Friday, March 7, 2014

Put the Bite On Me

So there I was, sitting at my desk trying to finish a long neglected project when I heard Barry say in a gruff voice, “Where’d this come from?” He was referring to a woven pitch basket made by Etta Rock. From my office window I could see him standing in the store, inspecting the weaving as though he had never before seen one. Priscilla, standing close by, smiled with a sly grin. She knew what was coming next. This is a scenario played out countless times over my years at Twin Rocks Trading Post, and Priscilla knows it by heart. Sometimes Barry and I switch roles, with me playing the part of crusty business owner and Barry being the compassionate protector of Indigenous traditions. No matter how it is scheduled, the production always ends the same.
Etta Rock

“We don’t need more of Etta’s pitch pots, we already have too many. And besides, we’re outta’ cash,” Barry advised. Without looking up from my computer I responded, “Etta put the bite on me. I couldn’t say no.” Barry grudgingly acknowledged the futility of his argument, recognizing there was nothing to be done. The conversation ended as it always does, without any resolution, and with the knowledge that so long as Etta is alive there will always be a return engagement and an overabundance of her work on the shelves.

Anyone who knows anything about us has heard of Etta Rock. She and her pitch pots have become as much a part of our tapestry as Mary Holiday Black, Lorraine Black, Luanna Tso or Elsie Holiday. We are interwoven, interconnected, intertwined . . . inseparable. These individuals are in our trading post DNA. Of course we did not need another pitch pot. That was never at issue. Etta wanted money to pay the bills, and she was not leaving until she sold something.

At times like this I often think of our friend Bill Boyle, a high school contemporary who holds an M.B.A. from Stanford University. When it comes to these recurring themes, I have frequently considered asking his advice. Anyone who attempts to apply logic, financial or otherwise, to our business model will, however, come up wanting. Knowing this, I have conscientiously left Bill out of the equation. My fear is that he may conclude Barry and I should be institutionalized in a home for the economically insane.

Barry and I understand the problem is that we are vainly trying to hold on to the old ways. Call it a mid-life crisis, call it an unwillingness to move on, call it what you like, Barry and I cannot let go of the past. Etta is one of the last traditional Navajo people we see on a regular basis; she wears the customary costume, she speaks only in her Native tongue (although we suspect that is part of her act), she lives on her ancestral lands and she makes traditional crafts that have little relevance to contemporary society. So, knowing what we know about how quickly her lifestyle is fading, we support her.

While Barry and I fret about what happens when we can no longer run the trading post, we are equally anxious about what happens when the Etta Rocks and the Mary Holiday Blacks of our world are gone. We fear that when the rugs, baskets and silver work we have known all our lives are gone, we will be left to sell rubber tomahawks, plastic drums and chicken feather headdresses. So we buy Etta’s pitch pots in the hope we can hold on to that slice of history just a bit longer.

With warm regards,
Steve, Barry, Priscilla and Danny; the team.

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