Begun in 1922 after a group of remarkable women formed a political action organization to establish and protect Native American rights—and to establish them was the first priority—the market went through many changes and much turmoil. Now, under the aegis of SWAIA, it seems to have gained some stability, although threatened recently by a new rule demanding that all craftspeople and artists submit their work to be judged online. Since great swatches of the Southwest, primarily in Navajo country, have no internet access, this perhaps unintentionally banned older Native Americans who have used the market for decades to produce the greatest part of their annual income.
But, as is often the case here, a citizen came forward to rent a large space in the old pink Scottish Rite Temple here for what he called “Free Indian Market”—and it was. Many esteemed vendors sold there, and the event was well attended (although it was not clear to me what portion of the check I wrote to this individual was going back to the vendors…)
What is so encouraging about this story is that through all these years of turmoil and change, the market has persisted. The artists and craftspeople make the often long trip, loaded down with their paintings, pottery, textiles and jewelry—traditional and contemporary—and an estimated 100 thousand people from all over the world attend. It’s crowded, hot and chaotic—but so what? Here is a supreme example of the way people from distinct groups and backgrounds can meet together.
This is not the place to swoop in and buy a piece of jewelry, credit card extended—and a lot of the craftspeople don’t have those little machines that process credit cards. It is a place for introductions and conversations, and it seems a lot of us know how to do that, still.
I am sure to visit Booth 300 every year to admire and probably buy some jewelry made by Abraham and Paula Begay, from Flagstaff. I dare to say that we are—at least almost!—friends…
My photo shows a piece of fry bread being prepared. This is a delicious concoction of white flour and oil, deep fried and crispy, with the possible addition of powdered sugar. And here is another story of adaptation: after the notorious Indian Removal Act of 1830, which authorized President Andre Jackson to “negotiate” with Native American tribes in the south—negotiate is hardly the correct word—resulting in their forcible removal to barren stretches of land west of the Mississippi, henceforth called “Reservations.” I suppose it seemed an act of charity to then give these deracinated Natives “commodities”: government hand-outs of sacks of flour and sugar. These were not part of the tribes’ diets and had a deleterious effect on their health, over time. But, faced with near starvation on land that didn’t grow crops, they found ingenious uses for these donations. One of them was and is fry bread.
Navajo weavers have a well-earned reputation, using the wool of their Churro sheep in the traditional way. I took a photo (with permission) of one weaver working on a floor loom.
The crowds at the Santa Fe Plaza and thronging the side streets were daunting, especially in the heat, but congeniality sweetened the whole experience. Surely if we can come together in this way, in spite of centuries of warfare and near extinction, we can come together with the world.