Even before the interruption of our culture, we already were nomadic and we were journeyers who were encountering other cultures. My elders say that we actually have taken the best of the best of what we saw from many other cultures as we were making our migration through the Pacific Northwest and coming (back) down to the Southwest—the origin of our “Creatrix.”
The one who created us as human beings, we call her Changing Woman. She started out here in the Southwest but then she ended up marrying the Sun and he built her a white shell palace in the Pacific Northwest, so she ended up there, but she never forgot about where she came from. When she created the first human beings, the first four original clans, she told them that they needed to come back here, to this home. So within our own creation stories, we have a migration, which is slightly different than what anthropologists talk about, but we acknowledge a migration.
My clan grandfather says that we’ve always been innovators. After the interruption of our culture, we had to adapt. My culture highly values adaptation and we use our original spiritual principles to help guide us in our adaptation. They help us to understand when we’re getting too far away from original instructions. Original instructions are basically the guidebook for how to be on this Mother Earth, the principles for being here. Sometimes that’s very hard to navigate in this modern world. Some people feel like they’ve lost track of any of that kind of guidance and they don’t feel it present in their lineage or their culture, they feel severed from that. I understand that and I feel like this is the place for indigenous people and indigenous culture today. To keep bringing forward what we still hold from that guidebook about how to be here, how to be on this Mother Earth.
My grandparents were taken to Dutch Christian Missionary boarding schools and they were not allowed to practice our culture in any way, shape, or form—they were severely punished for doing that. By the time I came along they weren’t really talking about these original instructions or cultural guidelines to help us to stay on track. So I got launched out into the world with a very different perspective from many of my own people. Like many people in this time, what became the emphasis of life was to be well-educated, to have a career, and success was in part defined by my financial situation. So that is how I started out, along with many other people.
I spent time at some very high learning institutions. My father went to Stanford University and I got sent to an East Coast boarding school, attending Phillips Exeter Academy, and I studied abroad in France. I did the things that a learned person would do. But at the same time I look like I look—clearly I am an indigenous person. Everywhere I went people would always remind me of that. They would say, “You’re Native American, what’s that all about?” And I didn’t have any way to respond that I felt confident about.
I could never really get away from who I was even though I was trying to participate in this other culture. There was an unrest inside of me and at a certain point I felt like I didn’t belong in this modern world, I didn’t look right, and there was something going on inside of me that didn’t line up. At the same time, I didn’t have enough information or language to go back into my own people’s world. I felt kind of abandoned by both sides, but I was doing my best.
I was going to university and I decided to go and get out in nature one summer. I came to Angel Fire, New Mexico—just over the hill from me now. I met some people, including my future husband, and they started showing me around this place that was only two-and-one-half hours from Albuquerque where I grew up and yet it was worlds away from that urban experience. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but just the way that they thought, they weren’t so concerned with status, or even education or any of those things. What really mattered was how you were relating to each other, your knowledge of where the water was, what kind of trees were around, and what kind of firewood might be available—it was a whole different system of thought. There was something about it that really appealed to me because it allowed everyone to participate, there was a universality about it.
Something started to change inside of me. I went back to school and this man—my future husband—followed me back to Albuquerque. He tried to move to Albuquerque, but he couldn’t handle it, it was too weird for him. He eventually he talked me into to trying to live in the north of the state of New Mexico, so I did that. One of the first things he did was to bring me to the hot springs. We got up at dawn and went down to the Rio Grande River—which runs through Albuquerque too, but in all the time that I lived there, I never spent time at the river. I also never spent time in the Sandia Mountains behind the city, but I really wasn’t oriented that way. It was almost like they were invisible. But, when he brought me up north, to Taos, early one morning we got up and went down to the gorge—we have this huge colorful mountain and mountain range and it drops down to this plateau and then this crack in the Earth opens up with the river at the bottom of that, it’s very dramatic. He was opening my eyes to the fact that this Mother Earth is so powerful.
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