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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Ute Bears

Art and becoming native

At the Ute Indian Museum in Colorado's Uncompagre Valley, on Chipeta Day, an annual event hosted by the Friends of the Ute Indian Museum, I signed up for the plein air art festival.  I'd never done anything like that before, and only recently started to revive my artistic side -- hibernating since I was in high school -- so I wasn't sure if I was ready, but with a little encouragement from both my art instructor and my girlfriend, I did it anyway. 

I came up with a pencil drawing of a mother bear with cubs overlooking a Ute tepee with a bear and tracks painted on it, in some cottonwoods, at dawn, with a hint of the San Juan mountains in the distance.

Ute Bears (2010).  Ebony pencil drawing (inspired by "Queyaaguak Nuche Dthamoguah (Bear Guards the Utes)," sculpture by Carol deB. Whitaker (2006)).

In a recent blog post, I asserted that becoming native to place is fundamentally important to developing places that are ecologically, economically, socially, and culturally resilient. But what exactly does it mean to be native? Afterall, anyone born in the Americas is a native American. But nativeness is a many-layered concept. And is the notion that one can "become native" an oxymoron? I don't think so. But I do think that we might look to the original natives for some idea of what it might actually mean.

I think that becoming native to the Land of Shining Mountains may not necessarily require going back to living in Ute-style tepees, or back further yet to brush shelters, but it might mean reconsidering the transhumant way of life that sustained the Utes for centuries, if not millennia.  Mobility was more important than stability, as it still is for non-western societies in most of the mountainous and arid lands of the world.  This is primarily because of the seasonality of these environments, and the unevenly scarce distribution of resources in both space and time, all of which conspires against permanent year-round settlement on small amounts of land.  Like the bear who hibernates through the winter, the Utes left the mountains for the valleys when the snow began to fly.  Resilience in the Rocky Mountains and western North America does not look like the ways of living that have worked in eastern North America, Europe, or other resource-abundant places.  And native lifeways show us that here, just as mobility trumps stability, resilience is a more appropriate goal than sustainability.

1 comment:

  1. I love your insights, Matt, but I have to say you threw down the gauntlet here. Mobility trumps stability? I don't think so. Regulation about stable balance points is the hallmark of every living, self-organizing (and self-respecting) autopoetic entity on this planet--if not the galaxy. Evidence the infinitely tuned and stoichiometrically complex architecture of even one metabolic pathway inside a microscopic bacterium nuzzled up against one ciliated protist inhabiting the roiling gut of one placidly grazing ungulate on a lonely western plain on this wildly spinning planet. Complex dynamical systems, poised on the edge of chaos, that's what we all are. And as such, stability will always be an essential criteria. Yet perhaps the real issue is not the dichotomy between mobility and stability but, in fact, their synthesis--the idea of homeorhesis, wherein life regulates NOT to immutably fixed set points (which is the traditional view of homeostasis) but to a continually evolving trajectory of points. (Credit homeorhesis to Lynn Margulis.) Thus, as a living system develops, explores, moves, confronts new environmental challenges, it is continually balancing--finding stability--even as the game is always changing. It's the balance between stability and mobility, I think, that gives life it's incredible power... Also reminds me of a quote passed along from Wes Jackson, the Land Institute, "Continuity before ingenuity"... Que piensas?