A mild-mannered Navajo entertainer, historian and teacher with a smile and handshake for everyone, James Peshlakai could never be characterized as a "bad guy."
James Peshlakai was thrilled to see his name in Hillerman’s book, even though he character was a murderer. (GCN file photo)
But noted author Tony Hillerman did just that in his latest Navajo mystery entitled, "The Wailing Wind." One of Hillerman’s main characters in the book is "James Peshlakai," a Navajo man who commits murder.
"I’m one of his main characters," Peshlakai said. "In the book, I help this white man kill another white man and he uses my name."
Naturally, the murderer’s characterization is not based on the real Peshlakai. Hillerman just wanted to use his name.
"He calls me up for a lot of his projects," Peshlakai said about his friendship with Hillerman. "One day, he asked me if he could feature me in one of his books."
In the author’s notes section of the book, Hillerman writes about the Peshlakai Cultural Foundation, an organization created by Peshlakai in honor of his late son. The organization, now operating as a member of the Arizona Community Foundations, will be hosting a pow wow and art show Aug. 30-Sept. 2.
Although white, Hillerman has always had a connection to Native Americans, being schooled as a youngster at a boarding school in his native Oklahoma. Peshlakai said Hillerman first visited the Navajo Nation in 1945, the year he was born.
"He’s become famous for writing about Navajos," Peshlakai said. "He’s lived among the Navajos and ... every eastern Navajo knows him. The Navajo have honored him at the Navajo National Fair Parade in Window Rock several times."
Peshlakai actually appeared by name in one of Hillerman’s earlier works, but it was only a minor character.
Peshlakai is well-known in the Grand Canyon area. He currently operates the Grand Canyon Native American Art Show and Dances in Tusayan to raise money for his nonprofit foundation.
He also appears at the Quality Inn and Suites to entertain through performances and storytelling.
Peshlakai comes from a prestigious family of medicine men and Navajo leaders. His paternal grandfather once represented the western Navajo in a meeting with President Theodore Roosevelt.
As a main character in "The Wailing Wind," Peshlakai has gotten some recognition. In fact, the largest television station in Germany recently interviewed Peshlakai in Phoenix for a piece and German travel writers have done stories featuring Peshlakai.
Hillerman was supposed to be interviewed by the German TV station as well, but he was having surgery. Hillerman has been in poor health recently.
Asked if he was upset about being a murderer in the Hillerman book, Peshlakai said with a smile: "I knew I would be doing something (in the book), but maybe not that crazy."