Saturday, June 26, 2010

We are now editing the Always Becoming film.

All the footage, interviews and music we've collected and shared with you over the past year in the blog are now being pieced together to complete the story of Always Becoming.

Our expected release for the one hour documentary is Fall of 2010, in the meantime we'll keep you posted on the progress.

For those of you who have been following the Always Becoming blog over the past year, we send many thanks for your interest and comments.

Thanks from the film crew of Always Becoming-

Dax Thomas
Jai Antoinio
Zak Naranjo Morse
Nora Naranjo Morse

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Our Brothers And Sisters


Tito Naranjo
december 2009
"America is great at trying to make other people in their own image..."

When I was young I thought indigenous people were a phenomena particular only to the United States. Public schooling reinforced all kinds of misconceptions, creating Natives as a discovered and quickly conquered race. And, that after the Mexican border, the indigenous population ended. I learned that historical figures like Christopher Columbus, Don Juan De Onate ventured into uncharted territories already inhabited, established a presence while carving an indelible place for themselves in American history. No one clued me to the fact that indigenous people were everywhere in this world and not only were they everywhere they had incredibly rich cultures, with specific world views, languages and ceremonies. No mention of the magnitude and influence these cultures had on our world, none of that existed in my education. Of course later on I learned differently. I intellectually understood indigenous people existed elsewhere, however, this information didn't resonate truly until I met and worked with the Morales family from Obergon Mexico. Working with the Morales family on Always Becoming paved the way for a new awareness that informed me of indigenous connections and relationships all over the world. This awareness continued when an opportunity took me back to Mexico recently. 


Guerillmina Ortega is a Totonac-Mexican woman who lives and works in the El Tajin area near Papantla, Mexico. Where is that you ask? El Tajin is in the state of Vera Cruz, 6 hours- by car- East of Mexico City. Vera Cruz, the port, is also a popular American vacation spot on the Gulf of Mexico. Back to Ms. Ortega. Guerillmina traveled to the Smithsonian three years ago, saw both the Always Becoming sculptures and the film while visiting the New Museum of the American Indian and decided she wanted to incorporate Always Becoming in a project. Ms. Ortega works at the Centro de la Artes Indigenas institute in El Tajin. The institute serves as a gathering place for several of the indigenous communities in the El Tajin region. The institute encourages a continuation of indigenous art forms and cultural knowledge through a number of programs and community oriented projects.Ms. Ortega and NMAI worked together to create a residency for me and twenty women from the institutes's House of Clay.The residency emphasized land and family- what that meant historically as cultural people and what it means to us now. Most of the people we worked with in the House of Clay were women who came from smaller, more remote communities in the El Tajin region.Because the residency was geared toward family, my daughter Eliza joined in this incredible project bringing a different voice which she used while working with Totonac children at the institute. Eliza and the children who's ages ranged from 6 to 13 years of age, painted portraits with clays from New Mexico and the land of El Tajin. They also picked up trash from the side of the roads, shared soda pop and learned words and sentences from each of their languages. At any given time during our residency there would be five languages in this group of thirty five or so people. There was one translator, but mostly there was a lot of pointing and guessing, mostly on my part. We spent 10 hours a day in a two room building made of bamboo and branches. We ate, we washed dishes and we made things out of the different types of clays. We shared clay techniques, cultural experiences and by day two, even though language was a challenge, we knew that gossip and laughing was a universal understanding. Each day we started off with prayers that the older women of the Clay House led, everyone seeking life in our own languages, asking for a good new day.


Athena Swentzell
March 2009
“Um, I felt like they were family right off the bat.”

Every morning before heading out to the Centro de la Artes Indigenas Institute, we crossed El Centro - the plaza area of Papantla - to get a cup of coffee. The community is small enough that it's easy to walk the town's length and after a couple of days it's very possible to keep running into the same people. Of course El Centro is where everyone gathers to sell food, shoe shines, catch taxi and a lot more, it's the heart of the community. As Eliza and I sat in a booth at the town's only coffee shop, two elderly women turned around and waved to us. We waved back and 30 seconds later they were at our booth chatting away. It didn't seem to matter that my Spanish is at best, poor. That we looked different, that we were obviously strangers, none of that mattered to these two women or anyone else in Papantla. By the end of our visit with the ladies at the coffee shop - they had to leave for work- we were on a first name basis as they hugged us and wished us a blessed day. This kind of interaction was an on going phenomena. Affectionate and chatty.Curious and open. Kind and unbelievably giving the people in Papantla and the other communities embraced us and allowed us a place at their table.


Tito Naranjo
December 2009
“We've made everything un-sacred. Uh, we have made everything profane. And profane means that is just a tool we use that has no special meaning, when we're done with it, we throw it away, you know. Uh, the sacred, you don't do that to it. The sacred you preserve.”

The sacred is in the land. In those rich, green hillsides of Mexico that bear witness to fertility and continuity. The sacred is in the people who create lives while making vessels and homes, farms and ceremonies.They are the brothers and sister, aunts and cousins we've missed knowing because we've been taught to think they do not exist. We are like them in many ways. We are coiled from the same earth and spirit. We breath and die under the sky. In Tito Naranjo's interview, he spoke about the sacred and about seeking life.The sacred is here with us, still. It's in the small communities tucked along the hillsides of Mexico. The sacred is on the plains where Comanches gather to celebrate, in the arid landscape of the Dineh and the cold white of the Antarctic. The sacred lives in the elders who prayed for us at El Tajin. It's in the cultural knowledge we are meant to use as a foundation for our lives now. The residency in El Tajin wrapped up the filming phase for Always Becoming, now we begin the process of using all the information we've gathered over the last year to tell the story of how a community oriented project became an even larger story about culture, the land and people.



Next Month: Connecting the Dots

Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Glimpse

"Of this our true individual life, our present life is a glimpse, a fragment, a hint, and in it's best moments a visible beginning."
- Josiah Royce

Next month: Our Brothers And Sisters

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Watch It: An Interview with Tito Naranjo

"Etching a new beginning from old songs.
Ancestral sounds navigating steady and sure
Across a celestial canvas with prayer bundles in hand
Singing welcoming chants.
It is the beginning of a simple
Wondrous gift called life."

- From the poem, Always Becoming

In all the interviews we've done over the year of filming one thing is clear, as Native people our spirits are connected to the earth. This earth conscious world view echos across Indian country with a simple and yet profound imperative, stewardship for the land we live on. From voices far and near - a Native Architect living in Seattle or an elder from Santa Clara Pueblo - this thread of earth consciousness has cultivated culture and re-enforced a sense of self among Native people. Through these voices we've begun to weave together a unique cultural story significant in it's contribution to our communities and the world. As Mr. Naranjo so eloquently stated, "seeking life" as our duty in order to create a balanced and whole life for ourselves and our communities.

Tito Naranjo is a Santa Clara Pueblo elder who teaches Native studies at the college level in Northern New Mexico. Naranjo is clear about who he is. He is a seventy year old Pueblo man who grew up roaming the mountains in Northern New Mexico looking for food to help feed his family. As a college professor, Tito generously shares his cultural knowledge with both Native and non-Native students with the understanding that cultural knowledge is a tool that has great importance in seeking that life of balance.

Mr. Naranjo's certainty about who he is, is why he was interviewed him for this film. Understanding land, culture and community inspires that certainty of self and has been a central theme in conceptualizing both the Always Becoming sculptures and now the film. As indigenous people enter a new decade, we are looking at issues that often times are at odds with our identity and that connection to earth. How do we hold onto cultural knowledge and use this information to navigate through our life singularly and as a community? Mr. Naranjo like many elders on the reservations and in urban areas are significant cultural anchors, they speak from their experiences offering a plethora of knowledge to future generations.

As the sculptures of Always Becoming start to dissolve, revealing layers of new textures, we are reminded of the voices of our ancestors who modeled a strong cultural foundation inspired by the earth we walk on.

Next month: A Glimpse

Monday, December 28, 2009

Imagery And Self Image Reversals In A Post Victim Indian

When I was eight years old I worked during the summers for a man named Jack Denver. Mr. Denver owned a curio shop and motor lodge at the south end of Taos, New Mexico. Denver's Curio Shop sold fake Indian jewelry, "Real Indian Drums" which were made of metal and rubber, postcards with romantic images of Pueblo Indians, pottery, corn necklaces and war bonnets. The "Real Indian Drums" and actually everything else sold in the shop were imports from Taiwan and laid en masse waiting to be consumed by eager tourists. During the summer evenings people were invited to Mr. Denver's business for an evening show with "Real Indian Dancers" from Taos Pueblo. Obviously inspired by the Wild West shows of the late 1800s, Mr. Denver built an open arena outside the curio shop complete with wooden bleachers and French Horn speakers attached to large, upright beams. There was a fire pit in the center of the arena and by the time the last person was seated, the logs on the fire were ablaze and the wide eyed tourist was ready to be entertained.

Several young men from Taos Pueblo were employed to perform the War and Hoop Dances for the evening shows. After every dance, cowboy hats were passed through the bleachers as Mr. Denver's voice blared from the speakers, reminding the audience the dancers would appreciate a tip. My job was to model Southwestern/Native clothing designed by a local non Native seamstress. So right after the Hoop Dance and just before the finale, the Friendship Round Dance, I'd enter the arena and model velveteen pleated "Squaw Skirt" and shirts. My moccasins were made at a local sweat shop and my outfit was topped off with a turquoise, "Squash Blossom" necklace from Mrs. Denver's private collection. I was instructed to smile as I walked slowly in front of the bleachers because according to Mr. Denver, "People like cute little Indian girls that smile".

This experience informed the way I began to see myself. At eight I didn't have the cognitive skills to understand all the social and cultural underpinnings of this particular situation, but I remember sensing that Native people were somehow different, exotic maybe and in my case, a cute "little Indian girl" earned money. This was one of my first and among the most informative experience as a Native person and all I can clearly remember is that I felt exposed.

We are all influenced by one another, but what happens when perceptions of culture and self are modified because of these outside influences? And how does one navigate through these experiences while carving out an identity in a healthy manner? How does one hold onto a sense of cultural integrity? These questions became even more pressing to me when the Always Becoming crew and I spent a couple of months at the National Museum of the American Indian building the Always Becoming sculptures. During the summers in Washington D.C. the population on the Smithsonian Mall grows to enormous proportions. Thousands, possibly millions of visitors to the National Capitol visit the museums on the Mall and include a trip to the NMAI museum. While working on the sculptures, I would turn around and be amazed at the amount of people watching what we were doing. Would this experience on the Mall change the integrity of the work? What were our responsibilities as cultural liaisons? And would our presence in such a public forum actually bring some cultural information to an audience looking for the perfect photo op? At times I also worried about the Morales family and wondered how this would effect them. Of course there was curiosity and with that came questions, many, many questions on both sides of the fence.

Notable questions and comments from the visitors to the Always Becoming site:
"You don't look Indian."

"Is somebody going to live in the Tee-Pees?"

"Is this where Indian's go to the bathroom?"

"I'm 1/16th Cherokee."

Navigating through cultural and self identity is challenging enough on a daily basis however experiencing the intensity and magnitude of perceptions coming at us for those two months created a fascinating opportunity to study the ideas of community, culture and of course human beings. On the more challenging days ridiculous questions acted as a lesson in patience. However, it's these very questions that reminded me how America developed their perceptions of the American Indian. Interactions like the Jack Denver's show added to romantic notions of what a Native person should be and these perceptions persist in the American consciousness. To make matters more challenging, many of these interactions affect our sense of cultural identity, think cute little Indian girl, or the men from Taos Pueblo who sang and danced before passing a cowboy hat for tips. Strong childhood impressions remain forever. At it's worst, this kind of life experience distresses cultural identity, resulting in all sorts of social illnesses. But -- and this is what I learned that summer on the Smithsonian Mall -- at it's best, experiences like this can be grand opportunities that demand we define ourselves, not to an audience, but to ourselves. Past the romantic notions of what Natives are supposed-to-be, past feelings of being victimized by these perceptions, straight toward the portal where culture and a sense of self align creating a strong human being. I learned this from watching Don Juan who anchored himself and everyone else around him with a simple nod or smile as he worked. I watched as others entering the Always Becoming site worked together with one goal in mind and that was Creating as a community. Like the sculptures, I was being molded so that previous misconceptions were discarded and a sense of my true self was reclaimed. Anchored and empowered because of this grand opportunity I became fearless.

"We are what we imagine. Our very existence consists in our imagination of ourselves."
- M. Scott Momaday

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Strong Women | Part Two

 Virginia Romero was a Tiwa Indian from Taos Pueblo, New Mexico. Virginia weighed all of 90 pounds and stood four and a half feet tall on days when she wasn't hunched over with a bundle of some kind on her back. Her long black hair never left the tidy knot at the back of her head and on days when the task at hand was especially dirty and laborious - plastering with mud or tanning a hide - she wore a blue and white bandanna. Virginia spoke little English and rarely traveled beyond the reservation. From the moment this wiry workhorse of a woman woke up until she went to sleep, Virginia worked and she worked hard.

Virginia lived with her husband and five children below the Pueblo near a grove of apricot trees and chokecherry bushes that followed a narrow stream toward the cow pastures. The Romero family like everyone else in the community lived a traditional, simple lifestyle. There was little of anything so the idea of wasting food or other resources was unthinkable and since the primary source of food and shelter came from the land, the land was never taken for granted.

Virginia's life was and still is a metaphor for the land she once walked on and regarded with such reverence. Culling natural resources for the family's survival through harsh Northern New Mexico Winters and filling her children with a cultural and spiritual nutrient that was as important to survival as the meat and fruits she dried in the Fall. And, like the Tewa belief system, women like Virginia were born from the earth, were a part of the earth during their life time and then gave themselves back to their original mother when their human body no longer contained them.

Recently while interviewing Lee Ann Martin, I thought of Virginia Romero and the correlations of these two women.

Lee Ann Martin is a curator at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Ottawa. Lee Ann was one of the selectors for the National Museum of the American Indian's Sculpture Competition. Lee Ann's contribution to the selection process, along with her interests in land issues made for a good interview for the documentary on Always Becoming. Lee Ann is also in the planning stages of a new exhibition that will open at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in 2011. The exhibition will look at the land in terms of renewal and sustainability from an indigenous-art perspective. Interestingly, the same issues surrounding the pieces of Always Becoming and, the land base consciousness echoed from Virginia's life surfaced in Lee Ann's interview.

Virginia and Lee Ann were born at different times and under different circumstances, but common was and is their appreciation of the land and land-based knowledge. Women like Virginia and Lee Ann carrying their bundles of wood or ideas to create a fire or land based art exhibitions, women who in their own right are responsible for generational renewal. These strong female voices come from the reservations and or urban settings reminding every day we are apart of the cultural continuum.  

Next month:
"Who Knew" Imagery And Self Image Reversals - A Post Victim Narrative

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Fred Nahwooksy

While working on the sculptures of Always Becoming on the Smithsonian Mall, Fred Nahwooksy often stopped by the site to talk with the crew. At one point he brought a rock from his house and asked that it be incorporated into the one of the forms we were building. We planted Fred's rock inside the female form hidden within one of the tee-pee shapes. One day Fred invited me to the Smithsonian's National Gallery to look at a Jasper John's exhibit. Fred had an hour for lunch so the exhibit walk through became a sprint through Jasper John's years of work. That lunch hour was also an introduction into Fred Nahwooksy's thought process. While we looked at art Fred spoke about the state of Contemporary Native Art, ideas he had for a painting and the projects he was working on for NMAI, Fred's thoughts, articulated with lightning speed and clarity made the hour pass far too quickly for me. After that day whenever we had time Fred and I would visit a different exhibit and each time it was an exercise in keeping up with his train of thought and his walking pace and I loved it. I was inspired by the way Fred looked at the world and the people in it, he was a practical thinker and yet he took his love for art into his work, emphasizing a creative approach to more administrative and mundane details. Fred was smart and at times sarcastic as hell. Fred thought about things and was not afraid to speak his mind which was energizing and at times intimidating. He loved intellectual banter and few did it better with him than his friend, Rick Hill. A couple of times I had the opportunity to hear Rick and Fred spar. The verbal volley was fast and competitive, the jokes rolled easily and woe to anyone standing in the way of their rollicking discourse, whatever the topic.  

Last Spring while filming at NMAI for Always Becoming, I asked Fred if we could interview him. Of course Fred had a lot on his mind and was more than willing to share his thoughts with us. Below is a good part of the interview. I'm grateful for the opportunity to have interviewed one of our best and brightest on that early Spring lunch hour when he was full of life and of course, just a tad ornery. 

Fred, you will be missed.

The Always Becoming sculpture called, Mountain Bird has a red mud, female form in it's center.  Several days ago, shortly after Fred's passing, Mountain Bird lost part of it's bamboo siding. Heavy rains washed away a layer of Mountain Bird exposing the red mud form. When this happened I thought of Fred's rock buried in the foundation of the sculpture now visible.     

Part II of Strong Women
will return next month

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)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Finding The Music

In May of 2007 while the Always Becoming Sculpture Project was underway, short podcasts documenting the construction were also being filmed for internet access. The idea behind the podcasts was to share information with anyone who was interested in seeing the building process and learning more about the concept and people involved. Dax and I discussed the where and how of getting music for the podcasts, we wanted music that would work with the concepts and imagery of the project, how to get that became the question. Requesting music from recognized musicians and their labels is time consuming, expensive and often times legally complicated. Always Becoming needed sound and music that played fresh, reflecting the diversity of land, contemporary Native people and others.

I asked my friend, Mary Gorhm who works at NMAI if she knew of staff members at the museum who could sing and or play instruments, Mary put me in touch with Arevivia Amos from the NMAI's Accounting Department. Later that same day we met in the main theatre at NMAI so Arevivia could sing for us. Ms. Amos was backstage when we arrived, she walked center stage, her high heel clicking on the wooden floor - the clicking of her heels was recorded and eventually included in a podcast. Arevivia cleared her throat, opened her mouth and sang opera. Yes, opera. Arevivia sang, "Oh what a beautiful city, oh what a beautiful city". And at that moment, with each note, clear, moving and purposeful the auditorium was instantly transformed into a theatre of grand opportunity where sound mixed with ideas and art transcended earthly doubt, achieving a perfect pitch. My heart soared because I knew I was not only hearing a beautiful voice, I was also hearing a solution. This was it, the question of where to find music was solved, we would use the Always Becoming's formula of community to identify musicians and utilize their talents for the podcasts.

Since then, many musicians and their music have found their way into our awareness in the most serendipitous ways, that's how I met Dawn Avery. Dawn and I attended a small foundation's retreat an hour outside of Tulsa, Oklahoma in the middle a wheat fields. Dawn performed at the gathering and the instant I heard her play,I knew she needed to be apart of Always Becoming.

This month we look at a few of the musicians who will become apart of the Always Becoming film:

Dawn Avery:

Grammy nominated Mohawk composer/cellist/vocalist, Dawn Avery, has been visiting the Always Becoming site and project since its inception and is currently composing a piece for 7 Cello, pow-wow drum, rattles and voice for the documentary. In working with sounds capes and vibration, the tempo is set to 60 - referring to the pulse of mother earth, and the cello with its lyrical depth is reminiscent of clay, while the electric cello solo reminds us of life in the city.


Olmeca was born in the city of Los Angeles, although Olmeca considers himself from Mexico. Olmeca's mother traveled from Mexico to California while pregnant and gave birth to her son in California. He continues to migrate between Mexico and the United States. This migration has shaped his world view and his music. Olmeca's recent album, "Semillas Rebeldes" articulates his deep understanding of bi-national conflict and his commitment to sharing this understanding through his music and words.

"Olmeca, an early 20's prophet might evolve into Southern California's most articulate musical spoke person since Zack de la Rocha".
-- OC weekly

Don Juan:
Don Juan Morales was an important crew member in the construction of Always Becoming. Don Juan comes from Obregón, Mexico and recently spoke to us about his experience working at the Smithsonian on Always Becoming. Don Juan sang a song during the interview which is born from the people and land he knows so well.

Tewa Children Singers:
San Ildelfonso Pueblo is a quiet Tewa village tucked along the cottonwood trees near the Rio Grande some 30 miles Northwest of Santa Fe, New Mexico. There's a small elementary school in the pueblo where my sister, Dolly Neikrug is a principal of 65 children, grades first through six. When Dolly heard I was looking for children singers, she told me,
"Sometimes during recess, the children sit under a large cottonwood tree and sing traditional Tewa songs".
Since speaking with Dolly, arrangements have been made with the school and parents to have the children recorded once school starts again in August.

Don Juan's song transitioning into Olmeca's rap and the inclusion of Tewa children singing for the film, examples that traditional songs are influencing a new generation of indigenous peoples, wherever they live. Cultural knowledge is channeled and reflected through languages, architecture, art, song and ceremony and because of this, people like Olmeca and the Tewa children from San Ildelfonso continue cultural relevance while infusing it with their own signature.

More music is being made and selected some, like in Dawn Avery's case, specifically created for Always Becoming. As the music arrives we hope to be previewing it with all of you.

Next Month:
"Strong Women" Part 1

Thursday, June 25, 2009


Weaving. Verb,

1. To compose a connected whole by combining various elements or details.
2. To be or become formed or composed from the interlacing of materials or combining of various elements: she is weaving yarn into fabric.

Merriam-Webster's Dictionary

From the very beginning of the Always Becoming project, there has been a strong presence of people participation. People's support, their various expertise and cooperation formed not only group collaboration and investment, but community. Through the interviews we've been conducting, it's become apparent that the idea of collaboration and community has become a central theme in the film. And as the Always Becoming project morphs into a film, the thread weaving through the concept of Always Becoming has created a strong and dynamic fabric that examples our ability to work together, share information and develop ideas.

When the trip to Obregón, Mexico inched closer, translating and transcribing became important. It was clear that the perfect solution was to find someone who would travel with us into Mexico to act as a translator and upon our return, could help transcribe with an understanding of the film's vision. I approached Bethany McGee, a native Santa Fean who teaches an English as a Second language (ESL) course in Santa Fe to join us on our trip to Mexico. Lucky for us Bethany agreed to come on the trip and help out. Bethany's services in Mexico proved to be of great importance, she conducted both interviews with Don Juan and Juanita Morales and translated for us during the entire trip.

Upon our return Bethany suggested her ESL class transcribe the interviews For us this was a perfect solution, all of the transcribing could be done by the ESL students as part of a class activity. Bethany has two ESL students, Isabel and Rosabela.

Isabel Morales is from Cuauhtémoc, Chihuahua and has been in the United States for the past 15 years. Isabel works six days a week as a cleaning woman at a local hotel. During her time off, Isabel hones her English through the ESL class. Rosabela Ramierez is from Namiquipa, Chihuahua. Rosabela like Isabel has been in the Unites Sates for fifteen years and works cleaning houses in the Santa Fe area. Rosabela is a charming woman whose husband Tabo, is from Obregón, Mexico so Rosabela is familiar with the nuances of the Obregón dialect. Rosabela is perfecting her English in preparation for her GED certification test which she will take later on in the year. Eventually Rosabela would like to manage her own house cleaning business in Santa Fe. Both women work six day weeks, take care of their families in addition to taking the ESL class once a week. Transcribing the interviews took the women only two months which was surprising since the women are so busy.

Bethany, Isabel and Rosabela can not be thanked enough for their enthusiasm in taking on this project and the considerable amount of time spent on details making sure the transcriptions were correct.

Stitch by stitch, each person has been weaving their story into the fabric of Always Becoming.

With walrus needles
And sage
Making clay skin people

Clay skin people who will become Towa'eh
Who in time will become clouds
Bringing rain to waiting earth beds

Continual rebirth


Excerpt from the poem - Always Becoming

Next Month: Finding Music

Thursday, May 28, 2009


Washington D.C.

Chapter I
The Family of Sculptures

The five sculptures of Always Becoming have clearly begun their transition. The red coat of plaster on the smallest sculpture known as Hin Chaa or "Baby" has almost washed away. The second layer of mud and straw surface is highly textured and richly organic looking. The fired clay balls on the top of "Baby" are holding tightly to the surface giving the piece a tribal look and feel. Mason Bees have started burrowing small holes into the surface of Gia, more commonly known as "Mother". Because of the wind's direction, rain travels through a channel between the NMAI building straight toward Gia who has all but lost her Micaceous clay coating making her, of all the pieces, look like an older building from the Southwest- think Chaco Canyon, Mesa Verde. Ta or "Father" and Pin Tse deh (Mountain Bird) or "Brother" - the two Tee-pee forms- are still standing with their dignity in tact, awaiting the Yam vines to cover their surfaces. A few pieces of plaster have chunked off so during this visit, Gail Joyce with Conservation and the Mellon Fellows - trainees in Museum Conservation - and I spent time cleaning and oiling the pieces.

As an aside, during the presidential inauguration a man who'd come to witness this historic event crawled inside the "Father" sculpture and started a fire with inauguration flyers and pieces of bamboo. A guard on duty noticed the flames and discovered the man inside of the structure who was "Just trying to keep warm".

Moon Woman the largest and most sensual form, is holding up well. The very top point of the sculpture has has begun to dissolve turning once crisper lines into even rounder curves. She is regal looking, maintaining a presence of solid certainty and dignity while maturing into a matriarch.

The weather has now become an official partner in the transition and creative design of these five ephemeral pieces.

The next chapter of the Always Becoming sculptures will truly be about weather, land and human stewardship.

Chapter II
Under Fluorescent Light

Smithsonian Photo Archives

What a curious experience to sit under fluorescent lights at the NMAI's Suitland archives flipping through volumes of Native photographs. Page after page of cultures rich in ceremony, land and community, images of a much different cultural experience than the one I live as a contemporary Native woman. While looking at a second generation image of an adobe building, protected under plastic,I traced the image with my finger and guessed that this post modern phenomena was a commonality that contemporary Natives understand all too well and, is in fact, a large part of our cultural experience. Looking at a print of my culture that once was, captured by a photograph and hermetically sealed and stored for protection spoke volumes about the degrees of separation that I feel about culture. What does culture mean now in the era of casinos and golf courses? And more importantly to me, what do we do with what we have left of culture?

Again, looking at a photograph of Santa Clara Pueblo - circa 1930, I could hardly recognize my own community, but as I studied the image closer, something about the land surrounding the structures reminded me of home. I was struck by the notion that the land humans occupy was and still is crucial to our cultural survival, to our human survival. The rolling, grassy plains of the Osage, the wet and lush timber land of the Northwest coastal tribes and most familiar and close to my heart, the parched, textured earth of Pueblo is the soul of culture.

The land surrounding the NMAI museum represents the core values of the indigenous world view. The tobacco grown on the grounds of the museum, harvested and shared. The Grandfather rocks placed in each of the four directions, guarding and protecting everyone who passes by, even the Mason bees burrowing into the surface of Gia, are all part of the Eco-system born from the land that inspires, returns us to core values and allows us to become in our evolution.

* A special thanks to Kathy Suter for setting up our visit at the NMAI's Suitland archives and to Lou Stancari at the Archival Department.
Also to Gail Joyce for her on going stewardship of the Always Becoming sculptures.

Next Month

Translators and Transcribers Working on the Always Becoming Film Project.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Crossing Over

Day One

We crossed the border south of Tucson, Arizona at the wind swept town of Nogales, Mexico. The desert landscape stark under the glaring mid day sun undulated, slipped into ravines then resurfaced behind a valley of mud homes. Intimidating border officials, weather worn and dark, waved cars toward the next check point. In between checks points, kids sold candy and an older man hawked canaries in tiny metal cages. Mexican music drifted into the car slipping through the crack of the window and mixing with the heat and our curiosity. There was an endless stream of people and cars weaving in and out of the border in a chaotic carnival like atmosphere and in an instant it seemed like everything had shifted.

After crossing the border we headed south toward Obregón to find Don Juan and the rest of the Always Becoming construction crew.

Day Two

Guaymas is five hours into Mexico. The city of Guaymas sits on the Sea of Cortez and is one of many inlets on the Pacific Coast line. We stayed in an old hacienda near the bay where the following morning we interviewed Bill Steen in the courtyard of the hacienda. Bill was a member of the Always Becoming construction crew in Washington D.C., Bill connected us with other earth builders in the D.C. area and was instrumental obtaining red clay and other organic supplies for the sculptures. In our interview Bill discussed the area of Mexico we were traveling in and gave us a sketch of Yaqui history. He also talked about meeting Don Juan - another Always Becoming crew member - and the events that lead the crew to Washington D.C. to work on the sculptures at the NMAI Museum. After the interview we made our way through Yaqui land toward Obregón.

Day Three

Obregón, Mexico

We drove through to Obregón looking for the meeting place where Don Juan and his family would be waiting for us. On the outskirts of Obregón there are massive factories that line the road one right after the other. Across the narrow highway from the factories there are clusters of unfinished houses that seemed to go on forever. Tiny houses positioned close together, designed and made specifically for the factory workers, inexpensive shelter for workers who will spend their entire lives paying off the mortgage.
We continued toward a more remote area near a bosque where the houses differed from the factory built and owned modules. Make shift dwellings of cardboard tin and plastic spotted the area. A herd of goats casually grazed along the river. A few unattended children played in the river. This was not the Mexico boasted on travel brochure, this was the Mexico of the poor who scratched out a living picking through trash heaps looking for something to salvage and possibly resell. We passed a family of four on a bicycle coming home from work, their faces covered with layers of dirt and sweat, I was struck by the fact that this family waved and smiled at us as we passed by in an air conditioned rental car.
Down a dusty dirt road we arrived to the place where we met Don Juan and his family. They were gathered under a large tree singing and playing their guitars.

Day Four

Obregón, Mexico

The next day we drove to the Save the Children office building outside of Obregón.
The building was constructed by the Steen and Morales families several years ago. The families met and began a relationship while working on this straw bale and mud plastered building. It seemed appropriate to conduct the interviews here in the garden that Don Juan once tended, where he, his family and new friends, the Steens met. Wildly colorful Bougainvilleas framed walls and arches that were plastered in the brightest blue and yellow clay mixes. All of these wondrous colors popping out of corners and gardens only added to the charm and beauty of this simple yet elegant compound. Athena - a crucial Always Becoming crew member - spoke about traveling to this place in Obregón where she felt anchored and enlightened not only by the land, but by the people. Don Juan sang a song for us which we'll use in the film and Juanita - who is a shy woman - quietly spoke of her experience working on the Always Becoming project in Washington. After the interview we drove to a park and ate fresh coconut with peanuts peppered with chili powder.

Day Five

Rio Sonora, Mexico
Returning North - away from the city - back toward the border through the Rio Sonora valley
through an area of subsistence living.

Small villages
Above the valley
Under the intensity
Of a hot
Full sun.

Humble abode
Simple construction
Wooden doorways
Leading to courtyards
Where minimal water and flowers make visual magic.

Taco stands everywhere
Outside of people's homes
Selling the hottest chili ever
Outside tamales boiled in huge metal pots
Grandmothers held grandchildren lovingly
As young mothers sold roasted green chili.

An old man sold us Bacanora

Moving through calm
with the people and land
Ending our last day together under the stars
We passed the coke bottle of Bacanora around and around.

We celebrated our journey
Toasting the boundaries we'd crossed together and separately.

That night we slept soundly in Banámichi, Mexico
Near a plaza
Above farm land
Under a bright
Clear moon.

* Bacanora: Alcohol made from the Agave plant, distilled and bottled. Usually purchased in a coke bottle from a farmer/distiller.

Day Six

Naco, Mexico/U.S. Border

We crossed into the United States through a dust storm, re-entering at the border town called Naco. We exchanged the last of our pesos for dollars and passed through a fenced off check point. Armed security guards looked over our passports and waved us through the fence. We were back in the United States and suddenly everything shifted. Once on U.S. soil we stopped for one last photo-op with the crew and before everyone went their separate ways, we shared one last shot of Bacanora and thanked each other for a good trip.

For five days we moved together, navigating through a foreign land, reuniting to tell a story about a project that made us all cross over in our thinking. And in doing so, we migrated closer to ourselves.

I've been inviting people to share their comments and suggestion on this blog, so please anyone out there interested in sharing their thoughts, you are most welcome.

next month: Washington D.C.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Crossing Borders

On April 4th the Always Becoming film crew will head down to Obregón, Mexico. We will be traveling with Athena and Bill Steen, last year's crew members on the Always Becoming sculpture project at NMAI In Washington. Our goal is to interview crew members, Juanita and Emiliano Morales and patriarch Don Juan who live in Obregón. The Steen and Morales families along with Don Juan played a significant role doing the building of the ephemeral NMAI sculptures .

The concept of family and community resonated from these families, encouraging an inclusiveness that extended to the staff members and visitors of the museum. Everyday while working on those two islands at the museum, the Morales family displayed a quiet dignity that crossed boundaries of language and culture.

In addition, the family's initial journey to Washington D.C., crossing the Mexican border and traveling through the United States symbolized the migration, not only geographically, but of self. Migrating toward that place of self realization where culture is honored and in the process creating is nurtured. We will conduct interviews and bring Don Juan across the border while interviewing him and the land he comes from.

Obregón, Mexico


April 4,2009 - Arrive in Tuscon. Rent car and drive to Nogales, Mexico where we meet up with the Steen family. Cross the border. Spend the night in San Carlos, Mexico.

April 5,2009 - Drive to Juanita and Emiliano's house in Obregón. Begin interviews.

April 6,2009 - Continue Obregón interviews with Morales and Steen Families.

April 7,2009 - Return to Nogales traveling through Rio Samora, Mexico.

April 8,2009 - Nogales- Tucson - Albuqerque.

Next month's blog will have an excerpt from interviews.