In 2006 I took a Road Trip from San Francisco to New Mexico and back over the course of a month, writing and taking photos all the way. Two years later I had a show of paintings based on those photographs. This is one of a series of twenty-nine posts of those paintings accompanied by the relevant diary entries.
14. May 8th, 2006.
Lovely drive from Flagstaff through Cameron to here. Got the Navajo Radio Station in the car-their language sounds strange and clinky. There were flimsy little house scattered around Cameron-I guess they are the government houses-HUD-(Housing and Urban Development) or low income housing.
The area I would be driving through over he next week or so is home to a number of reservations belonging to various tribes, including, Navajoland, the ‘Big Res.’, the Navajo reservation, the biggest I think on the American continent. The Navajo were far more attached to the land than other, usually peripatetic, tribes who had adopted the horses of the Spanish from the 1500s, and as such more connected to the distant past. The Navajo, if I remember rightly, have been the ‘go to’ tribe for anthropologists. As with most reservations, it is poor and the government housing cheap. Many tribes have taken advantage of the laws against gambling in the white world to open casinos on their reservation to generate revenue.
I had done a fair bit of reading about Native American history and also some contemporary novels and stories from Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee to the detective novels of Tony Hillerman to the stories and novels of Thomas King and Sherman Alexie. Having grown up watching westerns on the TV, the image of the proud, Hollywood Indian is hard to erase and in part, for me, it had been merely replaced by a modern myth of the scarred and brutalised Native American, stronger and deeper and still more spiritual than us whites. The truth is more complex and too much to go into here but my attitudes gave rise to some uncomfortable feelings and questions.
In Sedona and on the way here the signs for Native American Crafts makes me feel uncomfortable and sad-though they are making a living. One trading post had a sign saying Friendly Indians! and then a mile or two on the road-Friendly Indians Behind You! which made me laugh out loud but also sad.
Throughout my diary I refer to Indians rather than Native Americans, though this is not the politically correct name, to me its is a moniker of exoticism, of wildness, of freedom.
Next-The Grand Canyon and some more giving out…
Alexie, S., (1993), The Lone Ranger & Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, new York:Grove Press
Brown, D., (1970), Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, various editions.
Cogan, P. (1997), Winonas Web, New York:Broadway
Harrison, J., (1988), Dalva, NewYork:Washington Square Press
Hillerman, T., (1970), The Blessing Way, New York:Harper and 18 other Leaphorn & Chee novels.
King, T., (1989), Medicine River, Canada:Viking Press
King T., (1994), Green Grass, Water Running, New York:Bantam
King T., (2001),Truth & Bright Water, New York, Grove Press
Silko, L. M., (1977), Ceremony, New York:Penguin