Friday, October 16, 2015

Mormon, Indian or Outlaw?

WWorking in the Indian arts and crafts business, "for a good number of years”, has left me with a great appreciation for the the local artists and their work.  Southwest Native art often incorporates traditional themes which are used as a vehicle to communicate culture and tradition.  Delving into those legends is an activity I enthusiastically endorse, and anyone who takes time to investigate this history will find a unique and magical society that displays great respect for the wonders of the natural world.


As with most things, however, there are both positive and negative aspects associated with Southwest cultures. To me, the fact that Native people of this region have retained such complex beliefs systems is nothing short of amazing. Just slow down long enough to introduce yourself to their world and you will see how really interesting these people can be. Contemporary scholars are discovering just how important it is to the human psyche to incorporate tradition into your everyday life. It seems a well considered historical perspective, combined with an understanding of where you came from, provides the necessary structural support to our inner being.

As children we were exposed to a wide array of people and belief systems. Before she met and married our father, our mother, who was raised in the Catholic faith and educated in parochial schools, was on track to become a nun. Needless to say, we are grateful for the persistence of dear old dad. Without his tenacity, we would not be where we are today. Surely he believed bringing his new bride to this primitive outpost in southern Utah, and quickly establishing a large and active brood of children, provided the best opportunity for sustaining the relationship, and it worked.

It was our mother's intention to raise her children in the church of her youth, so we were baptized at an early age. She did her best to maintain our religious instruction, but in rural Utah that was an ongoing struggle. Priests were available only on a monthly rotation, and since ours was a small rough and tumble congregation it was not unusual for the priest to delay his visits in favor of more productive parishioners. Our mother, preferring not to be exclusively responsible for her developing gang of heathens, chose to attend mass at Saint Christopher's Episcopal Mission. Craig and I soon became altar boys, but that provided only temporary relief.


The Mormon culture has deep roots in Bluff, and our family grew up in close proximity to LDS people, history and beliefs. The original settlers of this community left a deep and indelible stamp on the town, and the descendants of these hearty individuals arrive at Twin Rocks Trading Post on an almost daily basis to discuss the adventures of their ancestors.

The cultures of the Navajo and Ute people were also ever-present, and when we were children it was common for us to witness traditional ceremonies being celebrated.  Squaw dances, pow wows, bear dances and many a Mormon and Navajo fair, complete with all the traditional food, were commonly on the agenda. We still believe the only way to eat fry bread is with salt. Powdered sugar and honey are newcomers to that Navajo delicacy and not to be taken seriously. It was a great way to grow up, and it gave us a better appreciation for what others believed and practiced. If you look closely at our school pictures, you will see a minority of white faces.

Steve and I are constantly quizzed about our relationship to the area. Most people cannot believe we are originally from Bluff. They look at us with skepticism, and wonder about our place in the larger scheme of things. I recently spoke with an elderly couple from Seattle who came to Bluff on a fact finding mission. It was the woman's intention to discover more information about Jens Nielson, her great grandfather. Bishop Nielson was one of Bluff's founding fathers and left a prodigious lineage in his wake. The woman asked the standard questions, "Are you Mormon?" "No, ma’am."  "Are you Indian?" "No, we are not Indian.” The next question generally is, "Then, what are you?" This is characteristically where our sarcastic natures kick in and we become creative with our answers.  This sweet, innocent woman, however, beat us to the punch when she said, “Well, according to the historical record, and the late, great Mormon historian, Albert R. Lyman, there is only one alternative." "What's that?" we jointly inquired, setting ourselves up for her reply. Turning towards the Kokopelli doors, she replied, "Why, outlaws of course!"Copyright©2002 Twin Rocks Trading Post

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