Sunday, July 28, 2013

An Unusual Pueblo Experience

We were recently asked by the Governor of the Pojoaque Pueblo, George Rivera and an Anglo Museum professional, Bruce Bernstein to join them and the tribal council on a tour of the pueblo.

Bruce Bernstein has dedicated his life to the study of Native American culture.  In the years that we have been coming out here he was the first director of the new incarnation of the Museum of Indian Arts  & Culture in Santa Fe, he worked as Director of Research and Collections at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C. and subsequently ran the Southwestern Association of Indian Arts which produces Indian Market in Santa Fe every year. One of his current projects is to help Governor Rivera start up a new foundation for the benefit of Pojoaque called The Continuous Pathways Foundation.

About 30 people were on our tour.  We at the Poeh Center & Museum, which, like museums on many pueblos, is there to teach the tribal members about their heritage more than it is for the benefit of other visitors. We know it fairly well in that we have visited often.  It has a couple of special exhibition galleries, a gift shop with works made by this and nearby pueblos, a studio where you can watch a craftsman working. Then there are several galleries with dioramas tracing pueblo life from its origins to the present. All the figures are made out of clay and were created by a well known sculptor, Roxanne Swentzell.  Governor Rivera told us that she has done a great deal for the Pueblo even though she is from Santa Clara Pueblo. Roxanne’s work can be found all over the country including the Denver Art Museum and in the Rotunda of the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C.

Photography is often prohibited on pueblos but I was given special permission on this visit. Out of respect I still felt I should be cautious in what I took.  All the images here are my own.

We were piled into two vans and driven around the pueblo to show us all what was being done for the approximately 460 accredited members of the tribe living on the pueblo as well as the 3-4,000 inhabitants of the valley surrounding it.  The only program that is not open to the latter is the crafts program where they teach anything that the students ask for, silversmithing, basket weaving, pottery etc.  Why?, Because it is paid for by the Department of Education specifically for the Native Americans.

Our first stop was a running track which must have been the most beautiful I have ever seen.  The setting was idyllic.  During the short talk that Bruce and George gave we did see one runner go around several times and there was another runner practicing on the hill behind.  Many Indian races occur, not just on a track, but on hilly terrain as well.

Governor Rivera

From there they pointed out the wellness center with swimming pool, a Boys & Girls Club which the kids see as their second home, and the senior center.  On their 13,000 plus acres they also have a bison herd, a farming program and a language retention program where they teach the young their Tewa tongue.  About half the population of the pueblo is under the age of 18.

Our next stop was the farm where we heard from the director, Frances Quintana who is also an artist.  She explained that they had torn out a field of Chinese Elms in order to create the farm that is currently growing 18,000 onions, 1000 chilies, 800 tomatoes, melons, red hangar beans, fingerling potatoes, sweet corn and squash; all of these in several varieties.  They rotate their crops for a couple of reasons.  The one I knew was to preserve the soil but, it is also to fool the pests.  They do not use pesticides and they have found that the bugs usually hibernate under the plants that they have been feeding on.  So if they move the veggies they end up confused and it takes them longer to start over!

“Farm to Table” is very important in this part of the world and our restaurant menus often mention where an animal or vegetable came from.  The Pojoaque farm program supplies several restaurants in Santa Fe.  I was pleased to learn that two members of the Santa Fe Culinary Institute had been invited on the tour to introduce them to the farm so that they might find mutual benefits in the program.

To show the members of the tour the quality of the farm produce we ended our tour with lunch.  The meal was delicious: bison burgers, various vegetables, green chili stew and posole with pork.  As we ate Governor Rivera came around and talked to us.  I asked him where he got his business training to organize all this.  He said from his uncle who had been governor before him.  When I asked him when he was going to run for governor of the state, his reply, “I would consider that to be a come down”. 

As mentioned in other Missives when I see an object that makes me smile or laugh I want to acquire it.  So before leaving the pueblo we could not leave behind something we had seen in the gift shop.   It is a totally non-traditional ceramic. The potter, Shawn Tafoya from Santa Clara Pueblo, titled it “Chucky can’t wait for his corn dog”.  Jonalee, who was manning the shop that day said that she has seen the kids actually shaking in anticipation of getting their corndog.  Her daughter, however, insisted that it was a “Bugaboo” and the name has been adopted by the artist for these comic creations.

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