Sunday, September 18, 2022

Speak up!

This past week, my friend Kim and I attended a presentation at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture here in Santa Fe. The speaker was Diane Bird, an archivist for the museum and one of the curators of the revamped "Here, Now and Always" exhibition. Since its inception in 1997, the idea behind the exhibition has been to explain to museum visitors that Native Americans didn't disappear when the Wild West ended -- they're still here, and their history and culture are way more interesting than those old Westerns ever let on.

Bird is a member of Cochiti Pueblo, and among her responsibilities during the revamp of the exhibition last year was to plan the portion dealing with Native survival, both in the past and today. Tribes and nations from across the Southwest were consulted in the creation of the entire exhibit, and they had input into what would be displayed. Several times during her talk, she mentioned that some of the Pueblos didn't want the Pueblo Revolt mentioned anywhere. 

kieferpix | Deposit Photos
Quick history lesson: Spanish conquistadores first came to New Mexico in 1540, searching for gold (which they never found) and causing a lot of trouble with the Natives who were already here. Coronado and his men eventually departed, but about 60 years later, Don Juan de Oñate brought settlers up from Mexico. Oñate put down a particularly bloody rebellion at Acoma Pueblo, killing or enslaving hundreds and ordering that all men of the pueblo who were 25 or older have one foot cut off. Missionaries came, too, and forced the Natives to convert to Catholicism. By 1680, the Puebloans had had enough. In that year, an Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo leader, Po'pay, led a revolt against the Spanish. It was coordinated by sending runners to each pueblo to give the leaders knotted cords. One knot in each cord was to be undone each day; when all the knots had been untied, it was time to attack. The result was bloody but successful -- the Spaniards were forced to abandon Santa Fe and retreat south to present-day El Paso. The Natives' victory lasted twelve years, at which point the Spaniards returned (how peaceful that return actually was is a story for another time).

Okay, back to the presentation last week. After the curator had said a couple of times that some pueblos didn't want any mention of the Pueblo Revolt, I asked her why. Why wouldn't they want people to know that their ancestors fought back against the invaders and won? 

Bird said it was because people didn't like to talk about it. That first Spanish occupation was a horrible experience; for hundreds of years, it was never spoken of. It wasn't until the pueblos began organizing an annual commemorative run in the late 1990s that Native kids began learning about the Pueblo Revolt.

Then another attendee spoke up. She was Jewish, and she said she was raised to never speak of the Holocaust for the same reason: because it was so painful and horrible and because so many people were killed. 

So many of today's ills are exacerbated by people not speaking up. From the burning of Black Wall Street in Tulsa in 1921 to incidents of domestic violence, heinous acts committed by humans against their fellow humans are hushed up. Sometimes it's deliberate -- those in power don't want the stories of their cruelty to spread. But too often, it's the victims who refuse to speak up, because of fear or embarrassment or pain. They don't want to relive the experience, so they don't. They try to forget. And so, succeeding generations never learn.

But as writer and philosopher George Santayana once said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." 

Humans have ugly impulses. We commit atrocities on a regular basis. 

It's so easy to forget that. We are routinely lulled into a false sense of security about how good and just and peaceful we are. 

But we can't fall for the lullaby. We should strive to keep all of humanity's behavior in perspective -- even the heinous parts -- and that involves a regular acknowledgement of how awful we can be to one another. 

Because otherwise it will happen again.


These moments of bloggy remembrance have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe!