New Mexico's Native Culture

as Seen by Simon Ortiz

From "New Mexico's Best" By Richard Mahler

Simon Ortiz is a native of Acoma Pueblo, west of Albuquerque, who has lived in urban and rural communities throughout New Mexico, as well as on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona. He is an eloquent, critically acclaimed poet and short-story writer, whose books include "Going for the Rain," "Woven Stone" and "After and Before the Lightning." His work synthesizes his Native American heritage with images from the modern world. Ortiz is also a dynamic teacher, and in the late 1980s served as the official interpreter/translator for his tribe. Presented here is his cultural perspective:

"I have always felt a sense of awe when I've been out in the country. Growing up at Acoma Pueblo and in New Mexico, I think there's a natural inspiration-a sense of wonder and respect. There's an awe in seeing something that's beyond oneself and realizing that we are only a small part of whatever that something is. It's recognizing what the land is-stone, trees, soil, cactus-and what is attached to that land.

"I grew up in the Acoma village of McCartys, and as a child I heard depictions of the way our land was a long time ago. The elders used to talk about when grass grew up to a horse's belly. I never saw grass this high. My father said that the grass got shorter, the land became eroded, and the rains no longer came. This happened not long after the federal government wiped out the prairie dogs. But before that, they had killed the coyotes, and the prairie dogs proliferated. Then because the prairie dogs were supposedly the cause of the erosion, they were also killed.

"What this tells me is that whenever there's some kind of unnatural disturbance-some break in the ecological system that Mother Nature has provided-things get out of whack.

"We must take responsibility for what's happening today.there must be a belief in continuance, and in this there is hope, knowing that the human population of the Southwest can work for something more than survival.. Life will go on when we really take care of ourselves and take care of the land.

"Non-Indian people are coming to share our realization that survival isn't meaningful if it doesn't include tending, seeking, nourishing and enhancing life. Until we deal with that reality there is no way that the land is going to survive, nor are we going to continue with it. We need to be responsible for making the earth a healthy place, a place of beauty.

"We can learn from those who know the value of that way of life, such as Native American people. However, I believe we have to come to a love and respect for ourselves. We have the human spirit in ourselves: love, self-respect, appreciation for each others' qualities, and that capacity to show that to each other for the sake of our own serenity.. Native American elders say when they pray that this knowledge is for all of us-to help Mother Earth and to help us in our continuance upon her."

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