Taking a left turn at Albuquerque


By Drew Hayden Taylor

Original published in December 2011

One of the fringe benefits of what I do for a living is I have the opportunity to travel… a lot.

I get to see interesting places, learn fascinating things, and observe stuff I wouldn’t normally get the chance to sitting in the Curve Lake woods watching raccoons fight, and desperately wishing I could get pizza delivered.

I am a man of few dreamsMost recently, I found myself on the wind-swept and parched land of New Mexico, a fabulous place to visit, even in 101-degree weather. That stuff you hear about… ‘at least it’s a dry heat’. Ignore it. Hot is hot.

It had been a long time since I’d spent some quality time in New Mexico, but it was nice to be back and I learned some interesting things while I was down there this time. In particular, I learned about some of their laws.

For instance, in any bar or restaurant, everybody gets carded. I do mean everybody. I am 49 years old, and it had been at least 20 years since I was last asked for my I.D. At first I was flattered until somebody told me it’s the law. It’s a $4,000 fine for the waiter, and a $5,000 one for the establishment, if they don’t ask for I.D. For a brief moment, I felt like I was back in the ‘80s – the 1980’s, not the 1880s.

More interestingly, when doing some window shopping at many of the amazing jewellery shops in the city of Albuquerque, most, if not all, of the items for sale were classified by tribe. There would be jewellery cases clearly divided and labeled Zuni, Pueblo, Navaho etc. Yes, jewellery segregation is still alive and well and living in New Mexico.

What intrigued me in particular was when I wanted to examine a particular ring. The woman behind the counter told me, as she handed me the lovely bauble, “it’s by a Caucasian artist.” Again, by law, jewellery shops are required to inform customers which of their items for sale are made legitimately by Native artists, or by, shall we say… people of pallor.

Evidently, some years ago, there was some sort of scandal where non-Native artists were passing their work off as authentic Zuni art or something like that. Interesting. There’s talk of expanding that ordinance to include other forms of Aboriginal artistic expression, including literary ones. I think, up here, that would be called the W. P. Kinsella law.

There is a Native belief that dictates that when you take something, you should always leave something else behind. I didn’t want to disrespect that tradition, and besides, we were always good traders. But my contribution to our cultural exchange, however, was a little different.

It was on the Navaho Reservation where I perhaps was at my most mischievous. I, uh… may have left some of the local people with a slightly inaccurate perception of the Ojibway. Unfortunately, this happens quite frequently around me. Can I help it if I like to tell a good and original story?

For example, I was in this Navaho home watching this grandmother make tortillas, and as I was talking with her and her family, I got a bit of a lesson on southwestern Indigenous cuisine. She was making flour tortillas, using a standard rolling pin to make it thin. Evidently in Mexico, they make corn tortillas, and frequently use a polished stone to flatten it. Then they asked me what, if anything, the Ojibway use when making our bread.

For some reason, I told them ‘a fat baby’. The poor woman almost spit up her tea. For the rest of the afternoon, I was told, they couldn’t get the image of Ojibway women rolling a fat little baby backwards and forwards on a flour-dusted counter making Ojibway tortillas. I’m bad. I’m very bad.

And then, for some reason, the movie Star Wars came up. I think it was because many in the Hopi Nation believe George Lucas appropriated a traditional Hopi hairstyle for Princess Leia. Seriously. If you look at old photographs of Hopi women, they all have those bun-like ‘dos over their ears. The Hopi Nation sits adjacent to the Navaho one. Evidently the Navaho way of the hair was to just wrap it up in a bun (so to speak) at the back of the head. Then this grandmother asked me how I would best describe the way Ojibway women traditionally wore their hair. I responded ‘tinted with hair spray’.  Again, more spit up tea.

My new Navaho name is now ‘the Tea destroyer.’

One other thing I did notice while on the Navaho Reservation, you can get pizza delivered there. How civilized! More interestingly, they also have a Burger King and a KFC.

Get with the program, Curve Lake!