|Courtesy of the Visitor's Center at Arches National Park, Utah|
The Anasazi, or Ancestral Pueblans, were a hunter-gatherer society, finding nutrients in piñon nuts, juniper berries, and other natural sources. At the same time, they also developed farming techniques to cope with the scarcity of water in the arid climate of the Southwest, including irrigation for raising corn, beans, and squash. The Ancestral Puebloans dispersed sometime in the fifteenth century and intermingled with other prehistoric groups, eventually developing into modern tribal groups including the Pueblos, Hopi and the Zuni.
Our first stop in New Mexico was the Pecos National Historical Park, featuring the remains of a pueblo built by and for the Pecos people in the 15th century, though archeological evidence suggests human habitation at the site for hundreds of years prior, as early as 800 A.D. From our guided tour of the site, we learned about the kivas, subterranean round rooms used for ceremonial purposes, the 4-5 story pueblos themselves, and the network of trading which stretched from South America all the way to the West Coast.
|Alcove House, Bandelier National Monument. Halfway up!|
|Whitney at Balcony House, Mesa Verda|
|Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde|
Unlike the Pueblo Indians who shared a mix of ancestral groups from the Southwest the Navajo, who lived throughout the Four Corners region, are the descendents of Athabascan peoples who came down Southward along the Rocky Mountain range, approximately in the fourteenth century. The Navajo, unlike the Pueblo peoples, historically did not build cliff dwellings of adobe, but instead built houses on the ground. The Navajo traded with the Hopi and Pueblo tribes, and because of the close contact between the groups, adopted some of their traditional crafts such as weaving techniques though the Pueblo and Navajo had distinctive designs. Like the Navajo, the Apache were an Athabascan group with a more war-like culture, and as settlers began moving into the Southwest in the late 1800s, the Apaches frequently raided the white people's settlements as well as other Native American villages for cattle and supplies.
Despite pressure from the Spanish in the early years of white encroachment onto the land, and American military aggression throughout the nineteenth century, the native peoples of the Southwest held on to many of their traditions and languages, adapting and growing in the midst of oppression.
|Yard of the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts in Santa Fe, NM|
Today there are numerous tribes in the Southwest, up to 21 of whom trace their heritage to the Ancestralo Puebloans, and driving through the Four Corners states drives home the reality of these cultural enclaves. Driving around the Southwest is an eye-opening experience in many ways, but I was able to appreciate the wealth of Native American peoples that have retained their distinct cultural identity much more simply be being aware of the many reservations the highways pass through, and the historic sites which indicate their integral role in the development of the region.
The United States of America is far more diverse than the “melting pot” ideal could concieve, and the traditions of the Southwest American Indians endure in spite of oppression, truly illustrating the “American” ideals of endurance, freedom, and the dream of a better life for future generations.