When driving through New Mexico there are road signs along the highways that let people know when they’re entering and leaving tribal lands. The state is home to the 19 Pueblo Nations of New Mexico, as well as three Apache tribes and the Navajo Nation, according to the New Mexico Indian Affairs Department. The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe also has trust land that extends into northwestern New Mexico.
For the 19 Pueblos, their presence in the state spans far more than signs on the road, as they have been living on their traditional tribal homelands for centuries – long before New Mexico became a state and the United States became a country.
It was this strong sense of place and communal responsibility to cultural expression that was at the heart of a gathering of Pueblo artists held last year by the Santa Fe Indian School Leadership Institute (Leadership Institute) with support from First Nations Development Institute (First Nations).
First Nations awarded 15 Supporting Native Arts grants and three professional development mini-grants to Native American tribes and organizations under the Native Arts Initiative (NAI). Launched in early 2014, the purpose of the NAI is to support the perpetuation and proliferation of Native American arts, cultures and traditions as integral to Native community life. Funding for this project is provided in part by Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies.
The NAI grant was used to expand the Leadership Institute’s Art and Anthropology Academy (formerly called Art and Archaeology), which brought together around 50 Pueblo artists who committed to attending the full, two-day Community Institute on Art and Creativity (Art Institute) held at the Hyatt Regency Tamaya, owned and on the land of the Pueblo of Santa Ana, in early April 2017.
Over the two days, the artists and participants reflected on the past, present and future of traditional arts in Pueblo communities, and the question of “Why is art important?” The participants brought a creative piece of cultural significance to them, which they shared with everyone. The pieces varied from photographs to sculptures, and from pottery to weavings. The stories within the objects served as a communal foundation for the Art Institute. Intertwined into the discussions was a presentation on the impact of federal Indian policy on Pueblo tribal communities and how government policies have impacted Pueblo creativity.
Dr. Carnell Chosa is the Co-Director and Co-Founder of the Santa Fe Indian School Leadership Institute, where over 60 Community Institutes have been held over 20 years. Chosa is from Jemez Pueblo in New Mexico and says the NAI grant helped support a continuous dialog among the Pueblo peoples about the arts and its place in their lives.
“One question raised is how to include creativity as a tool, which is integral and very intertwined as a way to benefit Pueblo students in the schools. A big question that arose is mentorship – some artists want more opportunities to serve as mentors, others want to be more respected and acknowledged within their communities about what they bring economically and culturally, and how to have more art spaces within the communities,” said Chosa.
Diane Reyna is from Taos and Ohkay Owingeh Pueblos in New Mexico, and in her consultant work, she is an integral part of the work of the Leadership Institute and the Art Institute. She says how an institute is held plays a key role in how the people interact and help to move the conversation on creativity and community forward.
“The way the institutes are intentionally constructed and put together is by topics, and in both the facilitated and interactive sessions, there’s a flexibility. It gives people a chance to listen – and to be heard. People are touched by the chance to hear each other. We’re all inclusive of everything,” said Reyna.
Eight 15-minute Art Talks were held on various topics such as Art and Youth, Art and Identity, Art and Economy, Art and Storytelling, Pueblo Expression and Technology, Food and Culture, Landscape and History through Migration, and Creativity in Pueblo School Education. The participants talked about how to “Define Art in Your Own Words” and later, in the breakout sessions, they discussed further the transfer of art and creativity as part of intergenerational knowledge within the cultures and languages, art in Pueblo education, and other areas.
Theresa Pasqual is from Acoma Pueblo, and she moderated the Art Talk on Landscape and History through Migration. She works in the area of identification and protection of traditional cultural landscapes. Currently, she serves as the Joint Tribal Liaison for the U.S. Department of the Interior, Office of Water and Science, on Glen Canyon Dam.
“Art at its core is a form of expression – whether it’s the petroglyphs, pottery shards or metates, all were forms of expression at some point of time. A man or woman created something as a form of expression to meet the needs of the people, whether it be to till the ground, create a vessel to carry water or to cook beans,” said Pasqual.
Art as a form of expression to meet the needs of a community resonates with the core cultural values of many Pueblo communities. However, with the introduction of traders and the commodification of art, a disconnection between the creator of the art form and the receiver of the art has been created.
Ted Jojola, from Isleta Pueblo, is the Regents’ and Distinguished Professor in the Community and Regional Planning Program within the School of Architecture and Planning at the University of New Mexico. Jojola moderated the talk on Art and Economy and said the Art Institute allowed people to discuss complex ideas from a communal perspective.
“How do we use art as a form of expression, and balance that within the roles and responsibilities within the communities? It’s hard. It’s a delicate balance … it’s an innate, communal kind of expression. It’s second nature, but it doesn’t translate into what is learned now in terms of building our own economies,” said Jojola.
Jojola says Pueblo communities are looking at how to become more strategic and in tune with artists, so the value of what they contribute to the community, both culturally and economically, gets higher within the community. He says it comes down to a sense of place for the artists to invent themselves.
The Leadership Institute also surveyed Pueblo artists during the 2017 Pueblo Market, which was held in late November 2017, to gain an understanding of the artists’ views and strategies on how to preserve traditional Pueblo art forms. More than 100 Pueblo artists were surveyed at both the Art Institute and the 2017 Pueblo Market.
Some of the themes that emerged from the opening questions of “Why is art important?” and “What this art piece means to me?” were “art as a connection to family” and “art as a representative of relationships and experiences” and “art as a symbol of culture and identity” and “art embodying love and connection,” as documented in the project’s final grant report.
Also, a high school arts curriculum, based on the Art Institute outcomes, was overwhelmingly received and encouraged by the artist participants. They want to see and be a part of furthering the continuance of Pueblo arts and culture in their communities and as part of the Santa Fe Indian School Leadership Institute’s Art and Anthropology Academy.
The artists know the power and cultural significance that a renewed energy and commitment to art can bring, and how it not only relates to Pueblo values, but how it also speaks to the people and their way of life.
By Mary K. Bowannie, First Nations Communications Officer