The missing puzzle piece

Bringing native perspectives into archaeology for a more complete picture of the past

  • Sleeping Ute Mountain lies beyond Hovenweep National Monument, where some interpretive signs now include American Indian viewpoints.

    Jonathan Thompson
  • Ernest Atencio
  • Santa Clara tribal elder Tito Naranjo has seen archaeologists become more sensitive to the Native American worldview. "It’s a new idea. In the old days they never thought native people had much to contribute."

 

Page 4

By working with archaeologists and spending time in the abandoned homes of their ancestors, the advisory group members are also sticking their necks out. "Old traditional people want to go to places like Mesa Verde, but they don't want to go," says Reyna. "That's the place where the ancestors are. We cannot go where there's any human remains. So, we say our prayers, say why we're there, and say, ‘We're sorry for disturbing you.' Everyone knows that we take our cornmeal and make blessings. But it's hard, you know. It's like you're walking on the edge."

This relationship has not been without its rough spots. Tito Naranjo tells a story about finding some human bones during a field trip to one of Crow Canyon's sites. "One of the other advisory group members said, ‘Gather some food for our people. Even if the body is gone, the spirit is still here.' We had to attend to that first, so I went through the process of gathering the edible plants that I knew, then we dug a shallow pit and put the bones and the food in for nourishment. But the archaeologists were impatient because we were holding up their progress. That's an example of how they don't understand our worldview."

Then, in 2004, Crow Canyon staff planned to build an underground kiva as part of a learning center modeled after a 13th-century Mesa Verde pueblo. It didn't go over well with some advisory group members. "That kiva represents the emergence place," says Reyna. "You don't build kivas for the hell of building kivas."

In the end, they all survived that test well, says Reyna. The kiva was never built, and the advisory group has become a vital part of Crow Canyon's work. Native wisdom and history that were not part of the story 20 years ago infuse all of the organization's projects and approach, and are now slowly making their way into the Park Service's interpretive dogma.

"(Archaeologists) have become more sensitive to Native Americans," says Tito Naranjo. "It's a new idea. In the old days they never thought native people had much to contribute."

For all this effort and the new and fruitful relationships growing out of it, professionals and Indians both acknowledge its limitations. "The Pueblos have a lot to offer humanity at large," says Ortman. But, he concedes, "There's no way you can do (archaeological) work that all Indian people will agree with. All you can do is pursue what you think is important, knowing what you do about native sensitivities and guided by native priorities and your own sense of integrity about what's right."

"This is like a big old puzzle," says Reyna, "and we've got the piece you'll never have and we'll never give it to you. Everything we've ever given you you've ruined."

"With ground-penetrating sonar they don't even have to excavate now and it's totally amazing to me," says Naranjo. "But it also gives them the sense that they can use sonar to get into the Pueblo head."

That will never happen, he says.

Then Naranjo looks up and continues his song to the clouds.

High Country News Classifieds
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Crested Butte Land Trust seeks a development director to lead its fundraising efforts. Remote and unspoiled, Crested Butte is located in one of the Rockies...
  • PRICE REDUCED $94,300 - LOT SOUTH OF MONTROSE
    5-Acre Home Site, Great Views with Spectacular Sunsets From a South Facing Home Site. Excellent for Passive Solar Design. Covenants, No HOA. Keller Williams Co....
  • CHARMING HOME/FARM NEAR CLIFF, NM
    3 bed/2 bath, detached strawbale building. 11.7 acres, barn, corrals, fenced. Wells, solar panels, greenhouses. Paved access. 575-535-2568.
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    WildEarth Guardians seeks two public interest-focused staff attorneys with a minimum of 5 years experience to join our legal team. Experience with at least some...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF NEW MEXICO WILDLIFE FEDERATION
    The New Mexico Wildlife Federation is seeking an Executive Director, a visionary leader who is passionate about public lands, dedicated to executing an innovative strategic...
  • CUSTOMER SERVICE SPECIALIST I
    HIGH COUNTRY NEWS Customer Service Specialist I General Statement of Duties: Works closely with the customer service manager performing high-volume routine computer database work. Also...
  • ARAVAIPA LAND STEWARD
    The Aravaipa Land Steward coordinates preserve stewardship work and general operations including maintenance and general preserve management. Implements preserve management plans, which may include species...
  • VP OF DEVELOPMENT
    seeks a talented and dynamic development professional, with a passion for protecting our natural environment, to lead our development and fundraising team.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Native American Fish and Wildlife Society seeks an Executive Director in Denver, CO to serve as the Chief Administrator of the national Native American...
  • DEVELOPMENT ASSISTANT
    High Country News seeks a development assistant to assist with fundraising campaigns. HCN is an award-winning, national news magazine. Strong candidates will have experience administering...
  • LAND ACQUISTIONS SPECIALIST - RENEWABLE ENERGY
    Energiekontor US seeks experienced local candidate, must reside in western South Dakota. Send resume and cover letter to: [email protected]
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Seeking passionate full-time Executive to lead the oldest non-profit organization in Idaho. Must have knowledge of environmental issues, excellent organizational, verbal presentation and written skills,...
  • CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    Carbondale based public lands advocate, Wilderness Workshop, seeks a Conservation Director to help direct and shape the future of public land conservation on the West...
  • TROUT UNLIMITED BIGHORN RIVER BASIN PROJECT MANAGER
    The Bighorn River Basin Project Manager identifies and implements projects to improve streamflows, restore stream and riparian habitat, improve fish passage and rehabilitate or replace...
  • DIRECTOR OF VISITOR SERVICES & BOOKSTORE OPERATIONS
    The San Juan Mountains Association in Durango, CO is seeking a Director of Visitor Services & Bookstore Operations to lead our visitor information program &...
  • INTERNET-BASED BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Dream of owning your own business, being your own boss, working from home ... this is the one. 928-380-6570, www.testshop.com. More info at https://bit.ly/2Kgi340.
  • TRIPLEX .8 ACRE KANAB, UT
    Create a base in the center of Southern Utah's Grand Circle of National Parks. Multiple residential property with three established rental units and zoning latitude...
  • LIGHTWEIGHT FLY ROD CASES
    4 standard or custom lengths. Rugged protection for backpacking. Affordable pricing.
  • FIVE-ACRE VIEW LOT WITH WELL
    5 acres, well. Abuts Carson NF; hike fish ski; deer turkey elk.