Thursday, March 30, 2023

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‘Prayers for the people’: Rain a ‘blessing’ for Santa Fe’s Indigenous Peoples Day weekend


Despite the persistent rain, dancers from New Mexico’s tribal communities converged on the Santa Fe Plaza for the 2023 Indigenous Peoples Day celebration last Saturday.

Kallestewa Dance Group leader Mangaysha Kallestewa said he was honored that his dancers had the opportunity to share the Zuni Pueblo corn, rainbow, and deer dances.

“Indigenous day to me is like a celebration for our ancestors,” Kallestewa told the Navajo Times.

“We feel their presence when we start banging the drum and singing our songs,” he said. “It’s raining right now, so that’s a good sign that they’re saying that they’re here, coming to us and dancing with us.”

‘Multi-cultural city’

In 2016, led by the late Mayor Javier Gonzales, the City of Santa Fe officially declared the second Monday of October annually as Indigenous Peoples’ Day with a resolution that recognized the immense contributions of Native Americans to the history and culture of Santa Fe.

“From my perspective, the whole Indigenous component of our culture is so important to Santa Fe,” said Randy Randall, the Tourism Santa Fe director, whose department puts on the weekend event on the Plaza. “Not only from the historic formulation of what Santa Fe is but the present-day continuation.”

He said Native American tribes are often referred to historically across the country, but in the Southwest, we are blessed with living traditional culture.

“We are truly a multi-cultural city, and there’s no question that Native Americans are one of the strongest underpinnings of Santa Fe’s modern culture,” Randall said.

He added that the Santa Fe Plaza was built on ancient Pueblo grounds.

“The Plaza is where Santa Fe has tended to celebrate itself and other things,” he said. “So, to me, it’s the appropriate place that we celebrate the Indigenous culture, and frankly it shouldn’t be just one day a year – it should be far more frequently.”

Randall suggested that Mayor Gonzales was at the vanguard of progress with a “terrific sensitivity” to the history and cultural makeup of Santa Fe.

“I think Javier, who we miss every day, had a wonderful vision, leading the way to seize the opportunity to transition Columbus Day into Indigenous Peoples Day,” he said.

‘Rain, shine or snow’

Claudine Abeyta, who came to watch her granddaughter dance with the Zuni Pueblo dance group, said any sort of celebration for Indigenous people is a positive thing, as is the rain.

“Rain, shine, or snow, it won’t keep us away,” she said. “Being present is the bottom line. I’m glad to see there is this crowd here – it’s good to see that there are tourists.”

Visitor James Witkin from Tacoma Park, Maryland, said he was in Santa Fe for an environmental law conference and jumped at the chance to come to the Plaza to catch the dances.

“When I saw there was the Indigenous Peoples ceremony, I wanted to come see that,” he said. “I’ve always been interested in Indigenous culture.”

Even rain-soaked, Witkin spent hours photographing the dances.

Diné/Pueblo leader of the Ohkay Owingeh Serpent Trail Dance Group, Ashkia Trujillo, said that rain and snow are what his people pray for in their dances and songs.

“To us, the weather never really affects us,” Trujillo said. “It’s a beautiful day. We feel our ancestors are blessing us with the rains.”

Trujillo runs a non-profit called Prayer in Motion, which shares cultural presentations and dances in New Mexico and across the country.

“It’s about teaching people about the connection that we have through the heartbeat of the songs, the drums,” he said.

“We’re all sharing unity and peace and love through song and dance,” he said. “Whether it be different languages, different rhythms, the prayer’s all there.”

Trujillo said after the American Indian Freedom of Religion Act was passed by President Jimmy Carter in 1978, Native Americans’ religious activities were protected by law, which is still something to celebrate.

“It gave us the chance to utilize our culture free of harassment and persecution,” he said.

“It brings a lot of joy to each and every one of us to share that openly now, whereas prior, it was always a conflict and hassle to be who we were,” Trujillo said. “We had to hide ourselves in secrecy.”

‘A healing ceremony’

Albuquerque resident “N.G.” brought a group of international visitors to Santa Fe to experience the Indigenous dances.

“Santa Fe is one of the landmarks for New Mexico, and it portrays our culture,” N.G. said. “New Mexico has a lot to offer, and many people around America and actually around the world don’t know about it.”

He believes the Native American culture is vital to New Mexico and should be shared as much as possible.

“I feel like by bringing that up front and promoting it, we can show the world how important New Mexico is to the world,” he said.

Hoop dancer Bernice Talachy said her Indigenous Dance Group from Pojoaque and Nambe Pueblos wanted to join the Santa Fe Indigenous Peoples Day lineup to share their culture and version of the hoop dance.

“Sometimes we do events here, and or we just come to dance for fun, to dance for the people,” she said. “Not a lot of people have seen a hoop dance.”

She said no matter how many people show up to watch; it’s beneficial for those who do.

“It’s a healing ceremony, so basically, we’re praying for the people who are watching us and those who have gone before us,” she said.

Talachy, also a hoop dance instructor, said she was taught by the late acclaimed hoop dancer Nakota LaRance, who passed away about two years ago.

“I still dance mainly because of him,” she said.

Talachy said many of her hoop dance routines are still inspired by LaRance.

“Sometimes I still look at videos of him and try to learn hoop dancing styles that he had done in the past,” she said.

‘Since the beginning of time’

Santa Fe Indigenous Center executive director Caren Gala hosted a booth at the Plaza where commemorative Indigenous Peoples Day 2023 T-shirts and posters designed by Jemez Pueblo artist George Toya, were sold as a fundraiser to benefit the nonprofit.

The Center supports and promotes the needs and values of the local American Indian community.

“We have a lot of events and programs for the Indigenous community of Santa Fe County,” said Gala, who is from Nambe Pueblo. “We’ve been having a lot of food drives and food distributions.”

The Santa Fe Indigenous Center also gives emergency financial and housing assistance to those in need.

“We provide money, rent, and utilities,” she said. “We also serve as a resource center.”

Toya said the Santa Fe Indigenous People’s Day celebration was a long time coming, and he’s happy to support it with his artwork.

“It’s good that we recognize Indigenous People since we’ve been here since the beginning of time,” he said. “For the longest time, we were unrecognized.”

Toya shared the meaning behind his t-shirt and poster image called “Indigenous Universe.”

“The sun represents the things that are sacred to the people,” he said. “The crescent symbols represent the wind, which controls our weather and pollination with the crops.”

“The steps and pointed designs around the perimeter represent the sacred places of the Indigenous peoples,” Toya said. “The stars represent the night sky and the deities that surround us and protect us.”

In that context, he said, the minor inconveniences caused by Saturday’s rain were insignificant in the grand scheme of things.

“We hold our celebrations and prayers that are said are always for the moisture,” Toya said.

“When the rain comes, it’s a blessing,” he said. “The rain nourishes the planet, nourishes us, and provides for our food and the animals and the health of the earth.”

‘Good health, good life’

Bernice Talachy’s father, former Pojoaque Pueblo Governor Joe Talachy, said he was very proud of his daughters, who all participate in the Indigenous Dance Group.

“It’s hard not to get emotional singing and drumming when they’re dancing,” he said. “You’re passing the torch forward or the hoop forward.”

“When I was younger, I was with a dance group and really enjoyed it,” Talachy said. “It promoted confidence and prayers for our people.”

Talachy said he’s grateful to see the dance groups carry on their traditions, especially on occasions like Indigenous Peoples Day.

“To be here in Santa Fe in our state capitol representing our Pueblo people, I’m grateful for the opportunity,” he said. “Plus, I hope the ancestors that hang around here continue to bless us with good health and long life.”

He pointed out that Santa Fe translates to “Holy Faith” in Spanish.

“The only way faith works is if you continue to have it and continue to work with it,” he said.

“We bring that faith here and try to believe it and bring goodness to the world,” he said. “All of us together with good hearts and good minds make good things happen.”

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About The Author

Rima Krisst

Reporter and photojournalist Rima Krisst reported for the Navajo Times from July 2018 to October 2022. She covered Arts and Culture and Government Affairs beats.Before joining the editorial team at the Times, Krisst worked in various capacities in the areas of communications, public relations, marketing and Indian Affairs policy on behalf of the Tribes, Nations and Pueblos of New Mexico. Among her posts, she served as Director of PR and Communications for the New Mexico Indian Affairs Department under Governor Bill Richardson, Healthcare Outreach and Education Manager for the Eight Northern Pueblos, Tribal Tourism Liaison for the City of Santa Fe, and Marketing Projects Coordinator for Santa Fe Indian Market. As a writer and photographer, she has also worked independently as a contractor on many special projects, and her work has been published in magazines. Krisst earned her B.S. in Business Administration/Finance from the University of Connecticut.


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