|American cultures mix in New Mexico|
Siobhann Tighe meets Native Americans who feel they have found a balance between traditional and modern ways of life.
Pearl Sunrise held out a perfectly round loaf of bread wrapped in a cellophane bag.
It had been baked traditionally in an outside oven or "orno" on a nearby reservation.
"Put it in your suitcase," she said. "It will still be fresh by the time you return home and it's lovely toasted!"
The loaf was a farewell present after I had dinner with Pearl, her three grown-up daughters, their other-halves, and her grandchildren.
Shared by three generations, hers was a suburban, all mod-cons, family home in the city of Albuquerque, but with a Native American twist.
Plastic toys and dinosaurs shared space with traditional pottery, baskets and Pearl's weaving loom and spindle.
This dinner was a chance for me to find out whether this was a typical Native American family, but my sweeping question was greeted with mild derision.
"What's normal? What's typical? We fight like all families do!" one sister laughed.
But then a serious discussion ensued.
Everyone agreed this family was traditional and proud of its heritage.
Despite living outside the reservation they hold on to their customs, going to dances and ceremonies.
"Us girls are very rare," said the middle sister, Deborah, "because we'll never starve. We learnt how to butcher and we can make bread."
Her older sister agreed: "We're rustic on the inside and we're fortunate to have that because a lot of Natives have lost their culture."
All the same, this family was integrated into mainstream American life.
The eldest daughter, Beulah, was a Prom Queen at High School, very rare for a Native American, her doting mother said.
The youngest daughter, Shawna, a television producer, told me how she hoped to make a film about her boyfriend's experience as a soldier in Iraq.
"Tell her about it!" she urged Victor who takes his nature-based belief system extremely seriously and is the grandson of a medicine man.
In 2003 he was part of a team renovating a school near the border with Iran and one morning, eating his breakfast of cereal and hot milk, he picked up a little bird which had fallen from its nest.
Then he noticed what he thought was a stick, but it was a snake. A bad omen in the Navajo culture and a warning that something terrible will happen.
Victor was so worried that he sought permission - which he got - to phone his mother so she could perform ceremonial offerings by the river which he believed would keep his unit safe.
The next morning he made his own offerings towards the sun holding a pouch containing his grandfather's ashes.
Later that day, Victor was told about a series of near-miss events that could have taken his life and the lives of his comrades.
Believing all things to be connected, Victor explained the moral of the story: "Never mess with Mother Nature. I should never have picked up that bird."
Like many Native American families, certainly in New Mexico which was colonised by the Spanish, the Sunrise family blend their indigenous faith with Catholicism.
When I travelled to the Pueblo of Pojoaque, the governor or tribal leader there, George Rivera who is also an artist and sculptor showed me the chapel he was building.
"Over the last 400 years there's had to be some give and take between both cultures in order to live here peacefully.
"So traditional tribal dances are carried out on important dates in the Catholic calendar and in another pueblo around here they even sing all Catholic hymns in the Tewa language.
"It's not about us and them anymore, it's about the good of religion."
The chapel is one of the many developments in this community of just 400 people, and it is George Rivera who is credited with turning what was a poor and lack-lustre place into a healthy and wealthy one, funded by multi-million dollar enterprises including a casino, controversial, but lucrative.
His artistic flair is everywhere and I could not help wondering whether he was too good to be true: well travelled, educated, talented, and commercially very savvy with the welfare of his people at heart.
His house was on the top of the hill with a 360-degree view consisting of two mountain ranges, snow capped at that moment, and land spotted with green juniper bushes.
"I can keep an eye on everyone from up here," he joked.
And I commented that there was a real sense of wealth. "That's good," he said. "The whole goal is to raise the quality of life.
"I grew up in a shack with ten siblings. We had bunk beds with three in a bed. I just didn't want to retain that lifestyle."
In his backyard were two sculptures in progress, a bear and buffalo dancer, and the outside oven where he cooked his turkeys and bread.
Which reminds me - Pearl's loaf survived the trip back to London and she was right - it was delicious toasted.
|Dernière mise à jour : ( 20-04-2009 )|
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