Thursday, September 14, 2006

Vitality of a village

New Mexico State Fair's treasured haven for American Indian culture gets a new look, but its spirit will endure

by Mo Palmer

The year 1964 was one of change. President John F. Kennedy was gone; Camelot crashed. His assassination was the "end of the innocence" for those of us holding the "high hopes" Old Blue Eyes sang about during Kennedy's campaign. The "unwar" in Vietnam was escalating. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was voted "Man of the Year" by Time Magazine and was the youngest man to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Bobby Kennedy was in the news daily. Senator Strom Thurmond changed horses in the middle of the stream and became a Republican after decades of Democratic-ness. Barry Goldwater was stumping for election - it was the first year I was old enough to vote.

On the ordinary cultural front, the Beatles were touring the country to thrilled adolescent girls and "a few boys," as a Dallas article put it. They arrived in Texas wearing cowboy hats that "neither fit nor became them." Someone threatened to exterminate the British Bugs.

Here in Albuquerque, the first Mass celebrated in English took place in the Civic Auditorium, located where the Heart Hospital is today. The University of New Mexico's School of Nursing admitted its first male student, and Albuquerque was getting ready for the New Mexico State Fair.

I think the fair used to be a bigger deal than it is now, judging from the coverage it received. Maybe it still is and I just haven't noticed - but every aspect was published, from preparations to prizes, with plenty of people photos.

The anticipated opening of the new Indian Village generated major excitement. In spring of 1964, a committee of the Council of American Indians, representing 21 tribes and pueblos, approached fair officials with its idea. The officials were delighted.

Although there was an Indian Arts Building, and vendors traditionally set up just inside the main gates around the fountain, this was a brand new take.

Joe Sando of the Jemez Pueblo, president of the council at the time, noted that Hollywood American Indians always wore feathered headdresses, inaccurate for Pueblo peoples.

"The Indian people would like to be observed as they are," Sando said at the time.

The idea was unique and brilliant. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, indigenous villages were imported and set up on World's Fairgrounds so folks could observe people in their "natural habitat," like a zoo.

Pretty offensive. Indian Americans were reversing stereotypes and taking control - something they would continue to do as activism increased in the '60s and '70s.

The Indian Village rated mention in the New York Times, as it was the only such dedicated space in America's fairgrounds. I couldn't find the article because the yearly index for that paper is bigger than "War and Peace" and harder to read. It might have a better plot.

The fair donated the land, but members of more than 21 tribes and organizations did all the work. Plans were to exhibit wickiups and other dwellings, although the weather didn't tune in to the event and washed away Cochiti Pueblo's mud and wattle oven exhibit twice. That's New Mexico.

The primary construction was brush arbor. Over the gate was the word "O-Ween-Gay," or "Welcome," in the Tewa language of some pueblos. One report incorrectly claimed this as the language of all pueblos, but some don't speak Tewa at all. I'd tell you what they speak, but it's too complex for me.

You could get a slice of hand-cooked fry bread, that incredible treat, for 30 cents. Get acquainted with it this year. You'll be instantly addicted like the rest of us.

At the center of the village was a platform, where Laguna dancers performed a buffalo dance.

Plains, Navajo, Apache, and Pueblo dancers took the stage daily at 11 a.m. Handmade jewelry, arts, and crafts were available to admire and to buy, at reasonable prices.

Artists were in the village so customers could meet with and talk to them. One was Pablita Velarde, whom I mention because she died in January.

Pablita's name was Golden Dawn-Tse Tsa. Tse Tsa was from Santa Clara Pueblo.

She was renamed Pablita at the Indian School in Santa Fe, one of many changes these schools inflicted upon native children. Pablita was not captivated by women's roles - cooking, cleaning, being a wife and mother. Lots of us weren't, but most of us succumbed to those expectations. Not Pablita. She took up painting, and she was good.

Pablita painted her vision of pueblo life, and suffered frequent criticism. The Albuquerque International Airport has some of her work in its collection, and she painted murals on the Maisel's Building, 510 Central Ave. N.W.

Over time, this independent spirit garnered many awards and helped promote women as gifted individuals. Her daughter, Helen Hardin, was also a fine artist. She died in 1984.

The Indian Village has expanded over the decades and continues to be successful.

Today, State Fair visitors will notice a "new" village, designed to resemble the Taos Pueblo.

The $687,000 project, started earlier this year, was complete in time for this year's fair.

The old vendor buildings have been demolished and replaced. There's a new portal, 12 additional spaces for vendors, four new demonstration spaces, two new dining/picnic pavilions and new lighting for the dance area.

Buildings, lights, and spaces are nice and it's time for this facelift. Such a unique place deserves it. But what's important is that it's served for 42 years as a gathering place and as a hands-on school to teach American Indian traditions and heritage.

What you feel in the village is a spirit - of togetherness, of sharing, of preserving culture. That spirit will endure no matter how it is housed.

Originally published in The Albuquerque Tribune, Thursday, September 14, 2006.
The Tribune articles are used with the permission of Scripps Howard.

The Missing Photos:
(courtesy "The State Fair: The Biggest Show in New Mexico")

Workmen lay adobe bricks during construction of the Indian Village at the Expo New Mexico grounds in 1964. This year, the village has undergone a $687,000 rehabilitation project.

(Photo by Erin Fredrichs)

Bryson Sanchez, 5, waits for his turn to perform in the center circle of the Indian Village at the State Fair. Bryson is a member of the White Horse Plains Dancers from Bernalillo. Built in 1964, the Indian Village venue has a strong tradition at the fair but also needed help. A $687,000 rehabilitation project was completed in time for this year's annual event.

(Photo by Erin Fredrichs)

Lights above the Indian Village shine down on Liset Carrillo, 18, and the Tezcatlipoca Aztec dancers, who perform annually at the State Fair. Improved lighting is one of many renovations done this year at the Indian Village venue, built in 1964

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