Cultural Appreciation

A few months ago I facilitated a six-day Tribal Wetlands Workshop on zoom. Participants were tribal leaders, staff and members who were involved in protecting and maintaining tribal wetlands. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) organized the workshop and a colleague and I were under contract to plan and facilitate the event. We worked with a planning team of both EPA and Native American representatives to make sure that the workshop met a variety of goals:  teach methods and strategies for managing wetlands, provide opportunities for tribes to collaborate and learn from each other, and highlight the cultural, spiritual, social and economic values of wetlands for tribal communities. The workshop was packed with great presentations on a wide range of topics and there was time for questions and discussion among the 40-50 participants as well. All in all it was a success, but as is often the case, what I remember most vividly is a moment of facilitation crisis. This is how it unfolded.

Keweenaw Bay Indian Community wetland, Michigan

Almost all gatherings with tribal participants that I facilitate – in person or on zoom — begin with a prayer from a tribal elder. I learned long ago that this brings calm and a sense of community to whatever discussion follows. It also seems to balance the power in the room. The non-Indian professionals who might be perceived as the more powerful ones at the table are humbled by a prayer in a language they don’t understand, invoking powers that clearly overshadow those on earth. I enjoy those moments and appreciate the tribal elder’s message that points us in the direction of a productive, respectful day.

In person meetings may include a feather
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A Tale of Two Monuments

In 1998, the 400th anniversary of the founding of Albuquerque by Spanish conquistadors, the city commissioned a monument to be placed in front of the Albuquerque Museum. The process was highly contentious. Although over the centuries Spanish and Native blood has mixed, consensually and otherwise, a challenge like how to memorialize colonization can send people into corners where the other – even the other part of you – becomes the enemy.

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Sculptor Sonny Rivera’s Don Juan de Onate, leading La Jornada, before he was removed

The solution in the end was to have two separate, adjacent monuments. La Jornada is a procession of thirty-three bronze figures in a kind of diorama depicting the arrival of the Spanish. Don Juan de Oñate, the controversial founder of Albuquerque, in helmet and armor, led the procession — until he was removed in June 2020 following a night of violence over his fate. (Oñate was the target of protests on behalf of Native Americans for his role as a cruel conqueror who cut off the left foot of dozens of young Acoma Pueblo men in retribution for the killing of a soldier.) The rest of La Jornada remains in place, a priest, a scout, men, women and children settlers, herders, an ox cart, and livestock.  

Nora Naranjo Morse, poet and artist from Santa Clara Pueblo, was given an area fifty yards or so to the west for her own creation, Numbe Whageh, or Pueblo Center Place. She chose to leave the land natural and to carve a simple spiral foot path leading to a low point in the landscape, below ground level of the museum and La Jornada. At the bottom she added a small water feature, barely more than a trickle running over a smooth flat rock. Water-loving plants grew up creating a small oasis, treasured on a hot Albuquerque day.  Morse’s poetic plaque introducing the natural installations speaks of the clouds and mountains, the thunder and lightning, the winds from four directions, the plants, animals, and life-giving water. 

Artist Nora Naranjo Morse’s Numbe Whageh
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