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“Now we wonder about the air we breathe, the water, the soil - we wonder what has happened to us. Today, every time a crop fails, every time a cow fails to give birth, or an animal’s skin looks funny - we blame [he points at LANL]. When the lab came here, our people worked in the shit up there. We were the janitors, the plumbers, the laborers. But they made enough money to send their kids to school for an education, now we’re doing better. But we don’t know how much was done to us. The problem is that the health records aren’t adequate to see what the effects were. So we have to say, “my parents, and me are screwed - we don’t know whats happened to us” but we can get a baseline survey set up for our kids. We need to do the medical survey now so that they have a baseline to work off of. I tell people that we don’t even know what the lab has done yet - it could be worse in 50 years than it is now. Who knows what is working its way down that mountain, into our water supply, into our soil. There is no way of telling, so we had better prepare. We know that there was blue snow falling on Mora County. Now thats just one case, how many other radioactive releases happened when it wasn’t snowing or raining - when you couldn’t see it. We know that they released so many tons of iodine into the atmosphere as well. They did hundreds of tests that we know about. What else was going on up there that we don’t know about? Thats the question. In the early days they weren’t too careful up there. Today, a lot of men from the valley work up in Los Alamos as plumbers and electricians, they’re afraid of what they might dig into when they’re working underneath people’s houses, or what might be in the soil. We’ve always done the shit work up there and we don’t know what the effects are.”
For the Tewa, differences among the elements of the life force (or nature) are recognized and accepted, but essential characteristics are known to be the same. For instance, a lump of clay is recognized to be akin to the human holding it because the force which determines the essence of clay is identical to that which determines human beings. The Tewa word “nun” is translated to mean “us” or “clay” depending on the context. There is direct cross-communication possible between all elements of nature - human, plants, other animals, and even natural phenomena.
The essence of clay is identical to that which determines human beings. The intimacy of this universe is underscored by the emotional attributes given to all aspects of the natural world, which historically required people with the right heart to soothe powerful beings that can be lonely or vengeful as well as generous and caring. A successful mediation of all these seen and unseen forces, enabled by the right mental attitude toward nature, produces a healthy ecospiritual system, which provides ample nourishment for all beings.
Pueblo emergence stories articulate the fundamental coordinates of traditional Pueblo thought, defining specific cosmologies centered on maintaining intimate relations with all the beings that live within a fixed geographical space visibly bounded by the four cardinal mountains. Alfonso Ortiz argues that the fundamental difference between EuroAmerican and Pueblo cosmologies is that Pueblo peoples emphasize an experience of space over time. This is a profoundly different way of organizing both tactile experience and social history. Whereas a European metaphysics privileges a movement through linear time (in which each moment is unique and non-repeatable), northeastern Pueblo cosmologies emphasize a spatiotemporal repetition based on a cyclical movement through a specific physical space (historically tied to the agricultural cycle). Within northeastern Pueblo cosmologies the past remains both fixed and animated within the landscape itself, allowing ongoing interactions with the first supernaturals as well as the entire ancestral lineage of the tribe and the ecosystem. Since the intent of this system is the stability of a specific moment of harmony in the system, radical historical change presents a special challenge to Pueblo thought.
Power, place, and identity are thus woven together in these traditions to promote a specific ecosocial order. The overall effect of this philosophical system, in each of its manifestations along the Rio Grande, is to delineate clearly the borders of the Pueblo world and to focus Pueblo attention inward onto the village space. Historically, for example, the Tewa believed that the farther one traveled from the village center the more dangerous the world became, requiring ritual prohibitions on those that traveled into the mountains where the most powerful deities live. Lakes, springs, and caves are sacred sites because they offer points of connection to the underworld; similarly, an elaborate system of shrines present a symbolic means of channeling life energy or “healing” power onto the Pueblo. At the top of the four cardinal mountains that orient northeastern Pueblo thought are sacred lakes where the supernaturals that led the tribe out of the underworld live, as well as nan sip, or earth navels, where the ancestors live and watch over the Pueblo. For the Tewa of San Juan, the hills between the sacred mountains and the village also have earth navels as well as caves or tunnels where specific supernatural beings live who visit the Pueblo during ceremonies in the form of masked dancers. At the very center of the village is the sipapu, the mythohistorical place of emergence, where all the directions come together (the cardinal points as well as the underworld and the sky) Energy flows out from the sipapu toward the village, and in this constant flow of energy between sites, blessings are distributed over the entire Pueblo geospiritual system. The shrine system not only integrates Pueblo members into the local ecology, it is a technological means of producing security in their world.
The seeming fragility of this cultural system is countered by the historical reality that northeastern Pueblo peoples have lived in the same territory, tended the same shrines, and successfully reproduced the natural order for over a millennium. With its fences and US national security science, the Manhattan Project, however, introduced a rupture into this system, fundamentally altering how the shrine system could be engaged in everyday life. One Tewa resident of the valley described the techno-scientific transformation of the Pajarito Plateau to me this way: The Forest Service had already taken all of the land, so it made it easy for the government to transfer land from one organization to another. Thats when the Pueblos lost a lot of their land. We lost an area that we used for ceremonial purposes. We’ve now got the right to go up there but we don’t own it anymore. The mountain there was used for ceremonial purposes - for pilgrimages to shrines and other things. I remember my uncle going up to a site and crying because they had put in pipes that ruined the area. Once the buildings go in the religious character of the site is ruined. The MESON physics facility rests on a number of archaeological sites, as does Area G. The also do archaeological excavations up there. All of these are acts of desecration and none of the laws work to protect our interests. Its always the anthropologists, archaeologists, and engineers that have the legal advantage.
[In northeastern New Mexico, National Security blurs with National Sacrifice]
“The lab itself is located in what we consider one of the most sacred areas among the northern Pueblos, located in a place of fire, it is right at the foot of a volcano. There is always reflection on exactly why the lab is there, because we as Pueblo peoples believe that nothing happens by accident, that situations evolve because in many ways they were meant to. So here you have basically an entity dealing with the very deepest secrets of nature which is, in a sense, releasing the eternal fire, which is the energy that is such an essential part of the life of the cosmos itself, and it being surrounded by some very, very sacred sites.”
“The environment is an interaction of many forces, a unity of all things. There are the physical and there are the spiritual. And, I don’t believe we can or should separate them. We have taken, as a major environmental theme, protection of our religious and cultural resources. We argue strenuously that equal consideration should be given to our religious concerns including practices that do not violate our sacred area as a principle in environmental protection. This concept is difficult for governmental bureaucrats, business people, and many other non-Indians to understand. We have suggested, however, that if a project were proposed underneath the National Cathedral or in Arlington National Cemetery, there would be a collective cry from all segments of our society. I submit that standards of respect and deference should be accorded the American Indian. When Los Alamos National Laboratories, for example, proposes to set off explosions on sacred ground, or to dump high level nuclear waste in sacred areas, the affront to our culture and religion is complete. We should not be required to specify in measurable terms why a sacred area is sacred. We should not have to fight for a law that segregates national protection of our religious belies from the same rights accorded other religious beliefs in America as outlined in our Constitution and Bill of Rights. We should not have to defend our cultural practices or sites in an environmental review process that is not required of any other American religion. “
“Just recently, say in the last year or so, our people went on their annual pilgrimage and were shot at, so they really ran for cover in a hurry. Another time they asked ahead of time for clearance, so what did they find? White men waiting with cameras. Our people, of course, turned back disgustedly and disappointed and could go to the top for their rituals. Now I understand, the shrine is full of beer cans and other trash. Desecration of such sacred places has inflicted deeper wounds on the Indian people than some of the worst political injustices. For the disappearances of such sanctuaries has left a vacuum which nothing the white man has to offer will fill.”