Navajo Marine given conscientious-objector status

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AUTHOR: Electa Draper

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.

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Electa Draper is a staff writer for the Denver Post