Goodman on Indiana Pueblo Cultural Center, 'Journeys and Pathways: Contemporary Pueblo Women in leadership, Service, and the Arts'

Indiana Pueblo Cultural Center. Journeys and Pathways: Contemporary Pueblo Women in leadership, Service, and the Arts. Albuquerque: Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, Inc., 2021. ix + 468 pp.

Reviewed by Audrey Goodman (Georgia State University)
Published on H-NewMexico (June, 2021)
Commissioned by Tomas Jaehn (Special Collections/Center for Southwest Research)

Printable Version:

The Interwoven Lives of Contemporary Pueblo Women

This collaborative publication presents a rich and diverse collection of interviews with twenty extraordinary Pueblo women who share their perspectives on family, cultural identity, and work with candor and eloquence. The project required that coordinator Dr. Rose T. Díaz secure funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities and other sources, identify potential participants, arrange interviews with twenty Pueblo women across New Mexico, and conduct the interviews with the help of two Native project assistants, Jonna Paden (Acoma Pueblo) and Valerie Fernando (Laguna Pueblo), as well as videographer Dr. Beverly Singer (Santa Clara Pueblo), in a single month (December 2019). Together they transcribed and edited the interviews. Still in process, the project will soon be housed as a women’s archive at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center Library in Albuquerque and made available online and in printed versions at many institutions across New Mexico and nationally.

The limited-edition printed book reviewed here, illustrated with personal and archival photographs and documents, provides a glimpse into the rich array of materials that will be part of the larger archive while creating a powerful collective record of cultural knowledge, accomplishment, service, and vision. While oral histories are often conducted with elders in traditional communities, the narratives transcribed in this volume emphasize the experiences of younger Pueblo women prominent in a wide range of professional fields, including law, journalism, education, sports, business, water management, and local, state, and national politics. All of the women remain deeply connected with their communities and emphasize the enduring power of traditions like feast days, dances, and ceremonies and the lessons and skills they learned at home: hunting, butchering, grinding corn, cooking, weaving, sewing, dancing, and playing music. Together, they offer encouragement and powerful directives for younger generations: Ground yourself in where you come from. Learn your language. Spend time in your community. Talk with your grandparents. Listen to their stories. Find mentors. Be open and curious. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or to speak up. Respect yourself. Be real! Don’t give up! Although they share concerns about how the next generation will be educated and how Pueblo languages and ceremonies will be sustained, they also express deep gratitude for their families, teachers, and mentors as well as hope that the networks that allowed them to thrive professionally will support their relatives and community members in the future.

Structured around a consistent set of questions, the interviews invite participants to reflect on the role of their families in shaping their childhoods and educational paths. As published, the book refrains from inserting any interpretive apparatus (other than the well-researched and informative footnotes); this format allows the voice of each woman to emerge clearly and distinctly. Some of the participants admit that they had difficulty finding confidence to speak in public; others directly address the importance of speaking out and describe finding their routes to the right platform. For example, lawyer, judge, founding editor-in-chief of the University of New Mexico’s (UNM) Tribal Law Journal, founding director of the UNM Southwest Indian Law Clinic, and UNM professor Christine Zuni Cruz (Isleta Pueblo) explains that she entered law to have a place to speak with authority, in a voice that people would listen to. The same could be said about this collection of transcribed interviews.

Many women interviewed speak to the ways that their Pueblo grounding and their struggles in white-dominated institutions motivated them to redefine the terms of their professions and to renegotiate their professional engagements. As the first hire in Native studies at the University of Illinois, Debbie Reese (Nambé Pueblo) helped to build one of the country’s strongest Native studies programs and successfully advocated for removing the university’s stereotypical mascot, “Chief Illiniwek,” but her choice to prioritize students and pursue activism jeopardized her institutional status. Many scholars might respond to a university’s decision not to renew a teaching appointment as rejection. However, instead of considering the situation from a personal point of view, Reese explains that she saw it as confirmation of the imbalances of power that sustain higher education and made the decision to redirect her efforts closer to home and pursue a path that honors her Pueblo worldview. She decided to teach students of all ages at the Santa Fe Indian School and elsewhere and begin a blog about American Indians and children’s literature that is now accessible to all. Paulita Aguilar (Kewa Pueblo) recounts similar challenges in negotiating expectations for professional advancement at the University of New Mexico. Although she struggled with the requirements for tenure as a faculty librarian, she persisted and looked to her mother as a model of someone who lived in the “deeper ground” where education and Pueblo life intersect. After deciding to include in her dossier an account of the role her Pueblo background played in her academic work, she succeeded in securing the promotion; however, the transcribed interview also documents the challenges Aguilar faced as one of the first Native women in her department. These are just two examples of how the women represented in Journeys and Pathways reflect on some of the ways that their identities as Pueblo women shaped their professional trajectories; by sharing their stories, the collection amplifies their struggles and provides models for other Native women to set the terms of their success.

Grandparents, aunts, parents, and other relatives passed on commitments to education and lived according to their core values of hard work, humility, and respect. Theresa Pasqual (Acoma Pueblo) explains that both of her grandfathers served as tribal governors, while her aunt ran the Acoma language program; her own work in historic preservation continues such cultural and community service. Norma Naranjo (Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo) confirms that her mother taught her the self-sufficiency necessary for her to build confidence, join the navy, and start a cooking school, The Feasting Place. Tara Gatewood (Isleta Pueblo), host and producer of the radio show Native America Calling, attests that her strongest memories of growing up were “seeing how the bright sun outside connected to what was going on inside” and “seeing powerful Native women doing impossible things with few resources at times, but also being there with a lot of strength” (p. 69). And while journalist Jenni Monet (Laguna Pueblo) speaks frankly of the importance of academic credentials for Native journalists, she also names the decisive influence of her great aunt, an administrator in the Laguna educational system, as she learned to approach her career as a calling and overcome prejudice and discrimination. Each woman in this collection gives credit to the relatives and mentors who encouraged her to pursue her own path and urged her to keep asking the fundamental question of how to serve her community best, a question articulated by Pasqual as, “What will your contribution be?” (p. 248)

Many women interviewed also benefited from formal or institutional sources of support such as the Miss Indian World Pageant, Stanford University’s overseas program in England, the Gwen Ifill Mentorship Program for journalists, or the “Circle of Learning” scholarship for Native students interested in a pursing a master’s degree in library and information science. Others played instrumental roles in creating cultural events and organizations, such as the Gathering of Nations Powwow, the Native Women’s Business Summit, the Brave Girls Program for survivors of domestic abuse, and the Tewa Health and Wellness Center. It is striking how many participants in this project recount lasting relationships forged through international educational programs and engagement in global outreach to Indigenous communities in New Zealand, Fiji, and Central and South America. By documenting these and other activities and organizations, Journeys and Pathways both credits the many resources available to Native students and aspiring professionals and serves as a valuable reference.

The final question for all the participants often yielded the most thoughtful reflections: how do you define your role as a Pueblo woman representative of your community? As Christine Zuni Cruz responds to this question, she emphasizes how the public, professional, and personal dimensions of her life intertwine; “really, there is a complex weave about all of us,” she insists (p. 416). Melonie Mathews (Santa Clara Pueblo) embodies that complex weave in her own story of growing up partly in inner-city Chicago, dancing competitively as a shawl dancer, organizing Miss Indian World and the Gathering of Nations Powwow, and writing a cookbook, explaining “that identity comes not from what someone tells you, you are, but the experiences that you organically get from being around people who embrace you, love you, care about you, and nurture you” (p. 162). She cites US Congresswoman (now US Secretary of the Interior) Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo) as a model, “a champion for women of all cultures” (p. 173). The women represented in this collection are champions, too.

Journeys and Pathways offers a collective portrait of a worldly group that has derived wisdom from a wide range of places, cultures, and experiences. The value of this project lies in its ability to share with Pueblo and non-Native audiences not only the essential contributions the women interviewed have made to their fields but also the complexity of their lives, their lived understandings of sovereignty, their enduring connections with Native and Indigenous peoples around the world, and their unwavering commitment to strengthening their home communities. It is a groundbreaking project and inspiring reading.

Citation: Audrey Goodman. Review of Indiana Pueblo Cultural Center, Journeys and Pathways: Contemporary Pueblo Women in leadership, Service, and the Arts. H-NewMexico, H-Net Reviews. June, 2021.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.