Friday, October 26, 2007

Pueblo Indians and Catholic Missionaries

I got an email from someone who read my post yesterday about kachinas in The Twelve Days of Christmas: A Pinata for a Pinon Tree. He noted simply the err in mixing two religions. His email reminded me of a short story my daughter, Liz Reese, wrote when she was 15. With her permission, I post it today. I think it provides some history and context for, in our case, Pueblo objections to the ways that our spiritual and religious ways are appropriated for the entertainment of others.

Liz's story is untitled. It may not be published elsewhere without her written permission.



It’s so dark. Sitting in the back of the car, I look out my window and see nothing, just blackness. The moon is dark, and we are miles away from the small town of Espanola, leaving the little light it provides behind. As we get closer to the monument, Donald turns off the headlights. If we are caught now, all our work will be in vain. We pull into the parking lot, only car there, good sign. Donald pops the trunk of his Toyota and Will and I hop out to get what we will need for our task.

Going out late like this is not something I usually do. I don’t go out and party like a lot of teenagers do. But tonight is different. Our reason for being out late is different. Everyone is sober. Our elders tell us that alcohol on your breath is disrespectful in a sacred place. This place is not sacred, but what we are about to do is, in a way, sacred, as we go forth to protect and protest that which oppressed and oppresses our sacred ways of being. Being, that is, Pueblo Indian.

I am from Nambe and Ohkay Owingeh. When we eat, we remember to give food to our ancestors. I can see vividly my grandmother cooking and humming to herself, songs that mean nothing and everything. She stops to pick up a tiny piece of bread or meat and offers it, in our way, to our ancestors. Her brown hands are no longer clad with jewelry like mine are; hers are old and bare, wearing only their wrinkles.

She is old now. She couldn’t carry what I have to carry tonight. I unload the box with the heavy battery inside. In the darkness it takes me a few seconds to find the carrying handle. I am nervous, my heart pounding. The last thing I want is a criminal record. That could destroy everything I have worked for, leaving home to get an education at a school that prepares me to fight for our people.

Will pulls out a chainsaw and shuts the trunk. The sound of it slamming echoes out through the valley. All three of us flinch, the sound was too loud, but the empty darkness kills it slowly. Donald almost scolds him, but he knows better than to make any more noise. I stumble on the curb. It is so dark, I can’t see anything. But Will puts a hand on my shoulder and leads me toward the statue. Standing 12 feet high, Don Juan de Oñate is in full uniform and mounted on his horse. I wonder if that’s what he really looked like, or if they used some random model for the statue. Is this the face of a killer? A man who, because we refused to give him grain, ordered the enslavement of Acoma pueblo’s women and children, and the mutilation of its men? Onate is heralded in history books as an explorer, but few say that he was charged with turning us into Catholics, and fewer still mention the generation of Acoma men who had to make their way on their one remaining foot.

Will feels around for Onate’s foot, finds it, and turns on the saw. Sparks fly as metal meets metal, but we are ready for that. Donald holds up a tarp to block some of the light from the sparks. But we can do nothing about the sound. All we can do is tell Will to go faster. I hear a car off in the distance, and see a light coming up Highway 68. It gets closer and I pull the plug. We are back in the darkness, but we stand like deer in headlights, our hearts beating faster than any drum. Once the car has passed, we finish cutting. The right foot of the “first conquistador of the West” falls onto the base the statue is mounted on, and then bounces off, landing almost silently, masked by the roar of the chainsaw. We grab the foot and head for the car. We don’t run, we are too blind to do that, but we move quickly, together like dancers for feast, liberated by what we have taken.

It is a small victory, but we live for these small victories. Not enough people care about the troubles of Indian country. If our little bit of vandalism makes the papers nationally, maybe a few people will learn who Onate was to us, and why his foot is significant. And pueblo people who pass the statue will feel the same victory we feel, and know why. We did this for the Pueblo people.



jpm said...

This is a powerful story from a talented young woman. What's more, I learned something about history.

Gabriele Bianchetti said...

Liz's short story is really stunning!