Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Our Connections To The Earth

Originally I titled this month's blog, "His Connection To The Earth" in reference to the interview we did with Duane Blue Spruce in New York. In listening to the interview several times over, I realized Duane's words were articulating "Our" experience as a contemporary Native person looking at the NMAI Landscape. Not only was Duane addressing the landscape surrounding the NMAI museum in Washington D.C., in addition, he was addressing a larger issues of our on going relationship to the earth. The rhythm of his words and the words themselves encourages an awareness of simple things like rocks, earth and water. I was also reminded of the elders in the Pueblos who speak of such relationships with the environment that go beyond our family and community, how we must respect what is around us with a renewed understanding every single day.The title change for this month's blog reflects Duane's ideas about the landscape surrounding NMAI in Washington, D.C. and includes the concept that Kevin Gover, Director of the NMAI museum recently concluded,"The land inevitably makes it's mark on us."
Duane Blue Spruce is Pueblo Indian from New Mexico, an Architect and was a consultant in the design of the NMAI building and the landscape surrounding the museum. Most recently Duane along with Tanya Thrasher edited the newly released book entitled, The Land Has Memory - Indigenous Knowledge, Native Landscape and The National Museum of the American Indian. The book looks at the history of the land that now houses NMAI and how the outside environment reflects the cultural sensibilities of Native peoples. The book included many of the Native consultants and artists who have worked in realizing the museum and the landscape surrounding the museum.

Every plant and tree, rock and flower tells a story.
We need to speak to the land first and explain our intentions.
Promise to use it wisely and not deviate from that promise.

John Paul Jones
(Excerpt from, The Land Has Memory)

The landscape that surrounds the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington is certainly unusual, especially if compared to the other Smithsonian Mall landscapes. NMAI houses boulders, a corn and tobacco patch and a water fall. This type of environment invites squirrels, a variety of birds and other creatures to nest and add to the ecosystem now in place. Clearly a visual and cultural contrast in an otherwise a cosmopolitan environment. And this contrast is what I find so significant about the NMAI landscape as well as the theme of the Always Becoming project. Reiterating Mr. Goover's sentiments, our unique Native world views have been and continue to be marked by the earth we all walk on.

Mr. Blue Spruce touched on the significance of the land's history and how it has evolved to it's present state while creating a cultural statement about our relationship to this earth. Listening to the story of this place and understanding it from the perspective of the Always Becoming project, the five ephemeral pieces are becoming on land that has been waiting for them and like the birds and other creatures living out their time in a sacred place. Duane and John Paul Jones, Donna House and others listened and then manifested the echoes from our history, setting the stage for a presence in the nation's capitol that speaks to issues of earth and culture in a way that is inclusive and profound.

....And so we have arrived at the crossroads of asphalt and fertile ground.
Where old man rock watches his children mix dreams and earth.
Sing your father's sweet grass song
Prayer bundles in hand as you become
And purposeful.

(Excerpt from The land Has Memory)

* Next month we will return to the second installment of the "Strong Woman" Series

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Strong Women | Part One

"All I was trying to do was get home from work."
Rosa Parks

Growing up on a reservation in New Mexico that was historically
matriarchal, my role models in life and culture were women. My father
spent most of his time outdoors so much of the day to day governance
of home was directed by a woman I knew as Jia. Jia means mother in the Tewa language. My mother was a combination teacher and drill sergeant with a world view strongly dictated by Pueblo tenets, although Jia was a mother first and foremost. Pregnant for almost eight years of her life, Jia raised nine children as well as several non biological children during her lifetime. She navigated through long days
multi-tasking with a skill impressive to me even today. Jia's children
knew what it was like to hike up a hill before dawn to gather clay
then, come home to skin and butcher an elk later in the day. This kind
of work day scenario was not uncommon, the same sort of day played out at my aunt Carma's house and in fact, every other households in the
village, if the sun was up, the there was work to be done, not only in
the family, but the community. These women were role models who taught basic survival skills as well a sense of community and placement within the environment we lived.

Pueblos before European contact were matrilineal in the truest sense
of the word. Women in the communities were an integral part of the
ceremony, rituals and daily governance. In addition, they plastered
the walls, made pottery, raised children and helped grow food. In many
tribes women created the stories from which tribal members established their identity and confirmed their place in the order of things. The empowered cultural coding these strong women modeled reinforced a sense of self that carried through to daily experiences, building as time and experiences shaped a life full of struggle and joy, ritual and work, family and community.

Junaita Espanoza is one of those strong women. Ms. Espanoza is the
Executive Director of the Native Arts Circle Inc. and the manager of
the Two Rivers Gallery for MIAC (Minneapolis American Indian Center). Juanita is a single mother of three and clearly a remarkable presence in the Native urban community in Minneapolis. Easily engaged, Juanita speaks eloquently on the issues of Native women, Native urban life and the center she is responsible for running. Juanita's experience in community activism gives her an insight into contemporary Native life, this in turn helps her construct programs for the Indigenous urban population in the twin cities area and beyond.

Why was Juanita interviewed for the Always Becoming documentary? In the sculpture competition process, NMAI Smithsonian went about choosing selectors who would offer a variety of knowledgable art, community and cultural insights. In interviewing other selectors, there was a consensus that the women on the selection panel brought to
the table an impressive amount of experience and, a sophisticated knowledge of indigenous and non indigenous histories. Pooled, these assets helped to build the protocol of selection and ultimately the message NMAI wanted to reflect.

For the women who have worked and continue to work on Always Becoming: selectors, mud mixers, navigators through administrative complexities, supporters, producers, women who give loving hugs when needed, all of you, know this - our aunties, mothers and grandmothers would be proud of what we have done and continue to do.

Next Month:  His Connection To The Earth

(Part two and three of the three part series on "Strong Women" will
continue in October)