Keepers of Indigenous Tradition
Unlike most Indigenous Peoples of the Americas, many Native American tribes located in the Southwest have retained their ancestral homelands, their sovereign governance, and their traditional culture and art forms. How did this happen?
BY ROSEMARY DIAZ and DANIEL GIBSON
A poem by RoseMary Diaz, Guest Editor
In the early ‘70s, I lived at Kha Po’o Owingeh* with my grandparents.
I sometimes stayed with my great-grandmother, Gia Kwijo,
She taught me to make small pots and figurines
and we sold them to the tourists.
When we worked with the clay
it would dry on my hands. When I peeled it off
there were small, white patches where it had bleached my skin.
After a few minutes my darker colored flesh returned: It was the clay
that showed me who I really was.
Years have passed since Gia Kwijo died.
Yet I still remember the strength of her hands
as she taught me to shape the clay.
I sometimes wonder about those small pots and figurines:
Who bought them? Where are they now?
Sometimes I see Gia Kwijo’s reflection in the pots she made
that now sit on my grandparents’ mantel.
It reminds me that like all the women in my family,
and all things at Kha Po’o Owingeh,
I too am made of clay.
*Kha Po’o Owingeh is the original Tewa name for Santa Clara Pueblo; it translates to “village of singing water.”
by ROSEMARY DIAZ
New Mexico’s high desert, where I have lived for most of my life, is home to 23 federally recognized Native American tribes, and thousands of Native artisans whose traditions and livelihoods are directly tied to this ancient landscape and its gifts. These Indigenous cultures have preserved many of their traditional lifeways largely because—unlike many other Indigenous Peoples of the Americas—the tribes here have been able to retain their ancestral homelands and their sovereign governance through the ages. This continuity (explained in the essay that follows mine) has enabled our traditional art forms not only to survive, but also to evolve into more contemporary expressions of the Native vision.
We have purposely timed this Fall 2022 issue of Craftsmanship Magazine, which I started working on more than a year ago, to coincide with several topical moments for Indigenous communities in the Southwest: Apart from the fact that November is now Native American Heritage Month (a designation that, for some, carries a painfully ironic message), this year marks both the 60th anniversary of Santa Fe’s Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) and the recent centennial of the Santa Fe Indian Market. These milestones have led me to reflect on some of the places and people that not only helped develop this region, Santa Fe in particular, into the global epicenter for Native art that it is today, but also helped me find my own creative path here, in the homeland of my ancestors.
My own maternal family legacy (from the Tewa tribe of Pueblo Indians) was shaped by generations of Santa Clara Pueblo matriarchs, whose clay work has carried our Indigenous identity for centuries. As expressed in my poem, “Subsistence,” above, clay holds the very essence of who we are in my family. From the time I was a little girl, I accompanied my grandmother and great-grandmother as they gathered raw clay from the hillsides that surround the Pueblo. I made pottery beside them throughout my childhood in the 70s, although my own artistic calling would take another form. In the early ’80s, I studied creative writing at IAIA, and like thousands of Native artists who have studied there (including some that are featured in this issue), the experience encouraged me to sing my own art-song, in my own voice and in my own key.
The Indian Market, too, looms large in my memories. My family has been exhibiting their coil-made Pueblo pottery at the Indian Market since its inception 100 years ago, beginning with my mother’s great-aunt in 1922 and continuing with my cousins to this day. My own participation in the Market has spanned nearly half a century, from hanging around my grandmother’s booth as a child, while she talked pottery with art collectors from around the world, to entering my photography in competitions and modeling in the Native fashion shows as a young adult; and, finally, to incorporating this annual event, which also serves as a joyful reunion of friends and relatives, into my writing career today.
My personal connections to this issue are many: My longtime colleague and friend, Dan Gibson, wrote both the historical overview that follows here and a forthcoming feature about some of the most iconic and enduring craft traditions of the Pueblos. Photographer Kitty Leaken, who shot Dan’s story on Pueblo artisans, as well as a gorgeous photo essay that provides a rare, intimate glimpse into the daily lives of a family of Hopi artisans, is also a friend and frequent collaborator. Other short features in the works include a look how the contemporary Native Food Sovereignty movement intersects with recovery from substance abuse disorder, as seen through the eyes of an up-and-coming Native chef. We’ll also be presenting a new audio version of Craftsmanship’s 2015 profile of master potter Felipe Ortega (part Jicarilla Apache), which was narrated by actor, filmmaker, and activist Jill Momaday (Kiowa). Most of these stories are not the kind that are generally available to mainstream journalists. They were only made possible through years, and in some cases decades, of relationship-building between Native communities and local writers.
As hard-won as this collection of stories is, it illuminates only a sliver of the abundant and diverse Native American craftsmanship found here in the Southwest. But it is the magazine’s effort to make a start; it is also my best effort to honor both the artisans and the art forms that sustain Indigenous creativity and empower our living traditions. As Native artists, it is important to us that we always remember the traditions of our people and the gifts of the Earth as we walk toward the future—not in the shadows of our ancestors, but beside them. My grandmother taught me to look for clues in the desert landscape that would reveal deposits of the rich, mineral-dense earth from which the women of my family have sculpted their livelihoods. In doing so, I also learned to listen for Clay Lady’s voice, emanating from the land itself: Here I am, my children. I offer you this sacred earth. Accept my gift, and use it to make a good life.
Northern New Mexico, especially Santa Fe, has long been the center for Native American arts in the U.S., and the world, thanks to a handful of historical quirks
By DANIEL GIBSON
Sitting directly north of central Mexico, midway between the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, the land that now forms my home state of New Mexico has long been a crossroads of trade routes and cultural exchange. Signs of human activity here go back some 14,000 years, to an era when much of North America still lay under ice sheets thousands of feet thick. In ancient sites such as Chaco Canyon, for example, clay vessels have been found containing chocolate, parrot and macaw feathers from Central America, as well as seashells from both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Outside the region, in the Great Plains and in Northern Mexico, spear points, knives, scrapers, and other tools have turned up that were made from the glass-like obsidian of the Jemez Mountains near Santa Fe. Thousands of miles farther away, archaeologists have found necklaces and bracelets made of tiny, turquoise heishi—the flat, disc-like beads produced at what is now Kewa Pueblo on the Rio Grande, from sources in the nearby Ortiz Mountains. The Indigenous Peoples of Northern New Mexico were first called “Pueblo Indians” by the Spanish explorers of the 16th century because they lived in fixed, multi-story, adobe structures (in Spanish, pueblo means “village”). In the late 1500s, those Spanish colonizers held a conference in Cuba where they famously debated whether Indians had souls. After their academics, religious leaders, philosophers, and others spent weeks presenting arguments pro and con, they eventually determined that, yes, the Indians did have souls. And therefore, the colonizers reasoned, the Indians could be “saved” from eternal damnation by conversion to Catholicism. But, as the argument went, “You can’t convert a dead Indian,” so the king of Spain issued an edict that said henceforth, the Indians of the Americas were not to be killed or enslaved by the Spanish, but instead protected from the worst abuses of settlers and political leaders. Meanwhile, Franciscan missionary priests—dispatched by the thousands to the New World—worked on bringing the Indians into the “one true faith.”
This policy led the Spanish Crown to issue formal land titles to the Pueblo Indian tribes and communities that had already been living here for generations. While it may be difficult to see this as a “benevolent” act today, remember that elsewhere in the U.S. and its territories, the Dutch, English, Portuguese, and, to a lesser extent, the French, labeled the Native Americans wild animals, fit only to be cleared away so the land could be made ready for their “civilized” occupation.
Amazingly, when Mexico broke from Spain in 1821, the Mexican courts recognized the validity of the Pueblo Peoples’ land titles; so did the U.S. federal courts, following New Mexico’s annexation as a U.S. Territory in 1848. Thus, the 19 Pueblo communities that are still standing today were never abandoned, nor were the land’s inhabitants uprooted and forced to live elsewhere—a process that destroyed the many other Indigenous cultures in the Americas (at least those that survived the first colonial onslaught of European diseases and genocide).
The primary trade route to Mexico City from Santa Fe stretched some 1,600 miles across a portion of the Chihuahua Desert and the Apache territories. No wonder, then, that few goods were imported before the arrival of the steam train. As a result, the Spanish colonizers depended on the Pueblo Indians for survival, a relationship of necessity that gave the Indians a market for their handmade goods. In 1880, the arrival of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway brought the first major influx of affordable manufactured goods—everything from blankets and copper kettles to sewing needles, shoes, window frames, and window glass.
The railroad understandably brought an end to many local manufacturing trades, and the age-old skills and practices that went with them. For Pueblo artisans, however, the railroad also brought the region’s first wave of tourists, and a whole new market for their pottery, jewelry, and other fine arts and crafts. Many Native artisans soon set up displays at train stations. Before long, Northern New Mexico—Santa Fe and Taos in particular—would evolve into world-renowned cultural destinations.
It wasn’t long before Santa Fe’s more astute social leaders from the Progressive Era began to capitalize on the region’s new revenue stream. One of the more prominent of those leaders was Edgar Lee Hewett, an educational administrator who became so fascinated with the Southwest’s ancient history that he traveled to Switzerland, obtaining a doctorate in archaeology so he could study it further. When he returned to Santa Fe, he led the first systematic excavations of a site that would later become Bandelier National Monument. After pulling out large quantities of artifacts, he convinced the Territorial legislature to turn over the abandoned former capitol building (today’s Palace of the Governors) to display these works, launching, in 1909, the acclaimed Museum of New Mexico system.
The Southwest’s tourism boom included artists who arrived in substantial numbers during the summers to paint, and then took their works back to New York City, Boston, and other eastern seaboard cities to be displayed and sold. Realizing these paintings were priceless calling cards for the region, Hewett began to provide free studio space for artists within the Palace of the Governors, and to display their work. He then went back to the legislature and secured funding for The Museum of Fine Arts, today’s New Mexico Museum of Art, which opened on the Santa Fe Plaza in 1917 to great acclaim.
Meanwhile, Hewett was also building the School of American Archaeology in Santa Fe, which played a major role in developing scholarly appreciation for—and protection of—Native American history and arts. Now called the School for Advanced Research, the institution continues to foster a variety of programs that promote and develop Native arts and artists. In 1922, Hewett also partnered with artist and museum curator Kenneth Chapman to launch a Native arts exhibition that would evolve into the annual Santa Fe Indian Market, now the largest Indigenous arts festival in the world.
Despite Hewett’s best efforts, over the following decades the predominant philosophy guiding education of Native Americans in the U.S. was “assimilation”—a euphemism summed up by Captain Richard Henry Pratt (founder of the notorious Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania) who infamously said, “Kill the Indian and Save the Man.” The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs finally made a stab at reversing this philosophy in 1962, at least in the Southwest. With funding from the Rockefeller Foundation and the federal government, the bureau launched an experimental college preparatory school in Santa Fe, focusing on the arts for Native students, and called it the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA).
Under its visionary founding director, Lloyd Kiva New (Cherokee), IAIA encouraged Native students to look back on their rich histories, identify artistic motifs and design elements, and then interpret them in a contemporary fashion. The school attracted Native American students from across the country. With its vast resources, faculty guidance from some of the finest Native artists then working—such as sculptor Allan Houser (Chiricahua Apache), painter Fritz Scholder (Luiseno) and jeweler Charles Loloma (Hopi), as well as talented students such as T.C. Cannon (Kiowa/Caddo), Kevin Red Star (Crow), Dan Namingha (Hopi/Tewa) and Linda Lomahaftewa (Hopi/Choctaw)—IAIA soon exploded with creative energy and talent.
With a population today of 87,505, Santa Fe is still a relatively small city, yet it consistently ranks among the top cities in the world for art and culture, vying with even Paris and New York. The sheer number of galleries, museums, festivals, and other art venues has encouraged Native American art and artists, drawing art collectors and wealthy patrons from around the globe. The city is also graced with its own opera house and a thriving literary arts scene. The Southwest’s austere landscape—high mountain peaks and stony mesas standing watch over lowland deserts and the Rio Grande canyon—regularly attracts outdoor enthusiasts and spiritual seekers, drawn by the area’s reputation as a land of ancient and mystical powers. No wonder the Southwest, often called the “Land of Enchantment,” has inspired so much Indigenous creativity for so long.