Friday, March 4, 2016

Natives for Sale!

There I sat, staring into the alarmingly narrow hazel colored eyes of an attractive young woman who wore closely cropped hair dyed jet black. Standing stridently across the sales counter from me, she was clad in an oversized, wrinkled and stained khaki outfit overlaid with a tan photographer's vest that had about 101 pockets. On her feet was a huge pair of "waffle-stompers", and on her face a look of disdain.

Chewing my lip, I seriously contemplated a statement she had just made and wondered what had caused her to display such a strong emotional reaction. Her inquiry and obvious anger confused me. Nevertheless, there she stood, hands on hips, returning my gaze and anticipating a hostile reaction. I was confident this little fireball was prepared to do battle.

I first noticed her when she came stomping into the trading post in those big boots. Although I recognized a militant attitude in her, I consciously overlooked it, smiled and said, "hello." She only stared back. At the time I was working with a retired couple who were interested in a Ruby Coggeshell Red Mesa weaving, one based on stories about female energy. "How apropos", I thought to myself. The older folks were putting me through my paces, peppering me with questions regarding the, who, what, where, when, why and how of the rug's creation.

As we discussed the cultural significance of the weaving, the girl moved nearer and leaned against the counter. I could tell she was listening closely to the dialogue, and wondered at her interest. Since the couple was focused on tradition and ceremony, our conversation turned into a lengthily discussion on the richness of meaning associated with the pattern. The couple loved the rug and its significance and what I shared with them about the wonders of Ruby and her creativity.
Navajo Red Mesa Outline Rug - Ruby Coggeshell (#45)

The young woman emitted a soft but audible, "humph" when the couple said they wanted to purchase the rug. I figured the woman would have something to say about that development and hoped she would wait until the deal was done so she did not spoil the couple's experience. Because the young woman paced about the store nervously, I figured she was building up steam for a full frontal assault. I wrapped the rug, thanked the couple and waved as they exited the Kokopelli doors.

Turning toward her, I watched as she came my way. Calmly, I asked her if there was a problem. Breathing deeply, as if ramping up her courage, she placed her hands on her hips and in a slightly shaky voice said, "Do you realize you are in the business of packaging and selling Navajo culture! This land belongs to them, and you kicked them off their homeland!" This is where I found myself looking into a fiery, unsettled, set of hazel eyes and mulling over her statement.

I do not often seek confrontation. In fact, I do my best to avoid it whenever possible. My wife might disagree, but I hold to the principle. There are times, however, that, like accidentally stepping on an upturned rake, confrontation rises up and strikes you square in the face. At times, you simply have to deal with the issue, no matter how uncomfortable.

Finally I shrugged my shoulders and said, "You don't know me and I find your statement grossly unfair. I guess, however, if you strip away the personal, emotional attachment I have for this place and the positive things I believe it stands for; disregard my passion for the culture, the art and people; and harness me with the guilt of the past 200 years, then, yes, that is what we are doing here. Guilty as charged."

"You think it's that simple?" stammered the woman incredulously. "No indeed," I said, "I think it's overwhelmingly complicated. What I gave you was a simplistic answer to a simplistic statement you obviously haven't thoroughly considered." The young woman was livid, and she looked as if she might punch me in the honker. Just then a large, boisterous group of people flowed into the trading post and broke the tension. The girl shook her head, turned on her boot heel and left the building, leaving me to contemplate the seriousness of her accusation.
Navajo Monument Valley or Bust Basket - Lorraine Black (#232)

I have thought about that young woman's passionate statement a great deal since the incident and have shared it with a number of people, both Native American and Anglo, in an attempt to obtain open and honest opinions. After much conversation and contemplation, I have concluded there have certainly been indiscretions, but that I am not personally responsible. Additionally, one might easily defend our packaging and selling of a culture. I only hope history will show that Steve and I have done our best to treat everyone with respect and dignity.

The old days of, "Captive audience Indian trading" has long since disappeared. We deal with intelligent, educated individuals who are acutely aware of their options in the world of Native American arts and crafts. Discussing the young woman's comments with Navajo basket weaver Lorraine Black led her to comment, "This is my design, I wove it into this basket, not you. If I didn't feel you respected that and didn't treat me fairly, I wouldn't be here right now!"

The young woman with hazel eyes made me look closely at how we present the art of Twin Rocks Trading Post. Hopefully we will be more sensitive from now on. I believe the woman was well intentioned but poorly informed. That may be how she views me as well. What I know for sure concerning human relations and cultural issues is that nothing, and I repeat nothing is black and white. Being open-minded and objective regarding criticism is a must in any business.

I actually hope the young lady returns, because I would like to introduce her to my son Spenser. Recently, he informed me I know nothing about modern woman. Maybe not, but I do have experience dealing with women of attitude. I think it would do the boy good, educate him if you will, to meet such a spirited creature. Some things have to be personally experienced to be appreciated. The Nancy Sinatra song, later covered by Jessica Simpson, comes to mind, "These boots are made for walking!"

With warm regards from Barry Simpson.

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