Each class member selected an important contemporary Native American issue for this, our main assignment. We each did a class presentation of the selected issue.
The focus of this assignment was an issue related to Native American health.
Quotations of those who conquered Native America and a timeline
of the conquest of Central America.
The assignment was to write a reflection about a museum visit.
Our class assignment was to attend a Powwow and ask someone there a question.
This paper focuses on Native American art.
We viewed the video and wrote reviews.
Nothing but flowers and songs of sorrow are left in Mexico and Tlatelolco,
Conquest is not without consequence. The present day conditions, views and issues of the surviving indigenous populations in the Americas have historical and cultural roots. Accurate assessment of causal factors of present day social problems and their effective mitigation can benefit from understanding historical and cultural contexts. This article presents a synopsis of the history of conquest of the aboriginal nations in the United States as prelude to discussion of consequential present day economic, social and health problems. Finally actions to reconcile historical injustice and concurrently allay continuing negative effects of the conquest are proposed.
Between 1778 and 1871 the United States forced from aboriginal occupants the cession of nearly a billion acres of land, much more than half the nation's total territory at that time. United States law rests fundamentally on the right of discovery, the presumption of the right to claim title of lands occupied by Indians. The conquering Europeans rationalized the genocide, enslavement, exploitation, dislocation and marginalization of aboriginal populations and the conduct of invasion, military aggression, dispossession and territorial expansion in the Americas by dehumanizing aboriginal cultures as savage, pagan, ignorant, unclothed, etc.
In the United States territorial conquest and imposition of sovereignty and governance was followed by a coercive assimilation policy combining military force, relocation, containment, dependency, proselytization and cultural regulation, including prohibition of traditional ceremonies and objects. Forced separation, institutionalization and language deprivation of indigenous children in European cultural tradition schools was also affected. In 1887 the Mission schools on reservations were ordered by the Indian commissioner to use English only. Children were castigated for using Native languages. Indigenous people went to jail or were otherwise persecuted for using traditional cultural objects.
Rick Hill (in Sacred Trust: Cultural Obligation of Museums to Native People, Museum, Volume VI No. 3 1988) described this prejudice;
"There was also an assumption that Indians would be better off not being Indians, so that all 'pagan' trappings should be removed to liberate the Indian people from their inferior culture. The religion of the Indian people was attacked, Their objects of religion were removed from the communities."The conquering culture's view that the Native lifeways could be improved by replacing hunting and gathering with agriculture was incorporated in assimilation policy. The United States government attempted to convert Indian peoples from hunters to farmers. This rationale for territorial dispossession was combined with the tactic of exterminating the bison, the primary resource and an integral part of the lifeways of the Plains Indians and, like the Indians, an impediment to European homesteading. The Indian Citizenship Act was enacted in 1924. Not until 1970 did Indians achieved full voting rights throughout the United States.
While the consequences of past government policy are being recognized today and the issue of the impact of conquest is being addressed, past history remains to be reconciled. Legal concessions have not alleviated racist attitudes. Ethnic and racial identity connoting inferiority is a continuing problem in the United States. For generations Native peoples have endured the dominant culture's perception of the inferiority of their lifeways, traditions, language and cultural and spiritual values. This historical fact is not without present consequences. The conquest continues to have economic and social ramifications.
A legacy of native dispossession and disenfranchisement is economic dependency on government. In the United States poverty rates and unemployment rates are highest among Native Americans. Conquest devalues the conquered in obvious and explicit ways, but also in more subtle ways, affecting health and well-being. The values of the dominant culture and the concomitant condition of Native communities affect individual identity and lower personal esteem. Personal values affect decisions and low values can affect destructive behavior.
Native Americans have poorer health and higher mortality rates than average. Their alcoholism death rate in 1985 was 4.2 times greater than the national rate. Suicide rates are also higher, with more than twice as many involving alcohol. This issue is a public concern due to the government's treaty and legal obligation to provide health care to Native Americans. Ironically, the past government policy negatively impacts the health of Native Americans. Today reversing the negative social effects is in the government's best economic interests and justifies addressing the problem from a societal level.
Dr. George Appell [in The Social Separation Syndrome, Survival International Review, Vol 5, No 1(29):13-15, 1980] supports the view that increased incidence of behavioral, psychological and physiological impairments may appear in populations that undergo change. Appell purports that a process of bereavement results from social change. Destruction of the past without proper valuation precludes normal development of the process of bereavement. Lament requires that the past be conceived of as a meaningful and an important experience on which to build the future. Appell states:
"The symptoms of social separation can be relieved and the disturbances of societal functions can be mitigated by providing a population with the means by which access to its cultural traditions can be maintained during the period of social change,"Appell addresses the phenomena from the perspective of planning social change, not redressing conquest. With the viewpoint of a specific disaffected group, the Native Americans, the remedy of allowing access to cultural traditions seems like a mere decrement in assimilation policy. Redress of past injustice and disenfranchisement could be far more encompassing. Restoration of lands and resources, full employment, healthful housing and equal opportunity and status in society would be far more effectual in alleviating the social problems than "providing the means to access cultural traditions."
A wide variety of changes addressing the specific etiology of Native American "social separation syndrome" are needed, including changes in the attitudes of the dominant culture. Recognition of the health impact of disenfranchisement should logically lead to treatment of the cause, thereby alleviating the need to treat the patient. Lament should be followed by reconciliation for the benefit of the aboriginal descendents and all humanity.
Conquistadores and their Views
Pedro de Alvarado (in a letter to Cortes):
"...I knew them to have such a bad will towards service to His Majesty, and for the good and peace of this land, I burned them and ordered the city burned and leveled to the ground, because it is so dangerous and so strong that it seems more like a house of thieves than of people."
Bernal Diaz del Castillo: Most interest in conquest narratives is given to the Diaz account, "True History of the Conquest of New Spain." Diaz's kinsman Diego Velasquez had conquered Cuba so he set sail along with "some of us gentlemen and persons of quality." Diaz sailed to America with Pedro de Arias in 1514. He participated in two explorations of the Mayan Yucatan peninsula and then in 1519 sailed with conqueror Hernando Cortez to Mexico. Diaz began writing after 1550, but only completed his account in 1568 after being angered by an account he read, that of Lopez de Gamora. Fray Alonso de Ramon published a revised version of Diaz's first manuscript in 1632 in Spain. In this century the "true manuscript" of the "true history" has come to light, with two different versions of the "true history" emerging. One copy now belongs to the Guatemalan government, the other belongs to a Diaz descendant and came to light in Spain in 1932.
On arriving in Cuba: "On landing we went at once to pay our respects to the Governor, who was pleased at our coming, and promised to give us Indians as soon as there were any to spare."
On leaving Cuba in 1517: "In order that our voyage should proceed on right principles we wished to take with us a priest... We also chose for the office of overseer (in His Majesty's name) a soldier... so that if God willed that we should come on rich lands, or people who possessed gold or silver or pearls or any other kind of treasure, there should be a responsible person to guard the Royal Fifth."
"... and trusting the luck we steered towards the setting sun, knowing nothing of the depth of water, nor of the currents, nor of the winds which usually prevail in that latitude, so we ran great risk..."
On discovery of Yucatan: "When we had seen the gold and houses of masonry, we felt well content at having discovered such a country."
Regarding the second expedition from Cuba to Yucatan: "As the report had spread that the lands were very rich, the soldiers and settlers who possessed no Indians in Cuba were greedily eager to go to the new land..."
On returning to Cuba: "When the governor saw the gold we had brought .... amounted in all to twenty thousand dollars, he was well contented. Then the officers of the King took the Royal Fifth..."
"When Governor Diego Velasquez understood how rich were these newly discovered lands, he ordered another fleet, much larger than the former one be sent off, ..."
Of the expedition to Mexico: "As soon as Hernando Cortes had been appointed General he began to search for all sorts of arms, guns, powder, and crossbows, and every kind of warlike stores which he could get together, ..."
"... Then he ordered two standards and banners to be made, worked in gold with the royal arms and the cross on each side with a legend which said, 'Comrades, let us follow the sign of the Holy Cross with true faith, and through it we shall conquer.' "
"...Juan Sedeno passed for the richest soldier in the fleet, for he came in his own ship with the mare, and a negro and a store of cassava bread and salt pork, and at that time horses and negroes were worth their weight in gold,..."
Regarding the first battle fought under Cortes in the New World, against the people of Tabasco: "... we doctored the horses by searing their wounds with the fat from the body of a dead Indian which we cut up to get out the fat, and we went to look at the dead lying on the plain and there were more than eight hundred of them, the greater number killed by thrusts, the others by cannon, muskets and crossbows, and many were stretched on the ground half dead..... The battle lasted over an hour....we buried the two soldiers that had been killed....we seared the wounds of the others and of the horses with the fat of the Indian, and after posting sentinels and guards, we had supper and rested.
"...These were the first vassals to render submission to His Majesty in New Spain."
Regarding first contact with the Mexica-Aztecas: "It happened that one of the soldiers had a helmet half gilt but somewhat rusty...and (he) said that he wished to see it as it was like one that they possessed which had been left to them by their ancestors of the race from which they had sprung...that their prince Montezuma would like to see this helmet. So it was given to him, and Cortes said to them that as he wished to know whether the gold of this country was the same as that we find in our rivers, they could return the helmet filled with grains of gold..."
"...the chief brought back the helmet full of fine grains of gold, just as they are got out of the mines, and this was worth three thousand dollars. This gold in the helmet was worth more to us than if it had contained twenty thousand dollars, because it showed that there were good mines there."
About Cortez meeting with Montezuma and preaching religion: "Montezuma replied: ...Regarding the creation of the world, we have held the same belief for ages past, and for this reason we take it for certain that you are those whom our ancestors predicted would come from the direction of the sunrise."
Regarding the palace in which Montezuma quartered his Spanish guests: "There was a rumor and we had heard the story that Montezuma kept a treasure of his father Axayaca in that building, it was suspected that it might be in this chamber which had been closed up and cemented only a few days before. ... and the door was secretly opened. When it was opened Cortes and some of his Captains went in first, and they saw such a number of jewels and slabs of gold and chalchihuites and other riches, that they were quite carried away and did not know what to say about such wealth...I took it for certain that their could not be another such store of wealth in the whole world."
Bartolome de las Casas sailed to the "New World" in 1502. In 1514 he renounced his land and slaves in Cuba and began campaigning for Indian rights. In Spain in 1515 Cardinal Cisneros entitled him "Universal Protector of the Indians," a special prosecutor designation. He took vows in the Dominican Order in 1523 and conducted missionary work in Nicaragua. Due to the Nicaraguan Native population decimation he transferred to Guatemala in 1534. In 1537 he affected Christian proselytism in the unexplored Tuzulatlan (Vera Paz) region, thereby protecting the population from enslavement and the conquest of their lands in that Spanish law prohibited enslaving and disenfranchising Catholics. He returned to Spain in 1547 to defend Indian rights and seek abolition of slavery before the Spanish Court. In 1552 he published his Brevisima relacion de la destruccion de las Indias, painting the picture of the Spanish extermination of native populations. In 1583 the Relacion was translated to English. Referring to the conquest of the islands of Cuba and Hispanola de las Casas wrote:
"The Almighty seems to have inspired these people with a weakness and softness of Humour like that of Lambs: and the Spaniards who have given them so much trouble, and fallen upon them so fiercely, resemble savage Tigers, Wolves and Lions, when enraged with pressing hunger. They applied themselves forty years together wholly to the massacring the poor wretches that inhabited the islands; putting them to all kinds of unheard of torments and punishments.....insomuch that this island which before the arrival of the Europeans, contained about three million people, is now reduced to less than three hundred.....They laid wagers with one another, who should cleave a man down with his sword most dexterously at one blow; or who should take his head from his shoulders most cleverly; or who should run a man through after the most artificial manner: they tore away Children out of their Mothers arms, and dashed out their brains against the rocks..."
Translation from the Codice Franciscano of the Royal Decree relative to the General History of the things of New Spain:"The King. - Mr. Martin Enriquez, our Viceroy, Governor and Captain General of New Spain, and President of our Royal Audience thereof. From some letters which you have written us we have understood that Brother Bernardino of Sahagun of the Order of Saint Francis has composed a Universal History of the most noted things of New Spain, which is a very copious computation of the rites, ceremonies and idolatries which the indians used in their infidelity, divided into twelve books and in the Mexican language; and though it is understood that the zeal of said Brother Bernardino has been good, and with the wish that his work bear fruit, it does not seem convenient that this book be printed or distributed in any form in those parts, for (some origins of consideration) several reasons; and so we command you that after you receive this our decree, with much diligence you procure those books and without there remaining original or some translation, you send them with good security on the first occasion to our Council of the Indies, for their review; and you are given notice to not consent that in any form some person write things which appertain to superstitions and the way of life which these indians had, in any language, because so agrees with service to God, our Lord, and (with) our (service)." Madrid, 22nd of April of 1577. Signed: "I the King"
A CENTRAL AMERICAN TIME LINE
1501 First Europeans known to land in Central America. Rodrigo de Bastidas discovers the Isthmus of Darien.
1504 Bastides captures 600 Darien Indians for slavery.
1513 Pedro Arias de Avila becomes governor of the land the Spaniards refer to as "Castillo de Oro" (Gold Castle).
1517 Pedro Arias orders Pacific discoverer, rival conqueror and son-in-law Vasco Nunez de Balboa executed by cutting of his throat.
1524 Francisco Pizzaro sails from Panama City to PerĪ.
1534 Pedro de Andagoya concludes that a canal across Panama is not possible.
1538 Panama becomes the seat of Spanish authority in America from Nicaragua south.
1522 Pacific Coast explored by Gil Gonzales Davila, who traverses the country collecting gold.
1523 Gonzales returns to Panama claiming he baptized 32,000 Indians. He claims Nicaragua.
1524 Gonzales lands in Honduras with the first European woman and the first African known to visit the region. Panama governor Pedro Arias sends Francisco Hernandez to take possession of Nicaragua. Hernandez repulses Gonzales. Nicaraguans captured as slaves are exported to Panama.
1525 Mexican conqueror Hernan Cortes marches from Yucatan to Honduras to prevent Hernandez from controlling Honduras.
1526 Pedro Arias executes Francisco Hernandez and gains control of Nicaragua and Honduras. 1527 Holy Roman Emperor (Carlos V) (he is also Spanish Monarch Carlos I) establishes the Captaincy of Nicaragua. Pedro Arias becomes the first Captain General.
1536 Number of Nicaraguan Natives exported as slaves reaches 500,000.
1524 Pedro de Alvarado defeats the forces of Tecum Uman, the Native Quiche leader, when after much bloody fighting the Quiche surrender to superior Spanish weaponry. When the Quiche receive Alvarado in peace in Utatlan Alvarado executes their leaders in the presence of the populace and orders the city leveled.
1527 Holy Roman Emperor Carlos V establishes the Captaincy of Guatemala. Jorge de Alvarado founds Santiago (Antigua) as the Capitol.
1530 Shipbuilding begins on the Pacific Coast.
1540 Alvarado transports rebellious Native leaders to exile in Mexico.
1541 Earthquake and resultant flood destroy Antigua.
1542 Antigua reestablished at present day site.
1549 Spanish Authority in Central America, the "Audencia de los Confines" is moved to Antigua from Honduras. Antigua becomes the Spanish political capitol of geographic Central America.
1697 Last Mayan city conquered by the Spanish.
1821 Declaration of Central American Independence.
1838 Central America divides into independent states.
1637 - Following the burning of the Pequots by the Puritans Cotton Mather expressed gratefulness to the Lord that they had
"sent 600 heathen souls to hell."
1644 - Order from General Court of the Colony of Massachusetts Bay:
"noe Indian shall come att any towne or howse of the English uppon the Lords day, except to attend the public meetings; neither shall they come att any English howse uppon any other day in the week, but shall first knocke att the dore, and after leave given, yo come in..."
1782 - Brackenridge "... the animals vulgarly called indians."
Ben Franklin observed that rum should be regarded as the agent of Providence
"to extripate these savages in order to make room for the cultivators of the earth."
Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri:
"the whites should supplant the indian because Whites use the land according to the intentions of the Creator."
Contact population estimate for USA is 12 to 25 million.
1850 Native American population was 250,000.
"... these priests of ours were to come to an end when misery was introduced, when Christianity was introduced by the real Christians. Then with the true God, the true Dios, came the beginning of our misery. It was the beginning of tribute, the beginning of church dues, the beginning of strife with purse-snatching, the beginning of strife with blow-guns, the beginning of strife by trampling on people, the beginning of robbery with violence, the beginning of forced debts, the beginning of debts enforced by false testimony, the beginning of individual strife, a beginning of vexation, a beginning of robbery with violence. This was the origin of service to the Spaniards and priests, of service to the local chiefs, of service to the teachers, of service to the public prosecutors by the boys, the youths of the town, while the poor people were harassed. These were the very poor people who did not depart when oppression was put upon them. It was by Antichrist on earth, the kinkajous of the towns, the foxes of the towns, the blood-sucking insects of the town, those who drained the poverty of the working people. But it shall still come to pass that tears shall come to the eyes of our Lord God. The justice of our Lord God shall descend upon every part of the world, straight from God upon Ah Kantenal, Ix Pucyola, the avaricious hagglers of the world." ....
"Then they adhered to the dictates of their reason. There was no sin; in the holy faith their lives were passed. There was then no sickness; they had then no aching bones; they had then no high fever; they had then no smallpox; they had then no burning chest; they had then no abdominal pains; they had then no consumption; they had then no headache. At that time the course of humanity was orderly. The foreigners made it otherwise when they arrived here. They brought shameful things when they came. They lost their innocence in carnal sin; they lost their innocence in the carnal sin of Nacxit Xuchit, in the carnal sin of his companions. No lucky days were then displayed to us. This was the origin of the two-day chair (or throne), of the two-day reign; this was the cause of our sickness also. There were no more lucky days for us; we had no sound judgment. At the end of our loss of vision, and of our shame, everything shall be revealed. There was no great teacher, no great speaker, no supreme priest, when the change of rulers occurred at their arrival. Lewd were the priests, when they came to be established here by the foreigners."
THE BOOK OF CHILAM BALAM OF CHUMAYEL, Ralph L. Roys, Carnegie Institution Washington D.C. 1933
The Museum of the Gila River Indian Community
While rapidly traversing the wide valley plain from the Superstition Mountains westward on Highway 60 I reflected on how different a valley existed before modern conveniences, before the vehicle and highway, when Hohokam platform mounds overlooked a world of canals, when travel on foot from east of Mesa Grande to Pueblo Grande took all morning. Upon turning south, towards Snaketown, one of the largest Hohokam villages, I looked east to Mound Mountain, the Superstition Mountains and Four Peaks. The intervening vast sea of earth filling the Gila and Salt valleys has been transformed by the highways and modern cities of today's millions. The seemingly eternal mountain landscape remains almost precisely what the Hohokam viewed.
Traveling south on Interstate 10, the lithic horizon held my attention. Suddenly the city ended and agriculture replaced urbanism. A few miles later the reservation began and I entered a world more akin to that of the Hohokam. Hohokam is a Pima word meaning "those who have ceased" according to the museum. On this Saturday morning The Museum of the Gila River Indian Community is quiet. No one seems to mind my briefcase or my writing.
"... the Hohokam flourished for seventeen hundred years, until 1400 A. D., and then vanished."
"... There irrigation works were feats of hydraulic engineering which are traced today to many of the canals in the Salt River Project."
"Radio carbon dating of artifacts places human activities in America 20,000 B.C. (21,000 years ago)."
Will sources ever agree on the antiquity of humans in the Americas? This estimate rates as moderate, if not liberal considering the age of the display. Ice age fossils of extinct elephants, petroglyphed rocks and a variety of beautiful and artistic prehistoric artifacts surround the visitor. Large ancient pottery jars are near photographs of modern potters. Early photographs feature Antonio Azule, the last traditional Reservation leader (who died in 1910) and Tashquinth (Sun Count), last chief of the Gila Crossing village (today a seventeen member tribal council governs). A large photographic display of the Snaketown excavations has attracted my attention. I admit my interests are biased to the prehistoric.
"Snaketown ... One of the largest Hohokam villages known, it encompasses about 200 acres,..."
Photos illustrate Snaketown's canals, with deeper, narrow, more recent canals transecting old broad canals. Canals are archaeological resources. A long history is evidenced by the stages of canal works. Are the later canals lower due to river changes? Did form change for reasons of water economy? Did system enlargement require deeper canals? Museums pose more questions than they answer. I like that. Europeans influence is here evidenced with a flavor of Spanish colonial Catholicism. Dates are benchmarked A. D. and B. C. rather than B. P. (before present).
"Snaketown was founded near the time of Christ."
"COMING OF THE SPANISH In 1694, Father Keno made first contact with the Pima villages on the Gila River. His visit was soon followed by other Spanish travelers, missionaries and soldiers. But it was through the missionaries, first Jesuits and later Franciscans, that much early European culture was passed to the Pima."
"... Spanish ... in the 16th and 17th centuries found Pima language speakers dispersed over a 1000 miles north to south."
On today's Gila and Salt reservations, Pimas and Yuman speaking Maricopas live. During the 17th century Maricopa people migrated from the Colorado River area up the Gila.
"EARLY PIMA The term 'Early Pima' is used to refer to the Indian residents on the Gila from 1400 to 1700, when the Spanish appeared and found the present day Pima..."
"...until more research is done, scholars are unwilling to state definitively that today's Pima reflect an unbroken cultural inheritance from the Hohokam..."
"The Early Pimas ... practiced irrigation agriculture, made coiled basketry and produced pottery - much like the Hohokam."
I wonder about the broken continuity myth of Native Americans origins. Count the tribes today and count the prehistoric cultures of the archaeologist. With so many possibilities why are there so few matches acknowledged? If the present day natives were recognized as an unbroken lineage of people and culture from specific ancient sites, would they then have claim to more land, canals and water? Did the Hohokam really "vanish" in 1400? Is vanishing evidenced? Did the Pima appear in 1400?
Any people who leave a mark on the landscape never really ever vanish. Hohokam engineering is the foundation of the Salt River irrigation system in use today and yet a tribal museum says the Hohokam have vanished. After 300 years of contact the conquest, including of minds, seems rather complete.
Before leaving the building I visited the Restaurant and the Gift Shop, seemingly the real foci of the Community Center, at least on Saturday mornings. While in the neighborhood I wanted to pass near Snaketown to behold the view from the Hohokam village site, with attention to intervisibility with mountain peaks and other sites, especially Circlestone monument on the Mound Mountain horizon. I knew that Snaketown was across the Gila River. I even carried the exact coordinates in computer memory, but not a local map. I needed directions to find a return route past the ancient village. I decided to inquire with the Gift Shop clerks.
"You can't go there. It is off limits. That is federal land."
"Well, if it's federal land can't anyone go there?" I responded, knowing full well it was on the reservation. I tried again.
"Everything is covered up. You can't see anything there."
I explained that I wanted to see only what was seen from the perspective of the ancient village.
"We don't want you to go there. It is a place of our ancestors."
"No one can go there. You could get shot going there," the other clerk added.
I remarked that you could get shot walking in Phoenix. I again tried to explain that I only wanted to pass nearby Snaketown for the view.
"It's illegal to tell you that." I asked if it was legal for me to tell them what I already knew. "We might have to call the police if you keep asking us questions."
It was obvious that I would not be given any useful information by the two clerks. I decided to pursue the question on topographic maps instead and departed. Outside, my view returned to the mountains, the unchanging view we share with the Hohokam platform mound builders, the Early Pimas, "those who have ceased," the cowboys and Indians, yes even the vanished. On the reservation the back roads lead past many an impoverished dwelling. Dry barren desert landscape was the rule, though the imprint of past agricultural use is everywhere.
In contrast, off the reservation along the water-filled canals en route towards Queen Creek immense old trees and orchards of heavily laden citrus are found. What size trees grew along the Snaketown canals during the Hohokam era? I contemplated the present day contrasts and the Hohokam days when all the wealth and resources of this vast valley supported fewer and smaller communities. I tried to picture the Hohokam view from the lofty surrounding mountains, a view of the complex of canals and building-topped, elevated platform mounds. I imagined a verdant and bountiful ancient paradise in this vast desert. And a time when slow travel on foot or canoe across the vast desert was the norm.
It has indisputably become easier and faster to journey across this land. In a vastly changed world, has it also become more difficult to journey (metaphorically) to the past, to see what kind of a world has come before? Or to understand how the present is a product of all that has come before and, especially, of all those who have come before. Perhaps the past is like the mountain, always there, as unchanging as stone, not an easy journey, and with a view that well recompenses the difficulty. After this short visit to the Gila River Community it is not my impression that one community is closer to that view than another, though the Museum is an excellent place to pursue it. We, "those who have not ceased," we inhabitants of the present all share an equal remoteness with our mutual past. Time, in relation to space, is a vast landscape and therein we all today share a singular viewpoint of an unchanging past. Seeing that past is an individual journey and on that mountain as in real space, it seems, no two people (or museums) share the exact same view at the same time.
A reference to Baboquivari, "Sacred Mountain of the Akimel O'odham," caught my attention amidst items for sale at the 10th Annual Arizona State University Spring Competition Powwow. Arriving was the easy part of my class assignment; to ask a question of a Native American here. What question and to whom had eluded me until seeing Baboquivari mentioned.
"I have a question," I said. The young Native American vendor politely agreed to my inquisition. "It seems that everywhere I go some high mountain is sacred to Native Americans, from Peru to the Black Hills of the Dakotas," I continued in preface. "In Guatemala the hilltops have shrines, for example, and my question is 'What is it about the highest mountain or highest point that makes them sacred to Native Americans?' "
"There are often shrines on the highest mountains." Was his answer a bit like a disclosure of the horse given the cart? Aren't the monuments there because the mountains have a special significance? Finding a question does not a satisfactory answer assure.
"You can see a great distance from the mountaintop," he continued. More possible answers followed. Taking advantage of the vendor and buyer setting might not be the best way to pursue objective enthnography. No matter the question a polite answer, or three or four, might ensue.
The day was beautiful, the crafts likewise. The fry bread tacos were delicious, the more so as breakfast after noon. The powerful Cozad Singers drum and song drew me to the circle again and again. When a speaker made mention of being a historian I reconsidered my assignment. Wouldn't an elder and historian possess knowledge unseen to a young vendor? We crossed paths later, after a question had taken shape.
I introduced myself, explained our class assignment and again received assent to ask a question. To preface I explained my interest in ancient Native American monuments and their locations and relationships. "My question is why are they located where they are? Is their placement ordered and purposeful or casual?"
"They were positioned according to the stars. They knew where all the stars in the heaven were then." The monuments were "precisely" located, he asserted with emphasis, adding that even the day of a monument's dedication might be discernible in its design.
We conversed and as postscript he added that not everyone would offer this answer to this question, that this was not understood by everyone. He found the analogy that 'not everyone who crosses a bridge can explain the engineering' appropriate. I added that I would not have asked the question of anyone and felt well satisfied in my selection. I discovered that my informant was a Southern Ute working on a Doctorate in education.
With the day's assignment finally completed to my satisfaction I wandered on, transformed from dilettante ethnographer to attendee.
Ancient Tradition and Art in America
Native Americans use art in ways totally unfamiliar to western societies. Traditional arts can embody much more than an aesthetic statement. In certain Navajo healing ceremonies the patient sits at the center of a sand painting. The painting is destroyed after the ceremony. Cultural practices influence the purpose, function and applications of the arts. Cultural objects, such as paraphernalia of community dances or other traditional customs, adhere to specific forms and symbols in a fusion of world view, thought, function and art. A mask on a katchina dancer during a festival synchronized to the seasons presents a vivid landscape of meaning. As an "object of art" on a gallery wall this context is lost. Much of the underlying meaning and original importance of Native American arts is not readily discernible to mainstream culture today.
The fullest appreciation of contemporary Native American art demands both an understanding of cultural and artistic traditions spanning millennia and a discernment of what lies beyond tradition. Cultural differences inform artistic traditions. Art presents fundamental aspects of the way people perceive nature and conceptualize the world. In the film, Primal Minds, Native American narrator Jamake Highwater examines the contrast of cultures. He expressed the following views;
"Languages are different words for entirely different ways of seeing and conceptualizing the world. The words we use largely determine how we perceive the world."
"Indian America is a holy land and everything; mountains, men, animals, everything is sacred."
"...the world is a church..."
"...for Indians the power is in the land itself and no one can own it."
( There is) "...no better way to understand the ways people perceive the world than to look at the structures they build."
In Highwater's view the fundamental way people of western cultural tradition perceive nature is exemplified by formal gardens and religious architecture, symbols of dominance over nature and denial of our origins. Highwater also contrasts Indian dance with ballet. The eagle dance, for example, celebrates nature while ballet is viewed as trying to rise above nature. To the eagle dancer the dance is personal and transformational, not performance to others.
These separate reality views underlie the distinct nature of a wide range of arts in each culture. Contemporary Native American arts are rooted in ancient arts and cultures, an understanding of which enhances appreciation of the art. Ancient pottery designs and forms are the foundation of contemporary art pottery. Themes of the past such as the butterfly, corn, the bear, katchinas, sun faces, masks, tabletas and rock art motifs inspire present day artists and have evolved to modern forms.
Contact brought about change in art. Spurned in part by commerce, an artistic revival began in the later half of the nineteenth century with baskets, pottery, weaving and silversmithing. During the twentieth century the creative outpouring spread beyond traditional media to include sculpture, watercolors and oil painting. Considerable innovation has been seen in traditional arts and use of art forms such as sand painting. Today ancient stories and traditional legends are molded on pottery, sculpted into stone and cast into bronze. A unique artistic tradition replete with ancient cultural meanings has evolved into media, markets and even cultures far beyond traditional boundaries.
Culture and ancient tradition enrich contemporary art. Culture is an ever changing dynamic with a foundation in traditions. The present movement of Native American art beyond traditional boundaries does not seem a departure from the past, but rather, intrinsic to the continuing evolution of Native American culture in a cosmopolitan and culturally diverse world. Native American art, in moving beyond traditional forms, roles, uses and cultural boundaries, enriches the art of the world. The search for an understanding of the many facets of this continuing tradition can enrich the seeker, fulfilling a primal objective of all art.
The Honour of All - The Story of Alkali Lake
In The Honour of All the irony of the Alkali Lake storekeeper's statement, "you drunken squaws are too stupid to run a store anyway," was not lost on Phyllis Chelsea. The statement prompted Phyllis to open her own store and after more than a year of sobriety, she became a visible role model, an example of the difference that sobriety makes. Phyllis' husband Andy, the second sober member of the band, was elected Chief. Chelsea and Andy, in helping transform their community from 100% alcoholic to 95% sober, illustrate the important role of individual action and initiative in the process of change. The determination of just two people within a community can have transformational impact.
Alcohol is addictive and alcohol abuse can be harmful to health and destructive to community. Yet alcohol is pervasive in contemporary society. Use of alcohol is promoted by those who profit from it. This motivation is seen in the Alkali Lake storekeeper's using drink to incapacitate those trading furs. The stage driver who delivered two thousand dollar loads of alcohol to the reserve also profited. Profit motive is often missing from discussion of the prevalence of alcoholism and addiction issues. Alcohol is big business and, with an addicted clientele, it is reliably profitable also. Opposition to alcohol, in the form of Mayor Andy Chelsea's legal authority, was able to interrupt the flow of bootlegged booze. If you want a sober community it helps to have a sober leader or two.
Susceptibility to alcohol addiction is variable. In the case of the Alkali Lake band strong alcoholic drink was something new. They lacked the customs, knowledge and understandings of cultures with the experience of millennia of alcohol use. They therefore were more vulnerable to addiction and excessive use. Cultural patterns of drug use are variable. In parts of the Andes where coca leaves are masticated by the overwhelming majority of the population research has shown that it is a vital nutritional component of the local diet. In the Andean world coca is legal, pervasive, and rarely abused. In the United States, without a cultural norm for coca use, abuse of and addiction to cocaine has become a problem, even though use is legally proscribed. Native Americans in the United States are not immune to cocaine abuse or addiction just because they, like the Andean peoples, are Indians. The Andean peoples use coca within a framework of customs evolved by their cultures during millennia of interaction with the pharmacopia of their environment. In today's cosmopolitan "world community" the experience of a culture group encountering a new intoxicant with devastating effects is not unique to Alkali Lake, nor to small communities. True and accurate knowledge and understanding of both the social dynamics and the effects of alcohol and other addictive and abused substances empowers individuals and societies.
Another factor in prevalence of alcoholism is socioeconomic condition. Native Americans are the most impoverished population group in the United States today and they have the highest unemployment rates. They also have the highest prevalence of alcohol problems. Compared to the population at large, a higher percentage of Native Americans also do not drink. It is widely understood that marginalized groups have greater social problems, though the cause and effect relationships are not always unanimously agreed upon. While some people view the unemployed as a lazy lot, they may in fact be unemployed as a result of the prejudices of those who perceive them as a lazy lot! The conquest culture has marginalized the Native American population more so than any other minority group. While there are genetic and cultural differences between Native American groups, they have been quite uniformly marginalized. These considerations point towards a way of reducing the alcoholism rate; by replacing marginalization with economic stability, with improved social and economic conditions. Excessive drinking is harmful and destructive, irrespective of group or culture.
It is in the best interests of society to address this problem. Society can easily change several aspects. Alcohol ought to be taxed in proportion to the health and other costs that it imposes on society, including regulation, enforcement and education costs. Those individuals who choose to use harmful substances should pay the societal costs incurred. We subsidize alcohol by not recovering these costs at the consumption point. Advertisement of alcohol can easily be controlled. Should we have beer ads as the mainstay of events like the Olympics, or the Super Bowl, when seemingly the entire nation is hypnotized by the one-eyed (beer selling) baby sitter? Alcohol advertisement could be made illegal. Availability of alcohol needs to be more carefully controlled, especially so in the case of youth.
If an entirely different view, a view that addresses the harm of alcohol abuse as opposed to the promotional posture of advertising, was the societal norm individuals would be less likely to fall prey to alcohol addiction. The interests of society should supersede those of the alcohol purveyors.
The Alkali Lake story is a unique, refreshingly frank and graphic view of a small community grappling with alcohol abuse. The lessons learned and the solutions found are applicable to the world community. The global community will benefit from the Alkali Lake band's story. Two thumbs up! And to the storekeeper I say, "a few drunks can change history and the world if they want to."