American Indian Performance Studies
The performance details have been finalized. Our on-campus show will be Wednesday night May 6 at 10 p.m. in the ARC building. Bring blankets or a cushion to sit on since seating will be on the floor. There is so much going on as we finish up the year that this was the only time without a conflict to do the performance. The show is an ACE Event.
We have worked hard to bring you an entertaining and fun event that also has a few educational moments sprinkled in. This is a great way to wrap up our adventure, so please come join us.
It is now the evening of our first full day back on campus, and to say that I am a little tired would would not be an exaggeration. It is a good tired though, the kind you feel after you have a accomplished good work.
I am so gratified by what our students have already learned and how they have spoken and written about their experiences. It seems as if their horizons have broadened, their humanity has increased, and their curiosity to know has expanded. I am humbled to have been part of this moment in the educating process of these people.
It is true that the broader community (students, staff, faculty, administration, alumni and friends) of Culver-Stockton College should take pride in what we have to offer. While many colleges offer American Indian Studies, only a small number offer courses on Native Theatre and Performance. This study is only one of C-SC's many uniquenesses.
The founders of Culver-Stockton may have unwittingly borrowed from the wisdom of the Pueblo builders. They established this place of learning on a hill overlooking the river and countryside at its feet. This vantage point gives us a place from which to look out in all directions and see the world around us. EXP@CSC has expanded our vantage point and allowed us to launch ourselves into that world and experience what is has to offer us in all of its variety.
Now that we have been out and experienced, the next phase of our work has begun. We have returned to the hill and must reflect on our experience, process what we have witnessed, apply what we have learned, and make ready to share it with others. To this end, rehearsals for our final presentation have begun.
This morning we selected the stories we will perform and this afternoon we began practicing dancing. As a group of scholars we have a story to tell and we are working to make it a strong story. You are all invited to come and share our story. We will post the time and place here on the blog once the final arrangements are made. I hope to see you there Friend.
Sarah Jo Breyne
Well, the trip is almost officially over. We are just waiting for the bus to leave now. It's been an amazing journey with tons of information. I'm very happy that I was able to be a part of this trip, and I hope that in the future the Native American class will be offered again. I would even love it if they offered more classes of this nature. I am proud to say that Culver-Stockton College is one of six different schools in the nation that has an actual study of Native Americans. I mean SIX schools and OUR program is with them! Can you imagine how amazing that is! And with that I will leave with one final quote from Daniel Coffman to Prof. Miller.
"You can't super glue yourself a fetish!"
Thanks for this opportunity Culver. It's something that I will remember for the rest of my life.
Wow, I can't believe my New Mexico adventure is coming to an end. I sit here, and it is almost one in the morning. My mind is racing though. I can't even explain all the amazing experiences I have had over the past week.
So, the past couple of days have been equally as busy as the previous ones. Yesterday we went to Santa Fe for the day. We went up to "Museum Hill" and visited two different Native American museums. After, that, we spent a few hours in Old Town Santa Fe. The atmosphere of this town is nothing short of amazing. The streets are beautiful. The buildings are old. Art galleries line the streets, and vendors display their artwork all around. It is just a really comfortable place to be.
After that, we went to meet two Native American playwrights. Bruce King and Terry Gomez joined us for dinner and discussed the plays we had read. It really gave me a whole new perspective on their writing, lifestyle, and points of view. It means a lot that they were willing to sit down and discuss their work with us. After a long day, we returned to the hotel for a relaxing swim. Everyone was in a great mood, and we just felt refreshed after an amazing conversation.
Today, we traveled three hours up to Chaco Canyon. The ride there was a little bumpy to say the least, as we traveled down dirt roads, crossed dried-up creek beds, and dodged wandering cattle. The trip was well worth it as we entered the park. I can best compare Chaco Canyon to Rome. I went to Rome three summers ago. There I visited he ruins and the Colosseum. Chaco Cayon was much like this. We walked through the ruins of Pueblo Bonito and explored the kivas of the different pueblos. A kiva looks like a small version of the Colosseum. It was a gorgeous morning, and we picnicked amongst the wildlife again. Rabbits, lizards, prairie dogs, and chipmunks were all visible as we walked the trails in the canyon.
This evening we went to a Brazilian restaurant for dinner. Boy, am I stuffed now! The food was amazing and the atmosphere was so fun! We had a great time at our last meal together.
So now, as I look back on this phenomenal trip, I see all the new experiences I have had. I feel so proud. I had been wanting to save all my EXP money for a big study abroad trip my senior year, but I am so glad I didn't. This trip has just shown me how much our country has to offer that we don't even realize. I probably would have never experienced any of this. I really didn't even know these amazing pueblos existed. I am constantly amazed at the new things you learn everyday. I am so thankful for this experience, and I hope to return to "The Land of Enchantment" someday. I look forward to getting back to school Wednesday to share my experiences with everyone, but a little piece of me would love to stay here. I guess, though, all good things must come to an end...so, I am going to head to bed. In the morning we'll board the train (for another long ride) and say farewell to New Mexico.
Here it is: my last blog before the group of us and myself -- along with the lovely people from the Digital Photography class that met us back here in our hotel in Albuquerque after their own trip -- head off into the day to board the train away from New Mexico and all of its glory. I know it may sound a bit overly dramatic -- and Iím okay with that, after all, I am a theatre major. Iím just going to say that when I board that train tomorrow, that I am leaving my heart in New Mexico. I have experienced so much the past week, so much in fact, that I still canít process what it is that I have done in the past few days. All my mind keeps screaming at me is that there is so much that needs to be done, needs to be said, and needs to be discussed about Native people and their culture; and this is something that I feel deeply about.
Now, if youíve read my last blog (itís okay if you havenít -- weíve had A LOT of blogs in the past couple of days, all of which paint an amazing picture of just how much we have experienced), you might have noticed my slight anger at my past education, the one in which I thought I knew all about what Native culture and its people were about. If you know me, you know that this is not exactly out of character. I hate ignorance and try my best not to be, especially about something that serves as an injustice to humanity. As quickly as I learn about it, I want to stand up and scream and tell everyone itís wrong and lead a crusade against it. This situation about people and their naivete about Native culture is no different. I am outraged after going through some of the pueblos and witnessing the poverty of some first-hand, I am outraged after hearing some of the stories my professors have told me about the school systems on reservations, and I want to do something about it. I shared my views with Jeff, my professor, and he had this to say. He told me (this is not verbatim by any means, Iím paraphrasing but Iím still going to quote a thought that wasnít my own):
ďWhitney, thatís good. We need people to see whatís going on, to talk about what isnít, and to get mad about it. So get angry and yell about it, throw yourself on the floor, make people pay attention. But after youíre done screaming and throwing a fit, stand up and do something about it, take a stand and take action. Do something about it.Ē
His words touched me in several ways but summed up what needs to be done. Anger is sometimes a necessary emotion, brought on by, what I believe, is passion. Right now, Iíve covered the anger and Iíve covered the indignation. Those emotions are more than prevalent in me. But now Iím trying to figure out what I can do to actually help. Iíve gone through several plans in my head and all of them donít work. I canít afford to go to Washington, D.C., right now and march on the front lawn of the White House; and I canít find anything on the internet that will make me rich enough fast enough to fund any philanthropy projects and/or any political campaigns that would aid the cause. So, Iím going to revert to actually learning and hopefully educating people that are as ignorant about Native culture as I was, and honestly, what I still probably am.
I believe in a better nation where tolerance and equality should be afforded to all; and, right now, it seems like our country has taken great strides forward in that. After all, Barrack Obama was just recently elected as the 44th president of the United States. But there is so much going undetected underneath our own noses, in our own backyards. So much of our roots come from our past, come from what these people -- these beautiful, caring, brilliant people -- and no one really knows about the injustices that are going on, that have gone on for hundreds of years, and will continue if our generation and the ones after us let this issue go unattended.
After we get back to Culver, our class will work on assembling a childrenís play about Native stories that depict various ways that world was created, and generally, just stories that are meant to be entertaining and catch an audienceís attention. I am hoping that along with the entertainment will come questions that people will begin asking -- questions that will spur actions that lead to answers and understanding about what is going on and what could happen if we just stand up and take notice.
I realize that these blogs are meant to tell people about our experiences and what we have learned and Iíve kind of gone on a tangent but that IS what I have learned on my trip, that ďa nation that forgets about its past has no futureĒ and that I cannot be go back to doing nothing after I have experienced the culture and the loving hospitality of so many on this trip.
So if you see me on the sidewalks on campus, or in the caf, or in the PAC (where I tend to live), come talk to me about it, ask me about what happened -- ask any of us what has gone on the past week --weíll be more than happy to talk about it. And come see the show when it gets up and ready to go. Ask questions, get answers, and learn about what so many should know. And my last piece of advice is to say that if you ever get the opportunity to go on this trip whenever it is offered again, go without hesitation, experience it first-hand and try to come back without being changed in one way or another. That is my challenge. Expect. Experience. ExploreÖ I have, I am, I will forever be and that is what this class and this experience has taught me.
I leave you with my last thought and that is a thank you to many: to all the people that have met and performed for us, to those who have sacrificed their time for us, and to those who have taken time to educate those willing to learn, please take my thank youís to heart because I mean them.
And to Jeff Kellogg and Kent Miller- thank you thank you thank you for everything youíve done and organized for us, every second youíve taken to answer a question and teach us something that actually has some merit, and for putting up with us for so long and above all for sharing with us your passion for this subject. I can only hope to be in a similar position one day and can only hope to impact someone like you have me.
Thank you once again for reading and Iíll see you soonÖ only thirty-six hours or so until I see you all again!
I am glad that the EXP program was installed at Culver-Stockton. Without this program, I would not have been able to go on such an amazing trip to New Mexico. The one event that we did that really made this trip fantastic was the Gathering of Nations. I have never seen a group of people get together like that before in my life. It was a real treat to see some of their native dances and ritual clothing. I only wish that we could go back in September so that we could be a part of their day of fest. I cannot wait to get back to Culver-Stocton to share with them what we have learned.
What an incredible journey this has been! Having traveled to the Southwest before, I was a little curious about what I would be learning. But wow...I never expected to learn half of the amount of things that I did learn, and I can't believe it's almost over.
Today was quite a long day. We started off our journey this morning at 6:30. It was rather early, but we had a long drive ahead of us. We were headed out to Chaco Canyon, which is about 150 miles northwest of Albuquerque. We spent most of the van ride asleep, preparing ourselves for the experience to come. However, we didn't sleep long. The road to Chaco Canyon is quite bumpy; and no matter where we traveled on the dirt road, we seemed to hit every single bump possible. It was entertaining.
We finally arrived at the Chaco Cultural Center around 9:45. We were able to exit the van and go inside of the center, where we found some maps of the buildings, and got a chance to look at some more souvenirs. After a quick glance at the small museum they had, it was time to get back into the vans, and head to the main pueblo: Pueblo Bonito, which in Spanish means "Pretty (or beautiful) Town." The name described it perfectly. Even though it was nothing like it was about 1,000 years ago, the sheer beauty of the place was astounding. It literally took my breath away as I wandered through the rooms of Pueblo Bonito, and walked trails that the original indigenous people of America walked every day. The view was also something. Chaco Canyon is set, if you couldn't guess by the name, in a large canyon. Around the canyon floor are the pueblos, and the canyon walls seem to stretch all the way into the pure blue sky. It was gorgeous.
After a short stint at Pueblo Bonito, we were able to have a picnic lunch in the canyon, while having the beautiful scenery in the background. After that, we went into another pueblo, and also saw a giant kiva, which used to be the place of worship, and still is in some pueblos today.
After viewing the other pueblos, we drove the three hours back to our hotel in Albuquerque, where several of us took a dip in the pool to relax our muscles after a long day of hiking. Our dinner tonight, was definitely one of the highlights of the trip . It was at the Brazilian Restaurant called Tucano's. In this restaurant, there is a buffet of about every single side dish you could imagine. Then, there are people who walk around with 16 different kinds of meat, and they will cut it for you and give you a little at a time. Needless to say, after a few rounds, we all had to undo a belt buckle. A few students, including myself, even branched out a bit, eating a chicken heart, which is definitely not a part of our culture. It was definitely an experience.
Overall, I must say that I have absolutely loved my time in New Mexico. I've seen some things and have had some memories that I will never forget. I thank Culver-Stockton and the generous donors. Thank you for allowing me this experience. I'll never forget it for the rest of my life.
This is an entry from Daniel Coffman, the co-pilot of Mr. Kent Miller. We are bringing our trip to a near close, and I sit in the front of our van reminiscing about the past couple of days atop the mesas of New Mexico. When I arrived I thought "Oh my, What am I doing here?" The air was hot and dry. My pale skin made me the elephant in the room. Then as we embarked on our excursions I realized, there is a majesty about this place. It's in the air. Here there are no outsiders. There are things to discover. I have learned so much about Native culture. There are things happening in this country I had no idea existed. The Gathering of Nations was an unparalleled experience -- the dance the music, the people. I don't have that in my life. We as Midwesterners don't join hands and celebrate heritage in this way. I wish we did. The strength in their pride of ancestry and progression in truly beautiful. It's evident everywhere we go.
Apart from this educational and eye-opening experience, I have learned so much about traveling. I've done a great deal of traveling in my life ,but when in a group led by educators its very different. Something everyone should experience. Kent Miller and I have bonded over our navigation differences, and I have loved every minute. I hope every Culver Student will experience this once in their college career.
My experience with Native American Performance Study Class has been more than I can ever imagine. I have not only had the time of my life, but never realized how clouded and wrong my impressions of the Native American culture and idea of reservations/communities were until I came here. A textbook could never teach me as much or the same as what I have learned in this past week.
As we rode a train for 21 hours across the country, I realized how majestic and beautiful the rest of the United States was. Sometimes, I get so caught up in my life, I forget there is so much more out there than just the green grass and dogwood trees of Missouri. The landscape is beautiful in New Mexico. We have experienced so much as we visited the pueblo of Acoma which are located on a cliff 8,000 feet above sea level , went through cultural museums, experienced the largest pow-wow in our country (watching Native American dances/rituals that originated from the plains to the coast to even Canada and Alaska), visited other pueblos like the Santa Domingo and Santa Clara, and dined with famous Native Americans/people including one amazing potter who fed us traditional Native American food, Judy Tafoya, and visited with two Native American playwrights, Bruce King and Terry Gomez.
As I come back with a new perspective on the life and culture of Native Americans, I am proud to be part of this experience. Not only do I get excited when I can recognize symbols, pottery, dances, artifacts, stories , and which tribe they originate from, but I am excited to bring knowledge back to a place where TV, images, people, and textbooks fogged our minds regarding what contemporary Indian life and culture really is.
I am proud to be part of a study that is very unique to our college and has changed all of us on this trip. I feel like Culver-Stockton College and its community should be proud that we have this study within our college and promote it as it is a very prestigious study that very few, very elite colleges get to experience. I appreciate this opportunity because it has not only broadened my horizons and opened new windows for me, but it has allowed me to experience and learn things I would probably never been able to learn on my own.
Sarah Jo Breyne
Well, it's the end of another day! Today was actually pretty cool. We ended up touring two different museums. The first was quite large and had numerous different areas to explore. I think for many of the students on the trip, myself included, the exploration station, children's area, was perhaps the most fun! We got to read many stories of different tribes which actually helped with our research for our final project. And, come on, who doesn't want to be a kid again?!
The most exciting part of the day for me was meeting two American Indian playwrights Terry and Bruce. Terry's play that the class read was called "Inner Tribal" which related a story about Native American's struggles with today's temptations such as drinking, abuse, and disrespect to others and ultimately to one's self.
Bruce's play entitled "Warbonnet" was a piece that was focused around the character of Coyote (an ancient trickster in Indian lore). The idea for Bruce's play was these people coming to this bar and letting all of their burdens aside to move on to the next chapter of their spiritual life.
All of the us were allowed to have a question-and-answer time with the playwrights. Such questions were about their careers, the story itself and different groups that they knew about one specifically being AIM, the American Indian Movement. During the conversation, the playwrights opened up to allow us a more in-depth understanding of their writing.
Today has been fun! I can't wait until tomorrow because we are traveling to Chaco Canyon. Only bad part is that we are leaving at 6:30 a.m. -- our earliest departure time yet! And so with that... goodnight!
We arrived in Albuequrque on Wednesday the 22nd. The train ride was so cool. The scenery was so beautiful. We went from La Platta, Mo., through Kansas (for which, thank goodness, it was dark outside and we slept through it). When we woke up, we were in Colorodo. It was amazing to go to sleep in such a boring place as far as scenery goes and to wake up to an amazing sunrise with mountins as the background. When we got to Albuequrque, we just relaxed and got rested from the train ride.
On Thursday we went to Alcoma and saw the pueblo. The first thing we saw there was the cemetery, which has four levels of people buried in there. The Acoma women carried all the dirt from down below the mesa to the cemetary. The fourth layer is the last layer. The next thing we did was we went inside the church which is one of the mission churches. Gary, our tour guide, told us that there were about 400 people buried with in the walls and under the floor. The church was so beautiful. It houses the oldest confessional in the United States; and a lot of the art work is so old, but is also so amazing. They do not do anything to restore the art work. He told us the story of when the priest first showed up and that nobody wanted him there at all. He was down below and they were yelling at him and throwing rocks at him. A little girl leaned over the edge of the mesa, which is about 300 feet off the ground, and she fell. Everybody thought that she died because they couldn't see where she landed, and the priest picked her up and carried her to the top of the mesa. They saw the incident as a miracle and allowed the priest to stay. He lived there for 26 years.
We then started walking through the six different sections. The first section I think he said is the newest, and it was built in I think the 1920s or '30s. As we walked, we saw that the streets were filled with vendors selling their pottery and jewlery. It is so beautiful. The glazed pottery is not made by hand, but the unglazed is. If the pottery is handmade, it costs a lot more. They had everything from clay pots to animals. Each piece of pottery, no matter what it was, had the traditional Acoma markings. One of the vendors told us that the lizard is supposed to be good luck. When we got to the oldest part of the pueblo, Gary told us that it was built in 1100 when it was founded. There are 500 homes in the pueblo itself, and each one is occupied. He then told us that the Acoma people are maternal as far as ownership goes. That means that the women make the decisions in the house. They also decide when they get divorced. When the man and woman get married, the woman goes to his mother's house and takes him to her mother's house where they stay until he builds her a house. The houses are passed down from the generations. It goes to the youngest daughter; and, if there are no daughters, it goes to the youngest son. When he has a daughter, it then goes to her. This is to ensure that that house stays in the family. If a man and woman get divorced, all that happens is that the woman will set the man's saddle, which they have even if they don't ride a horse, outside along with his belongings.
As we walked around, we saw ladders going up to other homes and the roofs. When we looked at the ladder, we saw they they were pointed at the top so that the ladders can pierce the clouds and bring the rain. As we got to the oldest part of the pueblo, Gary explained that the Acoma people were not allowed to practice their spiritual beliefs by the Spaniards. If they were caught, they were killed on the spot. He also told us that the Pueblo residents never accepted Christrianity, but they tolerated it because they had to. When we looked close to the homes, we saw that they had holes in the side of the homes so that the woman could look out for the Spainards while the men meditated. If a Spainard was coming, they would warn the men and they would go inside as quickly and quietly as they could. The holes are now used as an intercom system for when the women want the men to come inside. If they tell them in English, the men ignore them so they tell them in their native language. We were told that if you are invited to someone's house to eat that you shouldn't refuse. If you do, it is considered a great insult.
After we left the Acoma Pueblo, we went to Santo Domingo. We couldn't really see much because they are fasting for this month so the plaza was closed. We then went to Judy and Lincoln Taffoua's house for dinner. We ate in shifts. The food was so delcious and undescribable. We had green chili which had squash in it, a red chili made with potatoes and a spice that really had a bite to it, a white soup made with hominey and pork, and anoter soup made with corn and pork. She also made traditional bread, which was really good. It is made in an outdoor oven. Judy told us that they make the dough the day before and then they bake it the next day. We had orange fluff, which reminded me of an ambrosia salad, except it was orange instead of white and had black beans in it. That was my favorite. Judy is a potter, and she demonstarted each step of making a pot.
On Friday we went to the Gathering of Nations, and we saw the grand entry. To start things there were 19 groups of drummers. Each group did their traditional chant while they played the drum. The groups had their own drum that they all sat around and hit at different times to make the different beats. We then watched all 3,000 dancers process in. It was so cool to see that many people all get together. I believe each of the six nations were represented, and there is no way to tell you how incredible it was. There were all kinds of vendors selling traditional food and even corn dogs and hamburgers. I tried a piece of an Indian taco, which is made with fry bread and has everything on it that a taco does, but it is all piled on top like a Mexican pizza. We saw different styles of dance. and more vendors selling all kinds of things from their culture. We then went to Old Town We went in and out of different stores. They sold all kinds of Native American pottery, and jewlery. There was a mariachi band outside. That was really neat to see.
Sarah Jo Breyne
The past two days have been the most exciting and exhilarating days for me this whole year. Yesterday my group of 17 students and two professors had the opportunity to watch the Gathering of Nations in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The Grand Ceremony was an opportunity at the beginning of the gathering for all Native American dancers to perform together.
Right at the beginning, the drum players and singers of each tribe performed a small piece to the audience. The different sound of the drums, whether they were mellow sounding or not, allowed me to understand which part of the nation the tribe was from. When the dancers began to come in the attitude of the whole audience seemed to change. All the audience stood to honor the dancers and with some of the dancers you could tell how honored they were to take part.
My favorite opening dancers were the traditional fringe dancer and also the jingle dancer. Both dancers were women and helped to lead the other dancers into the Grand Entrance. The traditional fringe dancer moved so little, yet the fringe that adorned the sleeves of her outfit moved drastically forward and backward alternating left and right. The jingle dancer I found very interesting because of the movement of her feet. Her outfit was covered with bells and when she danced you could hear the bells move with the beat of her footsteps. The reason that I really liked her form of dance was the freedom that she seemed to possess. Her movement, both in her upper body and lower body, showed how much she enjoyed the movement. Overall the Grand Entrance was just like a sea of movement. The movement of each person, 3,000 in total, allowed the floor of the convention center to look like a sea of color, feathers, and bodies.
What I found very interesting was the respect paid to the elders in the community. There was a dance segment called the Golden Age. The group of dancers were members of the community who were age 55 and up. When the dancers were beginning to dance the announcer asked all people to stand to honor their leaders. It was very moving to see the thousands of people stand while the different groups of women and then the different groups of men danced.
While yesterday's dancing was set more in the competition aspect, today's dancing at the Indian Pueblo Culture Center was more in the performance of a pow-wow. There were three different tribes that came in to perform.
The first tribe consisted of all women and one little boy. This tribe's performance was interesting in the fact that they performed social dances that allowed audience members to perform with them. The other aspect of the performance that I enjoyed was the game that they played. The speaker explained that before their tribe, the Navajo, had television and the internet they used to play games. One of the games consisted of horse cutouts that the children would use to race each other around with while listening to a song that someone sang.
The second group performed beautifully in full costumes. The dances consisted of an eagle dance where the men were decorated in huge wings made of eagle feathers, a corn dance where the girls balanced a pot on the top of their head, a turkey dance where the men wore huge feathers on their head with black beads hiding their eyes while the women wore simple purple dresses, and finally the buffalo dance where the men wore buffalo hides with horns and the women wore these beautiful white dresses. My favorite performance was the women dancing by themselves. The difficulty that it must be to balance the pottery on their heads while doing these extreme foot movements! I can't believe that the women were doing that!
The last group was a tribe called the White Mountain Apache. Their costumes were very extreme; and, at first, kind of made me nervous. But as their performance continued, it was actually very moving. As the songs continued members of other Apache and Navajo tribes joined in forming a circle around the performance and dancing. It was very moving in the fact the people that these people felt such a pride of where they come from that they felt comfortable and willing to dance with other members of their nation.
Out of the two dance conventions my favorite would have to be the one at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. While the Gathering of Nations was amazing because of the number of people there, the Indian Pueblo Center's dancing felt much more personable and seemed to me to be of the feeling and excitement that you would get if you were able to visit a local tribe's pow-wow.
I'm really excited for the rest of the night as we go back to the Gathering of Nations and the next two days where we go to different museums, meet authors of Native American plays, and also visit Chaco Canyon. I can't wait!
So itís April 25th, our fourth day in New Mexico and only our third day of adventures. It feels like weíve been here so long already and that weíre going to be leaving tomorrow. It also seems like weíve done SO MUCH already, probably because we have, but thereís always something else, something more. As I look out the hotel window at I-25, I think about where itís going to take us today because itís taken us so many places already and every mile we go, it gives us more energy. Like on Thursday, we should have been exhausted from the train ride, and we were, but as soon as we pulled up to the Acoma, Sky City Cultural Center, we got a new burst of energy as we stepped out of the vans and towards the busses that would be taking us up the mesa.
Acoma had to be the best way to start this trip off. It gave me a sense of the spirituality and culture. It also gave kind of a reality check. As Kent put it, being out in the open makes you realize how much you forget about your place in the world and the reality that youíre one small part of the world. Being in big urban areas, we tend to lose a sense of that.
Thereís no way someone could come down here and not take something away from the culture. Itís almost like a different world. It almost resembles a third-world country, but nothing like it. They survive with what they have and are happy with what they are given and earn. Itís also really nice how many people here are happy to share with us their culture and how they as a Native American people are. They are not afraid to open their doors and share stories, trades, and food with us. We are truly lucky to be learning such amazing things from this wonderful, hidden world.
Here it is 11:09 p.m. on a Friday night, and I have just left off talking to students about their experiences. I don't know about you, but one of the things I find most annoying about two-year-olds is their constant asking "Why?" However, when this question comes from the mouth of one of my college students I have a completely different reaction. If I can answer their inevitable "Why?" I am glad to do so. What I really like to answer is, "I don't know, why don't you do a little research and let me know." Most of the time the students are up to the challenge, and being here among people with answers is an incredible opportunity.
I think we are all having fun and learning a lot. Not just about Native culture and performance, but each other. We all owe Kent Miller a great big "Thank You" for planning such a superb itinerary. THANKS KENT!
We spent most of today at The Gathering of Nations Pow-Wow. This is the largest pow-wow in North America, with more than 3,000 dancers. It is a truly amazing event. Pow-wow dancing has its roots in the dances of the many Plains Peoples. The Gathering is a unique chance to study Plains performance in the geographic home of another ancient and rich cultural area of our country. (I am having an overpowering attack of nostalgia and second-home-sickness for my "family" and friends on the Rosebud Rez of South Dakota.)
The Grand Entry was a rainbow kaleidoscope of all types of dance regalia on Golden Agers to Tiny Tots. Seeing so many people, from so many traditions, dancing and smiling together, with even more people looking on with shining faces is a truly awesome experience when you stop and think about it. Maybe we should demand that all the politicians shut-up, listen to the drumming heartbeat of Unci Maka (Mother Earth), and DANCE!
OK, so I'm a dreamer...but just take a moment and imagine...
I realize that if you read my last blog that it might have seemed like it ended a little abruptly and so Iím going to explain: I pressed a button (donít ask me which one) and said button submitted it before I was finished. Instead of finishing, I went to bed because it was a long day. Itís currently the fourth day, I think- the days have kind of run together, and so much has happened. I assume you want to read about it so here we go!
The morning of the first day that we actually went to go do something, we went to the Acoma pueblo in Santa Fe. I wasnít sure what to expect but when we were driving out, I was struck once again by the terrain and the beauty of the land around me. For a little over an hour, I sat inside the vehicle we were riding in and just stared out into the sky that loomed just over the mountains.
After the time spent in the van, we finally made it to Acoma. After getting the tickets to get into the pueblo, we were off and in no time, we were up on top of the mesa, over 300 feet off the ground. Upon entering into the village, I was struck at first by the view. It was gorgeous -- all blue skies, rocky peaks, and spatterings of green over a dirt brown surface that spanned for miles. The second thing that struck me were the buildings themselves -- small clay hut-like structures, seemingly untouched by time. Our tour guide, Gary, quickly went over the rules of the pueblo and began showing us around the village. He was a funny and caring man, first and foremost thanking us for coming to visit, and then punctuating each of our stops with an anecdote and vast amounts of information that even now I am unable to process.
Throughout our journey, we came across vendors that had handmade pottery and jewelry, and some even food, to sell to anyone would buy. I was struck by the beauty and skill with which the people of the village crafted their goods -- they were all incredibly beautiful. The tour ended too quickly -- before I knew it, we were off with a goodbye to Gary -- but not before some of us made the long trek down a the side of the mesa on stairs that were far too slick for my liking -- but that story is for another time.
After bidding Acoma adieu, it was off to a state park to have a quick picnic and then we went to two other pueblos where we walked around just to get an idea of what they were like, how the people that we were studying lived. After that, we were once again back in the van to head off to Judy Tafoyaís house -- a well known Native potter -- for an authentic meal.
When we came into the house, the smell hit me first. Iím a relatively picky eater and was a bit worried about what would be served but as soon as the smell got to me, I was more than ready to sample. The small house was bustling -- Judy has eight kids and most of them were helping serve -- and pottery was lined up in her workroom in all stages of finish and sat in a large glass case in her living room. There were only eight places at the table for all 19 of us, so the first group went to eat while the rest of us sat with Judy as she started to talk about her pottery and as she began to actually make on in front of us. She molded the clay without even looking at it, her eyes meeting ours as she explained the ins and outs of what both she and her husband both do full-time to make all of the income for her family. My turn to eat in the second group came quickly, and the food tasted just s good as it had smelled. I wonít go into much detail about it because I could talk about it for quite a bit, but all Iím going to say is that red Chile is my new favorite anything.
After I got finished, and the last of us did after the second group; we all gathered around Judy as she sketched a design into the now whole pot. It seemed effortless and routine, and I assume after a certain amount of time it begins to be that way. The best part of the trip thus far for me, however, was at the tail end, when Judy started to talk about her family.
As she talked about them, she almost began to glow and she spoke of the sacrifices she had made for them, how much she loved watching them grow up -- she even went so far as to pursue a degree in elementary education just so she could play an active role in their education. With tears pricking my eyes, I made a realization then and there, one that I will carry with me for as long as I live, which I will share with you.
So much of what we learn about Native Americans in school is two dimensional. We are taught that they are a part of our past, that is that, and anything further than that is often chalked up to the fact that they have their traditions and we have ours. The end. But watching Judy talk so glowingly about her art, about her husband and children, I saw for the first time that we have it all wrong: Native Americans arenít relegated to books, they are more than lore; they are living, breathing people. All of whom Iíve met have been hospitable, kind, and giving. Native Americans have a different culture, yes, but donít we all? So I guess what Iím saying is that Iím sick of people being put into a box, grouped into a corner and then being relegated to being a certain way because Native Americans are mothers, fathers, teachers, wives, husbands, and above all, human. They are so much more than what "history" paints them to be, and itís time that we stop thinking in that way and recognize them as people, not legend or historical fact, because they are so much more than that.
Thank you for reading!
Have you ever wondered how a state receives its nickname? Well, of course, the nickname must bear resemblence to the actual state it is describing. For example, Illinois is known as the Land of Lincoln. Why? Because Abraham Lincoln, perhaps one of the most famous presidents in history was born and raised there. Of course it makes perfect sense!
Now, the purpose of this particular blog is to tell you about New Mexico. I have recently discovered that New Mexco is known as the Land of Enchantment. I can personally say that this description of New Mexico hits the nail right on the head. Whether it be its beautiful blue skies or its fascinating cultural history, New Mexico is a fantastic place to visit, and hopefully you will have a chance to do so in the near future.
The past two days have been simply enjoyable, and quite an amazing experience.
On our first full day, we drove about 90 miles out of Albuquerque to the Acoma Pueblo, also known as the Sky City. The drive seemed to shorten when we began to see large mesas popping out of the canyon floor, and our excitement just kept building. Finally, we saw one mesa with buildings, and we knew we had arrived. We met with our tour guide, Gary, below the village and hopped into our transport up to the city, a tour van. Once in the village, we witnessed some amazing views from 367 feet above the canyons. You could see for miles in every direction. Everything about the Acoma Pueblo was breathtaking, but the most fascinating part was the hike down the mesa. We could elect to ride in the van back down, or we could use the one of the old trails to get down. So of course, most of us chose the old trail. This consisted of an almost winding staircase, with the original handholds carved into the rock. Needless to say, it was very dangerous, but it was quite the amazing experience. Using a path that the older generations had to use was just unbelievable. Several members of the class were convinced that they would wake from a dream, still on the train.
After a short lunch on the road, we headed out in the direction of Santa Fe, stopping at the Santo Domingo and Cochiti Pueblos. Here, we were able to look in a beautiful church, see the main plaza where dancing took place, and several of my classmates bought some pottery. It was a great way to see another way of life.
After we left Cochiti, we headed to the Santa Clara Pueblo to visit the Talfoya Family. The family is a friend of Kent Miller's, and they fed us a delicious traditional dinner. I was a little anxious about trying some of the things, but I was hungry enough, and I ended up loving everything! It was so tasteful and delicious, several of my classmates continued eating until they had at least eaten thirds (and maybe more!) After we had eaten, we witnessed a pottery demonstration which was phenomenal to see.
We ended up back at the hotel around 9 p.m. We drove past mountains and rivers, and we even got to see some buffalo! The scenery around here is gorgeous, and it's no doubt why New Mexico is the Land of Enchantment.
Yesterday was absolutely amazing. We went to the Acoma Pueblo, one of the most gorgeous places I think I will ever experience. Our tour guide, Gary (his English name) was so funny. His great words of wisdom were, "If you are going to fall, fall in love." The pueblo was an amazing experience. It was like stepping back in time. The houses were so small, yet Gary told us usually 10 to 15 people lived in each one. Most houses were one room. It really makes you step back and look at what you have. Being on top of the pueblo was such a surreal experience, and it made me realize just how lucky I am. Outside the houses, people were selling their pottery and baked goods. We bought a homemade blueberry pie. It was DELICIOUS!
That night, we went to Judy Tafoya's house, where she fixed us a traditional Indian meal. The variety and amount of food was amazing. I really enjoyed the green chiles and the shoepeg corn and pork soup. The bread made in the outside oven was great to soak up the fabulous chile juices! She gave us a demonstration of how she creates her pottery. It was a lot of work for one piece to be completed. The stone she used to polish her pottery had been passed down from generation to generation. She even said her eight children already had their own polishing stones and had sold some of their pieces. It is just amazing how important tradition is to their culture.
Today is day 3...maybe 4? Being here, I have lost all sense of time. I usually use my cellphone to tell time. Here though, a lot of places you can't have your phone. It has been really nice. I feel like my days are longer, and I accomplish so much more. This is also a large part of the culture here. You don't watch the clock, you do what needs to be done; and if it isn't done today, it will get done tomorrow. I wish I could go back to school and tell my profesors, "Oh sorry, I didn't quite get finished yet, I'll get that to you when I'm done." That isn't quite as acceptable in our culture though!
Again, I am constantly amazed how different things are just in our own country.
So, today was the gathering of nations. It was amazing. We sat in the stands amongst all these different types of people, watching the superb dancing. We sat next to this little boy who was preparing to go dance. It was so cute to watch him get ready with all his ribbons and feathers.
We also went to Old Town today. It was beautiful. The square was filled with cute little stores and vendors out on the streets. We had a delicious authentic Mexican meal. I purchased beads to make my own fetish necklace.
Tonight we went back to the gathering of nations. We watched some of the traditional dance styles and shopped at the hundreds of vendors booths. So, it has been a ridiculously fun, but long day. And I am plum exhausted! Tomorrow is the Cultural Center, and we are going to a friend of Kent's house. It should be another great day, but for now, it is bedtime.
Our first full day in New Mexico has finally come to an end. We got off to an early start this morning, leaving the hotel at 7:30 a.m. for the 90-minute drive to Acoma Pueblo, also known as Sky City. The digital photography class from the art department was with us for this leg of the journey.
We arrived at the Acoma Cultural Center at 9 a.m. and were on our way up the mesa by 9:15. As our tour guide, Gary said, "There are no bad views from Sky City!" He was absolutely correct. The panoramic vistas made me feel as though I were floating above the earth, while also making me feel humble in relation to the breadth of creation.
The Church of San Estaban atop the mesa is an absolutely incredible feat of human endeavor. The walls are stacked stone plastered in adobe, 10 feet thick at the base, narrowing to 7 feet at the rafters that rise an astounding distance above your head. The stones for the building were carried by hand more than 350 feet up the mesa's sides, while the logs for the beams were carried (again by hand) 35 miles from the forested sides of a mountain to the north. Imagine, this church has been witness to more than 400 years of Pueblo life.
From Gary's shared wisdom, it became clear that traditional spirituality and Roman Catholicism have come to a grudging truce in the high desert of New Mexico. Gary was so open, sincere and humble in all that he shared with us that I cannot help but have the greatest respect for him. He was also very fun to be around and has a great sense of humor. I could have spent the whole day talking with him, but there was a lot more to do and see.
The digital photography class left us after Acoma as they headed west on the Grand Canyon leg of their trip. We returned to the outskirts of Albuquerque for a picnic lunch at Petroglyph National Monument. The signs said "Do Not Feed the Wildlife;" but the chipmunks were so darn cute, it was hard to keep from dropping some bread crumbs and chips.
We loaded up once again and headed north up the Rio Grande Valley with stops at Santo Domingo and Cochiti Pueblos. There were opportunities to see another beautifully simple church, look over a town plaza, and buy some pottery. We continued north through Santa Fe to Santa Clara Pueblo where the Tafoya family, friends of Kent Miller, had agreed to give us a pottery-making demonstration and feed us a traditional meal. It was a fantastic evening.
The food was superb and so varied! I think some of the students were a little anxious about the meal; but once they sat down, they dug in with gusto and tried everyhing. It was very gratifying as a teacher to see the students be so open to this most human of cultural exchanges. We ate our fill of green chili, red chili, posole (pork & hominy), garbanzo, and shoe-peg corn soups, accompanied by bread baked in the outdoor ovens introduced to the Pueblo People by the Spanish so long ago. The evening was topped off by a dessert of traditional prune pies, cherry pies and fresh melon. It was truly a feast!
We returned to the hotel by 9 p.m. after the drive back down the Rio Grande Valley, watching the sun set over the western mountains. There was just enough time for a quick dip in the pool before collapsing into bed in preparation for another busy day tomorrow.
We arrived in Albuquerque yesterday afternoon about 4 p.m. aboard the Southwest Chief. Most of the group slept their way across Kansas after boarding the train at 8 p.m. on Tuesday in LaPlata, Mo. Many of us woke with the sun in southeast Colorado. We had an early morning stop in LaJunta, Co., after which the train began to climb up into the Raton Pass that links Colorado to New Mexico.
The climb to the top of the pass took most of the morning, and when we reached the summit we were at the highest point of elevation along the historic Santa Fe Trail. We spent most of the afternoon descending in a long series of switchback turns where it seemed like we were looking out our rear car windows as our engine passed us going in the opposite direction. There were also a few cuts down through canyons. Needless to say, the scenery was great.
It's Wednesday. We got on the train in La Plata on Tuesday, yet I feel like I have been on this trip for several days already! I lost track of all time on the train. We spent our time playing cards, listening to music, reading scripts, and watching the amazing scenery pass by from the observation deck. I was unable to get comfortable, so I slept on the observation deck for a while. Still not comfortable, I returned to my seat, slept on and off for a few hours, and eventually just gave up! At about five, a few of us went to the observation deck to watch the sun come up. I can honestly say that that was one of the best experiences. The amazing sunrise provided for some beautiful pictures. At 6:30, we ate breakfast on the train. It was a difficult task trying not to spill scrambled eggs and apple juice all over ourselves as the train bumped and bounced. At breakfast, we saw a lot of deer. They were right up near the tracks, and as the train passed, they scattered across the prairie. By far, the neatest part was when we passed a huge group of prairie dogs. There were thousands of mounds and the little prairie dogs were popping out of the holes! They were so cute! As we passed through Colorado and entered New Mexico, it was incredible how much it changed. The ground is a beautiful deep red with mountains in the distance. The amount of poverty was surprising as we passed through the countryside. I am now curious what the rest of New Mexico has to offer. I am excited and can't wait to go to Acuma tomorrow. Seeing as we have to be up early, I should probably try to catch up on the sleep I missed out on the train.
The 21st of April went by in a blur. I'm not even sure my body registers a full day went by while we were cooped inside a train through the night and most of the day. We had little to do but play with our assortment of electronics and sleep most of the night through on our respective reclinable chairs.
When I woke this morning, however, the morning of the 22nd, and walked to the observation deck of the train, I was overtaken with the feeling that even though I was still a bit drowsy and lethargic from the trip and stiff from sleeping in an awkward position all night, that the time spent traveling was well worth it. Coffee in hand, I stared out into the clear blue of the Colorado sky. While I am now in the comfort of my Albequerque hotel room, this is what I wrote this morning while staring out the window:
These are the moments when my faith in someting greater and bigger than myself is reaffirmed; when powder blue skies meet rolling evergreen horizons, waving plains, and spring-carved canyons. Through the glass of the train's observation deck, I feel empowered, rough and tumble, like if I simply stepped through the glass, that I could cover the great expanse before me in three giant steps- mountain, evergreen, water, and all. Like if I reached far enough with my fingertips I would feel the damp evidence of cloud against my palm, that if I laid my ear against the grass I could hear and feel the vibrations, the thunder from the hooves of the pack of wild horses that blow by the train, their manes whipping carelessly behind them.
This morning the class got an introduction to the material culture of the Native Americans of the Southwest. My co-teacher, Kent Miller, shared several items from his collection of Pueblo pottery, and also items of jewelry and dance regalia from the Navajo, Hopi, and Pueblo traditions.
This afternoon has been reserved for packing and final preparation for our departure. We will be joined by students from the Art Department's digital photography course when we leave campus on a charter bus for the train station at LaPlata, Mo. From there we will board an Amtrak train to New Mexico. If the train is on schedule, we should arrive in Albuquerque in the late afternoon tomorrow. For many of our students this will be their first experience on a trans-continental train trip.
We have a 20-hour train ride between us and "The Land of Enchantment", but the excitement among the students is palpable.
American Indian Performance Studies got off to a strong start today. We spent part of the morning looking at some demographics to give us all an idea of the state of Native America here in the early 21st Century. However, facts and figures only give you one perspective from which to view a topic.
We then discussed the story of First Woman and the creation of Turtle Island. This story has many versions and is part of many tribal traditions. This story led us into an exploration of the various geographic and culture areas of North America. We also touched on the various language groups that the 560+ recognized tribal nations share.
The afternoon was spent doing some prep work for our performance after the trip to Albuquerque, N.M. The students divided into four groups and began looking at native stories and legends to dramatize. They also began to pull together materials we will need for the show.
All-in-all it was a very productive first day of class.