A Lesson in Trust

January 6, 2003

Early in the days of the Apollo Lunar Landing Missions, long before the first man ever walked on the moon, NASA was challenged by the difficulties of training its astronauts.  They found an area in New Mexico where the topography was similar to the surface of the moon and it was there they brought the astronauts and the lunar lander to train and perform equipment shakedowns.  On the second day of training, they noticed a flock of sheep being herded by dogs and two Navaho Indians, a grandfather and his grandson.  The two Navahos sat down on the crest of the ridge and watched the engineers and astronauts work.

Seeing the Navahos sitting there, two of the engineers opted to go visit with them.  After ascending the ridge and approaching the Indians they learned that the older Navaho could only speak his native tongue but his grandson could speak English.  As the old man spoke, his grandson translated, "He says, what are those things down there?"  The engineers explained that the men in space suits would be traveling to the moon by rocket and once there, they would get out and walk upon the moon.  The old man nodded and said a few more words that the grandson translated, "So, they will walk upon the moon?"  And the engineer confirmed.  The old man nodded and said a few more words.  The grandson said, "He wants to know if he can take a message to the moon with these astronauts."  At this the scientist became very excited and the brought out a tape recorder on which the old Navaho recorded his message.  The engineer asked the boy to translate, but he wouldn't.

The engineers worked about a month in the desert and had several more encounters with local Indians.  On each occasion they asked for a translation of the message.  None would give it.  They would listen to it, smile and shake their head no.  After returning to NASA they found a Professor of Native American studies at a local university and asked for his help in translating the message.  He listened to the tape and smiled, "This message is a warning.  It says, 'Look out for these guys, they are coming to steal your land.'"

This is a lesson in trust.  The old Navaho sent this message because he feared the inhabitants of the moon would be treated as his people had been.  He did not trust the white man, even after the passage of more than a hundred years.  Trust is very fragile.  It often takes years and a great deal of goodwill and effort to build trust, but just one thoughtless act can break it.  Often, once broken, it cannot be rebuilt.  Remember always, a  Scout is trustworthy.

Good night, gentlemen.

Note: Like so many stories that come to me over the Internet, the true origin and authenticity of this story is unclear (Johnny Carson told a similar story in a monologue on the Late Night Show in 1969) but let that not distract you from the central message; trust is fragile and a man is often judged by his word.