Toby Joseph

Lesson 1: The Orphan – The Story Begins


Understand that many critical choices you make in life are best understood when viewed against the background of historical perspective and cultural experience.


Start a journal.  Record your personal journey as a way of helping you answer questions about your life and your family, and guiding you to healthy choices and continued wellness.

The Orphan

The orphan phase of the hero’s journey is the feeling of being alone. It is a sense of isolation from others, a feeling of being singly challenged, and even feeling overwhelmed at times by what you need to confront.

Our History Provides Us Guideposts

“It becomes relevant to know what happened in the past.”  Toby Tafoya Joseph

Toby’s story speaks of historical trauma which has had a significant impact on his world-view.  As he began to investigate the “whys” of his current existence, he gained a better appreciation of the historical and cultural events that formed a backdrop to how his family coped with life.  Toby specifically talks about his peoples’ connection to the Sand Creek Massacre and how this tragedy forever changed the lives of Cheyenne and Arapaho people.

The Sand Creek Massacre occurred in Colorado in the 1864.  The assault on the Cheyenne and Arapaho encampment was led by Colonel John Chivington.  In a matter of seven agonizing hours the cavalry troops had slaughtered over 100 innocent tribal people.  Two-thirds of the fatalities were women and their children.

The reason for this atrocity is often attributed to the view held by the territorial governor that Indian people constituted an impediment to progress and needed to be eliminated so that the land could be settled.  According to some historians, Colonel Chivington’s motives for killing and mutilating the Sand Creek villagers were based on a combination of religious intolerance, political expediency, and blatant racism.   As word of the massacre spread, public opinion turned against the Colonel and his troops.  Chivington and his men left the military to avoid court martial.  The Colonel’s genocidal actions destroyed both his political ambitions and his career as a soldier.  This seems a mild punishment for the crime of murdering Indian people who posed no threat to the armed militia.

Searching for Something Deeper in Our Lives

“As I move forward to today, those 10,000 years [of tribal history] matter, because it shows me who I am, it helps me understand why I am, and then more importantly, it helps me understand where I’m going.”   Toby Tafoya Joseph

Toby shares ancestry with several tribal groups and doesn’t feel he belongs exclusively to any one tribe.  He tracks his family ties from the East coast, and from tribes that represent both mountain people and river people.  Toby explains that his grandfather, who had one Navajo parent, wasn’t really reared within this tribal culture.  Despite the fact that his grandfather had been exposed to tribal practices and ceremony as he grew up, he never fully understood how the songs and the drumming came to be his legacy.

By the time the songs were passed down to Toby, their origins and meaning were even murkier.  Toby had no idea what tribe they represented or what language was being spoken.  All he knew was they were family songs.  So he began to research their origins and found that the songs had been passed down through his grandfather on the Navajo side of the family.  His research also included translating the Navajo words so that he now understands each song’s message.

This is true for many people….they may know little about the lives of their parents, grandparents or great grandparents until they make the effort to actively investigate the details of their lives.

Become Your Own “Journal-ist”

“I find myself asking that question a lot—‘why, why, why’—and the more ‘why’s’ I understand, the more [questions] I tend to have.  But at least I get some answers.”

Toby Tafoya Joseph

Toby began writing/compiling a journal to help him navigate through his personal/family history and to bring some understanding and peace to his life.  It pointed him in directions that allowed him to “fill in the blanks” regarding his childhood experiences.   It provided him a perspective for thinking about what happened to his parents—his father’s alcoholism, his mother’s sterilization and electric shock therapy.

A personal Journal serves various purposes.  It can take the form of a daily log…a wish list…an investigative tool…a memoir…an historic snapshot…or all of these together.   A Journal is what you need it to be.

  • Journal writing is a way to know oneself.  It is a personal journey into the past—through knowledge of one’s family history and the history of ancestors.  It is also a journey into the future—through the act of recording one’s hopes, aspirations and personal triumphs.
  • Use a journal to keep track of your own hero’s journey.  Write about who you meet, what you find out, what you want to know.  Write about your personal transformation.
  • Journal writing can focus on whatever you find important or inspirational.  Writing entries in your journal can help you express feelings of anger, frustration, or hopelessness in a safe manner.  Giving expressions to negative states of mind can help you acknowledge and explore the emotions that lie beneath.  Journal writing is a liberating act.


You don’t need fancy equipment or expensive supplies.  A spiral notebook is handy and it’s portable.  Carry it with you.  You can further personalize your Journal by including your doodles and drawings or other illustrations that help tell your story.  Add newspaper clippings, poetry, song lyrics, family photos or other embellishments to your Journal entries.