Route 66 and the Myth of the American Indian
There are hundreds of American Indian tribes in the U.S. with distinct languages, traditions, ceremonies and regalia. Yet, popular culture, including Route 66 marketing, has perpetuated a monolithic view of the American Indian.
Motorists on Route 66 in western Oklahoma pass signs for the Cherokee Trading Post depicting (presumably) a Cherokee. Except this “Cherokee” wears a Plains Indian-style war bonnet that Cherokees do not. On the Route in Arizona, a “Navajo” trading post boasts the “World’s Largest Teepee” (made of sheet metal). Navajos’ traditional dwellings are hooghans, not tipis.
The romance of Route 66 was, in part, created by marketing the Hollywood version of American Indians. Travelers were given the stereotypical images they were accustomed to seeing in films to lure them into buying postcards and souvenirs, taking photos with wooden Indians, staying the night in a “wigwam” and spending a little extra time and money on their journey west. It is important to shed light on these stereotypes and understand that, in fact, there are dozens of fascinating tribal cultures along Route 66 with their own distinct and beautiful traditions.
Tepee Curios Tucumcari, New Mexico
Built in 1944, Tepee Curios was originally a Gulf gas station that carried souvenirs and groceries.
The design on the Tepee Curios sign is a popular one used in Zuni Pueblo jewelry. The Zuni “sunface” is crafted using inlaid stones exactly cut. Typically, the design is circular and the forehead of the face is split into two or three sections, sometimes using different colored stones. Eyes are typically long rectangles and almost always created using a black stone, such as onyx or jet. The mouth will be round.
The sun symbol of Zia Pueblo was appropriated to represent the state of New Mexico and is displayed on the state flag.
When attending a powwow, especially if you are unfamiliar with the setting, it helps to be very observant. While different powwows will have much in common, there may be some variance in protocol. Watch what other attendees are doing. The emcee, or master of ceremonies, will make announcements and give instructions to keep everything going smoothly.
- Arena benches are set up for dancers and special honorees around the perimeter of the dance circle. If a seat has a blanket on it, it is reserved.
- Guests are welcome and encouraged to bring their own chairs when the powwow is held outdoors. Be conscious of where you place your chair. Do not sit in sections reserved for elders or dancers and take care not to block the view of others.
- When special songs are played, everyone stands quietly in respect. Examples are during Grand Entry, Flag Songs, Veteran Songs, Memorial Songs and Prayer Songs. The emcee will announce these songs and indicate if or when dancers may join the song.
- Recordings are not allowed without the permission of the Master of Ceremonies and the Lead Singer.
- Only those invited by the Lead Singer may sit at the Drum. Do not touch the Drum unless given permission.
- Ask a dancer’s permission before taking a photograph. You may also ask the emcee if it is allowed to photograph or record the dancing. Flash photography may be distracting to contest dancers and is sometimes not allowed.
- Be respectful of regalia. Some of the pieces or jewelry may be family heirlooms. If a dancer drops a piece of their regalia or a piece comes loose, let them or the arena director know. Do not pick it up yourself.
- Do not touch or handle an eagle feather. If one has fallen, let the dancer or powwow staff member know.
- The dance circle is sacred. Do not walk across the circle and do not permit children to run in or around the circle. Pets are not allowed in the dance arena.
- Visitors may participate in some social and intertribal dances. The emcee will announce these dances.
- Give-aways are breaks between songs and dances when the powwow host group gives gifts to the head staff and others it wishes to honor. These can last awhile. Please be patient.
- Blanket dances are introduced to raise money for the head drum group. When the blanket is placed on the ground or floor, everyone is welcome to enter the circle. It’s customary to enter from the main entry and walk the direction of the established movement.
The drum is a term used to refer to both the instrument and the group of people sitting at the drum to play and sing. One or more lead singers, who start the songs, may have over one hundred songs in their personal repertoire. The songs sung at powwow are varied and endless in number: some are traditional and passed down through history, others are contemporary and created to speak to current concerns and interests.
Some of the songs are sung in their traditional tribal language, which aides in keeping the languages alive and vital for the younger generation. Many of the songs are sung in vocables (rhythmically sung syllables) such as “hey,” “yah” or “lay.” The use of vocables makes the songs easier for singers and dancers of all tribes to remember. There are typically a number of drum groups at each powwow, and they trade off the playing duties for each song.
Visiting Pueblos and Other Tribal Lands
All pueblos and tribes have their own rules of etiquette. Visitors are generally welcome, especially those who’ve taken the time to arrive familiar with their guidelines. Following are some general guidelines but it is best to check with the particular community you are visiting for exact rules. Many pueblos and tribes will have them posted online and/or have them available at their welcome center, cultural center or administrative office.
- Call ahead to confirm event dates, as well as access to tribal lands. There are times when tribal leaders need to restrict access because of private ceremonies and other reasons.
- Observe all signage indicating off limits while visiting a pueblo.
- Although most pueblos are open to the public during daylight hours, the homes are private. Like any village, pueblos are made up of the homes of the people who live there and should be respected as such.
- Some pueblos may charge an entry fee. Camping and fishing fees are charged where such facilities are available. Call ahead to find out if there are fees associated with visiting.
- Most pueblos require a permit to photograph, sketch or paint on location. Some pueblos prohibit photography at all times. Please check with the Tribal Office for the permitting process before entering the pueblo. Once a permit is obtained, always ask for permission before taking a photograph of a tribal member. Remember: cameras and film can be confiscated.
- Possession or use of alcohol and drugs on pueblos is strictly prohibited.
- Tribes value traditions, customs and religion. Some actions and/or questions could be offensive, so refrain from pressing for answers. Tribal dances are religious ceremonies, not public performances. It is a privilege to witness a ceremony.
- Silence is mandatory during all dances and pueblo ceremonies. This means no questions about the ceremonies or dances while they are underway; no interviews with the participants; no walking across the dance plaza; and, no applause during/ after the dance or ceremony.
- Pueblo villages, including Kivas, ceremonial rooms, and cemeteries are sacred places and restricted for use by pueblo members only.
- Many of the structures are hundreds of years old. Do not scale walls or climb on top of buildings.
- Nature is sacred on the pueblos. Littering is strictly prohibited.
- On feast days and other public observances, enter a pueblo home as you would any other—by invitation only. It is courteous to accept an invitation to eat, but not to linger at the table, as your host will want to serve numerous guests throughout the day. Thank your host, but a payment or tip is not appropriate.
- Please obey all traffic and speed limit signs. Children and pets play near the roads. Also be cautious of livestock on or near main roadways.
- If organized tours are offered by the pueblo, please remember to stay with your tribal guide at all times.
- Refrain from using cell phones while visiting pueblos. Tribal officials could confiscate cell phones if you use then for photography or recording. Also, the ring tones as well as personal conversations can disrupt other visitors’ experiences, as well as daily tribal life.
- Do not remove artifacts, pottery shards or any other items.
- Tribal communities do not use the clock to determine when it is time to conduct activities. Acts of nature, as well as the sequence of events that must take place (some not for public viewing), usually determine start and finish times for ceremonies.
--Courtesy Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Popé and the Pueblo Revolt
In 1680, tribes and pueblos united against Spanish occupation in New Mexico and Arizona led by Popé, a spiritual leader born in the Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo. Popé was captured by the Spanish in 1675, along with 47 other spiritual leaders, in an effort to settle unrest among the native people. It didn’t work. The people marched on Santa Fe to demand the release of their leaders and the Spanish relented.
Popé moved to Taos Pueblo to keep the Ohkay Owingeh safe from threats aimed at him. From Taos, he planned a revolution to drive the Spanish out and chose August 10, 1680 to begin the revolt. Popé coordinated a series of attacks on Spanish settlements, driving the Spanish to seek shelter in Santa Fe, where they fell under siege. On August 21, 1680, some 2,000 Spanish were driven out of Santa Fe and out of Native lands for the next 12 years.
Visiting American Indian Ruins
• Ask questions of the interpreter
• Take a few minutes to quietly enjoy and contemplate what you are experiencing
• Take photographs only when appropriate – if unsure, ask your guide
• Stay on the path
• Don’t lean on ruin walls
• Do not move or take anything
• Do not venture into any rooms or areas a ranger or guide does not specifically say is ok to walk into.
• Respect the dwellings as a the physical and spiritual home of a people
Tips for Buying American Indian Arts and Crafts
- Do some homework before you go. Research the kind of items that appeal to you. Learn how it is made, what materials are used, and who traditionally makes that item.
- Look for a label. Many American Indian artists will affix their card or a sticker to indicate the item is genuine American Indian made.
- Consider the price. If the item’s price is too good to be true, ask. In gift shops and even roadside stands, it’s common to find mass-produced souvenir items alongside genuine traditionally made articles. An example to consider is pottery. Traditional hand-coiled pottery will be more expensive than ceramic greenware pieces which come from molds and are kiln fired.
- When in doubt, ask. Who made it? What is their tribal affiliation? What materials did they use? How was it produced? How was it finished?
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