Saturday, November 22, 2008

(3) The Shield

My first year at USD concentrated on course work, such as...
• A survey of the prehistory, history, worldview, and current issues
of the American Indian.
• An overview of the cultural and environmental history of native
Californian tribes, such as the Cahuilla, the Gabrileno, Serrano,
Cupeno, Luiseno, and Kumeyaay tribes.
• A survey of the Indian tribes in the Greater Southwest.

These various courses gave me a much more depth knowledge
and understanding of the American Indian; and, especially, of
those tribes who lived in the area of the country where I now live.

The following year at USD I had to concentrate on developing a
thesis for my Master's Degree. My anthropologist friend suggested
I might like to make appointments with the curators at some of the
archaeological museums in the Southwest, discussing with them
about how the major Indian tribes in this area related their cultural
outlook with Mother Earth--or, as scientists would put today,
towards the natural ecological systems that formed their
environment. This seemed the right focus for me.

Considering my friend's idea, I was off and running. Immediately
I made contact with San Diego's Museum of Man as well as the
nearby Barona Museum and Cultural Center. Both were a gold
mine when it came to Kumeyaay connections with the

My next move was to load-up my camper and head out to Arizona,
where I had appointments with some of the curatorial professionals
at the Heard Museum in Phoenix for an overview of the Apache
and Navajo Nations, particularly in regard to my thesis' focus. And
more specifically I also visited the White Mountain Apache Culture
Center and Museum at the Fort Apache Historic Park. Next I dropped
by the Navajo National Museum in Window Rock, Arizona, not far
from Gallup, New Mexico. And from Gallup I headed east on to
Albuquerque, the locale of the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center.

After collecting lots of ideas and materials from these above
mentioned museums, I decided to head north to that familiar
territory where I once lived--when I worked at the Bandelier National
Monument. I stopped at the Museum of the Institute of American
Indian Arts in Santa Fe. Indian artwork is important, because it is
yet another kind of language that expresses their culture and their
ceremonials. One could learn to discern from their artwork their
emphasis on Mother Earth and the animals and plants and rocks
and mountains that form around her mantle.

I drove up farther north to Taos--and visited the great Pueblo there.
It too had a small museum--where I met with people knowledgeable
in not only the Pueblo, but also Hopi and Zuni traditions. And from
Taos, I turned south back to Bandelier. It seemed ages ago since
I had worked there, but as I entered the park I felt such a sense of
well-being. I felt a deep belonging, if you will. As I approached the
old Anasazi dwellings, I found myself walking alone. Suddenly I
heard the sound of thundering hooves! I found myself surrounded
by a small herd of deer. They kept circling around me as I continued
my walk. I laughed, I nearly cried too! It was a profound experience.
I lifted up my arms, gave thanks to these friendly deer, and shooed
them kindly on their way.

With this good omen, I turned my camper back towards California.
And back home, with mounds of information, I managed to write
a fairly decent thesis that concentrated on the Greater Southwestern
and Californian Indian cultures and their relationship(s) with the Earth.
For the most part I took a fairly scientific perspective when it came to
this relationship, emphasizing not only their cultural attitudes but
also their technological techniques--such that pertain to agriculture
and irrigation.

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