At the Base of the Mesa (Day 6)

Overview:

We left Farmington this morning for Chinle, where we would take photos for the Johns Hopkins’ unit there. After driving back through the Red Valley to Chinle, we met with employees of the unit and Ed photographed a shoot for their motherhood-planning program. Soon afterwards, we returned to Canyon de Chelly, this time at its floor, to photograph a mother and newborn for the same program.  We were then given the opportunity to read to elementary school students at the local elementary school. We stopped for lunch, and departed for another shoot, this time in the home of a Navajo family. The mother began to dress her two daughters in traditional Navajo outfits, and the two girls then made traditional food for us as well. We then travelled to the base of a local mesa to shoot them, where another family met us. After the sun set and the shoot ended, we went to a Pow Wow being held in a convention center in Chinle, and then drove 3.5 hours back to Albuquerque.

Continue reading “At the Base of the Mesa (Day 6)”

Lukachukai – Lucky Chucky (Day 5)

Overview:

Today we woke up in Gallup and headed to Shiprock to work on the Navajo reservation with the Johns Hopkins Team stationed there. Part of their efforts to prevent early childhood obesity is providing clean drinking water to families with children ranging from 6-9 months. Clean drinking water is hard to find on the reservation; the tap water isn’t clean and buying water gets expensive. This leads families to go look for cheaper, less healthier options. In order to create healthier options, the center delivers water weekly to families in the reservation. Today, we started in the center helping out fill water jugs and than we were fortunate enough to be able to help bring the water to two different home visits. There we were able to meet two different and lovely families and see some beautiful scenery along our way.

Jane:

Our first water delivery was to a family that lived near the Johns Hopkins Center. It was to a single mother of two adorable boys, living in a house sanctioned for lower income families. We were bringing them two jugs of water and to get some photos for Johns Hopkins. The mother had a boy that was two years old and a 8 month old baby. They may have been the cutest thing that I have ever seen. ever. When we initially got there the mother  was a little hesitant to engage but once Ed showed her one of the shots he had taken of her, she opened up quite a lot. She started staging the boys, posing with them, laughing a lot, and engaging with us as well. I think at first she was very wary of these outsiders entering her space but once she felt our energy of good intention and absolute love for her kids, she started to relax. Once she had relaxed, I could finally relax. I was worried that we would be invading these people’s lives and disrupting the flow, I needed her approval to feel okay with our presence. The younger boy was constantly bringing different toys out to show and give to us. He showed us so many of his toys ranging from a red chair, fake cellphone, dog rattle, and his bell. He had this long gorgeous hair that his mother was growing out. He loved the camera and was the most well behaved child that has ever existed. ever. His brother was as well. He had just woken up for a nap and was so content. Never in my life have I seen a child be woken up from a nap to go engage with a bunch of strangers and be so happy. But what pulled my heartstrings the most was how they interacted with each other. The older boy was constantly holding his brother, pushing him around in his playtoy mobile and making him smile for the camera. This experience may not have been the deepest nor the most eye opening but it definitely taught me something about family. I know that as long as those two boys stick by each other like they are doing now, and they stick with their mother who clearly cares about them very much, than they can handle anything life throws at them.

 

Maggie:

 

At 11, we were told we were going on another outing to photograph the water distribution program. Members of the staff implied that we would want to bring out cameras on this outing, as we would be able to visit Shiprock from a closer perspective. When taking the headshots, one of the founders of the program recounted the history of Shiprock. Once a volcano the soft rock had eroded to form the staggeringly large structure, leaving behind the hard volcanic rock. On either side of the rock, two expansive ridges also remain from the base of the volcano. We were told that from above, the ridges look like wings expanding from the rock itself. Traditionally, Navajo people called it Tsé Bitʼaʼí, or winged rock, to honor this resemblance. When the area was colonized, however, it was renamed Shiprock, as that is what the colonizers first thought it was. The name is now ironic on many levels, primarily because New Mexico is landlocked and most Navajo people had no idea what a ship was. The name remains on the reservation to this day, though some Navajo have begun to reclaim its original name.

As we neared Shiprock on the way to the water delivery, we took an abrupt right off of the highway onto a dirt road sprawling towards the rock itself. After about fifteen minutes of almost off-roading, we stopped at the base of the Shiprock, all gawking at its sheer size. This was one of the most incredible moments of the trip, standing in the grasses and shrinking next to Tsé Bit’aí.

As we continued on our journey to the next home, I experienced the most swift and dramatic change in scenery of my life. At first, everything was tan: the shrubbery, dirt, and Shiprock exploding from its flat and dusty surroundings. As the road spread out before us, suddenly the world became red with rocks and sand, as if moving along a natural gradient. Just as soon as we entered Red Rock Valley, where horses walked along the highway and everything was tinted pink, the road began to incline and twist, launching us up and over the mountain blocking the road. We chugged up the sharp turns, and trees started to accumulate. The ground snow suggested we were entering a ski resort in the middle of Arizona, though the undeveloped land proved otherwise. At the top, the pines opened before us for a brief moment, revealing the valley for all its beauty, resembling a grass sea behind the red sand. I begun to understand why the white colonizers called Shiprock a ship. On the other side of the mountain, the red returned, in the form of enormous boulders and cliffs with sunken caverns.

I felt like a child playing in an oversized world, leaving a sense of insignificance and yet wonder instilled within me. The beauty of each detail, the small wash, the red coves in the cliffs, the snow-topped mountains, spiritually captured me in a way I thought unimaginable.

Gwyneth:

Our second water delivery trip took us from Shiprock across the Red Valley and through the mountains to the small community of Lukachukai. The landscape was magical of course, but the most special part of the journey was the family we met at its end. We had a bit of difficulty locating the home we were supposed to bring the water to, but when we finally did, we were greeted by two llamas, a sheep, a rooster, a group of dogs and goats, and a turkey named Thanksgiving. This eccentric group of animals is cared for by the family of an extraordinary young woman who was kind enough to welcome us into her home. She began by taking us around her yard and letting us pet her animals, which she explained that she owns more out of her love of animals than for their practical use. The bond she has with the animals became clear when Ed photographed her with one of the llamas, which she adopted from a friend who had to give them away. She told us that when she first got the llamas – a mother and her baby – she had no idea how to take care of them and had to look up information on her phone after they arrived. Nonetheless, over two years later, they are clearly healthy, happy, well cared for.

After Ed finished taking the llama photos, the woman showed us her family’s hogan – a traditional Navajo dwelling. She told us that her wedding had taken place inside, indicating that the building has played a very important role in her life and that of her family. When Ed asked her if there was something she could hold while being photographed outside the hogan, she went inside her house and brought out her adorable eight-month old daughter. My heart melted watching as the baby, just woken up from a nap, grew more aware and came alive in front of the camera, smiling at us and hugging her mother.

When the photoshoot was finished, we were able to go inside the hogan, where the woman’s parents and older daughter sleep. The interior was a mix of traditional and modern, with all the typical components of an “ordinary” bedroom combined with a sense of Navajo history and a powerful feeling of closeness to nature. Inside the hogan, we heard about the woman’s extended family, including her brother-in-law in the army and her nine-year old niece who has already been engaged in autism awareness activism for several years.

Finally, we went inside the house, where we met the woman’s younger sister, who cares for the animals while she is at work three hours away in Ignacio, Colorado. There, she works five days a week as a pastry chef at a casino, having studied at Le Cordon Bleu in Scottsdale. In addition to this, she weaves, makes children’s costumes, and creates and sells accessories made out of sacks of Bluebird Flour. The amount of drive and energy required to do all of this is astounding and inspiring. And perhaps most extraordinarily of all, she showed no indication of being stressed or tired and was gracious enough to spend her time showing us around her home and sharing her stories with us. Her dream is to open up her own pastry shop, hopefully sometime in the next two years. With her talent and work ethic, I can’t imagine anything that could possibly stand in her way. Meeting her – a woman who embodies feminine strength to the core – was an indescribably moving experience and one of the highlights of my trip.

 

Knife City (Day 4)

Overview:

We started our day off by returning to Fort Apache and finishing up the work we started on the Etsy shop yesterday. However, by 11:30, we were on the road again, heading to Gallup, New Mexico. Although it was mostly a travel day, we did see some interesting sights, especially the ghost towns along Route 66. This route, which stretched from Chicago to Santa Monica,  flourished when it served as a major path for westward travel and migration. However, beginning in the 1950s, it fell into decline after being replaced by the Interstate Highway System. Today, the communities which were once made affluent by the heavy traffic along Route 66 have either fallen into disarray or been abandoned completely.

 

Gwyneth:

Driving through Holbrook, AZ and the surrounding area today, it was so strange to see the decrepit buildings set against the backdrop of one of the most incredible landscapes I have ever encountered. The grassy fields stretched far beyond the remnants of human life, turning into mountains and cliffs, silhouetted against a purple evening sky. My experiences on this trip so far have shown me that the earth itself contains so much spiritual power. Even in the environment of immediate dreariness which we drove through today, I recognized that it paled in comparison to the immense beauty just beyond. However, there were indications that the power of the land was often forgotten in this area. This was shown most clearly by the several large, hand painted “land for sale” signs we saw standing in open fields. At first, I didn’t give much thought to the signs beyond the fact that I had never seen land advertised so explicitly and casually. However, Ed seemed moved by the sign and stopped to photograph it. This prompted me to think more deeply about the meaning of the sign in relation to the work we have been doing on this trip. Soon enough I realized just how wrong it is to be selling land for profit. To begin with, this is not our land to sell, as it was stolen from the native people who have lived here for thousands of years. Furthermore, I have been learning and experiencing the spiritual value that the land holds in the eyes of native people. To them, and in a variety of spiritual traditions, the land is sacred and should be revered for sustaining our lives. Therefore, at least according to my own interpretation of native spirituality, it is not something that can be possessed by one person, but rather all the land is home to all humans. It is not meant to be bought or sold, but honored and cared for. This is easy to forget in the fast-paced, materialistic, profit-driven society we live in – a lifestyle embodied by Route 66. However, now that the money has gone away, nature has begun to reclaim the terrain, restoring the beauty and spiritual power of the landscape.

 

Maggie:

In our travels between reservations, it could feel like there was nothing around us – only our car and the highway. Just when the road seemed too long and we began wondering whether we’d ever see civilization again, another car came sputtering down the road, or we’d find a gas station or abandoned motel. These often vacant rest stops were found on the historic Route 66, parallel to the main highway, I-40. Each miniature stop had a separate theme, whether it’d be the petrified forest gift shop or, as we saw today, Knife City, a town named for its tourist knife shop. Each sign was a weather-worn relic from the 1920s – 1960s, painted onto the billboard or building itself when Route 66 was still a highly-frequented road and major tourist destination. A particularly large and rusty town we encountered was Holbrook, AZ, where most of our photos were taken. Continuing with the theme, many stores there perpetuated the cultural appropriation of Native people, despite the fact that a quarter of Holbrook is Native. It’s easy to write off these appropriative stores as outdated and artefacts of history preserved in abandoned towns, but that does not take into account why these Native gift shops are still open today. In addition to this disgusting appropriation, each town was filled with enormous, tacky, and wonderful dinosaur replicas, meant to honor the expansive dino fossils found in Arizona. Walking through the towns felt like entering an abandoned theme park whose imagery suggested that Native people and dinosaurs roamed the area at the same time.

At one photo stop, we encountered a supposedly abandoned motel, whose open doors and mattresses on the floor told a different story. Even in this vast expanse of nothingness, there are people everywhere. People live in these abandoned buildings. People shop at Native appropriation gift shops. People work at dinosaur gift shops 40 miles from all surrounding homes or communities. People live in these preserved towns of a past America.

 

Jane:

As we made our way from White Mountain Apache through Holbrook towards Gallup, we saw an odd mixture of beautiful and rugged landscapes that called us to explore and document them through photos. However, these impactful scenes and moments were mixed with more images that continue to perpetuate the romanticization and commercialization of natives. We stopped at the Wigwam Hotel in order to take photos. The Wigwam Hotel rooms were each individual tipis (photographed below) surrounded by old cars in the parking lot. At first, my attention went to straight to the vintage cars, and then to Maggie’s obsession over the the replica of Mater from the movie Cars, but afterwards I took a closer look at where I was. The Wigwam Hotel’s name implies that they use the traditional image of a dome home structure known as the wigwam or wikiup. The Wigwam Hotel used the typical image that is often seen in most displays of Native culture, the tipi. Tipis were not used in this part of the country but rather in the great plains and parts of Canada. It would be more accurate to use wigwams since this type of dwelling is used in this particular region. The hotel is using a traditional place of dwelling as a tourist destination. Its main attraction is the exotic experience of living as the natives did, which perpetuates the idea of us versus them. It is businesses like the Indian stores and the Wigwam Hotel that commercialize and romanticize Native Americans that are causing these negative stereotypes to impact perceptions of the modern native. As I was leaving the White Mountain Apache reservation, nothing was more apparent to me than that the modern native narrative is complex, diverse, and cannot be summed up by a tipi or a derogatory image. The modern native narrative is a product of history, past and present.

KO’ – fire (day three)

Overview:

 

Day three started with Jane feeling much better, a delightful breakfast with our wonderful hosts, and a 30 minute car ride down into the heart of this specific Apache reservation, White River and Fort Apache. Today our agenda was mainly to help the employees of Johns Hopkins Center for Native American Health with whatever was on their plate for that day. Ed, our mentor was tasked with taking the photos of the newest employees and some select individuals from the surrounding areas. We helped him stage and set up the photos, and as a result met some amazing people, three of which we talk about below. In addition to meeting these people and aiding Ed in his work, we volunteered at Arrowhead Cafe, the Apache run store and cafe. The cafe sells delicious food and drinks to many of the people and, from what we saw, is a central gathering area. The adjacent store sold handmade jewelry, art, and apparel from local Apache artists. Our job was to help photograph the pieces of art so they could be posted on their online Etsy shop, which has so far been a booming success.  Being in the cafe and the shop was a unique experience because it allowed us to meet people that would provide interesting conversations. As well as being able to see this thriving business all based on the efforts and determination of Apache people to help benefit their community.

 

Jane:

One of the first Apache natives we meet was a 90 year old man. We met him while standing on the grounds of Fort Apache. Fort Apache was the military base during the Apache wars and the home to the Theodore Roosevelt Boarding School. The Theodore Roosevelt Boarding School opened in 1923 and aimed to dismantle many of the natives’ historical identities. The implementation of boarding schools trying to assimilate natives can be seen through the history of most reservations. As we stood on the grounds of Fort Apache, now the home to many offices and the newly developed Theodore Roosevelt boarding school that serves to provide education to middle school students and is approved by the tribal council, we heard about his own experiences at this place. While Ed and I photographed him, he said something that I thought was quite unexpected considering the context. He said to us “I hate Hitler because he took away my education.” When we asked him why, now intrigued by this comment, he explained that he had attended that boarding school. However, when the U.S. army started recruiting soldiers to fight in WW2 and pulled many natives from their homes to join the fight, he was one of them. Clearly, despite the acts of assimilation, had valued his education at Theodore Roosevelt Boarding School. He kept reiterating that because of Hitler, he had lost, despite the oppressive nature, his only access to education.

This idea generated a lot of thoughts in my head. It was mind blowing to think that after 73 years, this 90 year old man is still thinking about the education that he could have had. In fact, he arrived at the cafe and immediately started talking to me and within 3 minutes into that conversation he was talking about his experience at boarding school. Education was clearly very important to this man and it made my heart very heavy to think that not only was his education taken away from him but that even the education he did have wasn’t respecting who he was and his history. For me this conversation clearly stressed a very important lesson I carried with me throughout the day: that history stays with us.

 

Maggie:

One of the first Apache people we met on the reservation today was a painter. When we entered the cafe this morning, he was already there, waiting for Ed to photograph his newest painting (that had already been purchased) in order to add it to his portfolio. The painting itself was astonishingly beautiful, with intricate details in every aspect of the design. He recalled the legend of Geronimo, the historical Apache leader and focus of his painting. The focus was of Apache people, their heritage, pride, and current identity, similarly to all of the other artwork in the cafe. He explained each aspect of the remarkably realistic painting, and told us how all of his work related to some historical Apache event. His next painting, he confided, would be about the movement of guns into the tribe when Fort Apache, and the building adjacent to the cafe, was used as a storage unit for the white American colonizers’ rifles. After he and his paintings were photographed, we asked him when he started painting. “In jail,” he responded. When telling us about his past struggles with alcoholism, it was clear that art, along with his family, were what saved him from relapse. Twelve years sober, he has never taken a painting class, but sells each of his Apache-pride paintings for hundreds of dollars apiece. Until this trip, and specifically before meeting him, I had never fully understood the power of visual art as a force of personal change and liberation. On the walls surrounding the cafe, visual arts from students in the reservation hung for sale, bringing in revenue for kids exploring their passions. In the afternoon, high school kids came to the cafe for an after school entrepreneurial program – many of whom were artists Some planned to go to art school to continue their education and change their lives. In our academically focused East Coast prep school setting, traditional college is the only way to pursue a realistic career. On the reservation, however, art is a route through which many advance their lives, financially and personally.

 

Gwyneth:

While spending time with the high schoolers at the Arrowhead Cafe, we happened to meet a 17-year-old boy. From the moment we first encountered him while making crepes in the cafe’s kitchen, it was clear that there was something special about him. To begin with, he was the one to strike up a conversation with us, rather than the other way around. Although our position as volunteers for Johns Hopkins gave us the unspoken responsibility of reaching out to the students and trying to make them comfortable, it was this boy who ended up taking on this role for us. What really struck me about our first interaction with him was the fact that in spite of all the pain and injustice inflicted on his tribe by white invaders, he treated us – three white girls inserting ourselves into an Apache-run group for Apache kids –  with tremendous kindness.

However, it wasn’t until a bit later when we found out just how extraordinary he is. At one point while having his photo taken, he mentioned to Ed that he designs and sells T-shirts, after which Ed offered to drive him the few miles to his house in order to buy a shirt. During the short car ride, we were all laughing, talking about nothing of great importance. But after he showed us his shirts, which we all ended up purchasing, he began to open up about more serious matters. The shirts themselves, which are decorated with images of a cactus that looks like a rose, along with the word ko’ (Apache for fire), embody his pride in his tribe and commitment to keeping its spirit alive. All of this became clear as we stood in his yard, talking to him for at least half an hour, with Maggie and me occasionally leaving for a few minutes at a time to play with his four year old sister.

It would be impossible to capture everything he said to us in this blog post, or anywhere other than that place in that moment. Never in my life have I encountered a teenager with so much wisdom and heart. He opened up to us about the tragedies which transpire on the reservation and his own struggle to overcome depression. He also shared his sadness about the declining value in which his generation holds Apache traditions. At one point, he cleared a space in the dirt and compared it to the Apache mind before the beginning of colonization. And then, he kicked in the pebbles and rocks to represent the confusion brought on by the arrival of European invaders. It is his goal to restore at least some of the former clarity, although doing this is easier said than done.

One of the last things that he said to us circled back to the shirts he designed and the importance of ko’ – fire. He said that when you look into a fire you made with wood you gathered yourself, you can hear it talking to you, and you can talk back to it. This piece of wisdom seemed to exemplify the Apache connection to the land and its spiritual power, as well as his amazing sense of nature, spirit, and self. As I reflect on everything he said, I am realizing that there is so much wisdom left for me to draw from his words, so much I have only just begun to comprehend.

 

Today was incredibly impactful for all three of us but we still are processing a lot of what the day meant for us. We are sure much more insight on this day in particular will come later.  

Day 2: Window Rock, Chinle, and Canyon de Chelly

Unfortunately, Jane has been suffering from altitude sickness (or a stomach bug) today, making her extremely sick for most of the day. The day was spent mostly driving – first from Albuquerque to Chinle, and then from Chinle to Whiteriver. On our way to Chinle, we stopped at Window Rock, the capital of the Navajo Nation, where we witnessed the titular geological marvel that resids adjacent to the governmental buildings. In Chinle, we visited the multiple sites at the Canyon de Chelly, a historic Navajo site. Tonight, we are spending the night with gracious hosts from the Johns Hopkins Center for Native Health by Whiteriver, AZ, the largest town on the White Mountain Apache Reservation. Jane was extremely resilient over all 400 miles travelled today, but her sickness means her input will be missing from today’s post.

Maggie on “Indian Gift Shops”:

On our drive to Chinle from Albuquerque, we quickly left behind the populous areas of the city to find a vast, empty, and varied landscape. Rock formations sprinkled among the sagebrush starkly contrasted the highway plowing directly through this nature; we were officially on the Navajo Reservation. Though it was sometimes hard to distinguish the reservations from outside lands, kitschy “Indian Gift Shops” line the highway as a clear reservation indicator. Filled with Route 66 Memorabilia, the main focus of most roadside shops was Native imagery and exploitation. Obviously aimed towards white tourists, the shop featured terrifying dolls of romanticized native children, fake moccasins, and appropriated dream catchers adorned with screen printed US flags. While some pieces in the shop were authentic, most were highly commercialized Anglo perceptions of Native culture and Native Americans themselves. The murals and trinkets featured traditions from tribes and cultures that do not exist within a thousand miles of the Navajo reservation. This ignorant ideology of Native Americans completely disregards the actual experiences, practices, cultures, and lives of Native citizens living a few miles from these shops. These shops exemplified the objectification of Native people perpetuated by White Americans, through which actuals humans are devalued and simplified into dolls and things to observe as if in a zoo or museum.

Gwyneth on Canyon de Chelly:

From the moment I first saw Canyon de Chelly, I once again found myself speechless before the extraordinary natural beauty of the southwest. Located deep in the land of the Navajo, the canyon has long been an important part of the tribe’s history. Although they were difficult to make out, we saw several homes deep within the canyon. I can only imagine what it would be like to live there, almost completely isolated from other humans but quite literally enveloped by the wonders of the natural world. The spiritual energy of the place was intense. Standing high up and looking down into the canyon, I could see the Navajo creation myth, in which the first man and woman traveled through three other worlds before reaching this one, brought to life. It was as if a giant hole had been dug in this world – the fourth world – revealing a glimpse of the third world underneath. As I reflect upon my experience at the canyon, I am beginning to see the clear connection between the land and the traditional spirituality of the Navajo people.

 

Closing thoughts:

Something spiritual can be witnessed in the seemingly eternal landscape of the Southwest, especially at night. With our car hurdling into the darkness on an isolated backroad in Arizona, it was unclear where the land ended and sky began. As a sea of darkness enveloped our car and its beaming headlights, there was a beautiful and terrifying sense of being alone in a giant world.

The High Road (day one)

Overview of Day 1: Our day started in Santa Fe, New Mexico, an hour drive from our hotel in Albuquerque. Santa Fe is the capital of New Mexico and has large influences from both the Native American and Hispanic communities. Its buildings are modeled after the traditional adobe structures. This quintessential southwest look makes Santa Fe visually appealing while the arts and culture make it a key destination for many. Following our visit to Santa Fe, we made our way up through the secluded city, Taos, towards our first experience of Native American life on a reservation called Taos Pueblos. Taos Pueblos is a Native American reservation that has a unique and authentic look with it’s adobe structures. The community, in order to turn profits, charges visitors a small fee to walk around a certain part of the reservation and see these unique houses and get a glimpse into native life. After Taos Pueblos, we made our way down the scenic highway called “turquoise trail” or “the high road.”  This drive, for all three of us, was one of the most beautiful and powerful experiences with the natural world. It was full of history, spirituality, and miracles of nature that amazed us all.

 

Maggie’s reflection on Santa Fe:

We arrived in Santa Fe this morning at around 10, an hour and a half drive from Albuquerque (where we were staying). As soon as you enter the outskirts of the city, the designs of the houses transition into faux pueblo-style houses, modeled after the traditional adobe buildings of the Pueblo people. The area is populated by many white, wealthy artists and celebrities, looking for a remote escape from stardom. After arriving, we parked (for free!) and walked into the center marketplace, where Native street vendors were selling their handiwork. Dozens of extremely wealthy galleries lined the streets of the small city, while Native vendors, some travelling over five hours to arrive at the market, sold their jewelry and other products on the sidewalk of one block of the center market. There was something unsettling about the jewelers sitting in the cold, eagerly selling their art for $10 to $50, while wealthy gallery owners profited from the white fascination and appropriation of Native culture mere yards away.

Each vendor was willing to share their story with extreme authenticity and an eagerness to connect with us as individuals. Though conversations usually started with a simple, “Where are you from?” (always followed with a mandatory “Go Birds!”), they quickly escalated to life stories and family history. The kindness shown to us, tourists with cameras hanging around our necks, was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced living on the East Coast – though I soon learned it was the norm in this area. The face-to-face contact with people from Hopi, Navajo, Zuni, Santo Domingo, Taos, and many other tribes differentiated the marketplace sales from galleries that sell Native work for thousands of dollars, without recognition of the Native people who made it.

Though Santa Fe’s beauty and personality appealed to us visually, its underlying messages to its Native inhabitants revealed a darker truth. The community’s existence – in terms of profit, style, and population – relies on the exploitation of Native people. This first stop of our day gave critical context for the reservations and missions that would been seen later in the day.

 

Jane’s reflection on Taos Pueblos:

Taos Pueblos is truly a beautiful sight to see. As shown in the photo above, its stacked style of adobe houses is unlike anything you’ve seen before, and they are positioned in beautiful mountains that take your breath away. While a lot of the population lives away from these unique structures in more modern buildings, the traditional adobe pueblos still hold the homes and stores of many natives. The community of Taos Pueblo, in order to generate income, charges a small amount of money to people wanting to visit this unique area. We, like so many other visitors, upon arrival took out our cameras and started shooting. The colourful doors, the unique clay structure, the dusty landscape, and the beautiful mountains all had to be captured on film.

After 10 minutes of photo taking, I took my eye away from the lens to look at what I was so eager to take a photo of. I was suddenly very uncomfortable with every click of the camera. We were taking photos of people’s lives as if they were a play or mural. It was as if we were in a museum, learning about a distant civilization. I wasn’t connecting as a human being but as one species studying another species. I put my camera away and leaned into that uncomfortableness. The truth behind it is that this community had come to an agreement on using their unique landscape as a place to earn money. This system provides jobs and was an intentional choice by the people. The disconnect comes from our approach; when I use the camera instead of my eyes we sometimes lose that ability to connect with others. In some cases, a photo preserves something, but not if it hasn’t been experienced without looking through the camera lens than that moment is not a connection, a relationship, or a moment but rather just the sound of the click and a cool photo to wave around.

 

Gwyneth’s reflection on The High Road:

At one point as we drove along the turquoise trail, Ed (our guide) told us that the next 50 miles would change our lives. For me, this was absolutely true. The whole experience was unlike anything I have ever encountered and it will be impossible to do it justice in writing. To begin with, the scenery was magical. The road wound through the sprawling mountains, which dominate the landscape. Way up there, looking out the car window down at the valley below, I felt tiny among the astounding vastness of the New Mexico wilderness. But at the same time as I felt completely out of my element and intimidated by the rugged terrain, I also found myself strangely comforted. There is no way to look at beauty like that and not feel blessed to be alive to experience it. Although I am not a particularly religious person, I have no doubt that there is something spiritual about those mountains.

This spiritual element was made manifest by the various mission churches we saw along the trail. All of them were built in the simple and humble style of Spanish colonial architecture. Perhaps even more than the churches, the tiny towns we drove through demonstrated the strong spirituality of the people there – a mix of hispanics, natives, and some caucasians. Murals and graffiti on the sides of buildings show images of Jesus and the Virgin Mary. Colorful graveyards, their thin white crosses decorated with rosaries and fake flowers, sit on the edges of the towns. The mountains are filled with a strong and vibrant spirituality.

By far the most powerful spot we visited was Chimayo, a well-known Catholic pilgrimage site. In one part of the town, seven large stone crosses stand, each adorned with numerous smaller crosses placed there by visitors. Even more small crosses, many containing prayers and images of the Virgin Mary, hang along a fence surrounding this area. Several small shrines stand nearby, where people have hung rosaries and placed candles. Up a hill from this spot, we came across a small church , El Santuario de Chimayo, which was open to visitors. We were not able to take pictures of the interior, and it is difficult to put into words the power it conveyed. In the traditional Latin American style, the religious art conveyed a sense of vibrancy and joy at the same time as it was solemn and thought-provoking. I could have sat inside that little church all day, just taking in the imagery.

A Glimpse into the Native American Narrative (prologue)

Hello, blog-readers! Our names are Gwyneth, Maggie, and Jane, and we’re here to talk about our upcoming Senior Project visiting the Navajo and White Mountain Apache Native American reservations in New Mexico and Arizona. Along with those two reservations, we will also be visiting other sites, such as Taos Pueblos, Santa Fe, Chinle, and the Canyon De Chelley. Our guide and mentor is Ed Cunicelli, a freelance photographer and parent of a recent alum. Ed’s photography for Johns Hopkins Center for Native American Health has taken him to these areas many times before, allowing him to have established strong connections and relationships on the reservations. One of us will be posting to this blog daily about our experiences, and hopefully will be able to attach some photos in order to further illustrate our day-to-day activities.

We are super excited to head off this Saturday to start our adventure. This idea has been long in the making; ever since we had the opportunity to see Ed’s photos from his Westtown assembly this fall, we have been captivated by the idea of getting a glimpse into an often neglected, but fundamental narrative in our country’s history. In order to prepare for our trip and to start understanding the community and culture we are about to witness, we have been reading two books about the Apache and Navajo experience: Navajos Wear Nikes by Jim Kristofic and Don’t Let the Sun Step Over You by Eva Tulene Watt and assisted by Keith H. Basso. Both books take different perspective that have helped us understand the people and the history. In addition to the books, we have been researching the history and context of these places and people. It is important that you, as our readers understand this narrative as well, so that your reading of our posts will be grounded in some historical context. We have laid out a summary for both the Navajo and the White Mountain Apache people to start:

The Navajo:

The Navajo, who call themselves Diné (meaning “the people”), constitute the largest reservation-based Native American tribe in the United States. Their reservation spans 25,000 square miles in the four corners region of the American southwest. They arrived in the southwest around the year 1050 CE after splitting off from the Athabascan people and migrating southwards from Canada. Influenced by the Pueblo farmers already settled in this area, the Navajo hunter-gatherers adopted an increasingly agriculture-based lifestyle. This process was accelerated by the arrival of the Spanish, who introduced horses and livestock to the Navajo, in the 16th and 17th centuries.

As was the case with all Native American peoples, the arrival of Europeans subjected the Navajo to substantial hardship. Initial conflicts with the Spanish eventually gave way to new conflicts with white American settlers. In response to the so-called “Navajo problem”, the US Army employed tactics such as destroying of Navajo crops and burning down their villages in order to force them into a concentration camp in New Mexico known as Bosque Redondo. Those who refused to surrender were driven into the mountains to freeze or starve. In 1864, the survivors gave in and were made to embark on what is known as the “Long Walk of the Navajo” – a 370 mile journey to the camp made entirely on foot. Hundreds perished during the journey and as a result of the inhumane conditions at the camp.This period of internment was brought to an end in 1866, when the Bureau of Indian Affairs assumed responsibility for managing the Navajo and the US government created the Navajo reservation out of a small portion of the tribe’s original territory.

Since 1969, the Navajo land has been known as “the Navajo Nation” as the result of a resolution passed by the Navajo Tribal Council. The structure of the Tribal Council was reorganized in 1989 and today the government of the Navajo Nation is based on a system of checks and balances between its executive, judicial, and legislative branches.

The Navajo religion places a large role in tribal life, with even the large population of Navajos who identify as Christians continuing to engage in traditional spiritual practices. The Navajo believe that the universe is inhabited by two types of people: human beings and and Holy People, who inflict disease and disaster in response to human transgressions. Central to Navajo spirituality is the concept of hózhó, which encompasses “beauty, harmony, balance, health, goodness, etc”. Numerous different ceremonies are performed for the purpose of preserving and restoring hózhó, each of which involves its own set of chants. A specific sand painting, of which about 1,200 varieties exist in total, goes along with every chant.

Although it is impossible to make accurate generalizations about an entire people, the Navajo do have some common values and tendencies in the ways they interact and form interpersonal relationships. These will be particularly important for us to keep in mind as attempt to communicate with them in the most respectful and culturally appropriate way possible. The Navajo tend to approach things carefully and at a slow pace, listening quietly to others, speaking slowly and thoughtfully, and taking the time to fully consider an issue before making a decision. Traditionally, the tribe has been governed by consensus rather than majority rule, although this tends not to be the case today.The Navajo also strongly value generosity, as well as reciprocity in both the good and the bad done to them by others.

Unfortunately, the Navajo today suffer from a disproportionate amount of problems compared to the general US population. Like most Native Americans, the Navajo continue to be afflicted by unemployment, poverty, alcoholism, and drug abuse. Suicide and child abuse are also particularly pressing issues among the Navajo. Furthermore, significant tensions exist between more traditional members of the tribe and those who favor modernization. Finally, the environmental damage done by oil drilling, mining, and overgrazing have jeopardized much of the Navajo lands. (“Navajo”)

White Mountain Apache:

The White Mountain Apache are with whom we’ll be spending most of our time on this trip. Apache, meaning ‘enemy’ in the Zuni Pueblo language, are Native people who settled in the South West in 1400 BCE. Apache people were generally nomadic due to the aridity of the soil surrounding the Grand Canyon and beyond. The White Mountain Apache Tribe is one of 12 Apache bands, each politically independent yet culturally and linguistically connected. Historically, the Apache were separated into six extended families, or gotas, that lived, hunted, and farmed together. Each gota was created matrilineally, and was led by a headman. Women were politically important to intertribal harmony, through men were always the headmen and leaders. Due to the severe climate of the desert, Apache were known for their resilience and raiding of Hopi and Pueblo tribes for material goods. After the Spanish attempted to invade their tribal lands in 1599, the Apache obtained horses and other livestock from Spanish raids, strengthening their mobility and nation’s power. The Spanish were cruel to the Apache, forcing tribe members, even Christian converts, into slavery. The Apache were able to resist such oppression through continual raids and stealing of horses, and often Spanish colonists left Apache regions out of fear.

The relationship between American colonists and White Mountain Apache began as an alliance against the Chiricahua Apache. After their victory, however, the White Mountain people quickly became subjugated by the American colonists who had established a fort on their land. This fort then played a role in the lengthy wars between the American colonists and Native American tribes. The White Mountain Apache continue to reside on these traditional lands, a portion of their 1.6 million acres on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation. The Fort Apache Indian Reservation was established by an Executive Order in 1891; its placement on traditional lands is reported to have been as reward for the service of White Mountain Apache guides to the American army. As is true for the Navajo people, the White Mountain Apache have been and continue to be maltreated by white Americans, stripping the community of most of their land, and attempting to eradicate their language and culture.

Though the White Mountain Apache were once nomadic, they have become sentiary since the invasion of white Americans on their land. The tribe was never displaced as other indigenous people were; it remains on the same lands that it has always lived on. The importance of traditional lands can be best understood in the recognition that the, “White Mountain Apache culture emphasizes the infusion of the physical world with mental and spiritual dimensions,” (Long 2003).  Apache language demonstrates the inseparability of the two: the root word ni’ can refer to either “mind” or “land” (Bray 1999).  The White Mountain Apache Tribe’s first creation story explains that water is the breath of the earth – it is alive and sacred. The mythological importance of water persists in Apache culture today through their upholding of bodies of water on their land. Environmental concerns are especially important to the White Mountain Apache, due to their understanding of the interactions between the interior and exterior world.

Ultimately, our primary goal for this trip is to remain respectful towards Native people often appropriated in White American culture. We are cognizant of the danger of becoming “white saviors” in areas of different racial backgrounds, therefore it is of utmost importance that we, as outsiders, do not disrupt or disturb the way of life that is so unique to that area. With that being said, we hope that with our awareness of these issues, we will be able to observe and attempt to understand this crucial part of American History and how our current political climate and social structures impact the life of native people.

It is with great excitement that we are able to share our experiences with you through this blog! Iit will both serve you, as the reader, and allow us, as the writers, to process and share  the possibly weighty experiences we will have throughout the week.

Jane Abbott, Maggie Lind, and Gwyneth Turner

P.S. We understand this post is quite lengthy. We hope to keep our others shorter but we believe the history is an important part of our project and hope to illustrate that for you in this first post.