I hope all of my American friends had a relaxing and fun Fourth of July yesterday! I thought this would be a good opportunity to remind everyone about our country’s history, which did not begin with the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. We hear a lot about the British empire, but many other groups of people helped shape the country we live in today.
See these drawings from Petroglyph National Monument? They were carved into the rocks 400-700 years ago by Native Americans and Spanish settlers — that means that even the most recent ones were created before the Mayflower landed at Plimoth in 1620. Last February I visited New Mexico, where more than 10% of the state’s population is Native American (Tofu-San’s mini friend came along for the trip).
There are now 23 tribes in New Mexico, and each is considered an independent “sovereign nation” with its own government and way of life.
Today, Native American culture is woven into New Mexican life for all residents, but it was a very different place before the arrival of Europeans. I visited Puye Cliffs and Bandelier National Monument to see the archeological remains of the cliffs where people used to live.
The rows of holes you see are from support beams that used to hold up a roof or floor, so this area would have been a multi-leveled home. We were able to walk around on the cliffs and see reconstructions of homes, to get a sense of how they used to live.
The Spanish arrived in New Mexico as early as the 1540s, and pretty quickly, the Native Americans were forced to change their lifestyle. Taos Pueblo is a Native American village that has been continually inhabited by the Taos people for over 1,000 years, and tourists can visit today to see what life is like. While there’s a large community of people who still work there and are involved with the Pueblo, about 10 families still actually live there, and follow the traditional lifestyle without running water and electricity. It’s a beautiful place, quite cold when we visited so there weren’t a lot of other visitors.
The building you see above is kind of like an apartment building for Native Americans, though traditionally there weren’t doors. People entered from the roofs, with ladders. With a guide, we were able to walk around the village, go into shops, and explore.
As you can see above, Christianity is common in this Pueblo, but that wasn’t the original religion of the Native Americans. Today people still practice traditional Native American spirituality, as well as Catholicism brought by the Spanish. In fact, I was surprised to see the remains of this church built by the Spanish around the same time that British colonists were beginning to arrive on America’s East Coast.
This church represents the fortitude of the Taos Native Americans, who fought hard to maintain their lifestyle despite advances of the Spanish. It was destroyed twice, in 1640, and rebuilt only to be ruined again two hundred years later, in 1846. Both times the people of the pueblo fought hard to save their home. New Mexico is full of stunning places — I can imagine how heartbreaking it would be to live here and then have people invade
Many Americans, especially those who live on the East Coast, focus on the British when they are thinking about our country’s history. While it’s true that the British did a lot to shape our nation, so many other people made our nation what it is today. New Mexico is a good reminder that Native American culture is key to the history of this land, as is Spanish culture.
There are indeed dark parts of our country’s history. I hope you are able to take some time this week to celebrate all the different groups of people who make America beautiful.
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