Thursday, January 6, 2005

Across the Ditch

As I sat in the parking lot of an Albertson's supermarket in Albuquerque, New Mexico, recently, Kira and Grange began their usual routine of scuffling back and forth. Jana had gone inside to get a few things before our return to Bluff, and the truck was rocking from side to side as the conflict escalated. In an effort to remain calm, I switched on the radio and began a close inspection of the people entering and exiting the store. Their ethnic diversity captivated me, and brought to mind a scene I had witnessed the previous day.

Kira Simpson

Jana and the kids had convinced me to attend "Thanksmas," so we drove to the Kennedy home in the north valley of Albuquerque for the celebration. Thanksmas, which falls between Thanksgiving and Christmas each year, was created by Jana's mother to accommodate the numerous family members who have commitments for either traditional holiday, but can attend a party during the interim period.

As the shindig wound down, I walked out to retrieve something from our truck . The winter sun was shining and it felt warm and comfortable inside the pick up, so I decided to crawl in and take a short nap. Just as I began to nod off, I heard two voices which seemed quite close. In the north valley there is an extensive system of irrigation ditches which crisscrosses the land, and the words I heard were those of two people walking west on opposite sides of the ditch which serves the Kennedy homestead.

As the conversationalists approached, I heard a Hispanic man say, "Yes, it's my birthday next Friday; I will be 70." His companion, an Anglo woman walking a small dog, replied, "That's great, you really don't look 70. Happy Birthday!" The tone of the woman's voice indicated she was happy to engage the man, but desired to maintain a clear separation; the ditch provided an appropriate barrier. It was obvious their paths would soon diverge and the brief relationship end; both parties having been congenial, but neither making any significant connection with or contribution to the other.

As the back seat battle raged and shoppers came and went, an unfamiliar tune floated over the airwaves. The words of the song, "Stones taught me to fly, love taught me to lie, life taught me to die," made me consider the disconnected conversationalists from the day before and the many relationships I have in my life. I knew the wisdom of those words, and began to feel I could add a line to the song which would go something like, "Native culture taught me to deny."

At the trading post, we are in constant contact with Native Americans artists of every stripe. The artists and I are at times like the couple on the irrigation ditch, speaking genially, but not understanding each other's needs very well. What is really required is a stint down in the ditch; a struggle through the murky, brackish water of intercultural relations.

When there is time, I browse through the writings of Franc Johnson Newcomb, who seems to have been able to make a direct connection with her Navajo contemporaries. It often seems that many of today's really difficult Native American issues are avoided or glossed over by mainstream America, and by me. We put on our rose-colored glasses and avert our eyes to the unemployment, lack of education, crime, poverty and abuse occurring on the reservations. We walk a parallel path, and shout across the divide, but never get down in the muck and wrestle with the cultural crocodiles. At the end of the day, we go back to our comfortable homes, secure in the knowledge that we have done all we can under the circumstances.

Grange Simpson @ Twin Rocks Trading Post

After years of living with these problems, I have decided the only real solution is education, understanding and patience, pursued on a daily basis. Maybe the belligerents in the back seat will be better prepared to find answers to these difficult cultural issues. They certainly have extensive experience on the battlefield, and are not afraid to climb into the ditch to root about in the mud and muck. Although they are extremely young, they already know color does not determine character.

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2005 Twin Rocks Trading Post

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