There are many American writers who have chronicled the West, both in fiction and in non-fiction and sometimes both, but one whom I found especially interesting and compelling is Frank Waters, a novelist, amateur anthropologist, and literary critic who wrote about the Indians of the American Southwest in both non-fiction books and articles and in wonderful novels that put the reader into the mind and spirit of Native Americans. He spent his entire career, which spanned over 60 years and more than 25 books, plus articles, essays, and other writings, studying the American West—the actual region and its culture, not the mythical place and stereotyped inhabitants of the movies—and the American Indian and capturing them on the printed page. The Indians about whom Waters wrote mostly lived in the high desert of northern New Mexico and neighboring Arizona: the Taos Pueblos and their neighbors in Picurís Pueblo, the Zuni, the Hopi, the Navajo, and the Apache. In addition to the accuracy of his accounts, even in his novels, what makes his writing so compelling for me is the love he clearly had for the people and the cultures he depicted. He portrayed his subjects without prejudice, preconception, or sentiment and viewed them from all sides, juxtaposing one with another. Without rejecting the Euro-American contributions, he had immense respect for the native beliefs and codes of conduct and saw the benefits of all of them. As Thomas J. Lyon, a biographer of the author, emphasized, Waters was “a personal writer”: his “mind and force are clearly in evidence” in all his work. Whereas the writing of professional anthropologists and ethnographers is based on knowledge gained from predecessors and observations at arm’s length, Waters, a self-taught anthropologist, wrote only from his own experience, what he saw, did, or felt himself; he acknowledged that his writing, both the fiction and the non-fiction, reflected the people he knew and loved, the places he lived, and what he’d done there.
Part of the reason for this perspective is probably the fact that while Waters’s mother, May Ione (“Onie”) Dozier Waters (1869-1941), was a white Southerner from St. Joseph, Missouri, his father, Frank Jonathan Waters (1862-1914), was part Cheyenne (born in Long Creek, Iowa). This heritage was an immense influence on Waters’s interest in Native American culture. The writer’s father, who died of double pneumonia in 1914 when Waters was only 12, had taken his son to the Hon-Not-Klee (Shallow Water) Navajo reservation in New Mexico in 1911, an experience that was profound enough for Waters to write about it in The Colorado, a non-fiction book first published in 1946 which posits that the American West can’t be properly understood through habitual Euro-American rationalism but demands an intuitive approach that allows a personal and emotional outlook. This method was Waters’s signature and in the foreword to the author’s 1950 study, Masked Gods, Clyde Kluckhohn, an American anthropologist known for his field work among the Navajo, observed:
Although I am personally more comfortable with conclusions that can be reached independently by different observers using the same explicit methods, I recognize the profound usefulness of the warmth and imagination of Mr. Waters’ approach. His picture may—I believe it does—require correction in details of color, size, shading, and perspective but it is at least a painting with depth and color. The lay reader will get a wealth of acceptable fact and an intuitive understanding of peoples and cultures that he is not likely to obtain from our rather cold ethnographies.
Frank Joseph Waters was born on 25 July 1902 in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and died on 3 June 1995 in Arroyo Seco, New Mexico, near Taos where he had lived much of the last part of his life. He began writing about Indian Country in the 1930s, centering on the Four Corners where New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, and Arizona meet. In both his fiction and non-fiction, Waters’s common thread seems to be a quest to unite his own dichotomous heritage, Cheyenne and Anglo-American. (‘Anglo,’ by the way, is simply the regional term in the Southwest for anyone who’s neither Indian nor Hispanic; someone of German, or even African-American, ancestry is an Anglo in the region.) Waters’s fictional characters are often divided figures who find peace in reconciling conflicting drives. According to Lyon, “When Waters began writing, he found both an artistic resolution for conflict and a means to travel beyond compromise to coalition and eventually synthesis.” He didn’t dismiss the merits of Western society out of hand, nor promote a Romantic image of Native American life; he pointed out the beneficial attributes of each. “For only by understanding the Indian as representing one phase of our development,” wrote Waters, “and the Anglo as another, can we reconcile the tenets of both in a still higher stage as true citizens of our common universe.” This belief didn’t mean that Waters didn’t see the weaknesses and deficiencies of anyone’s belief system, and both his fictional and non-fiction writing is full of pronouncements about one culture or the other needing to learn something fundamental from the other.
The death of Frank Jonathan Waters at 52 when his son was so young left the writer to ponder his father’s native heritage. His mother and father had come from disparate cultures and Waters was left to figure out how to reconcile them. This seems to have led him on a quest not only within himself but also outwardly, as a member of American society with a divided background—one part of which was alien. According to Waters himself, his mother’s family, the Southern Methodist Doziers, didn’t accept his father’s Indian heritage. “My father,” wrote Waters, “with his dark skin and straight black hair, was of a different breed than the Dozier clan.” I think the effort to know both his heritages and how they fit together and how they didn’t was what gave Waters, first, his love and respect for the two cultures and, second, his clear-eyed view of them as well. Whether in fiction writing or non-fiction, which often covered the same issues with only the slightest variation in approach, this perspective endowed Waters’s works with an authority I haven’t always found in the work of Western academics who studied the Indian as a kind of “other” they were observing with clinical detachment. Waters, though raised in the Anglo society, was part of the world about which he wrote. He had become familiar with his father’s Native American religious beliefs and his Indian friends. We shouldn’t overlook, though, that Waters’s native heritage was Cheyenne, who are Plains Indians not Pueblo or Navajo from the desert Southwest. Though many Indian cultures share some common beliefs and practices, there are great differences even among the closest native relatives such as, say, the various Pueblo tribes. What Waters found, I think, was an emotional connection that rendered him receptive to a way of seeing and thinking that allowed him to mediate between the Indian view of the world and the Anglo way. He saw Anglos as emphasizing the factual and the concrete, while stifling the abstract and the intuitive, which the Indians accentuated.
Waters grew up in Colorado, attending Colorado College as an engineering student from 1921 to 1924, though he didn’t graduate because the classes didn’t stimulate him. He traveled around the West and to Mexico—and wrote. He settled in Los Angeles to work for the Southern California Telephone Company, during which period his first novels were published (Fever Pitch, 1930, and the first of a series autobiographical novels, The Wild Earth's Nobility, 1935). In 1936, Waters left L.A. and moved back and forth between Colorado and New Mexico, where he became friends with a prominent Taoseño couple, Mable Dodge Luhan and her Taos Pueblo husband, Tony Luhan. (Mable Dodge Luhan was a wealthy Buffalo heiress who was intimately associated with the Taos artists’ colony. After a colorful and much-married life in the East and in Europe, Mabel and her third husband, a painter, moved to Taos in 1919 and she started a literary colony on a large property she bought on the advice of Tony Luhan, whom she married in 1923. The couple entertained prominent writers and artists including Georgia O’Keefe, Alfred Stieglitz, D. H. Lawrence, Thornton Wilder, and Waters until Mabel Dodge Luhan’s death in 1962.) After serving in Washington during World War II, Waters moved to Taos in 1947. While in Washington, the writer published several more of his works including The Man Who Killed the Deer (1942), the novel considered Waters’s masterpiece, about a Pueblo Indian boy learning to become a man in a conflicted world of the Anglo culture and the native Indian. (Although Waters never specifically identifies the pueblo about which he’s writing, I’m pretty sure he based the setting on Taos Pueblo, perhaps the oldest and most traditional of the 19 New Mexico pueblos, with references to neighboring Picurís, the smallest pueblo in the state.) He published Masked Gods: Navajo and Pueblo Ceremonialism, an important non-fiction study, in 1950. The writer remained in Taos or its environs—Arroyo Seco is a tiny community nine miles north of Taos—for the rest of his life except for winters spent in Arizona.
One reason given for Waters’s settlement in Taos, aside from the magical attraction the land is believed to have for those who stop there—Taos Mountain is said to draw back anyone who leaves—and the natural beauty that kept artists like Georgia O’Keefe enthralled—was the comfort he felt with the tolerance of the residents (which eventually also attracted the commune-dwellers of the hippie era of the ’60s and ’70s) where three cultures—the Spanish/Mexican, Indian, and Anglo—lived together and blended their customs. (To be honest, there were tensions, even violent ones, among the different ethnicities, as well as conflicts with the hippies when they settled near Taos. In fact, the Taos Pueblo was at the center of several violent episodes over the centuries of European settlement.) There are actually a cluster of three habitations called Taos: in addition to Taos Pueblo (formally, San Gerónimo de Taos), the Indian village, and the town of Taos (whose colonial name was Don Fernando de Taos), the predominantly Anglo town, there’s also Ranchos de Taos, the old Spanish/Mexican village. I imagine Waters found a sort of symbolism in that for his own divided ancestry and in such local events as the town’s Fall Fiesta that paralleled the pueblo’s San Gerónimo Festival. The Anglo celebration was dubbed “tri-cultural” and included the crowning of three “Queens”: Native American, Spanish, and Anglo. (I don’t know if this fiesta still occurs, or how far back it goes in Taos history, but it was an annual event in the ’60s and ’70s when Waters was living in Taos County.) Despite some bumpy relations, however, Taos’s artistic and literary society was a cultural meeting place for Native American traditions and Euro-American art and thought.
Waters’s conviction that all human life is a single force is far more inclusive than the mere tolerance for different ethnicities and beliefs to which Americans ordinarily aspire. “Everybody belongs to the Brotherhood” of humanity, declared the writer. “Despite their financial standing, political party, church membership, complexion, or hair-do, there is no real difference between men—neither in bone structure nor blood analysis.” Not only are we all related beneath the skin, according to Waters’s epistemology, but, however hard it would be to sell that worldview to the Sunnis and the Shi’a, the Serbs and the Bosnians, or the Indians and the Pakistanis, he insisted we’re the same at the elemental level: “It is a well-known fact that every person, regardless of race, is physically reducible to the same amount of water, carbon, and chemical salts.” “We are concerned with the subjective record of the evolutionary development of man through successive, well-defined stages. Through these stages each individual, each race and civilization, evolves alike,” Waters believed. “For,” as he also wrote, “we know . . . that to refuse to perceive the unique face of man under the masks that cover it, is no longer a sign of force but rather of senility.”
Though he evinced great sympathy for the Indian approach to life and the universe, Waters didn’t portray Native Americans as “noble savages.” His writings reveal a compassion for all cultures, seeing benefits for humankind in all of them—if only we could overcome the deep divisions of our conflicting psychologies. The writer saw white Americans as destructively aggressive and declared that what we’ve done has been harmful. But what we might do holds promise, Waters foresaw, if we were only enlightened by the Indian way. The author, though, didn’t expect us all to imitate the Indian; in fact, he illustrated the weaknesses of both cultures: how through the “resistless tide of conquest” of the Anglos, “the very earth has vanished under the axe and plow, steel and concrete,” as has practically the entire Indian race; on the other hand, the Indians “were not adaptive enough to keep abreast of industrial developments” and so fell behind the newcomers, lacked “economic enterprise” and so couldn’t attain the “material wealth and power necessary for protection,” maintained “a smug insularity which prevented expansion and adaptation,” and because of their hyper-religiousness were absorbed “with the abstract rather than the practical.” Waters believed it’s possible, however, to fuse our contradictory perspectives into a single force in both individuals and humanity. We Anglos, the author taught, must learn from Indian belief to grow psychically, to strive less to exploit and change rather than accommodate and embrace.
The land itself was important to Waters, just as it was to the Indians about whom he wrote. (Aside from the general reverence all Indians have for the land, the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, where Waters lived, are sacred to the Taos Pueblos.) “[T]he first time I saw it on a walk up into the mountains,” the writer said, explaining his decision to live in Taos, “something about it claimed me.” He wrote that he felt “in touch again with the natural world.” Devastated by the despoiling of Pikes Peak in his native Colorado, he reveled in the nearly pristine state of Taos Mountain: “Anyone who spends any time around Taos can't help but feel the mountain's beneficial effects.” In Mountain Dialogues (1981), the author depicted the land:
Deep below the surface one can hear its slow pulse, feel its vibrant rhythm. The great breathing mountains expand and contract. The vast sage desert undulates with almost imperceptible tides like the oceans. From the very beginning, throughout all its cataclysmic up thrusts and submergences, the planet Earth seems to have maintained an ordered rhythm.
Waters, in Lyon’s words, had “the mystic land-sensitivity” mixed, as it was, with a Euro-American’s analytical rationalism.
Next to his advocacy of the notion that all people were variant parts of a human brotherhood, Waters’s most significant focus was the relationship of humanity with its environment. Rudolfo Anaya, a Chicano writer who was a close friend of Waters, wrote in a tribute to his older colleague after Waters died: “Frank taught us to see the mountain, the deer, the birds, water, trees as living.” This was a direct reflection of the writer’s sympathy with the Native American sense that the Earth is the Mother of all humans, that we were born of the Earth, nurtured and sustained by her, and return to her when we die. (Unlike Judeo-Christians, Indians believe that the spirit resides beneath the Earth and comes up through the sipapu, the place of emergence, at birth and returns below after death. The Taos Pueblos’ sipapu is the sacred Blue Lake in the Sangre de Cristos; Waters’s The Man Who Killed the Deer is seen as an account of the Taos Indians’ decades-long struggle to regain control of the lake, their “cathedral.”) “Man was not created apart from nature, as he thought,” Waters explained in Pumpkin Seed Point, his 1969 study of the Hopi, “but out of nature whose unconscious forces and instinctual drives still swayed him.” Of the Navajos and Pueblos of the Four Corners, Waters wrote in Masked Gods:
The Indian-American has never been separated from his land. Unlike us immigrant Euro-Americans, his traditions stem back to its prehistoric past. And he has doggedly clung to them, preferring to die out as an ever-dwindling racial minority rather than to adapt himself and assimilate others. Whatever he is, whatever he believes, stems from the very soil of his ancient homeland. He is inseparable from the earth itself.
This sense of belonging to the environment in which we live came to Waters long before he set foot in Taos. In 1926, back when he settled in Southern California, he took a trip to Baja California and, “having lived all of my early years in the high Rockies of Colorado, I was unprepared for the vast sweep of sunstruck desert with its flat wastes, clumps of cacti, and barren parched-rock ranges.” The experience of the contrast aroused his sense of place so profoundly that he was compelled to write about it, and “land-sensitivity” became the major theme of his first novel, Fever Pitch. In the novel, a young Anglo engineer, Lee Marston, ventures into Lower California and the emotional, physical, and spiritual effect of the journey on him is soul-shaking. What Waters—and Marston—had seen was that human beings have to be one with their surroundings, with nature. As Lyon described the book’s theme, Marston “had overcome, or been granted relief from, his baggage of white-engineer sophistication and rationalism and had been permitted to link directly to the world in unmediated experience.” This feeling of belonging to the land, being part of it rather than its occupier—Pueblos and many other Native Americans understand that “land was not tangible property to be owned, divided, and alienated at will”—remained with Waters for the rest of his life and appears significantly in all his writing.
Waters described the way Euro-Americans set about to “subdue the continent,” and contrasted that with the Indians’ sense that they “are not separate and alone” from the environment, but “all one, indivisible.” In the native shamanistic culture, in which “Nothing that any of us does but affects us all,” an Indian even asks permission of the deer he’s about to kill for food, the tree he must fell, the stones he must take for his cooking fire or his pueblo’s kiva. In his novel The Man Who Killed the Deer, Waters recounted a scene depicting this approach:
In the old days we all remember, we did not go out on a hunt lightly. We said to the deer we were going to kill, “We know your life is as precious as ours. We know that we are both children of the same Great True Ones. We know that we are all one life on the same Mother Earth, beneath the same plains of the sky. But we also know that one life must sometimes give way to another so that the one great life of all may continue unbroken. So we ask your permission, we obtain your consent to the killing.”
In Pumpkin Seed Point, Waters spelled out the creed:
The earth-mother had many children other than man: the stem of long wild grass that developed into a stalk of maize, the lofty spruce, all the birds of the air, the beasts of plain and forest, the insect and the ant. They too had equal rights to life. They supplied the needs of man, but they were not sacrificed ruthlessly and wantonly.
This sense of connectedness extended to inanimate matter, too, because in Indian belief, everything possesses a spirit of life that unites all of nature, including, as Waters put it, the “breathing mountains, the living stones, each blade of grass, the clouds, the rain, each star, the beasts, the birds and the invisible spirits of the air.” The writer expressed the Indian’s world-view:
The world simply is. Without a compulsion to change it, [the Indian] simply fits into his place in the whole as an individual whose sole aim appears to be a resolute self-effacement. His religion is communal. He has no conception of personal prayer for personal gain to a personalized, all-powerful deity envisaged in his own image. Ever in touch with the mystery, he acknowledges the spiritual essence in all things—the forests and the fields, the clouds and mountains, the young corn, the eagle, and the deer. Like him they exist to play their parts in the cosmic whole. Free of terror, the Pueblo does not battle with them nor abjectly make obeisance. Respectfully but unafraid, he secures their assistance by esoteric ceremonials that acknowledge his kinship with them.
As Waters explained it, the Native American considered himself part of an indivisible continuum of the physical world, not separate from it. It was all “one living whole.”
Another aspect of Native American belief to which Waters subscribed was the non-competitiveness of the Pueblos. This starts at the very base of Pueblo life: as Waters put it, “No Indian is an individual. He is a piece of the pueblo, the tribe.” The Pueblo Indian mindset doesn’t see an individual; they’re “collectively minded” people. “The Indians were communal,” wrote Waters, “obdurate to change, non-individualistic, and hence not competitive . . . .” Renown or fame, “‘rugged’ individualism,” aren’t virtues in Pueblo epistemology and several observers of, say, the ceremonial footrace of the Taos San Gerónimo Festival describe how the runners aren’t trying to beat one another but to give their best for the village. “It is the race of the individual against the limits of his own flesh,” observed Waters, “and it is the unending race of all humanity with the wonder of creation. No man wins. No man loses.” Competition and self-aggrandizement isn’t an element in Indian life, according to Waters. The Pueblo Indian’s “social life is likewise communal. There are no incentives to wealth, social prestige, and personal power—to keep up with the Joneses.” The writer explained:
The Pueblo sees no need for horizontal contact with the alien world without. The Anglo compulsion for lateral expansion—for more land, more wealth, influence, and power over his neighbors—is incomprehensible to him. He is rooted to a pin-prick of earth in immeasurable space. But that pin-prick is the whole universe in miniature. Nothing outside can add to what he has here; expansion can only detract from its meaning.
Hence his contact with life is purely vertical. That is to say, his strength to live, his power to enjoy and understand life, derives from constant contact with its invisible forces.
Thus the Pueblos built a society based on accommodation and inoffensiveness, not aggressiveness and competition, for as anthropologist Ruth Bunzel observed of another Pueblo culture, “[T]he thing that a Zuñi will avoid above anything else is giving offense.” Indeed, Indian religion and medicine is based on harmony: the body must be in balance within itself or it will become ill; the human being must be in harmony with nature and the universe or the society will sicken. The healing rites of the Navajo, the sings and the sand paintings, are entirely directed at maintaining or restoring the balance of humans with the forces of the universe.
(This abhorrence of aggressiveness and offensiveness shouldn’t be seen as an embrace of pacifism or non-violence. The Pueblos and Navajos, like other Indian tribes, engaged in warfare, used torture and corporal punishment on transgressors, and included physical mortification in initiation rites. Three times in the history of Euro-American settlement of the Southwest, the Pueblo Indians were at the center of violent uprisings against their colonizers—the Spanish in 1680, the Mexicans in 1837, and the Americans in 1847—that resulted in dozens of scalpings and hundreds of deaths.)
The non-competitiveness of the Pueblos and the natural environmentalism of most Indian peoples, which we can easily see are philosophically connected, are fundamental to what Waters saw as the principal contrast between the Native American way of life and the European society. As Lyon phrased it: “The conflict between the emotional and the rational, or between the passively celebrating and the aggressively dominating was the source of tension and energy in young Waters.” In his analysis of Waters’s novels, Alexander Blackburn, returning to the theme of the writer’s split heritage, explained:
A theme of major importance in all of Waters’s work, the resolution of conflicting dualities, possibly originated in the need the growing young boy felt to resolve the two sides of his own nature: his grandfather’s manifestation of the rational, materialistic, aggressive aspects of the white culture and his father’s embodiment of the intuitive, spiritual, patient aspects of that of the Indian.
Going back to Waters’s notion that the European and the Indian are two phases of humanity’s development, the author saw, “At each stage, tremendous conflicts take place. In the individual it is the inner conflict between instinct and ego. Between the Indians and the Anglos, as races and cultures, it has been the same basic psychological conflict objectified and extroverted on the field of war, economics, and politics.” The conflict in the Americas between the native Indians and the invading Europeans was the inevitable result of this dichotomy, alive not just across the land as the two cultures met and clashed, but within Waters himself—as it is in all humans. He knew that “the Anglos, with their lusty individualism, Yankee wit, and mechanical genius” had given the world great gifts: “the power to fly in the air, travel under the sea, talk across the world, preserve food indefinitely, undergo operations without pain, lengthen the life span.” But in our drive to conquer the natural world, to turn it to our service, haven’t we, Waters wondered, overlooked something equally beneficial and important? The author explained:
Man . . . finds himself in a devil of a fix. There are two parts of him. One binding him to his concrete, factual little world with a nagging wife, a scrubby corn patch that doesn’t get enough rain, no money in the tomato can, and a lot of nuisances as well as a lot of pleasure and enjoyable fiestas. The other attesting a greater world in which everything he sees has an invisible counterpart, an inner form, all ordered by laws which he feels somehow constrained to obey.
What Waters thought we’ve lost on our road to technological, rational domination is, simply, spirituality:
The monstrous paradox is that while we have created untold benefits for all mankind, we have impoverished ourselves spiritually in the process. In achieving what seems to be a complete triumph over nature, we have established a machine-made society so utterly devitalized that it is anticipating the synthetic creation of life within a laboratory test tube. What could be more reasonable, then, than to enthrone the machine as its deity?
As far back as 1950, Waters saw that this dichotomy is, in fact, perilous. The duality exists deep in our psyches and Waters suggested that stressing either proclivity is destructive. While the emphasis of the white culture on conquest and subjugation—of peoples, nature, the elements—can lead to rapaciousness, the dependence on passivity and appeasement that characterizes the Indian way of life leaves them unprepared for the inevitable technological progress and the encroachments that must bring. It was inevitable, Waters believed, that the “conscious ego of the Anglo” would ultimately dominate the “instinct of the Indian.” In his view, we’ve reached a crossroads in our social development: “Not knowing that we must depend on an equal interplay of both forces, we have become the modern machine-made Euro-American whose spirituality has been dominated by a cold mentality.” Waters warned:
Our own human rights menace the very concept of property rights on which our civilization is founded. Our racial psychosis self-isolates us as a minority from the predominate dark population of the world as a whole. Neurotically ill, obsessed by nameless fear of a kingdom of the spirit forever beyond our technological and economic mystery, we feel, for the first time, a lack of momentum, a loss of a sense of direction, the absence of a guiding faith.
I think Waters would be aghast today at the constant and overt religiosity our society relishes, even demands, especially in our political and social leaders, but he’d deny that that’s the same as true spirituality. In that respect, he concluded: “Man must transcend his own dominating conscious ego lest he impoverish his life to sterility.” If he saw that 60 years ago, where must we stand by now? Back then, Waters predicted a possible future:
Yes . . . Individual man achieves his dominating rationality at great peril. For the more powerful and independent his consciousness becomes, the more the unconscious is forced into the background. Till finally it breaks free from the dark, feminine principle with its emotions and instincts reaching back into the depths of time and rooting him to his past. Man breaks free—into a neurosis of anxiety and discontent, into a paralysis of frustration. And once more he must be led back to health and sanity, to his roots, to a harmonic relationship with all the living universe.
All the way back to his childhood in Colorado Springs, Waters had been drawn to the Indian religion of his father’s people. He’d fled (literally) the Anglo churches of his mother’s clan, never belonging to “any church or religious cult.” He began to sense “an invisible Otherworld we simultaneously inhabit,” a universal spiritual plane “where everybody and everything were somehow connected.” In Fever Pitch, his first novel, Waters conjured a symbol for the imaginary desert world the engineer discovered: a giant lizard with the face of a woman swallowing its own tail. (The book was retitled Lizard Woman, Waters’s original title, when it was reissued in 1983.) The writer later learned that this was the uroboros, one of humanity’s oldest symbols, representing the endlessness of time and universal oneness. This was Waters’s representation of the “invisible Otherworld,” his most fervent hope for the synthesis of Indian and European America, of which he declared:
One of the greatest lessons I finally learned is that this source in which everything is interconnected in one harmonious whole—the nebulous Otherworld I had imagined so long ago—does not exist somewhere among the splendor of the midnight stars, but within ourselves. Nor does it lie far in the future. Realization of it may come slowly or suddenly with our conscious awareness of ourselves, others, and the world about us. Any event, a chance remark, even a handful of sand, anything that leads to a better way of seeing, doing, or being, may provide an opening to it.
'Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.
[As a sidebar to the prediction that Frank Waters made that an overemphasis on one or the other characteristic of the human duality will ultimately lead to a self-destructive society, I can’t help but consider three somewhat disparate examples of one aspect of this division. They seem illustrative of Waters’s dream of a synthesis of the cultural focuses of the two cultures, the Indian and the European. First, take the Taos Pueblo itself. One of the oldest of the New Mexico pueblos, it’s also the most conservative. The Taos Indians have resisted assimilation for centuries and don’t permit the encroachment of modern technology and practices in the village despite the desires of younger members of the tribe. Though Taos Indians who live in town or on the reservation that surrounds the pueblo itself may have phones, TV’s, computers, radios, dishwashers, stereos, and so on, any Indian who lives in the ancient village, which has no electricity, gas lines, water lines, or sewerage system, may not have any form of modern technology, including a cell phone or an iPod. As a result, the village today is almost bereft of actual residents. The adobe houses are mostly used as shops for the artisans who sell their crafts and art in the pueblo, though they mostly live elsewhere. (One artist I met there, who sold his prints from his mother’s house—pueblo houses are owned by the women—lived in Florida when it’s not tourist season in Taos.) Other family-owned houses are maintained for ceremonial use—the owners move in when there’s a pueblo festival or religious rite, but keep their principal residence in town or on the reservation. Taos Pueblo, for all its history and its status as a World Heritage Site and a National Historic Landmark, one of the oldest continuously-inhabited places in North America, is in danger of becoming little more than a Potemkin village and a tourist site.
[In Canada, I learned when I was in Quebec a few years ago, many First Nation cultures were near extinction because few members had remained in their traditional homelands. Young Indians had moved to cities far away, following jobs and education and the older members of the original communities were simply dying off. With no one to pass along the culture's traditions, lore, and language, many were in danger of disappearing as the members scattered to the winds. What saved some of these disappearing cultures was the computer and the Internet. Where actual communities had dwindled, virtual ones began to form as tribal members, in search for their heritage, made contact on the Web. Several tribes established official websites for the purpose of reaching out to their members in the diaspora and the notion of using the ‘Net to reestablish the connections at great distances began to spread throughout the First Nations.
[Finally, I’m put in mind of Inuit artist Pudlo Pudlat of Canada (about whom I wrote for ROT on 28 September 2009). In that profile, I wrote:
Although other native artists had begun to incorporate the modern European world in their art, Pudlo was among the earliest who recognized that modern technology had long ago become part of human, even Native American, culture. He treated this encroachment on traditional life as integral to the world of his people, a permanent and everyday element rather than a temporary or unwelcome intrusion. . . . Pudlo’s work is a visual evocation of the nexus between the traditional life of the Inuit and the modern world of Canada and the south. He saw, more clearly perhaps than other native artists, that there were now more snowmobiles than dog teams; more motor boats than umiaks; that Christianity was quickly displacing traditional shamanism; airplanes were commonplace; and telephones, television, and the Internet were bringing the south into the Inuit’s living rooms and keeping far-flung members of the tribe in regular contact with each other and the tribal center. No longer foreign or alien, the planes, helicopters, angels, and churches in Pudlo’s drawings had become part of northern life. . . . Over his career, the artist demonstrated an endless inventiveness and versatility both in his techniques and his subjects. Pudlo not only saw that, along with the indigenous images, the formerly foreign objects had long ago become part of the native culture, he knew that by drawing these once-alien images, capturing them in various juxtapositions with traditional ones, such as a miniature airplane tethered to the horns of a gigantic muskox, he gained a measure of control over them.
[In his own small universe, Pudlo was a living example of the kind of palimpsest or synthesis that Waters envisioned.
[As I’ve noted, Waters lived in Taos, New Mexico, from 1947 until his death in 1995. He was instrumental in establishing the literary scene there under the inspiration of Mable Dodge Luhan. Of all the Indians about whom Waters wrote, the Taos Pueblos were his most frequent, and I believe his most admired, subjects. He lived among the Hopi for three years, but he became friends with many Taos Indians and was protective of the ancient Taos Pueblo near which he lived for almost half a century. Taos Pueblo and the town of Taos undeniably played a significant role in Waters’s life and work. It’s no wonder: in addition to the natural beauty of the region, with colors that challenged every artists who tried to capture the landscape, it’s a fascinating place historically, culturally, and socially. I’ve now written an article about the Taos Pueblo and its surroundings for ROT (to be published on 24 and 27 May). I visited the area, including the Pueblo, a few years ago, and a friend lived there in the late ’60s and early ’70s. I read extensively about the town, the Pueblo, and the Taos Indians and I have plenty of notes. I’d also like to post an article on the Navajo healing rites to which I’ve made reference here (though I expect there would be a fair amount of time between the two pieces). Frank Waters will surely make return appearances in both articles, along with some of the experts I cited in “‘May You Be Blessed With Light’: The Zuni Shalako Rite” (22 October 2010). Interested readers should keep their eyes out for a posting on Taos in what I hope will be the near future. Let this serve as a BOLO.]