2005: The End of an Era?
have said that the introduction of roads and automobiles has
eliminated the need for the trading post by providing Native
Americans with access to goods and services off the reservation,
sometimes at lower prices. The argument also refers to the disappearance
of pawn business, credit dealings, and the direct trade of goods
for goods as other examples of the deterioration of the trading
you take another look at the trading post, you will see that
it is still an economically viable and integral part of the reservation
community. The way business is done at the trading post has only
evolved, it hasn't disappeared. In years when corn or wool production
was low, Natives sought other ways to insure their survival.
The trader was the first to take the risk of accepting "crafts"
as an alternative medium of barter. Thus began an era of transition
from goods for goods, to crafts for goods - and eventually arts
and crafts for cash. The mediums have changed, but the exchange
remains the same. The trading post remains an income producing
mechanism for a large number of the community - not only as a
destination where artists can be compensated for their work,
but also as an employer for many of the local residents.
trading post is still an important part of the community. Times
have changed, and so has the trading post, but the underlying
components of the model are the same. The locals still rely on
the trading post as a market for their "goods," and
they still look to the post to fulfill some of their immediate
needs. Although reservation prices might be slightly higher,
and selection not always as abundant, it must be taken into consideration
that much of this is determined by the trading post's suppliers
and freight carriers. In addition, because the trading post absorbs
greater losses statistically than other traditional businesses
off the reservation, prices on local goods and services may reflect
in remote areas such as Keams Canyon, where the trading post
still caters to a vast majority of local patrons, it is arguably
to their advantage to be able to do limited shopping when the
nearest off-reservation store is almost 70 miles away. Consider
the time and money spent to travel to and from these destinations.
Convenience has proven valuable in the American economic society
at large, as well as the Native American communities on the reservation.
illustrated are three benefits of the modern trading post - 1)
a market place for local arts and crafts, 2) an employer for
locals within the community, and 3) convenience in obtaining
necessary goods and services. Keep in mind that the trader has
to cope with a lot. He goes to great lengths, at considerable
expense, to maintain his business on the reservation. He must
meet the unique requirements and stipulations placed upon him
by the locals, by the tribe, by the state, and by the federal
government. In most cases, he does not own his trading post or
the land upon which it resides. He merely possesses a limited
license to conduct business within that area - so long as he
can maintain peaceable and profitable relations with the powers
that be. He invests a great amount of his own time, money, and
energy into building up a community of which he will never fully
be a part, as well as an asset that can be repossessed at will
and ultimately belongs to someone other than himself or his posterity.
He can only hope that his earnest and sincere efforts will win
the respect, support, and appreciation of the community that
he serves and supports and thereby ensure his survival as a businessman
a little longer.
must obtain a lease agreement from the tribe with which he conducts
business, he must also obtain a federal license as a bonded trader,
and in most cases he must remit a percentage of his gross revenues
back to the tribe and/or village as a royalty for the right to
do business on their land.
governments can be fickle. Leadership often changes. Attitudes
and agendas will change also. The trader has to constantly be
aware of and sensitive to the political climate he is immersed
in. This is very different from most private enterprises, where
business owners have equity in their own assets and can pursue
a course of free trade without the worry or concern that what
is here today may be gone tomorrow - as a result of influences
other than his own ability (or lack thereof) to conduct business.
trader may pour hundreds of thousands of dollars back into his
community, back into his business - into his building, property,
and marketing - and never have the promise of recouping that
investment through the sale of any assets. What he builds up,
he builds for someone else. What he creates and maintains, he
maintains for another generation - for someone who will come
after him. If he is lucky, he may be able to sell his rights
to conduct business to another would-be trader, but only if that
individual feels confident enough that he can also meet all the
requirements, maintain good relations, and conduct a successful
business long enough to recoup his own investment. Since this
prospect is a daunting one for most prospective "buyers,"
it may be a challenge for the trader to ever find a liquid exit
or promise of retirement.
because the tribe ultimately retains all rights to the land and
any improvements upon it, and because the asset is technically
theirs, so is any value that has been added as a result of the
traders own efforts. The trader does not, in most cases, receive
any subsidies or support from local, tribal, state, or federal
governments - other than temporary permission to conduct business
for a term, again contingent upon compliance with various stipulations,
regulations, and requirements.
takes a certain kind of person to run a trading post. In many
cases he must be willing to make his home on the reservation
and forgo the convenience of life in an urban setting. He must
deal with the challenges that inter-cultural exchange presents
- in terms of language, values, customs, and prejudice. He must
often accept that he will never be fully accepted as a part of
the community. He must often service his community and assist
them in preparations for activities, ceremonies, and other celebrations
to which he is often neither invited nor welcome at. He must
do all he can to learn about the culture and customs of his neighbors,
showing respect and appreciation for them, while at the same
time making apologies for his own culture and heritage. His housing
is often sub-standard, making the most of whatever land and resources
are available to him - as he is precluded from housing opportunities
and medical services available to his Native patrons. Medical
care, even when the trader is insured, must be obtained off the
reservation except for cases requiring an emergency room visit.
This requires the trader and his family to travel great distances
for doctors and dentists visits, and in the case of emergencies
he must pay for all services rendered out of his own pocket,
since most insurance companies will not cover him at an Indian
Health Services hospital.
trader is not the unscrupulous opportunist which occasionally
surfaced in generations past. Conducting business on a reservation
requires strict adherence to various regulations which are vigorously
enforced - as they should be. If anything, the trader is Native
patron's best friend. He cannot afford the luxury of many "trading
post" galleries who pick and choose whom they will buy from,
encourage, and promote. His viability in the community depends
on his support of all of his patrons - and artists at every level.
Traders are perhaps the most responsible for the great American
art form that Native American arts and crafts have evolved into.
They were the first to create the market - to endorse the art
- and to take risks that no one else would have. They bought
pottery, baskets, kachina dolls, and rugs from young artists
who didn't have the big names at the time. Every one of today's
elite Native artists began somewhere - quite often on the shelves
of a reservation trading post.
the trader extends special terms to both his Native and non-Native
patrons. This includes prolonged layaways with generous grace
periods, as well as discounts for the collector at the expense
of the trader and not the artist. The trader takes the desirable
with the undesirable - averaging out the marketability of his
patrons' wares. The trader also extends cash advances and loans
- similar to the credit method of an earlier era - when his patrons
require money to meet their other obligations such as electric
bills, gas money, or simply food for the table. Often this act
of generosity, compassion, and kindness tends to alienate the
trader from the borrower since the money is always harder to
repay once it has been spent. There's an old saying among traders
that says "if you want to get rid of someone for a while,
just give him an advance." This is unfortunate, since the
good will of the trader is often exploited and turned to his
disadvantage - especially when he discovers that the same artist
whom he loaned money to is now taking all their best work to
the gallery in town where they don't have an obligation.
trader must learn to interface with a myriad of suppliers. Whereas
most businesses have only a handful of suppliers (some having
as many as a couple dozen), the trader not only has these, but
he also has a hundred others in terms of the artists he supports.
Each has a unique set of circumstances - needs, terms, expectations,
performance abilities, etc. Each must be understood individually
on his or her own basis. This introduces a multitude of complexities
to the day to day regimen of running a trading post business,
as you can imagine. The trader is often called upon by these
individuals to act as a counselor, banker, broker, and friend.
trader must assume all risk, meet cash flow demands, and put
forth extra efforts to market and preserve and promote not only
the art, but the artist and his culture - thereby performing
a service that directly benefits the artist, the tribe, the community,
and their cultural preservation program goals.
addition to providing a catalyst for Native American art, providing
employment for members of the local community, and providing
convenient goods and services (such as a grocery store, a Laundromat,
a gift shop, a service station, a café, and a convenience
store), the trading post acts as a regulator for tourism. The
trading post serves as a hub for visitors who want to be introduced
to the art, history, and culture of the region. The trader obliges
by making his visitors aware of regulations and prohibited activities
- steering them away from culturally sensitive locations and
helping them find meaningful diversions that will be of relevant
interest to them. By doing this, the trading post continues to
support the mission and efforts of the cultural preservation
office. Appropriate and well-developed points of interest are
promoted, while sacred sites are kept secret or are discouraged
when inquired about by visitors.
tribes that have active and ambitious tourism programs and goals,
the trading post can provide important services. It can market
and promote points of interest, it can educate and clarify with
respect to cultural and historic issues, it can provide alternative
experiences for travelers during times of ceremony or other seasons
when village visitation might be inappropriate. The post can
act as a museum and gallery of local arts and crafts. It can
be a venue for auctions, exhibits, art shows, and performances.
It can provide for many of the needs of the visitors - in terms
of basic sundries and supplies, as well as lodging, food, and
fuel. It can be the point of origin for organized tours, allowing
visitors to have thorough exposure and meaningful experiences
without traipsing through the back yard of their hosts.
posts have been accused of contributing to the disintegration
of the traditional society and values of a reservation community,
as a result of their introduction of outside consumer goods,
and then as a result of their influence on Native crafts as commercial
arts. The need for the trading post has been eliminated by arguments
suggesting that the development of automobiles and roads provide
Native communities with access to the only goods and services
they will ever need. Nothing could be further from the truth.
If anything, these roads and automobiles have contributed more
to the degeneration of traditional societies and values than
anything else. This kind of proximity and exposure to the Western
world has greatly influenced and left a lasting impact on rural
Native communities - by both in the inflow of outsiders and the
outflow of local residents.
the fact that the trading post provides jobs, goods, and services
for the reservation communities allows people to stay closer
to home - to stay connected and to be involved in cultural affairs.
Imagine if there were no economic opportunities "at home."
Many men and women would have to seek employment and housing
off the reservation - ultimately leading to extended separation
from the culture and traditions. Children would not have the
opportunity of being reared in a traditional environment - languages
would evaporate even more quickly than they already are, and
cultural events and customs would be an increasingly unfamiliar
and foreign experience for them. Eventually the living heritage
of a people would become merely a memory.
a side note, some have criticized the commercialization of kachina
dolls as an exploitation of Native religion. However, it is important
to realize that the carving of kachina dolls is an adaptation
of artistic and symbolic cultural expression within a medium
normally reserved for traditional religious purposes. If the
carving of kachina figures for sale is wrong, then what about
their likeness as they appear on Hopi baskets, pottery murals,
original paintings, or overlay jewelry designs. As one pueblo
artist put it, "I try to interpret the significance of my
cultural and religious experience through abstract expressions
in my art." In my opinion, contemporary kachina carvings
are an abstract expression of their traditional counterparts.
Although they are realistic in form, their purpose and function
is much different from that of the original "old style",
or flat-doll carvings. If anything borderlines exploitation,
perhaps it could be construed that the revival and introduction
into the marketplace of "consumer-grade," neo-classical
carvings is just that.
it is safe to say that purpose is the main variable that
should differentiate one from the other. For example, many marketers
of Hopi kachina carvings (both contemporary and new-traditional)
reserve the term katsina to refer to the actual spirit beings
which the carvings represent, whereas the term kachina is more
loosely used when referring to the art form produced for commercial
purposes. It would be wrong for a religious object to be created,
consecrated, and dedicated for one purpose and then be used for
another - such as financial gain within the marketplace. A devout
Christian would never take a religious symbol from within a church
where it had been dedicated for that particular purpose and introduce
it into the marketplace - but it is obvious that many similar
items have been created for the sole purpose of purchase, and
people buy them for a variety of reasons - mostly out of respect
and reverence for the original, in hopes that they might invite
a little of that "special" spirit into their own environment.
federal government has enacted laws to protect tribal cultural
heritage by prohibiting the illicit sale of sacred religious
objects. This includes rare and special items unknown to most
outsiders, but should perhaps also encompass authentic items
such as traditional kachina dolls that were carved for a particular
purpose and used in ceremonies or given out to the children of
the village by the Katsina himself. In this way, members of the
tribe sensitive to the possible exploitation of their religion
would know that "authentic" items intended for spiritual
use were not being bought and sold. However, it would still allow
the Native artist to express himself freely within the context
of his own culture.
The Permanent Rezident