Thursday, February 28, 2013
Puzzle Pieces (An investigation of Yavapai history the lessons one tribe can teach us about the importance of place, identity, cultural and political resistance, and above all survival.)
Its a brisk day I enter a tiny cafeteria on the edge of a bingo hall. An elderly chain smoking woman drags an oxygen tank as she enters the hall pondering the illuminated menu in front of her like a deer in headlights. I order green chili and fry bread and receive it placed in a to go box. A subtle thing happens between receiving the only Native food on the menu and placing the order. I am sized up judged and it is assumed I must work at the resort or bingo hall. Everyone around orders Anglo food Kosher dogs, club sandwiches, and hamburgers. If I'm an Indian employee, am I not supposed to eat in the hall with everyone I would go to break a area. Everyone gets their meager portions on bright orange trays but certainly normal picnic style plates. I am given neither. Am I being asked to leave? Is it the Native food that causes all of this? It may seem silly but it is a good example of the way so many little cultural moments are exchanged on all reservations. I am given a righteous heaping portion of the finest green chili and hubcap size fry I have ever encountered so this isn't racial mistreatment this is a subtle favor. So I am mestizo or somewhere back there I am Indian. I'll take it prejudice or not as I wipe the sweat from my forehead and devour the molten material.
Racial ambiguity can be troubling to some but it is something I have learned to embrace. While in Colombia at the slave port of Cartegena and old man there once explained his Caribbean world view. „When I give from heart am kind I am African, when I am clever I am Indian, and when I am greedy or bad I am Spanish.“ This sort of accepting of the odd fact that most Africans, Asians and Native Americans live on their Native soil and the peculiar European has found the need to travel to other lands and live there too is telling (Mann, xxiv). The old man has also made peace with the amalgamation that many of us are. By my families account I am Roma, Jewish, Spanish and Native American. According to a couple of DNA tests I can only verify one of these claims. So how does one form an identity based on percentages, family folk tales, and half truths? Yes north African folks are present in Spain but they aren't really European so am I truly Spanish (in the Latin sense stemming from Roman origins) no. But neither are the Basque or Galetian folks that live on the land mass named Spain. On both sides of the family there is evidence that I am in fact Native American but it didn't show up in the DNA (in truth there was a region marked unknown a deeper clade test might show Indian genes, then again maybe not).
I too have been addressed as a black person often, culturally share plenty with African Americans. I will play music and have someone after give me a soul hand shake and a knowing that was a good show my brother address. I then pass into the nether world of the African diaspora of all kinds of shades of black, brown and high yellow.
Now back to the reservation they were not wrong to assume I am Indian because supposedly I am. And what of the fact that I have sought out black history African culture, Native American history and archaeology for my whole life as if somewhere inside of me I always knew the truth of these things.
On a surface level purely my father looks a bit like James Earl Jones. We bare a Hispanic family name but as is the case of many Caribbean folks we show some Africa in our features.People the world over despise the implication that they are of mixed origins as my grandfather was once classified on a census record as mulatto, literally a mule or non-viable offspring. I have been called this often either jokingly or with a mean spirit (while living Europe I was called much worse).
Now here is where it gets really sticky, my father would never settle for being called black considered black or in anyway identify with African American culture. A friend of mine could be my fathers lost twin, and he teaches African folk tales at ASU. Here you have two folks that to all the world could be twins. Yet one raised in an African American community identifies with that culture. The other the son of Puerto Rican immigrants strives to get out of Brooklyn and to be as white as possible. Ashamed of relatives that speak with a Spanish accent, enamored with Hollywood movies and the Beatles, he grows up creating his own unique identity. In the process mulatto is never again seen in a census record, and the subsequent children he produces with a much whiter appearing woman are even further away from their African origins.
All of this is very personal and brought up in the wrong way if at all could be troubling at best fightin' words at worst. Looking into other peoples cultures is even more dangerous, which finally brings us to the Yavapai.
A Brief History of the Yavapai
The Pai people are a group that includes the Hualapai, Havasupai, and Yavapai. The estimates are that the Pai people once inhabitated some ten million acres (Heard Museum). The Yavapai once mistaken for Apache were deemed hostile and warlike and subsequently hunted and killed. They do share much linguistically with Apaches and are of the Athabascan language family (Basso, xiv).
In 1857 when gold was discovered in Arizona the Yavapai were suddenly in the way of gold fever. Eventually they would be removed from their lands forced to endure long marches laden with rape, murder and starvation (River of Time Museum).
Various nearly eradicated groups were ingested by larger groups while they lived in exile for twenty-five years and again when returned to their ancestral homes in 1900. Placed on three separate reservations by executive order they found themselves on hundreds of acres and numbering in the hundreds and for rest of time known as the Fort McDowell Indians.
1934 saw the establishment of a self-governing tribal system for each of the three groups under the Indian Reorganization Act, which most importantly preserved a few rights including legal claim to water (Murphy, 12).
In the 1970's the Phoenix area became one of the fastest growing in the nation a new type of gold was being mined, sunlight. Promising year round warm weather and cheap land developers were on the march, all of their efforts dependent upon water (River of Time Museum).
In the 1980's about 600 hundred Fort McDowell Indians lived at the long abandoned fort and surrounding land (Weber, 6).
A spirit of activism existed within the tribe having produced the first male Native American doctor, having participated in code activities in the second world war, returning soldiers pushed to gain the right to vote for Arizona tribes, they had fought legal battles in the past (Heard Museum). As the specter of the Orme dam project materialized in the early 80's put forward to provide water and power for bustling Phoenix and countless prefab communities surrounding, the Yavapai once again marched to Washington (Weber, 6).
Hiawatha Hood returned from Chicago to spend the rest of his days on his ancestral land only to hear that it would soon be flooded and the few remaining on it would be paid some to relocate. Remembering past Yavapai legal fights he rallied the elders and took the case to Washington. Local newspapers championed the small tribe and its struggle presenting their perspective and keeping the story alive for several years (Weber, 6). Despite the Bush administrations coming down on the side of the dam developers the dam was stopped making Hiawatha an elderly hero.
The victory has allowed the Ft. Mcdowell Yavapai to remain in the area first of all, develop businesses the above mentioned bingo hall, but also construction companies, a resort and golf course and other small businesses. Along the way they host several festivals a rodeo (to commemorate the dam victory) and other cultural events. The population of the tribe has grown steadily and now is mostly young people (Yavapai Nation Website).
Puzzle Pieces (Joining the Puzzle Pieces of Culture History and Identity)
The project I have begun with the Gangplank community center and the Yavapai Youth Council entitled Puzzle Pieces will be a small exhibit, with talk, blog, press, and illustrations that provide the broad outline and intent of the exhibit and project. A short video summing up the project with slide images of the making of the events, the participants and their work. Several text panels with illustrations of museum quality along with illustrations also mounted by museum standards, will intiate locals into the rich history of the Yavapai. Working with Yavapai youth and the Youth Council several students will become involved and add their voices, ideas, and images to the project. As more students present their work and add it profiles will be created on a blog, where their ideas and images will be shared. Ideally a sort of yin and yang approach will be achieved the museum style items will be balanced by the current additions, as if to say here is the past and now lets journey into the present and future.
The most exciting thing about it is that I have no idea what they will bring to the project maybe they will want to take it in an entirely different direction which I am open to. Further, I know the history from the Heard Museum and newspaper articles but how do these figures and events resonate in the youth of the tribe?
I recently wrote a song entitled Puzzle Pieces, which addresses the idea that we kind of are trying to fit in a place, fit in our family, fit within our society and now as we become increasingly global citizens, in the larger global village. Some times you are searching for the pieces other times they fall in place. Looking at one society that has endured near genocide, still faces misunderstanding, bigotry, and health problems, I hope we can all learn something about ourselves. I will use the song as a sort of theme for the exhibit and short film I will produce inconjunction with the project.
As an added experiment of the theories of visual culture I am trying to avoid the use of the words art and artists as much as possible. I sincerely want to avoid steering the participants toward work that they think will meet with my approval but is honest and documentary. My larger hope is that the participants will notice (if they haven't already) that they have tremendous history and therefore power through that history and they need only learn to wield it through our current technology. Community centers such as the Gangplank but also webbased forums can give anyone a voice a platform or a chance to express themselves. It is my goal to help facilitate the process.
In this way I hope to bring the many ideas and concepts I have been exposed to in this class into the project.
Hiawatha Hood in an article entitled Hiawatha Comes Home, as an old man staring down Washington and Arizona developers when asked was most concerned about the state of Yavapai youth. „the young people ..It seems they don't care.“ Hopefully we can honor Hiawatha's memory, bravery, tenacity and prove him wrong by encouraging a few Yavapai youth to care (Weber, 8).
The Heard Museum Phoenix Arizona (archives and displays)
The River of Time Museum, Fountain Hills Arizona.
The Arizona Republic-several articles related to recent Yavapai history.
Hawley C. (1990, Nov. 2nd ) Newspaper article, The Arizona Republic-a history of Yavapai water disputes and the final settlement in favor of the tribe. (call # ZP2A: E78.A7 075 1998 Library Use)
Johnson, A. (1986, April, 11th) Newspaper article, The Arizona Republic-a brief history of Yavapai activism including the battle to stop the Orme dam. (call # ZP2A: E78.A7 075 1998 Library Use)
Murphy, M. ( 1990, July, 7th) Newspaper article, Phoenix Gazette-an article related to the Orme Dam project (call # ZP2A: E78.A7 075 1998 Library Use) Archives at the Heard Museum Library.
Mann, C. (2011) 1493, Vintage Books.
Basso, K. (1990) Western Apache Language and Culture (Essays in Linguistic Anthropology), Universtiy of Arizona Press Tuscon Arizona.
Yavapai Nation Website