[Music is playing through the sound system, a “corrido” or story-song by Tobias Rene of Albuquerque. It is about the legendary Mexican revolutionary Valentín de la Sierra.]
I come to you from a place where the earth is pink. Where the sky rises like a cathedral of blue. I come to you from a place where the river weaves through the villages like a string of sheep’s wool. Where men’s jeans are made threadbare by seasons of mending fences. Where women know the plants. I come to you from a place where people speak a language that is called Spanish but to the student of language is in fact indecipherable because it’s peppered with the history of Aztec and Tewa and Navaho—all blended together like green chili stew.
I live in Chimayó, New Mexico. In the Tewa language the place was originally called Tsi Mayoh. It’s disputed whether that means “flaked obsidian” or “the place where two rivers meet.” The Santa Cruz River snakes down from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and flows through the village. Everywhere smaller waterways weave. They are called “las acequias” or irrigation ditches, canals dug with shovels to divert the water to the houses and the fields and then back to the river again. From an ecological perspective, these canals extend the riparian areas with their birds and small animals into the dry terrain.
The land is desert uplands, about 6200 feet above sea level. Surrounding us are the badlands, “los cerros y las barrancas,” and in the midst of this desert is Tsi Mayoh, an oasis of cottonwoods, of pi–on and olive, of chili, corn, tomatoes, and apples. We have a system of barter that is centuries old. Each village has a specialty: Velarde, apples; El Valle, sheep; Chimayó, chili; San Luis, up in Colorado, potatoes.
The people in the village are a beautiful mix. Some of the blood comes from Europe: Spanish, Moorish, Jewish; some comes from Mexico: Aztec, Mayan, Toltec; and some from those who have inhabited the land for ages: Tewa, Navajo, Apache. In the slang of the Pachuco, which is the urban Chicano renegade culture of the 1940s and 1950s, the village is called Chima. And Chima is where I live.
It has become indistinguishable from who I am. I had a visitor from California recently (“Califas” in Pachuco), and all she wanted to do was talk about what’s inside the skin—feelings, perceptions, analyses—which I found to be a familiar mode, having moved to the area from Califas, but a mode that had grown foreign and old and small. When I first came to New Mexico, I had an inkling this would happen. Once, when talking with the Tewa scholar and author of Tewa World, Alfonso Ortiz, I asked, “When Native people get together, do they talk about themselves? Do they say: I feel this, I had this experience, in my childhood this happened?” He didn’t give me an answer; instead, he laughed uproariously. So sure enough, in time, with the help of the pink earth and the barrancas, the vaqueros and the curanderas, who I am has expanded beyond this skin to become the land and the village and the history and the purpose and the soul of the place. As my friend the poet and social activist Jaime Chavez writes in a poem called “Ventanas”:
Camino encapotado en hierbas
bebiendo de las aguas
dando a la tierra;
cada estación llena
las huellas de este jornada
entre las cosas simples
hambriento con la esperanza
escondido en la tierra
I walk cloaked in herbs
drinking from the waters
giving unto the earth;
each season fills
the tracks of this journey
among simple things
starved in the hope
hidden in the land
We all have stories about relationship to place. In 1991 I went to the World Uranium Hearing in Salzburg, Austria, a gathering of indigenous peoples: Mongolians, South Pacific Islanders, people from Chile, from Africa, Alaska, and the American Southwest. All these indigenous people from all over the world came together to talk about the effects of nuclear technology on their lands, cultures, and health. I made a pilgrimage to this gathering as a member of the Board of Listeners, and my job was to sit in the audience for five days and listen. So I took my cowboy boots, and while I was there, I spent time with the Native peoples from the Southwest, from my own bioregion—Navajo, Apache, and Pueblo Indians. I was especially struck by one man named Rex Tilousi, who was startlingly calm and humble. He was the governor of the Havasupai, the caretakers of the Grand Canyon. But I saw him only when he was on stage. I asked a Keres man from Acoma Pueblo why that was, and he said, “He’s homesick; he feels so out of himself, so disconnected from the Grand Canyon that he is grieving in his hotel room”.
Another story comes to me from my friend Larry Emerson, a Navajo from Shiprock, New Mexico. He’s an educator, and he’s training in the medicine ways of his tribe. Larry tells me that when he travels from his people’s land to another people’s land—in this case the Ute—he stops in the boundary lands and says prayers. He says good-by to his homeland and his people, and he prays and honors the sacredness of the other people’s place. I think these two stories say a lot about what lies beyond our skin in terms of what it means to be a real human being and to be connected to place, what it means to be made of one’s place.
For myself, it is strange that fate landed me in a desert village in the Rio Grande valley. My people are Celt and German, hailing from the northern forests of Europe and eventually from many of the nation-states of northern Europe: from Wales, Scotland, Ireland, and England, from Holland, Belgium, France, and Germany. The first of my people to come to this continent was the Reverend Thomas Hooker with his family— his wife, Susanna Garbrand, and their children Joanna, Mary, Sarah, John, and Samuel. They came first to the Massachusetts Bay Colony. There a political-philosophical argument ensued, with Thomas Hooker on the liberal side. After all, he had been banished from England for his radicalism and nonconformity. As it’s told in my family, Hooker wanted the right to vote to be granted to all the men in the church, not just the land-owning men. The argument went so badly that Hooker left the Colony on May 31, 1636, with the members of his family and a hundred followers and, quoting from a journal, “160 cattle and fed of their milk by the way”. They headed south through the thick forest along the Old Connecticut Path and found the place called Suckiaug, which in Pequot means “black earth” and which later became Hartford, with its meadows between the Connecticut River and the Little River. There they joined settlers who had already made that journey from Newtown (now Newton, Massachusetts).
My ancestor’s focus was the spiritual uplifting of the parish. His goal was to make New England a positive model against the spiritual corruptness of Old England. However, it says in Hooker’s biography, “He preached on Sundays and fought Indians the rest of the week”. Lo and behold! He was involved in spearheading what the history books call the first major Indian—but what I call European—war. A thousand Pequot were killed, some of their heads and hands sent back to Boston, and five hundred were taken as slaves. Thus was founded the Colony of Connecticut.
What I’m doing here is presenting a map of the forging of empire on this continent and pointing out the immense ironies involved. We are all inheritors of this map. As the Arab-American social critic Edward Said has put it, “Hardly any North American, African, European, Latin American, Indian, Caribbean, or Australian individual—the list is very long—who is alive today has not been touched by the empires of the past.“ Not Pequot or English, not Mapuche or Spanish, not Tibetan or Chinese. If we’re talking about empire, we’re talking about a system that we all depend on for survival, that we’ve all been harmed by, that we have learned to critique and in many cases have come to abhor. Whether we call it too big, too cruel, or too much in denial, whether we refer to it as mass technological civilization, patriarchy, the dominant society, or the global economy, the empire I’m presenting to you—this map of expansion and domination has affected every single person in this room.
My own people went on to extend their appetite for land beyond Connecticut’s watershed. They formed the Connecticut Land Company in 1797 and traveled directly west to colonize what they called the Western Reserve of Ohio, just south of Lake Erie. A hundred and fifty years earlier Massachusetts Bay Colony Governor John Winthrop had said, “Westward the course of empire takes it way.” And indeed, my people headed out with wooden carts and again battled Natives, in this case the Shawnee and the Delaware. I have photographs of my great-grandfather on horseback on the land that was acquired in Defiance, Ohio. But that wasn’t enough, Flowing with the economic tide, they then embarked on another journey. They moved north to Cleveland to amass not fortunes but at least bank accounts alongside and in the wake of industrialists Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller—whose steel production, shipping, and railroads made Cleveland what I grew up being told was the stepping stone to the “civilized” East. It was not the much feared savage-ridden West.
Oddly and perhaps inevitably I, their descendent, ended up crossing the continent to that much feared and savage-ridden West. I too traveled there along the highways of empire, in my case on a United Airlines flight in 1967, but with a different kind of defiance. And here I am, a Connecticut girl from Ohio, now living with Native peoples, dedicating my caring and my talents to the survival of their place-based, bioregional, community-oriented, ecological ways. And perhaps most importantly, learning for all of us how we may survive.
And now the map turns to sustenance: A maiz y chile y alazán y calabazitas y el agua, siempre el agua y también a la musica y la comunidad y el espíritu (to corn and chili and elk and squash and to water, always water and also to music and community and spirit).
In order to re-map the dominant society, we must turn to this kind of awareness, to this kind of place-based sustainability. But because the wholeness and ways of our lives have been so fragmented by what is required to conduct the bigness of empire, we—like Rex Tilousi in a cold hotel room in Salzburg—are left with disparate parts disconnected from one another. What I can tell you, from a place where the earth is pink and people grow chili and hunt elk, is that we were right, and we are right. Living in land-based community, making the future with our bodies, knowing the seasons and the land is a better way. It feels better; it looks better; it politics better; it lives better. For myself, I am in a constant state of amazement that I have the opportunity to live my life, not according to a bird’s-eye-view map of nonsustainability limited to visual cues but rather according to the cartography of a living, breathing, dreaming experience of sustainability.
Every day in Chima is a day of low-level glee for me, and so I’d like to tell you a little bit about the village. Traditionally the villages of northern New Mexico have survived by hunting, fishing, growing, and gathering. Women’s place is the village: taking responsibility for the garden, the house, and the animals (although they ride horses and hunt if they want to). There is a power to this place of theirs. It is unlike living in the dominant society, where the power has been sapped out of women’s role. There’s a big power and a big independence for women in the village. Men’s place is the forest, la sierra, the hunting grounds, and it is their responsibility to provide for the village.
When I was growing up in Cleveland, I lived in a four-bedroom brick house. We had colonial silver and furniture from Connecticut; we had electricity; we had showers, radio, and TV. In 1948 my father bought a Packard. My neighbors in Chima who are my age grew up in one-room mud huts; they had wood stoves and candles; the water came from the river, and in 1948 the chosen method of transportation was burro. I will tell you that living in this place I’ve learned to dig irrigation ditches, I’ve learned to hunt, I’ve learned to fish, Perhaps oddly—and I think this may be a result of the women’s movement—I’m attracted to activities that are traditionally male. But I’ve also learned to grow corn and gather herbs, and I’ve learned to dance to the music of rancheros y corridos.
I had a lover in the village, a man named Snowflake Martinez, who became a character in my new book Off the Map. Snowflake Martinez isn’t his real name. Courting begins by somebody coming around in a truck and claiming that their horses have gotten away and they need to give you their phone number in case you see the renegade animals. I’d like to make a little aside to the women here and give a big hint to the men: Snowflake would ride over to my house on his mustang at midnight under the full moon wearing a Mexican serape. Snowflake is a man who has always lived in the village. He makes less than $3000 a year; everything else comes directly from the land.
During the time when I was seeing Snowflake, my kitchen was filled with food from the land. There were eggs with little feathers still stuck on them; there was elk meat that his son had hunted a few days before; there was chili. He didn’t grow the chili himself, but a friend of ours did, and Snowflake would repair the friend’s hunting Bronco and in exchange he would get enough chili for the whole winter. There was apple juice from his grandmother’s orchards. Two days before Thanksgiving he would kill the turkey. On my birthday we had a matanza, which means that we killed Isabel the pig, stripped her down, and put her in a hole in the earth with burning coals. What I learned from all this is that a sense of community with the earth, of satisfaction, of fulfillment is not something you learn in a workshop. It’s an everyday experience when your food comes from the earth.
Once I went trout fishing with my friend Antonio DeVargas. We went from stream to stream, through the afternoon and into the night, but the water was too wintry and the fish were still asleep under the rocks. I was thinking, “Why don’t we just stop when this obviously isn’t working?” But he kept wanting to try another part of the river. Finally, when it got dark, we went back to the village. Some of his friends were waiting in his trailer. There wasn’t anything to eat, and so we just sat around and talked. Around ten o’clock I decided to leave, and as I was driving away I realized that I had money in my pocket and if I wanted something to eat, I could stop along the way. I realized that for them, no fish meant no dinner.
Allow me to make an aside here: When I was first invited to speak at the Schumacher Lectures, I looked at the collection of previous lectures in People, Land, and Community to see what kind of lectures have been given. I noticed immediately that the speakers tend to quote other people, so I thought, “Well, I’ll have to do that too.” Here is my chosen quote: as Eeyore so brilliantly said in The House at Pooh Corner, “We have been joined by something.” And indeed, in the 1930s roads were built for cars to reach an area that until then had truly been isolated from the outside world. In the 1940s Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, which later became Los Alamos National Laboratory, was built, bringing with it the cash economy and changing life in northern New Mexico forever. Telephones came in the 1970s. I would say about half the people in the village now have a telephone. Running water didn’t come to my village until 1979, which made me realize that the purpose of the ditches was not just to irrigate but to bring water to the houses so you didn’t have to walk so far with your pail.
A Wal-Mart Superstore has opened in the nearby town of Española. Now, sadly, in the past year the freeways have suddenly been widened, bringing to us we-don’t-yet-know-quite-what—but certainly paving the way for more people. And believe it or not we now have cell-phone towers, so cruelly and undemocratically radiating microwaves at our bodies. Last fall, after the industry was deregulated by the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the number of cell-phone towers in Española went from zero to eight, in Chimayó from zero to two. What are these towers for if not to provide for a growing population? Before I left New Mexico to come here, when people asked me where I was going, I told them I was coming to Connecticut to talk about life in our village. One person said, “Well, don’t let them come here!”
The constant theme, then, is the chronic and unwelcome interface of that which we have been joined by with sustainable ways. And these interfaces are striking indeed. Let me tell you a story that comes from Laguna Pueblo, about forty miles west of Albuquerque. The people of the pueblo decided they needed a new tribal truck. Someone called up the car lot in Albuquerque where they had previously gotten trucks and asked what was available. The salesperson said, “I’ll have a fax for you.” So the Laguna man got into one of the pueblo vehicles and drove all the way to Albuquerque. He walked into the office and announced, “I’m here for my fax.”
Another story comes from Snowflake Martinez. In the late 1980s friends asked him to fly to Cincinnati to help drive a car back to New Mexico, and they mailed him a plane ticket. He had never traveled that far before, and he had never flown on an airplane. Then, right before he left, Snowflake got a call saying that the car had broken down. He got ready to go, and what did he take with him? What would you take if you were going on an airplane trip? Would you take money? He didn’t take money. He wasn’t used to using money. Did he take the phone number of the people he was going to meet? He wasn’t used to using the phone, so he didn’t take the phone number. There was only one thing he felt was important and relevant to take: he took his toolbox to fix the car.
What we have here are stories illustrating clashes of consciousness. These clashes don’t merely exist in a vacuum: they inevitably lead to politics. In our area they lead to the formation of groups like La Raza, to La Huelga, to Si Se Puede, to Tierra o Muerte. Once when I was riding in the badlands with Snowflake, I asked him for his impression of the state of the world. He thought for a long time. The saddles creaked. Tumbleweeds bounced by. Now remember, English is not his first language. Snowflake said, “The down-to-earth people are finishing.” Another time, an old friend asked me what my politics had grown to be, and before I could launch into my 45-minute rap about the global economy and Bretton Woods and the World Trade Organization, Snowflake—who really didn’t want to hear it all again—cut right in and said, “She is against the chain stores.”
Hey! Why write a book?
In the 1980s an unsuspecting multinational banking institution decided to set up an ATM machine in Chimayó. The thing was installed where the apple shed with the portal had been. The horses used to escape from nearby pastures to go and stand in the shade under the portal. In a belligerent mood about this invasion by the cash economy, the men of the village got together, took their hunting rifles, went to the portal, and shot the ATM machine to pieces.
You can see why I like living there.
In 1997 a Canadian mining corporation called Summo wanted to set up a copper mine in an area that was officially Bureau of Land Management land, but everybody in the area knew it was really the land of the Picur’s Pueblo tribe. According to the laws of the World Trade Organization and the 1872 Mining Act of New Mexico, the Summo Corporation had every right to set up this endeavor. The obligatory hearing was held, and the Picurís governor and a group of warriors went to it, Their approach was to take the process seriously—even though the Summo people were obviously there only as a matter of form. The Picurís governor stood up and said, “If you put in this copper mine, we will go to war with you.” The Summo Corporation fled.
What I appreciate about living in this place—having the honor to live in this place, to be a guest in this place—is that it took me thirty-five years of being an activist and seven social-change movements, from the civil rights and women’s movements to the environmental and indigenous rights movements, to arrive at a comprehensive critique of mass dominant society. In my village the people already have a comprehensive critique in their bones. They’re born with it. And they express it with so few words.
The stories I’ve told you have to do with land and livelihood. What it all comes down to is that access to land makes sustainability possible. The empire’s primary mode of usurpation is to steal land. And indeed, los norte americanos stole the land of my compadres en Nuevo México.
The old land system was based on land grants, the central unit of sustainability and cultural vitality. Each land grant is an area that extended beyond the village, usually into the mountains. It is big enough to provide enough food from hunting and fishing, big enough to sustain the village and no bigger. It includes the area where you go to find medicines, to get dirt to make roofs, twigs to make brooms. Just big enough. Chimayó joined the villages of Truchas and Córdova to form a single land grant. It is called La Merced Nuestra Señora del Rosario San Fernando y Santiago, otherwise known as the Truchas Land Grant. After the Mexican-American War in 1848 the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo mandated that the U.S. Government was to honor the land grants in the territories won from Mexico. Within the next hundred years, however, the land grants were systematically stolen by the U. S. Court of Public Land Claims, which, in line with Eeyore’s insight, came in and made bogus surveys. The Truchas Land Grant, for instance, originally had 49,000 acres. By the time the surveyors were through, there were only 7000.
Some of the land grants were stolen by lawyers and land speculators. The bigwigs from Santa Fe came and said: “Oh you’re having trouble with the Court of Public Land Claims? I’m a lawyer and I can help you.” The lawyers would do whatever they did, successfully or not, and then they’d say, “Now you have to pay me.” Of course the people didn’t have money, and so the lawyers said, “Oh well, you can give us land instead.” Some of the land was even stolen directly by the government, which put up signs and barbed wire and redefined the land as “public lands.” A good deal of U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management land was originally Native and Chicano land grants. As my friend Lorenzo Valdez, now the Río Arriba County Manager, told me, “The real La Merced went away. They left us with only enough land to raise rattlesnakes.”
In places where land and community are intertwined, history is not forgotten. In places where land and community are inseparable, the injustices of imperialism are not relegated to the past. The land-grant struggle is still alive today. In the 1960s Congressman Joseph Montoya, the first Chicano Congressman from New Mexico, introduced a bill in the House of Representatives to right the injustices. In 1967, a time of great tumult around the country, the Río Arriba County courthouse was taken over by land-grant activists who, with guns, were inventing their own authority to take the land back. In 1997 we were amazed to receive a message from Subcommandante Insurgente Marcos, leader of the Chiapan insurgents, supporting us in our struggle for the return of the land grants and for the right to continue our way of life. In 1998, miracle of all miracles, a Congressman from New Mexico introduced a bill to study the land-grant situation. The bill actually passed in the House, but it never got to a vote in the Senate because the Monica Lewinsky debacle took center stage. In 1999, this year, our Senators Bingaman and Domenici are trying to put through a similar bill that would deal with the injustice.
The map I’m trying to draw exists against the backdrop of the global economic empire with all its power and bigness, its ugliness and injustices. And yet, I think it’s crucial for us to remember that what I’m talking about is really a map of love. In today’s world loving the earth is a political act. Loving your community is a political act, and the effort to attain sustainability is the basis for politics. I’d like to give another quote, this one from Che Guevara: “Déjeme decirle, a riesgo de parecer ridículo, que el revolucionario verdadero esta guido por grandes sentimientos de amor.” (“Let me tell you, at risk of seeming ridiculous, the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love”).
The real story of our times, I think, is not one of conflict, fear, and hate between one massive unsustainable system called capitalism and another massive unsustainable system called communism. I think the story that sets the stage for our lives is a story of love. It’s the story of the love on the part of the decolonization movements and the liberation movements from the 1940s to the 1960s, movements having to do with land and community and sustainability, movements resulting in miracles of human dedication and heroism, accomplishment and creativity. It’s unbelievable that after three hundred years India broke from England in 1947! Vietnam broke from France in 1954, Morocco from France in 1956, Cuba from U.S. influence in 1959, Nigeria and Uganda from England in 1960, Algeria from France in 1962.
A hundred new nations have risen up—peoples who before colonization had been sustainable within and among themselves, peoples who by dint of their heroic and loving effort threw off the yoke of imperialism. These are not stories we are told. I was born in 1947, and I was never told that was the year India freed itself from England. It was never mentioned. Of course, the tragedy is that these new nations entered into a world whose economic and political exigencies made them pawns in a struggle between global Cold-War systems that, by military and economic power, extinguished their chances for self-defined sustainability. And the tragedy at this late stage of globalization is the same, for the economic and political exigencies of a corporate-controlled world are everywhere limiting the chances for sustainability. Yet the effort to attain sustainability is the most important task on the planet. It includes opposing imperialism and protesting globalization. It includes being in place, being in community, being in love with the earth, and making sure that the down-to-earth people do not finish.
This is the map I want to pass on to you whether you reside in Chima fighting for a still-alive land-based culture or in Connecticut creating land trusts—what we in New Mexico might call modern land grants. Or in Havana, Cuba, where every single apartment has a garden and organic agriculture is a national policy, Or in the inner cities of the United States where people are growing food in bureau drawers they pick up at used-furniture stores. Or in Chiapas, Mexico, where people are struggling to save Native land-based cultures and livelihoods. We all face the same challenge: to choose sustainability, to choose the small and human scale, to choose, quite frankly, life itself. Because at this very moment, all life stands luminous and fragile against the destructive forces of mass dominant civilization. Life meaning this breath, life meaning what you give your talents and care to, life meaning that you are willing to die in pursuit of your goals. Subcommandante Marcos is speaking from a place where issues of sustainability versus unsustainability are played out to gargantuan proportion when he says, “Here we are, the forever dead, dying once again, but now in order to live.” And as his hero Emilio Zapata once said: “Es mejor morir de pie, que continuar viviendo de rodillas” (“It is better to die on your feet than to continue living on your knees”). And so our map too: to give our lives to the death of the old for the life of what Helena Norberg-Hodge calls ancient futures.
I’d like to close with the words passed on to me by my friend Lucy Lippard, the art critic and author, whose most recent book is The Lure of the Local. She, like me, lives in a small village in northern New Mexico, Galisteo, where one of her neighbors said to her, “When you get old, Lucy, you will go back to your country.”
So here I am, growing old, and here I am, having traveled from the Old Connecticut Path to the Río Grande Valley and back again.
[Music: “Valentín de la Sierra”]
Excerpts from the Question & Answer Period
Q: I’d like to ask about the effect of casino life in that part of the world. I think there are twelve casinos in the environs of Santa Fe and one right near you in Española.
A: It’s a thorny issue. At first I thought, “Oh no, this means gambling addiction, perhaps prostitution, poor and working class people losing their homes from gambling, increased alcohol and drug use, all these dreadful consequences.” But I quickly came to the realization that the underlying issue here is sovereignty for the Native people. It’s a conflict of values to say, on the one hand, this isn’t a healthy activity and, on the other, I believe in sovereignty, Restoring the sovereignty the empire took away is what, at this moment, I favor.
On a Native American call-in program that comes out of Albuquerque someone asked the question, “Is it going against the sovereignty of Mexico for Native people from North America to send a contingent from the United States to Chiapas?” I think this is a question that only the Native mind would concoct. People from the dominant society would take it for granted that they could go. The answer that emerged on the program was that the Mexican government itself does not have proper sovereignty because it is linked so tightly with multinational control and oppression. Its policies are not land based, not water-shed based and not community based. Therefore, it is all right for Native people from the United States to go to Chiapas to witness and help their brothers and sisters of the tribes there.
Questions of land-based sovereignty are fascinating and, for those of us interested in bioregional sustainability, challenging. We need to address the issue of sovereignty and master its complexity if we are to create the kind of of world we want to live in.
Q: Given all the forces moving us in the other direction, do you really think the world is ready for sustainability? It doesn’t seem to be popular.
A: I can’t answer for the world, but one thing I know is that the dominant population of the earth is not people who live in the United States and have jobs and are able to support themselves within this system—in other words, pay the rent and have food on the table—but rather people living in poverty in the rest of the world, like the several hundred thousand demonstrators in Bangalore, India, where the people are wearing threadbare saris and walk barefoot. Speaking personally, I feel that when it’s a matter of the survival of life on the planet, regardless of whether it’s popular in a particular milieu or isn’t, I am not deterred from doing all I can to fight for life.
It behooves every single one of us to find ways in which we as individuals can become sustainable, whether we live in a land-based community in New Mexico or in the city of Hartford. It behooves us as well to create institutions of sustainability, and it behooves us to challenge the forces that are destroying life and sanity.
Q: Is education the answer for oppressed peoples?
A: In northern New Mexico there’s a Native American preparatory school that graduated its first class this year, and all the graduates are going to college, including one who is the first reservation-bred Native American to attend Yale.
I have a number of Chicano friends who work in higher education, and they want to help young people get scholarships to go to school. One friend works for an education and economic opportunity center, and he is ambivalent about what he’s doing. He has a Ph.D., but this means he’s disconnected from the land. He tries to fish and do things like that, but he just squeezes these activities in on the side, He really wants others to have the opportunity he’s had, but on the other hand he asks himself, “Opportunity for what? To participate in the global economy?”
I’ve talked a lot today, so I thought I’d conclude by reading a passage from the last part of my book Off the Map. It starts off with an illustrious quote from the character Rabbit in The House at Pooh Corner. It is a written note:
‘I AM SCERCHING FOR A NEW HOUSE FOR OWL SO HAD YOU RABBIT.’ The creatures of 100 AKER WOOD are on a similar quest. It is a quest that captures the imaginations of millions of adults and children throughout the American and British empires. I am holding my mother’s tattered copy of Winnie-the-Pooh, the one inscribed to her from Aunt Ellen on Christmas Day, 1926. The publisher’s page shows that the first edition comes out in October. By November, the thirty-ninth edition has already left the printer and arrived in Cleveland. And here too is my mother’s musty copy of The House at Pooh Corner. It has her name scrawled HOOKR [with the ‘R’ backwards] in orange Crayola on the front-inside cover. The first printing is September 1928; the thirty-fourth, September 1928. Why does it sell so wildly? Rum-tum-tum-tiddle-um. The stories are fanciful, the language inventive, the “decorations” by Ernest Shepard priceless. I am particularly enamored of the use of CAPITALS, which appear throughout like good-natured parodies of Chaucer and Milton and Shakespeare. But as Eeyore announces in a hoarse whisper, ‘We have been joined by something.” One current of literary criticism identifies deeper themes in children’s stories—critiques of the British monarchy hidden within Alice in Wonderland, for instance. I wouldn’t have seen it without Snowflake Martinez’s sharp eye. The bears and donkeys and tigers and heffalumps of 100 AKER WOOD are not just from England. Like us, they hail from divergent habitats throughout the empire. Each is unique, some not even suited to the English countryside. And yet here they are, living in a land-based community (bioregional, you might venture to suggest) hunting woozles, celebrating birthdays, surviving weather, writing songs about their lives, rebuilding homes, helping each other, being irritated with each other—doing all the things our ancestors did together, in a simple way, before imperialism and the industrial revolution and the global economy disrupted our ways of life. Doing all the things the readers of England and the United States would be missing round about 1926 and 1928, one hundred years after the great garden party of empire and industrialism melded land-based communities into mass technological society.
At the end, Christopher Robin is going away. Pooh and Piglet and Rabbit cannot imagine where—off the map, for all they know—and yet we the readers know he is being sent away to school. School where he will study ‘People called Kings and Queens and something called Factors, and a place called Europe, and an island in the middle of the sea where no ship came, and how to make a Suction Pump (if you want to), and when Knights were Knighted, and what comes from Brazil.’ Not how to seek out breakfast in the forest, identify animal tracks in the snow, live through rainstorms and floods, give medicine to a child, sing songs of praise and honor. No. Christopher Robin will study the knowledge of pink and mustard-yellow globalism.
Pooh is worried. He senses he will not be smart enough to understand what Christopher Robin will know when he returns. (And this from the bear who has written ‘all the Poetry of the Forest.’) Christopher Robin is also upset. ‘Pooh,’ he pleads, ‘promise you won’t forget about me, ever. Not even when I’m a hundred.’
The journey home severs us from empire’s constructions of kings and suction pumps, of linear perspective and kilobits per second microwave. We make our own maps—maps not of parchment or cyberspace, but of twigs and corn husks, of shells and buckskin, of our bodies lying against the reverberations of history. Maps not of destinations, but of directions and currents, of visions and relationships. We place small stones on these maps to remind us of the strengths and awarenesses we must bring to the trek. Look at them carefully, study them, memorize. Take a full breath. Now: leave all the maps behind. We do not know precisely where we are going or how we will get there. But thank Creation, we are not alone any more.