3/20/04: The Little Things
I'm fortunate to be married to a woman who accepts
my chosen profession and is willing to support me in my modern
crusade - even if it is somewhat akin to that of my boyhood hero,
Indiana Jones. All romantic notions aside, the Southwest, and
Indian country in particular, is really an adventuresome place.
After having only spent a couple years living here as a permanent
resident (no pun intended), I've come to realize that there is
more and more to be appreciated about this wide-open place. Of
course Arizona is known as the Grand Canyon State, and then there
are other major points of geographic and historical interest
like Monument Valley, Canyon De Chelly, and the well-known Hubbell
It's the lesser known sights however, that really
make living in Arizona magical. When my wife first joined me
here, I was anxious to show her the "majors," but it
wasn't long before we felt like we'd been there, done that. A
lifetime of adventure and exploration seemed to be exhausted
within a matter of months. Then one afternoon while visiting
with one of our Pahana friends, who also lives here on the reservation,
we were turned onto some archaeological areas that have remained
largely a secret to the casual visitors of this desert country.
It was like a light came on inside our heads, and
from that time on we started looking for the "out of the
way" experiences. Some of them have turned out to be a little
disappointing, while others truly have been special experiences.
However, one would never know what they're missing if they didn't
make an effort to find out - and it's this process of discovery
that makes the individual and the area share a certain sense
of oneness. Today, instead of plotting our course from point
A to point B, we deliberately look for as many detours as possible
along the way - usually relegating point B to the bottom of our
priority list, even if it means only arriving in time to get
a room, and then when morning comes, we're off again.
An example that hits literally close to home is
the fact that very few visitors know the unique history of Keams
Canyon, its namesake and the important role he played in bridging
the gap between his Hopi and Navajo neighbors. Thomas Varker
Keam first experienced Indian Country as a young volunteer enlisted
in Kit Carson's brigade assigned to round up the Navajos and
escort them on the long walk to Bosque Redondo in Southeastern
New Mexico. It was summer in the late 1860s when Colonel Carson
and his men camped in what was then known as Peach Orchard Spring.
His brigade left their indelible mark on the sandstone wall of
the canyon which remains a little known fact but interesting
draw for many history buffs who visit the area. I'm always surprised
at how surprised many of our visitors are to learn a little of
the background of the Canyon.
While the traditional villages of Walpi and Oraibi
are still among the major areas of interest to most visitors
(and kachina dances, when open to visitors), there is a unique
and fascinating part of living history that takes place every
day here in Keams Canyon. Thomas Keam and his younger brother
established the trading post in 1875, but when his sibling fell
ill, Thomas took on the responsibility of running the post full-time,
leaving behind other enterprises near Fort Defiance on the Navajo
reservation. The decades that he spent here were certainly some
of the most influential pertaining to the development of arts
and crafts as an economic alternative to subsistence farming.
Westerners were bringing goods of great desire among the Natives,
and the Hopi wanted to share in the spoils (albeit some of what
was introduced would arguably have been better left behind).
Thomas Keam worked with local leaders - both Hopi and Navajo
- to establish amicable relations between them and their new
Western neighbors, and other American authorities. He was a diplomat,
a storekeeper, and a friend. His hope was to bring himself a
better life while also maintaining a positive way of life for
his Native counterparts - one that would preserve their special
heritage and traditions. His work with the noted anthropologist
and ethnologist Jesse Walter Fewkes of the Smithsonian was perhaps
the impetus for the redevelopment of Hopi pottery as an art form.
Their efforts helped spark the great Nampeyo renaissance, and
resulted in an awareness of and appreciation for pueblo pottery
that had heretofore been nonexistent. By helping create a market
for his patron's crafts, he supported a system of exchange that
enabled local Hopi and Navajo people to trade their wares for
items of daily necessity. On top of this, his role as a storekeeper
included messenger and postmaster, creditor, banker, and translator.
The trading post continues to operate as one of
the only bona fide trading posts in existence. While there are
many that have been recreated, and those which operate as galleries
under a "trading post" façade, there are few
that continue to provide the goods and services vital to a modern
reservation economy, while still maintaining a reverence and
respect for the traditions and heritage of their hosts.
As a side note, I've started to realize a parallel
between these experiences and the nature of our own character.
It's not the big things that really define a person - but the
little things. As Robert Louis Stevenson is quoted to have said,
how do you measure success? To laugh often and much; to win the
respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;
to earn the appreciation of honest critics, and to endure the
betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the
best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a
healthy child, a garden patch, a redeemed social condition, or
a job well done; to know that even one other life has breathed
easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.
In this respect, Thomas Keam was a success, and
I hope that the same could someday be said for us all.
The Permanent Rezident
Without Reservations: Index