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Native Sons : PUEBLO NATIONS By Joe S. Sando , (Clear Light Publishers: $22.95 cloth; $14.95 paper; 282 pp.)

August 09, 1992|Evan S. Connell | Connell's many books include "Mr. Bridge," "Mrs. Bridge" and "Son of the Morning Star: Custer and the Little Bighorn."

Today, Sando tells us, the critical issue is development of Pueblo economy, not imprisonment or religious intolerance. Gerald Ford signed the Indian Self-Determination Act in 1978, which was regarded as a beacon of hope. But when this legislation expires and funds are not available, what next?

The federal government "has made many pious gestures and floated much rhetoric" while allowing Pueblo land and water resources to deteriorate. Anglos unfamiliar with the situation frequently wonder why these Pueblos depend so much on federal assistance. Sando explains that a great deal of valuable land, such as the forest around Taos and Jemez, was appropriated by the government--"unfortunate but necessary," according to Teddy Roosevelt--before the Pueblo people were recognized as citizens in 1924.

This latter-day admission sounds bizarre if one reflects that Indians have been living in the southwestern United States almost since time began. Present wisdom holds that nomadic hunters roamed Arizona and Colorado and New Mexico and Utah at least 12,000 years ago. Gradually they learned that it is easier to grow crops than to chase animals, and during the first few centuries AD they began to build the great apartment complexes known as Chaco, Mesa Verde, Kiet Siel, Bandelier and the misnamed Aztec--now empty ruins, if we do not count tourists. What became of the people in these communities is a matter for dispute, but migration toward the Rio Grande valley seems probable. If so, they must be among the ancestors of contemporary Pueblo Indians. The one thing certain is that they had established a tranquil society while Anglo-Saxons lived in chaos.

According to the author, Celts, Greeks and Carthaginians visited this hemisphere before Columbus--a highly suspect belief--although he does not imply that any of them reached New Mexico. The first Pueblo encounter with Europeans began at Hawikuh in 1539, when the Zuni filled a Moorish slave with arrows.

In 1680, the Indians revolted, murdering Spanish settlers, soldiers and priests without discrimination. A San Juan native called Pope, who had been accused of sorcery and was publicly whipped by order of the Spanish governor, Juan Francisco de Trevino, is thought to have led this uprising.

Twelve years later, Captain De Vargas appeared. From that time on, the Pueblos have been forced to live as best they can under alien rule. This has meant adjusting to an odd religion, to strange economic laws, to political and moral considerations that seem not merely capricious but incomprehensible. Prior to that fateful year of 1539, Sando writes: "The people offered their prayer feathers and corn pollen each morning, thanking the Creator for all the surrounding land, over which they were the sole masters."

His anger at what happened in the past and his exasperation with the present is unmistakable; nevertheless he remarks that his people are now engaged in peaceful warfare. They have learned how to fight in the courts and they are attempting to educate the American public. He believes that eventually these efforts will succeed.

"Pueblo Nations" concludes with biographical outlines of nine distinguished natives. Best known by far is the internationally celebrated potter Maria Martinez of San Ildefonso, whose blackware probably can be found in half the countries on earth. With her husband Julian, she resurrected the almost forgotten art of black-on-black, an inspiration that has excited and stimulated Anglo craftsmen as well as imaginative Pueblo artists.

Few of the their names would be widely recognized, but members of these 19 ancient nations take pride in their accomplishments, just as they may feel proud of Joe Sando's thoughtful history.

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