New Mexico's Native Culture
as Seen by Simon Ortiz
"New Mexico's Best" By
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
"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."
For a full listing of Richard Mahler's
books, and to place orders for them, visit Amazon.com.
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