Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Last Generation?

At the Twin Rocks trading post, I often speak fondly of the Indian traders of my youth. At one time or another, many of those old mossbacks patted me on the head and said things like, "Son, by the time you are my age, there won't be any rug or basket weaving. These are dying arts!" At that time, their comments meant little to me, since I did not realize how important these skills are to the maintenance of traditional culture and values.

Navajo Basket Weaver Mary Holiday Black

Since then, however, I have become more attuned to the significance of weaving in Native American cultures. In this region, rug and basket making are both an economic engine and a tool for transmitting traditions from one generation to the next. Our Navajo weavers have often mentioned how they sat beside their grandmothers and watched as nimble fingers created exquisite patterns with wool or sumac. During these sessions, it was not only weaving techniques that grandma was teaching; stories of the family, clan and tribe were simultaneously being threaded into the consciousness of the pupils, giving the children a sense of who they are, where they originated and what is important to their people.

It is not uncommon for the weavers to proudly proclaim that their family members have been weaving many generations. From the other side of the counter, I also hear my trader friends brag that their families have been buying and selling Navajo weavings for several generations. With the Foutz, Tanner and Richardson families, the generational involvement in trading goes back three, four and even five layers. Closer to home, Jana claims three generations, making Kira and Grange the potential fourth. Barry and I can only claim about one and a half.

Lately, I have been hearing the echoes of the old traders. The latest comments are, however, coming from my contemporaries, not my favorite fossils. Jana and I were recently in Tucson for a Navajo weaving show at Bahti Indian Arts Gallery. We were invited to take our best Navajo basketry to the exhibition, and Steve Getzweiller was asked to bring his extraordinary rugs and blankets. During one of our conversations, without any prompting from me, Steve mentioned that he felt his weavers may well be the last generation to create such beauty. I reiterated that I felt the same about the Navajo basket makers in our area.

Santo Domingo Jeweler Ray Lovato

As Kira and Grange skittered about outside, shouting, laughing and playing shadow tag on the grass, I asked about Steve's children; inquiring whether they worked in the business with him. "No," he replied, and went on to explain that his sons have their own lives which have precious little to do with Native American art. As I watched Kira and Grange entertaining themselves in the courtyard, I realized that, as with Steve's kids, my children are unlikely to follow Jana and me into the trading business.

It is curious how we often fail to appreciate that our circumstances are similar to those of the people around us, and how we allow ourselves to become isolated from the reality of our situation. For years, I have been concerned about the loss of traditional Navajo values, while failing to realize that my own traditions may abruptly end when my curtain falls.

Jana and I are determined to provide our children with a good education and opportunities outside the trading post. Duke and Rose worked hard to guarantee us more expansive possibilities than they had, and I have clearly benefited from the foundation they laid. So, Jana and I have begun to prepare Kira, Grange and Dacia for lives that will surely take them far from the starlit skies and red sand of Southern Utah. We have told the kids they can become anything they desire; doctors, lawyers or Indian chiefs. Well, they may not have the ideal qualifications for the job of Indian chief, but it doesn't hurt to dream big. This is America after all, and if Chief Yellowhorse can do it, why can't they?

For years I questioned whether my destiny was here at the trading post or in some larger community. Then, one day I was driving along a recently paved back road which I had driven a few years earlier in its unimproved state. I remembered my initial trip, with the dust and dirt boiling out the back of the car. I vividly recalled looking up at the sky and marveling at how large and beautiful it was, how vast the land seemed and how free I felt.

Navajo Rug Weaver Julia Deswood

As I retraced my path on the newly improved road, I felt constricted, as if the improvements had somehow diminished my freedom and shrunk the sky. I wondered if this was a sign that the wide open spaces and small communities of Southern Utah were my true destiny, and that my fate was clearly outside the concrete and paved surfaces of the big cities.

Directing my children toward true happiness is one of my greatest desires, but I know they will have to determine their own paths. Doing so will undoubtedly lead them far from the safe eddy of Bluff and Twin Rocks Trading Post. I may wind up in a fossil museum as the last Navajonius Tradoria Simpsonia. What a curiosity that will be.

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2006 Twin Rocks Trading Post

No comments: