discovered he had been given the gift of a sacred entity known as teehn leii. The gift is a rare form of spiritual diagnosing and healing called hand-trembling that runs in Tallman's family. However, the gift can neither be acquired or predicted - it is simply and suddenly bestowed, according to Navajo tradition.
Navajo spiritual law also holds that Tallman cannot keep the power and serve his people if he participates in killing or war.
The Dine Hataalii Association, an organization of medicine men recognized by the Navajo Nation, licensed Tallman as a hand-trembler diagnostician. And Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. wrote a letter urging Tallman's discharge because "our gifted medicine people are small in numbers."
Tallman's application for conscientious-objector status received recommendations for approval from several Marine officers over the course of a year before reaching the Conscientious Objector Status Screening Board under the commandant.
Conway nevertheless disapproved the application, writing that Tallman had failed to provide convincing evidence that his beliefs were "sincere and deeply held."
Tallman attorney Steve Boos of Durango said he believes a request last week for review of the case in federal court caused the commandant to re-examine the application.
``Our concern had always been that the folks in Washington, D.C., hadn't sat down and talked with Ronnie the same way the officers at Twentynine Palms, who had recommended approval, had done,'' Boos said.