The Koshare Indian Kiva and Museum is located in La Junta, CO. This letter was emailed to the Koshare Kiva, Kiva_Clerk@ojc.edu on September 1st, 2014.
(Update: On December 18th, 2015, an article appeared on the I Love La Junta website announcing a cancelation of the winter dances in response to a formal request from the Cultural Preservation Office of the Hopi Nation. The board of directors of the Koshare Indian Museum Inc. have stated they will discuss the concerns raised by the Hopi Nation. This is an encouraging step towards dialog and understanding by the Koshare Kiva.)
To the Koshare Kiva,
Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Scott Davis. I was raised on the coast of California by my parents. On my mother’s side I am Swedish and Norwegian. On my father’s side I am Italian and German. I lived in La Veta, CO from 1998 to 2007. At that time I had not heard about your Kiva. I have been living in Rio Arriba and Santa Fe counties, in New Mexico, since 2007. I am a construction professional, but also work closely with some non-profit organizations in the area as a professional consultant.
Your Kiva was brought to my attention by several of my friends and colleagues in this area who are Tewa and members of different pueblos here. Specifically, Santa Clara, San Ildefonso and Ohkay Owingeh. Most of my friends and colleagues here are Native Tewa and many of them participate with their Kivas in some form or another.
As an Anglo living in Indian Country, I have come to appreciate the culture and traditions of these Tewa peoples. As a friend and co-worker, I have often been invited into homes during Feast days and to witness their dances. Professionally, much of my work occurs on the various reservations. The company I work for does rehabilitation work on homes at most of the Eight Northern Pueblos. Currently, I have been working on a rehabilitation project at Ohkay Owingeh since 2011. The Housing Authority there has been repairing the traditional homes in the pueblo core and bringing families OUT of the HUD housing projects and back into their physical and spiritual home in the old village. You can see a short video about the project at this link.
Basically, I am just a guy. A white guy living closely with Native communities. I do my best to be respectful of the communities I work in and the people I work with. It is not always easy. As a white man, many things that I have learned about Indians have shown themselves to be false. But even more importantly, many things that I thought were respectful towards Native communities, I have learned were anything but.
Which is why I am writing to you.
In viewing your website, the impression I have received is that you are a community that is proud of its tradition around your Kiva. It also appears that you believe your Kiva and dances to be a show of respect for Native traditions. I was a Boy Scout. I remember some of the lessons and activities. I want to be clear right up front that I believe your intentions to be good and wholesome. Unfortunately, good intentions do not always translate into good deeds.
Cultural appropriation is a devilish thing. It can feel like an honoring by those that engage in it. It can seem to be a show of appreciation and respect. But it is not. It is a taking away. It is a parody. It is the inappropriate use of things that have no place being used by other peoples. Much has been written about cultural appropriation. Rather than repeat all of it here, I hope you will take time to read this link.
Never have I been invited into a Kiva here in Tewa Country. Never have I asked to be. Most likely, never will I step foot in those places. You see, there is a history between my culture and the Native cultures of North America. It is a history of genocide and land theft. Europeans came to this continent and began the process of colonization. This involved stealing land and killing or enslaving the Natives. America continued the tradition with a steady push west ward. Manifest Destiny is a history of genocide enacted upon the Indigenous of this continent. That genocide has taken many forms over the years from all out war, to reservations, to boarding schools, and on and on. Again, I will leave it to you to educate yourselves on the details of this genocide. If you want a place to begin, please visit this link.
Perhaps at this point you are beginning to think, “white guilt.” This could not be further from the truth. We, as descendants of Europeans, carry NO guilt for the crimes of our ancestors. What we do carry is a responsibility to end them with us. To not perpetuate the ills that have come before us. To begin to learn what it means to be TRULY respectful of other peoples and cultures. This is not easy. Much of our American culture has taught us that monuments such as your Kiva, are a testament to respect and admiration for another culture. We have learned that the original inhabitants of this continent used to be a proud and vital people. We have learned so much from Thanksgiving plays and Boy Scout activities and Disney feature films about these people who USED TO live here. Much, if not all, of this education is sorely lacking in voices from those Indigenous people who STILL LIVE TODAY. Even without consulting the Tewa, Towa, Tiwa, and Keres people alive today, one can learn from the NPS website that the Aztec National Monument was built by the ancestors of many Southwestern tribes. These people are still alive.
With all due respect to your surely noble intentions; your Kiva is a reminder and perpetuation of genocide on the Indigenous of North America. Your web site boasts of accolades from the Colorado Historical Society, President Eisenhower, the Laboratory of Ethnology in Santa Fe and archaeologists and museum directors. It even states that Native American artist, Velino Herrera adorned the walls of your Kiva. What is noticeably lacking in your list of approvals is recognition from the Indigenous communities who, STILL TODAY, practice these ancient ways. Your website boasts of rocks stolen from ancient Kivas. How would that seem to you if pieces of historic Christian cathedrals were taken from European sites to be cobbled together by non-Christians at some far away site? Whereupon those non-Christians began to enact Sunday mass and communion for the entertainment of paying visitors?
Your Kiva is a testament to the injustice and death visited upon the Indigenous of North America. It reminds us that we took their land, killed their people, and now are taking their culture. There is a way for us Anglos to participate in these traditions. That is as respectful observers, lending our prayers in support of the dancers and sharing in the food offered freely to us.
There are so many other things as Americans from European descent that we can celebrate. Why choose this? Your dances more closely resemble a victory dance on the graves of these peoples, than anything noble or righteous. There has been enough parodying of Native peoples. There has been enough theft of their land, ancestral sites and cultures.
Not everything in this world is open to us. There are places that, out of respect, we should not tread. This is not an infringement upon our “freedoms,” but rather a deeper understanding of the word, “sacred.” People living today, use these spiritual practices, dances and these Kivas to celebrate their lives, communities, cultures, ancestors and history. They are aspects of their religion. These people have suffered under the violence of colonial occupation for over 500 years. There is no reason good enough to perpetuate this violence. EVEN IF those ways have become a 75 year tradition in your community.
As a proud American of European ancestry and descendant of immigrants, I ask you to please stop. It is past time for our people to begin to learn to respect this place and the people who are of here. Not to idolize them. Not to vilify them. Simply to respect that – what is theirs; is theirs. And leave it alone.