Saturday, November 15, 2008

More Americana. Last of the red hot hoochie mamas. Or not. Read this anyway.

This blog seems to go in cycles. Right now I am on an American gig I guess. I will soon return to trying to inform myself (and perhaps other Americans) about things British, instead of vice versa. But please try to endure one more American-to-British post. Thank you.

Incidentally, I guess I should warn you that this is going to be a very long post indeed. But you don't have to read it all. :)

If you are watching your TV news from outside the USA (or inside it for that matter, I suppose) you will be left with the impression that what Native Americans do mostly is protest their terrible treatment and stage marches to protest the Columbus Day holiday.

To be sure, there are many protests and reasons to protest, and many, many historical examples of terrible things that happened, but to assume that all Native Americans are constantly being mistreated and protesting that mistreatment would not really be a true picture of how things are in the USA today at all.

This post is not about the vocal protesters, but about the average Joe Indian living on the Rez today. And, I hope, a little bit of how highly I hold the average hard-working Native American in esteem.

I live in what we locals call "Indian Country." In fact, for longer than most can remember, my little border town where I live has been known as "The Indian Capital of the World." By us at least. Heh. People living in India would probably differ.

Having said that, I suppose I should pause a moment and tell new readers that this blogger doesn't live in India. He (I am a "he") lives in a place called Gallup, in the USA's 47th state, New Mexico, in a region called "The Four Corners." Our license plates say "New Mexico USA" and we are probably the only state that has to put the "USA" part there. Even our neighboring states of Arizona and Texas often call us Mexico, leaving off the "new" part. Go figure. If we weren't here holding them apart, they would be smack up against each other. But I will admit that "New Mexico" is rather an oxymoron, being neither new nor Mexico.

Our license plates also say "Land Of Enchantment." Because we are, that's why. Much better than "Grand Canyon State" or "Lone Star State" don't you think? Of course you do. Not that we don't get along with our neighbors. But it would be nice to be able to order merchandise from California on the computer without them trying to add foreign postage to our order.

Please note that there are several zillion variations available in each state, depending on what cause you support, what university you attended, whether you have been awarded the Purple Heart and ad infinitum. I just chose these for quick examples. Enjoy. Marvel. The only thing all states seem to have in common, I think, is that politicians seem to always get them for free. And to assure you we don't have a national license plate. Or spell it with 2 Cs.

New Mexicans love Texans, too. Or at least we love their tourist money. Don't laugh — if you lived in Texas, you'd spend your vacation in New Mexico, too, right? Of course. Texans love to ski. Or at least they like to dress up in designer sunglasses and thousand-dollar ski-bunny suits and come bleed all over our mountains. Some cynics have even speculated that "If God had intended Texans to ski, he would have given them a decent mountain."

The wind blows a lot in New Mexico. At least visitors think so. Natives know the truth: Texas sucks. Ta DUM da. How good it is to write mainly to a British and South African audience: Americans groan at these old jokes, but you, the chronically uninformed on most things Texan, think they are new and fresh, and that I am a very sharp wit indeed. Even the few Canadians who stumble by are for the most part impressed. Not hard to impress though, that lot.

I am not quite sure how I have drifted this far afield from my intended subject ("Average everyday Native Americans", for those of you just now joining us) but those of you who follow this blog on a regular basis know (or think you know; you are mostly crazy) that I start out by making up a title for my post and then start writing. If I find that I do not really know anything about the title subject, as is often the case, I will continue writing anyway. It would be a shame to waste a good post title, after all.

Chapter Two.

The "Four Corners" region of the USA is so-called because it has four corners. By God. Which is to say it is the only place in the USA where 4 states come together, so neatly in fact, that you can stand on one foot and be in four states at the same time. I don't mean YOU personally, it was just a manner of speaking.

Like most things around here, the actual Four Corners is located where the Native Americans can charge you to see it if they want. Usually they want. I am not quite sure why tourists like to drive so far out into the desert just have their pictures taken standing in 4 states at once, but I'm sure the Indians do thank you for your interest (read: "stupidity") and so do we in little border towns who thrive on tourist dollars and Uncle Sam's welfare checks.

Europeans (Germans especially, for some reason) seem drawn to Indian Country, and (Germans again) seem to also like to have their pictures taken standing on one foot on the concrete 4 corners "monument". They also like to dress up like fake Indians with white faces in "authentic", heh, made-in-China costumes, and have their pictures taken again. Which is fine with the real Indians watching the Germans from their pickup trucks, wearing (made in the USA) Stetsons (or Resistols) and Wrangler jeans and Roper boots. As long as that bogus Chinese stuff is purchased from them, then it is okay.

Where was I?

Chapter Three

(Caution: the real post starts here.)

The "average" Native American (if there is such a thing) dresses like everybody else around here dresses and likes to do the same sorts of things everybody else likes to do. Sorry for that bit of culture shock.

In other words, American Indians dress like cowboys if they are ranchers, blue collar workers if they are that, office workers with suits and ties (usually bolo ties, though) if they are office workers or executives, anything they feel like wearing if they are silversmiths, and in polo shirts if they happen to be on the golf course.

Indians in my little part of the world like to go to fairs, eat junk food, ride bulls at rodeos, play and watch sports, sip Bud Light, disparage George Bush, watch hot air balloons, participate in community affairs, donate to charities, talk trash, go dancing, watch mud bogs, teach school, nurse the sick at hospitals, and disparage George Bush again.

They also enjoy Ceremonial events and Pow Wows, and traveling as a family to those events around the country. That is likely the only time you will see them dressed in any clothes that are accessorized with eagle feathers. But when they do have on their traditional dress, man, bring the camera 'cause they are feckin' gorgeous.

And, no offense, but they will NEVER like you as much as they love their incredibly beautiful appaloosa horses. Just a fact, so don't be hurt.

You will never have a better neighbor than a Native American. If you get your truck stuck in the red mud on the Rez, they will get out of bed and come pull you out. If you come upon them at mealtime, you will be fed. At least you will be fed if you don't mind eating mutton. Just kidding. If you are walking along the road, they will give you a ride. And they don't pay much attention to the color of your skin.

Again, I am not writing this to make you think all is well in America, and that there are no Native Americans who are marching and protesting about past and present abuses. There are plenty. And Native Americans do indeed suffer from alcoholism and diabetes and high unemployment and general poverty. But I am about to tell you something you may not have known, even Americans who don't interact with Native Americans don't know this:

American Indians are some of the most loyal and patriotic Americans who live in this broad country of ours. Bar none. When there is a war, they are among the first to sign up. Always have been. When there is a flag to be carried in a parade, they will carry it. When the colors are posted at the beginning of a rodeo, they are on their feet. When the national anthem is played, their cowboy hats are in their hands.

You see, Native Americans have a strong sense of place, of home, and loyalty to that place that is home, and to the mother earth that home sits on. Their home wasn't always called America. But it is now, and they w
ill kick your ass if you try to do something against that home called America. And if America needs them to fight for that home, then they go sign up. Case closed.

It was the Navajo and Hopi Codetalkers that baffled the Japanese in the Pacific in WWII with their codes consisting of their native languages coupled with a simple substitution encryption. Their code was never broken. And today, in my little town, we are lucky to still have a few of them to honor at our veteran celebrations each year, but they are growing old now, and their ranks are thinner each year. Read about our Native American Codetalkers.

With modern changes, American women now serve in combat rather than simply in support roles. The first American female soldier to die in combat, was a Native American mother, a Hopi named Lori Piestewa. This at the start of the Iraq war. That's Lori in the picture below this line. You can read more about Lori and her friend Jessica Lynch.
Why did Lori even join the army? Partly it goes to what I wrote above. Here is what Hopi Tribal Chairman Wayne Taylor, Jr. said at the opening of a new exhibit at the women's Memorial in Arlington, Virginia: "It should not be limited to this day, or times of conflict and war, but it should be recognized and observed in some fashion every day. We need to be daily reminded that it is the contribution of our veterans which gives us the opportunity to live freely."

Taylor said after Lori Piestewa was killed in action, the most frequently asked question on the Hopi reservation was: "Why did Lori join the Army?"

"Many have speculated and derived their own answers," Taylor noted. "Perhaps it was because she followed in the legacy of those before her – her father, a Vietnam veteran, and her grandfather, a World War II veteran.

"Maybe it was because of early ROTC involvement," he said. "Only Lori could give us the answer. Whatever the reason, the question should not be why did she, but rather, why is it strange for her to?"

I was reading my home town paper today and it occured to me that showing you a page of that paper would help you get a better feel for what I am talking about. On this page, there appeared the following:

1. A picture of some Native American (and non-Indian) children (first-graders, mainly aged 6) singing the National Anthem, practicing for a program they are putting on for area veterans on Veterans' Day a few days ago.

2. Some local news and announcement snippets.

3. Some obituaries, one of which I will show here.

4. The weather information for yesterday. Just because you wanted to know why I am freezing out here at night.

All of these are meant simply to show you the general flavor of the somewhat unusual place this bloggers lives. You can laugh if you want to, I don't mind. You will have to click on the pictures in order to get them large enough to read.

I love the below picture of the first graders practicing the National Anthem for the veterans. I fell in love with the little girl as soon as I saw her. I don't know who she is but I fell in love with her. [Apache Elementary School, Farmington, NM, 10 Nov. 2008] Click to enlarge.
There is some ink bleed-through on these pictures due to the thin paper. Sorry.

The illustration below is simply some local news bits, or announcements, that appeared in the paper yesterday. I show this simply to give you an idea of some of the things that are important to Native people (and the rest of us) in this area. We are perhaps different in our interests than city people. My favorite announcement is circled in red. Click to enlarge.
Below is an obituary that appeared on this same page. Note that it is often customary to list the deceased's mother and father's clans, if the deceased is Native American. Click on it to make it large enough to read.
The picture below just shows the local weather yesterday. Again, click on the picture if you want to see it larger.
You can learn a little more about where I live by clicking here.

Thank you for your attention, such as it was.


  1. fascinating insight into the real life location of you... more please

  2. I started reading at 9 am, now 11.27. Just half way through. I'll let you know when I've finished...

  3. So, 12.40 and I've finished. If I force myself, I can tell you that was truly interesting. Really.

    I see you're starting to get the hang of numbered paragraphs at last.

  4. Sage - and for a moment I thought you were wanting more insight into the blogger himself. Heh. Anyway, not so fascinating on this end. And I do need to try to get back to the subject of the blog. Perhaps I'll continue the saga on one of my other blogs. But thanks - you are incredible just for wading through it. Flattering... :)

    a. - I know. I wrote this over a couple of days. I tried to read it all at one sitting this morning. Too long. But that's me. Hope you are doing ok. :)

    PS - Sorry to hear of your reading challenge. 9 am to 12:40 (or 12 point 40 if you like.) That's about...what?... 3 words a minute? But by now you think in French, so it must take longer to travel to the cortex. More on this later young lady. Much more.

  5. Are you a fan of Morgan Spurlock's 30 Days series? He did a fascinating episode where he spent 30 days living with the Navajo people on rez. It was truly very touching. Highly recommended.

    I truly wish there were more opportunities to succeed for native americans other than military service (which is dignified, don't get me wrong, but to quote System of a Down, "why do they always take the poor?").

  6. Thanks Max, that was a very interesting insight into their lives we hear so little about the Native American Indians. I think I saw a kome makeover program done by your American interior makeover expert called Ty when he went to this ladies family and built a home for them on a huge piece of land close to the mountains, it truly gave you a lot of info on their lifestyle as well.

  7. Because I am from Arizona, a lot of this I knew. (No not all) I did learn something, like the oh something. The mst interesting thing to me was how many times I have been to Gallup and yet I have never seen you. Where the hell were you?
    Great post by the way. It is the most I have seen you talk (write) in a long while. :)

  8. I don't believe a word of this! I know for a fact John Wayne shot all the indians, and Cheyanne got the rest. This was so Wagon Train could slowly (oh so slowly) cross the prairie!
    I saw it all on TV in the late fifties!

  9. @Adullamite - No way you actually waded through this long post. Lying sack. I know your attention span. :)

    But yes, in a very round-about and convoluted way, the Indians won.

    Or are finally starting to win...

    Thank you for stopping by my friend.

  10. @Redbeard - I am not familiar with that. I am such a recluse. :) But it sounds informative. Albeit superficial, of necessity one, would think, as 30 days would hardly be enough to to dig much into the pith of any subject. But I like to read summations more than I like to read in-depth boring books, so I should find out about this and watch some, I think.

    Be assured there are many many ways for Native Americans to succeed other than the Miliatry. The main difference, I think, between them and other poor (and I apologize for being so inept in trying to bring this out in the post, but obviously failing) is that they join to fight for their country, out of pride and tradition, and then they very often return to their home. This as opposed to using the military as a way to escape the street warfare of Compton, say.

    While we disagree on the value of the military as a vehicle for the poor finally getting a chance to escape a vicious cycle of life, and to have a chance at an education, and to have an opportunity to see how others live, and to make close friends with others of different backgrounds, and of the fact that it is an honor to serve one's country, even if one is poor... Ah, but you challenge me as always and give me much food for thought. I think of you as my friend and I value that friendship. (I often just don't show it enough - thank you for your patience in that regard.) :)

  11. Could I ask a question please? I have got stuck. I need to know what a bolo tie is, before I can go any further.

  12. Fasinating. I am from Georgia and so I didn't know this, not all of it anyway.

    My great grandmother was Cherokee. I've been to many pow wows to watch my cousins dance. I love the energy at a pow wow. I have reddish brown hair and blue eyes, though, so I'm incognito at the festivities. [wink wink, nudge nudge]

    Your characterization of the Native American patriotism is absolutely on the mark, BTW. My brother is fighting in Iraq.

    A bolo tie is a string tie - a string tied into a bow.

    Thanks for the great post!

  13. This post was almost as long as mine was today. Only far more interesting. I have been fascinated by the Codetalkers ever since learning about them sometime in college (which is a shame it took that long). One of my favorite childhood books was about the Hopis.
    I would love to visit New Mexico someday, but hopefully I won't be perceived as a stupid tourist.
    I was intrigued by the Turkey Bingo. We have similar things here, with the exception of the Smoke Out. I love "Land of Enchantment," too. We're the Bluegrass state. I've never seen it, but that's not surprising since it only exists in Central Kentucky where the horses are (and not beautiful Appaloosas, but overbred and abused race horses - I have many soapboxes). We should be known as the "Let's see how many people and animals we can exploit to make money for big corporations and politicians" state.
    I'll echo Sage's comment - please do write more.

  14. Very interesting Max. I'm a country girl too, and I had a good chuckle at the turkey bingo - we have raffles with the first prize being half a pig over here...
    I always suspected native Americans of being just like other people (that goes for any other race/breed/color too, btw, but that's just me).

    Greetings from The Land of The Midnight Sun.

  15. @Sheila - All that mountain of pithy facts, and all you want to know is "what is a bolo tie"? Has it come to that? A bolo tie is a long piece of braided leather to which little metal rollers have been attached to each end, and a sliding clasp of some sort (with us out here, for those who wear them, the clasp is usually silver or turquoise or both. Perhaps red coral inlay. Of course you can see examples if you Google "bolo tie" in Google images. (Some folks in other parts of the country also refer to the "western string tie" as a bolo as well.)

    But you give me an opportunity to mention another custom, that the Navajo people often wear a lot of jewelry (heavy turquoise and silver jewelry) such as large squashes and bulky bracelets and large belt buckles. And rings of course. This is partly as pride of the jewelry-making craft, and partly as a traditional show of what wealth one may have (it is not meant to be offensive or bragging, just a show of pride in what one has accomplished.) Here I speak only of Navajos and not the white man who simply wears a bolo tie because it is common to do so here. A bolo worn with a business suit would not seem out of place.

    Yikes! Another post in a comment!

  16. @Dee - thank you so much for stopping by. I hope you try to include your heritage and culture in your daily life as much as you possibly can. I encourage you to share even little things with the little ones you may have around you, too.

    Pow Wows are AWESOME! A person attending his first Pow Wow or Ceremonial will probably pass out from visual gorgeousness overload! You may look at a picture I took (an innocent picture in which I only meant to show costume, I assure you!) from a previous post on this blog, if you wish.

  17. @Janet - Hello Janet. I read your long post. Interesting and more serious than mine. Much coal mining here too. But we are also very rich in natural gas resources here, and that may be part of our salvation since it is clean energy and one only punches holes in the ground to release it instead of removing mountaintops. One might hope. Thank you for your comment (and for your post.)

  18. @Stine - Land of the Midnight Sun? You've moved to Alaska? Heh. Country girl? Hmmmm. A pretty sophisticated country girl. But, yeah, you are the genuine article. It's good to "see" you again. :)

  19. I just realised how long i've been gone from your blog.

    I love this post, its nice to see some of the other parts of the states from a point of view different to my own English point of view of Oregon.

    Thank you max :)

    I want more.

  20. Alaska? Well, almost. You just have to fly over the Pole, and you're there.

  21. @Caroline - Yes. A long time. Too long. And, yes, you need to travel more when you have the time. And I don't just mean to England and New Zealand either. NM would be a good place to start. Thank you for your looooooooong overdue comment.

    @Stine - Sorry about the Alaska comment. We here always associate the Land of the Midnight Sun with Alaska. You know that. Just teasing of course.

    Let me set the record straight. Dear readers, Stine (the beautiful and multi-talented Stine) is this blog's only reader who lives in the gorgeous country of Norway. Land of the Midnight Sun indeed. Nice to see you again. (And I didn't know you had Turkey bingo. So cool. :)



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