I've been thinking about colonialism as endemic to New Mexico.
part of Pueblo culture and other Native culture, too, including
I've been reading Lucy Lippard's magisterial "Down Country" (mostly) about the Tano people of the Galisteo Basin, just to the
north over a ridge from our own place in the Estancia Basin. The Tano came as
colonizers from the north and west in -- perhaps -- 1200AD or so;
there were already scattered settlements in the Galisteo, some a
thousand years old, perhaps (then again, maybe not so old.) The
inhabitants were overwhelmed, driven out or incorporated into the
new Tano pueblo villages, the ruins of which are found all over the
Galisteo. The Spanish, in their turn, overwhelmed the Tano pueblos,
and eventually, they were all abandoned, the remnant Tano people
moving to Hopi-land where their descendants still are.
The Spanish settled in after a while, and they in their turn were
overwhelmed and the Anglo colonists moved in. Galisteo itself has
been a Tano pueblo, a Spanish pueblo and it is now (mostly) an Anglo
artist colony, an offshoot of Santa Fe's art colony. Fancy people,
all 250 of them, in their fancy houses and studios, with their
fancy (non-functional) mailboxes, lording it over... well, their own
domain. A domain taken from others, who took it from others, who in
turn took it from others still.
I'm a colonist too. Ms Ché is in a slightly different category being
Native and all, but Cherokee are not the local indigenous even so.
Cherokee are more or less in charge of IAIA, and even though it is
Indian-centered and Indian run, IAIA is very much a colonial
Where we are, the Empty Quarter, has a similar pattern to that of
the Galisteo Basin, though much attenuated, as no one (much) lived
here to take the land from, and there were few resources easily
The closest pueblos were fifteen/twenty miles away. This was an open grassland where buffalo roamed. The deer and the antelope played in
the hills and mountains round about, among the cholla, pinon, and juniper. Before the Spanish, the Tompiro
people coming from the west established a few outposts which became
large pueblo trading centers, the chief product being salt which the
people collected from the salt ponds to the east, the remnants of
the once mighty lake that had filled the Estancia basin. The trade was
between the local pueblos, the pueblos along the Rio Grande on the
west side of the mountains, and the Plains tribes, chiefly the Kiowa
and Comanche who roamed and were fierce in their war paint wherever
and whenever they wished. They followed the buffalo, but so did the
Pueblo peoples whose hunts were legendary.
The Tompiro fought the Spanish and submitted to the Spanish and that
was their undoing, for once they sumitted, they no longer were able
to rely on their own customs and resources to ensure their survival,
they had to rely on the Spanish -- who literally had no concern for
the well-being/survival of the People, only for themselves.
Ultimately, the remnant Tompiro people (perhaps only a few hundred
by then) left en masse and joined the Rio Grande pueblos, chiefly
Isleta, just before the outbreak of the Pueblo Revolt.
They never came back. The land was empty -- except for the birds,
the buffalo, the deer and the antelope, the coyotes and the
occasional forays from the Kiowa and Comanche, who now had to scale
the mountain passes to get to the pueblos and the Spanish
settlements for slave-raiding and trade. Such an inconvenience, but
they managed somehow.
This land became part of contested and competing land grants and was
used primarily for sheep-raising when it was used at all. It was
wild-country, no-man's land.
There were a few Spanish villages along the east foothills of the
Manzanos and there was a ranch headquarters at Estancia, and that
was pretty much it for settlement. The ruins of the stone-built
pueblos did not dissolve back into the ground like adobe would but
still stood stark, rigid and crumbling, not unlike tiny versions of
Chaco and Mesa Verde.
Anglo colonists came from Texas with their multitudes of cattle and
claimed the land for their own, demanding that the sheep-ranchers
and their sheep withdraw forthwith. There was a notorious shoot-out
after a friendly poker game. The colonists came from Texas, but the
Anglo colonial enterprise was directed from California, via Boston,
or vice versa. I had no idea until after I'd lived here for a while
that the cattle operation was owned by the Whitneys who had a vast
ranch and experimental farm outside of Sacramento which turned into
one of the many microchip suburbs and where I had worked from time
to time. The Whitneys came from Boston at the tail end of the Gold
Rush. In New Mexico, the Whitneys claimed to be from Boston, though
their entire expansion program was being run from their California
ranch. Colorado didn't escape their ministrations, either, I'm told,
but that's another tale for another time.
(I'm sure I've told this story before) The Whitneys fought the
Oteros on the ground and in court for decades for control of the
land, and finally they both lost at the Supreme Court, and the land
was opened for Anglo homesteading/settlement. The railroad promptly
laid tracks, and the remnants of history are all around, as are the
many ruins of broken dreams. Our house was one of those ruins until
we, colonists from California, "rescued" it and rehabbed it enough
to live in. With the skunks underneath and the song birds nesting in
Now and then, we still hear a coyote howl or see an eagle soar.
There are no buffalo, though, no more. I don't know why not. There
are vast ranches nearby where they could be raised and roam, ranches
that host numerous cattle, horses, llamas, or goats, and if they can
host any of those, they can host buffalo, but they don't. The
pronghorn, they say, are not the Native variety -- they were hunted
to extinction in historic times -- they are an imported variety from
Wyoming; colonists you might say, in their own right, like the
cattle, the horses, the llamas and the goats.
The Russian olives are colonists as are most of the plants that now
cover the grasslands. The farms and most of their crops are
colonists, though corn, beans and squash are raised in abundance and
are highly sought after by city-folk who flock to the country at
harvest time. Colonists. The farm nearby where the cranes roost in
the daytime is a working farm, but also an "attraction," hosting
thousands of school children bussed in from the city every year to
see what a "real farm" is like. Colonists.
All I'm saying is that there is no escaping colonialism in New
Mexico. Even the Diné/Navajo are colonists -- coming in from
the north so late in the game they were practically simultaneous
arrivals with the Spanish, within a hundred years or so. They were
raiders like their cousins the Apaches. The pueblo peoples feared
and despised them. Some still do. Colonists all.
The question is whether colonialism will continue to be imposed by
force and bloodshed. That's the issue of police violence in a
nutshell. That's the issue raised by so many of the Indians we've
come to know in New Mexico -- who say, almost to a one, "It didn't
have to be this way."
The violence was never necessary.
The taking and the stealing and the use of force and bloodshed
was never necessary. Matters could be worked out (relatively)
peacefully. Accommodations could be made. They still can be.
That's what I'm hoping to see happen in the next phase of opposition
to police violence -- and implicitly to the violence of
The Spanish and the Indians learned -- the hard way -- to
accommodate one another in this harsh and unforgiving land. As I've
heard said, they're all related now, they're children of one
another's mothers, and though they may maintain distinctive
cultures, they are still family. They often unite to oppose more
Anglo colonial impositions and these days they can and do succeed in
The question is whether the Anglos will learn there is another way.
In my view, they must learn.