Mixed messages: Pablita Velarde, Kay Bennett, and the changing meaning of Anglo-Indian intermarriage in twentieth-century New Mexico.
Luhan's story stands out, in short, because she was an Anglo woman who married an Indian man. Turning to the stories of twentieth-century New Mexican Indian women who married Anglo men reveals that these marriages,
while conforming to Pocahontas's less threatening model, also provoked reflection about cultural difference and women's perceived role in maintaining traditions. Unlike the Luhan story's consistent cultural shock value, however, perceptions of these Indian women's stories changed significantly over time; though initially considered by Anglos to be positive symbols of assimilation, these marriages eventually were perceived as disturbing representations of cultural loss. Pablita Velarde, a painter from Santa Clara Pueblo born in 1918, and Kay Bennett, a Navajo writer and politician who lived from 1920 to 1997, each sought and achieved status as a mediator between her community of origin and an Anglo audience eager for "authentic" depictions of American Indian life. To do so, they drew from their experiences as young women in the 1930s, when "traditional" Indian identities gained a temporary precedence in reform-oriented U.S. government policy. During the 1950s and early 1960s, an era in which they published autobiographical books, a "Termination Policy" reflected Americans' renewal of an assimilative approach to Indian affairs, and Velarde and Bennett found that their marriages were received by Anglos as key elements of their suitability as cultural spokeswomen, even though they wrote only about "traditional" culture. But by the end of the 1960s, both women found their reputations in question--not only among Anglo audiences, but, perhaps more significantly, also by the people whose stories they claimed to tell: American Indians.
In many ways, the stories of Velarde and Bennett could take place only in New Mexico. Interracial marriages have long formed part of the state's cultural fabric, and the state's tourism-dominated economy increasingly depended on the image of harmonious coexistence between Anglos, Indians, and Hispanics. By way of comparison, it is worth noting that the Supreme Court of the neighboring state of Arizona upheld a constitutional ban on interracial marriages only two years before Mabel and Tony married. Even in New Mexico, interracial marriages could be controversial; they complicated New Mexico's coexistence model because they (and the children born from them) blurred the lines of cultural demarcation between groups. Indeed, Mabel Dodge Luhan voiced such concerns about interethnic marriage in a 1933 letter to her longtime friend and political ally, John Collier. Collier served as head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) from 1933 to 1945, a position in which he pursued extensive reform of U.S. Indian policy. "Although I married an Indian," Luhan wrote to Collier, "I did not do so when we were both young (and I don't believe in this for others). I cannot bring myself to change from my previous hope that the Indian['s] culture may be saved, as it cannot be if he becomes absorbed into the Mexican or the white races." (4) Collier would likely have agreed with this statement and its disapproval of mixed-race marriages and, by implication, the children born from them, for his preservation-oriented reform efforts, which granted communities expanded powers of self-determination and endorsed traditional cultural practices, advocated a somewhat separatist conception of Indian cultural integrity.
It was this belief in essential Indianness, a belief reinforced by New Mexico's tourism industry, that would result in the changing response to Bennett and Velarde. Even those who advocated the assimilative approach to Indian policy that resurged during the 1950s saw Indians as "different": the distinction between supporters and opponents of assimilation rested in whether one felt Indians' differences should be preserved or eliminated. By implication, the variation in perceptions of Velarde and Bennett's marriages emerged not from differing ideas about whether they should stand for an essential Indian womanhood, but from disagreements about whether their Indian femininity should be "tamed" by marriage to an Anglo man or remain isolated for the sake of preservation. Either stance maintained an intense desire to measure Velarde and Bennett against the supposed standard of "real" Indian womanhood. In the wake of the 1950s Termination Era, these women and the autobiographical works they published in the 1960s became focal points of anxiety about how to keep ties to authentic Indian culture intact while also encouraging the kinds of assimilation symbolized by the authors' marriages to Anglo men. In the years following the 1960s, both authors found their authenticity as cultural spokeswomen questioned: their departures from perceived notions of "Indian femininity" distanced each woman from Anglos as well as from her community of origin. While Velarde successfully negotiated this change, earning a reputation among Anglos as a "spunky" artist that still stands today, Bennett's two bids to be considered as a candidate for the leader of the Navajo Nation were soundly repudiated, and her work faded from Anglo attention. In both cases, measurements of their ability to represent their cultures centered on evaluations of their femininity--and in both cases, their marriages to Anglos were considered as crucial indications of the extent to which they were--and later weren't--"real" Indian women.
My hope in tracing these paths is neither simply to trace Anglo attitudes toward Indians, as expressed in policy or the magazine features published about these artists' work, nor to emphasize the distance both women eventually experienced from their cultures of origin. Rather, I hope to document how, despite enduring contradictory responses about their suitability as cultural spokeswomen, Velarde and Bennett remained determined to speak as representatives of the communities they were born into. One indication of this desire is the fact that each published a book in her own name. Other regional Indian women's autobiographies of the 1960s, such as those by Hopi writers Polingaysi Qoyawayma and Helen Sekaquaptewa, were presented by publishers as the work of both the author and an editor--in both cases, an Anglo woman. (5) Qoyawayma's and Sekaquaptewa's lives resembled Bennett's and Velarde's in that all four of the women struggled to live between what Qoyawayma's book called "the gap between the world of her people and the world of the white man." This experience of struggle is presented poignantly in Qoyawayma's book when it notes, very briefly, her failed marriage to an Anglo man. Unlike the joint authors, however, Bennett and Velarde did not document the struggle of being between cultures, but instead wrote books that focused strictly on their experiences within their communities of origin. Thus, while Qoyawayma's and Sekaquaptewa's books, both published by academic presses, have remained interesting to audiences seeking documentation of how cultural change affected American Indian people, Bennett and Velarde's more "mainstream" books, published by for-profit regional presses, have experienced a more variable popularity, depending on how reading audiences have judged their ability to be the "authentic" spokeswoman each purports to be.
Another significant comparison to Velarde and Bennett's books is provided by the book that critic Hertha Dawn Wong has called "the most renowned Native American autobiography ever published": Black Elk Speaks, originally published in 1932, but republished to much wider notice in 1961. (6) Like the books about Qoyawayma and Sekaquaptewa, Black Elk Speaks was the product of collaboration between an Anglo author and, as the book's subtitle described him, "a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux." While it shares with Velarde's and Bennett's books an emphasis on "traditional" culture, the fact that Black Elk had died by the time of the book's first wide circulation made the effect of this autobiography quite different on reading audiences. The book chronicles Black Elk's experiences of events far in the past, such as the 1876 Battle of Little Big Horn; in fact, the back of the 1972 paperback edition would proclaim that "the great Story of the Sioux is ended, and the sacred hoop of life is broken, but in this book the spirit of Black Elk's people lives on." (7) For audiences of the 1960s, the book provided access to Indian history and spirituality, but not to an Indian person.
Velarde and Bennett's publishers, by contrast, consciously presented these authors as Indians who were writing their own accounts of their lives at Santa Clara and in the Navajo Nation. Audiences received these texts as "real" Indian books, but in each author's life there was one key factor--a husband--that was not Indian. The media that publicized these books perceived the two marriages as evidence of an appealing willingness to assimilate. Interestingly, neither woman actually wrote about her marriage, but both found that their desire to share their lives in writing created an opportunity for others to scrutinize their marital choices, both at the time their books were published, and in the years that followed. Velarde and Bennett's common desire to retain an identity as a representative of their culture--despite this scrutiny--testifies to the importance of telling their stories: while some may have assumed that, like Pocahontas, these women would discreetly fade into history as symbols of an authentic but ultimately vanishing culture, their lives show determined and ongoing negotiations between tradition and change.
PABLITA VELARED: "MODERN DAUGHTER OF THE ANCIENT PUEBLO INDIANS"
Pablita Velarde, still living today, rose to prominence as a painter during the 1940s and 1950s. (8) In 1960, heartened by her success as a painter, she published her first and only book, Old Father Story Teller. (9) Hardly a conventional autobiography, the book presents a collection of stories Pablita heard from her father while she was growing up at Santa Clara Pueblo. When she found she had trouble retelling the stories to her own children, she went to her father to hear them again. Recording and illustrating them became an act of willful memory; publishing them became an attempt at cultural preservation.
Though Velarde apparently did not intend the book to represent the story of her life, the publisher capitalized on the opportunity to highlight the book's "authenticity" by including an introduction, "About Pablita and Her Legends," as well as a foreword written by Velarde. The introductions author quoted Velarde as commenting that she "thought it would be a good thing if an Indian wrote an Indian book" and admired her success in being "self-reliant in the complex task of bridging two cultures." (10) In the foreword, Velarde introduced herself as the storyteller:</p> <pre> I was one of the fortunate children of my generation who were probably the last to hear stories from Great-grandfather or Grandfather. I treasure that memory, and I have tried to preserve it in this book so that my children as well as other people may have a glimpse of what used to be. (11) </pre> <p>Velarde's emerging fame as a painter guaranteed people would be interested in this book not just because of the stories and the illustrations but also because of her particular identity. Thus, the book became autobiographical in a personal as well as a community-oriented sense, because its bicultural format mirrored Velarde's life and because it was consistently promoted and received as "an Indian book" written by an Indian, based on her true-life experiences. But like most of the work Velarde undertook in her career, her efforts to be personal and "Indian" in this book were ultimately scrutinized by those more interested in what they saw as the "non-Indian" aspects of her life.
Old Father Story Teller, as well as the work Velarde undertook as a painter, drew heavily for inspiration from the early years of Velarde's life, when she lived exclusively at Santa Clara Pueblo. When, in 1924, she left Santa Clara to attend school in Santa Fe at age six, her recently widowed father sent her and her sisters not only because he needed help in caring for his daughters, but also because he wanted them to receive an outside-the-Pueblo "American" education in English and the other skills he had found to be useful in his own work as a farmer. But by the time Velarde attended the Santa Fe Indian School in the 1930s, activists had succeeded in securing a relatively nonassimilationist curriculum for it and other federally funded American Indian boarding schools. Through her tutelage under art teacher Dorothy Dunn, Velarde cultivated a painting technique that allowed her to combine the European medium of easel painting with traditional Santa Clara imagery and symbolism. (12) In fact, Velarde is well known today as one of the first American Indian women in the United States to gain recognition as an independent artist. To do so, she had to face both the Santa Clara community's reluctance to see women (who were traditionally potters) as painters, and her own father's belief that an artistic career would not be profitable. In fact, he brought his daughter back to Santa Clara for a time so that she could take classes in clerical skills at the local high school, recognizing that Collier's policies would not end the economic necessity of adaptation on the part of American Indians. When she returned to Santa Fe Indian School to complete her education, Pablita Velarde found encouragement in her teachers' belief in traditionalism, but she was aware of a discrepancy between the idealism of reform-oriented Anglos and the differing ideas about tradition held by her father and others at Santa Clara.
Reviews of the school's exhibitions paid special notice to the "feminine" work of the young Velarde. "The only girl who is a full-time painting student in the school," reported the Santa Fe New Mexican, "is Pablita Velarde of Santa Clara who gives us work of great delicacy and charm--water colors, and a pleasant and rhythmic design of corn grinding." (13) The author of this review, Santa Fe muralist Olive Rush, also praised Velarde's depictions of "the people of their pueblo at their daily tasks, women making pottery, or husking corn, or winnowing wheat--all beautifully expressed." (14) Initially, Velarde faced difficulties translating her "Indian art" education into a career. But a commission at Bandelier National Monument granted to Velarde in 1939, three years after her graduation from the Santa Fe Indian School, allowed her to begin to earn a living by selling her paintings. Although Velarde went against Santa Clara traditions by her choice of occupation, her early career drew attention from Anglos because her subject matter seemed to capture the "essential" patterns of domestic life in the Pueblo. The Bandelier commission, for example, required her to paint a series of images documenting "traditional" pueblo life and ceremonials for the monument's museum. Whereas her father had warned her that she must gain business skills to be successful, what earned Velarde admiration and commissions from Anglo audiences during these early years was her ability to be perceived as a distinctively feminine spokeswoman for traditional Pueblo life.
But the economic necessities of World War II put Indian policy reform efforts and support for traditional work on hold, and the funding for Velarde's Bandelier work soon dried up. The war had a profound effect on off-reservation employment opportunities for many American Indians, and Velarde, like others, experienced life-changing transitions. She took a job as a telephone operator at the BIA office in Albuquerque, and, in 1941, she met her future husband, Herbert Hardin, an Anglo man who worked at the BIA office as a security guard. When the couple married in 1942, they faced initial opposition from their families, which is not surprising given the fact that the continuing rhetoric of assimilation, supported by Indians like her father as well as Anglos, tended to emphasize the need for Indians to adjust to Anglo life, rather than the disrupting of perceived racial boundaries through interracial marriage. (15)
Despite the hesitation to accept the marriage among the newlyweds' immediate families, Velarde soon found that newspapers following her painting career tended to portray her marriage positively. Understanding why requires understanding the changing context in which she sought to establish herself. She had stopped pursuing professional painting during the 1940s, when she gave birth to two children and relocated because of her husband's time in the army and at college in California. By the time she took up professional painting again, in the 1950s, the federal government had made a distinct turn away from the preservationist policies of her youth, ushering in a "Termination Era" in which Indian people were relocated from reservations to urban areas, forced to sell vast portions of their land, and subjected to judicial, educational, and legal policies that hampered their ability to govern themselves, all in an effort to encourage the end of strong tribal communities.
And yet Velarde continued to find an eager audience for her work, no doubt because, even during the 1950s, Anglo Americans continued to find Indian culture appealing. As Philip J. Deloria has written, Anglo American middle-class "hobbyists" of this era took pleasure in Indian costume, crafts, dancing, and the "powwow" gatherings at which they celebrated them. In search of "authentic experience," such hobbyists not only "played Indian" themselves, but also recruited "actual Indian singers, dancers, and crafts vendors" because they "placed a premium on unmediated personal contact with native people," even as termination policies renewed attempts to make Indians live like Anglos. (16) While many Americans in the 1950s would not have found Mabel Dodge Luhan's model, an interracial marriage between an Anglo woman and an Indian man, to be an acceptable model of such "unmediated contact," they could turn to the images of Indian women married to Anglo men. In this context, such marriages formed a more acceptable representation of the union of "traditional" Indianness with Anglo American progress--by implication, the Indian woman who married an Anglo man would maintain her authenticity while also, through her marriage, appealing to the belief that Indian cultural identities could, and should, be sublimated to a larger, homogeneous "American" one.
In this climate, Anglo audiences received Velarde's marriage positively because it could serve as a symbol of willing assimilation even as her work demonstrated an appealing measure of cultural distinction. Dorothy Dunn, Velarde's painting teacher, wrote an article about Velarde's work in 1952 for the Museum of New Mexico's El Palacio magazine; it concluded with a description of the Hardins' "pleasant new home on the heights approaching the Sandia Mountains in Albuquerque, where both Pablita and the children paint," thus reassuring readers about Velarde's ability to assimilate and to perform conventional feminine responsibilities. (17) An article published in the Albuquerque Journal two years later took a more direct approach: rather than concluding with such reassurance, it began by introducing the Hardins' marriage, their home, and Herbert's career as a police officer, as well as Velarde's work. (18) In another article from the same era, which appeared in Desert magazine, the author did point out that Velarde always signed her paintings as such and "is only rarely called 'Mrs. Hardin.'" (19) But such attention to Velarde's individualism proved an exception. Even after the Hardins' marriage ended, in 1959, features on Velarde's work continued to emphasize that she lived not at Santa Clara but in Albuquerque, where she was raising her children. In short, rather than the hope for Indians to live by "tradition" that had inspired 1930s policy reform efforts and Velarde's education, Velarde was now perceived as representing the 1950s goal of "terminating" reservations and "liberating" Indians so that they could live like Anglos.
But living like Anglos did not necessarily mean becoming Anglo. As Philip J. Deloria has noted, "Within this integrationist paradigm" of the Termination Era, "one might also find refigurings of racial difference, refigurings that were arguably vital to the notion of a desirable Indian authenticity." (20) The articles about Velarde's work dotting the women's pages of the Albuquerque Journal in the 1950s and 1960s illustrate these simultaneous desires for assimilation and authentic difference, because they presented her lives as "Mrs. Herbert Hardin" and as an "Indian painter" quite distinctly. On the one hand, this approach established her as an American Indian who was not so different from Anglos--after all, she was married to one. And on the other hand, bifurcating Velarde's life in this way allowed Anglos to perceive that Velarde was different in appealing "primitive" ways. By describing her as simultaneously similar and different, and by continuing to portray her work as distinctly "feminine," newspaper articles could soften any anxieties about cultural difference raised by her work or her marriage.
In 1958, after years filled with tension caused by Velarde's desire for a career, Velarde and her husband separated. The end of the marriage encouraged Velarde to pursue her career more avidly and to attempt to renew her cultural ties to Santa Clara Pueblo. Researching, writing, and illustrating Old Father Story Teller, a project she began at this time, could thus be viewed as a reaction to the demise of her marriage but not a rejection of all things non-Indian. In fact, one of Old Father's most autobiographical features concerns its bi-cultural format: like Velarde's paintings, it combines a content based on Santa Clara folklore with a book format (and an intended audience) beyond Santa Clara Pueblo. The stories do not recount Velarde's life directly, but they do reflect her influences and her position as a cultural mediator. They document the community life she experienced as a child and wanted to hold on to as an adult, and they allow the author to introduce outsiders to Pueblo life.
According to historian Sally Hyer, Velarde became the first Pueblo woman to author a book when she published Old Father in 1960. (21) Her success in doing so suggests that, even though the book was promoted as a "real" Indian book, Velarde had overcome not only the barriers of entering the publishing world, but also of breaking with conventional gender roles and community privacy norms at the Pueblo. Defying ideas about women as painters had proven difficult, but Velarde encountered even further opposition when she set out to put these stories, considered to be sacred, in writing. Given Termination Era policies and past exploitation by anthropologists, tourism promoters, and authors, it is not surprising that some at the Pueblo regarded Velarde's work with disapproval. In fact, when she first asked for her father's help in retelling the stories, even he expressed reluctance. In one extended interview published soon after Old Father, Pablita explained the process of convincing him:</p> <pre> At first my own father (Old Father, the Story Teller) was opposed to publishing the Indian legends, ceremonies and traditions of our people.... But I finally convinced him that this was the only way to preserve our culture. After that he became interested and often sent for me to come back to Santa Clara to hear more stories. (22) </pre> <p>At the time, Pablita apparently shared only that much with her interviewer. When I asked her about the process of collaboration in 1998, however, she added that she eventually decided to leave out some of the stories she and her father had discussed, both because of his wishes and out of respect for members of the Santa Clara community. (23)
The resistance she faced with Old Father foreshadowed Santa Clara responses to her later efforts to publish another book. In the mid-1960s, after her children had grown, she moved back to Santa Clara and tried to begin an ethnographic project. But, as she told me, she felt like an "outsider," especially when she experienced clear opposition to the project, which she ultimately abandoned. (24) A recent book about Velarde includes her description of her resulting fear of "retribution" as one of the "worst times in [her] entire life." (25) At the time, Velarde did not speak directly about this sense of distance from the Pueblo, though it is possible to see reflections of her alienation in her work. One of the stories in Old Father, "Turkey Girl," is a Cinderella-like story about a girl who is forced to work herding turkeys for her stepmother and is unable to attend a ceremonial because she has nothing to wear. Although the turkeys magically prepare her for the event and she initially stuns everyone with her beauty, her stepmother accuses her of being a witch, and Turkey Girl must flee into the mountains, never to return to her people. The story's autobiographical inspiration becomes apparent not only through obvious connections, such as Velarde's own strained relationship with her stepmother, but also through the way Velarde sets up the story. Midway through the collection, it is introduced when a brave young girl, who has listened to several stories about boys, asks Old Father if there are "any girls in the mountains," as if articulating Velarde's own interest in hearing Pueblo stories that reflect, rather than condemn, her experiences. (26) The fact that this story ends in alienation makes its connection to Velarde's life even more poignant. This sense of exile is further reflected in a self-portrait Velarde painted during this time, Communicating with the Full Moon, which shows the artist kneeling before the moon in a desperate plea for help; the content of the painting reflects her sense of isolation while its stylized use of lines, similar to those in Pueblo pottery, illustrates her continuing desire to belong.
Velarde's reluctance to express this sense of alienation more directly at this time shows her ongoing desire to present Pueblo life in a positive light; it also reflects her awareness of the "mediator" image that she could hold for non-Indians. Reviews of Old Father Story Teller emphasized Velarde's ability to make smooth cultural transitions, as symbolized by her marriage, seeing this not as a reflection of distance from the Pueblo but rather as one of a nearness to those who lived outside it. Even though Velarde seems not to have intended Old Father to serve as her personal autobiography, reviewers used the publication of the book as an opportunity to delve into the details of her childhood, marriage, and career, creating a portrait of an "authentic" interpreter who also showed a willingness to assimilate.
A feature story on Velarde in the December 1960 issue of New Mexico offers one revealing example of such portrayals. The article introduced her as a "modern daughter of the ancient Pueblo Indians of New Mexico" who "strives to incorporate originality in each painting while retaining the traditions of her people" and referred briefly to her recently published book. Even though it was written after her divorce, the article, like others that featured her at this stage of her career, nevertheless made her marriage a central focus of attention. In fact, by referring to the marriage, her children, and her kitchen studio, the article simply seems to imply that Velarde was still married, carefully portraying her as a traditional woman who "is in no way a crusader." While Velarde might have wisely obscured her actual marital status, given attitudes about divorce during the era, this insistence on showcasing her as a wife to an Anglo man living in an Anglo home seems aimed at convincing readers that, though Velarde was a true Indian, her marriage and her femininity made her a nonthreatening one. While the article did note that her choice of occupation was unusual for "most Indians," it also somewhat incorrectly asserted that "actually, there is little opposition to her work": Velarde, it implied, is "different" enough from other Indian women to be an appropriate focus for the Anglo media, but not so different that she is not authentic.
Three of Velarde's "interpretive Indian paintings," commissioned for the magazine's Christmas issue, accompany the article, which claimed she found "no difficulty in coordinating her early training in the Indian religion with her subsequent acceptance of the Christian faith" and that her paintings showed "Christianity as accepted" by the people who lived at what became Santa Clara Pueblo during the Spanish conquest. (27) Statements like these implied that it had been easy for Velarde to juggle all these competing cultural concerns, revealing more about Anglo anxieties about cultural differences than her actual experiences. During a time frame in which U.S. Indian policy advocated the end of reservation life, Velarde's work seems to have been invoked as proof that "Indianness" could endure even though the life circumstances of Indians must change.
At a time when Velarde actually hoped to return to her roots, such media attention to her work countered that there was no going back; she had become a figure on which commentators could pin their simultaneous and contradictory hopes that Indian reservations would disappear even as Indian people maintained an authentic difference. In 1964, for example, New Mexican writers Rufus and Lela Waltrip included Velarde in a book for children, Indian Women: Thirteen Who Played a Part in the History of America from Earliest Days to Now. The chapter about Velarde, titled "Pablita Velarde: A Symbol of Transition," emphasized her ability to accommodate herself to the "modern" world. While the authors' decision to omit any references to her divorce may have been based on the book's young readership, this omission also allowed them to better illustrate their belief in Velarde as an appropriate symbol for present-day American Indians. In a revealingly metaphor-laden passage concluding the book as a whole, the Waltrips proclaimed, "Velarde has painted her own picture with her own brush, figuratively and literally. She has bent her bow and shot her star, and in so doing she has truly helped to bridge a gap between two varied cultures and has herself become that living symbol of transition." (28)
In the minds of observers like the Waltrips, Velarde's publication of Old Father Story Teller only opened further discussion of her personal life, even as Velarde's intention seems to have been to document tradition. The fact that people at Santa Clara resisted this work only made her situation, as a public figure with a private life, more complicated. At the center of this complexity rests the issue of gender: she deviated from Santa Clara expectations of womanhood even as Anglos perceived her, in light of her marriage, as an especially suitable link to an essential and nonthreatening Indian past. Though her reform-era education offered her the skills she needed to seek a living as an Indian artist, it had not prepared her for this Termination-Era dilemma. The Santa Clara community protectively rejected her efforts to use non-Indian approaches to preserving its history; non-Indians, on the other hand, insisted on perceiving her as "traditional" while also applauding her efforts to "marry into" the Anglo community.
KAY BENNETT: "A MODERN GIRL, WELL DRESSED AND CULTURED"
Similar patterns run though mainstream press portrayals of the work and marriage of Navajo writer and politician Kay Bennett. (29) Bennett published a memoir of her young life, Kaibah: Recollection of a Navajo Girlhood, in 1964, and in 1969 she coauthored an account of hardships endured by her family during the nineteenth century, A Navajo Saga. Bennett's Anglo husband (her coauthor for A Navajo Saga) provided encouragement for and assistance with her work as a writer, but her writings focused exclusively on Navajo culture, not her marriage.
Kaibah depicts the consequences Bennett personally faced as a result of the federal government's stock reduction programs during the 1930s, and A Navajo Saga mourns the cultural damages incurred when the federal government forcibly relocated Navajos across New Mexico to Bosque Redondo in the 1860s. Unlike Velarde's book and paintings, which aimed to "preserve" culture, Bennett's books clearly lamented the loss of traditional Navajo culture. Despite this condemnation of conquest, discussion of Bennett's work in New Mexico newspapers seized upon her marriage and the link to non-Indian culture it implied as her most important authorial qualification; like Velarde, Bennett's femininity and her marriage made it possible for her to serve, for those who wrote about her, as a simultaneous symbol of tradition and assimilation.
While Bennett also came of age during John Collier's reform-oriented B.I.A. administration, she, like other Navajos, experienced this period quite differently than Velarde and other Pueblo people. Born around 1920 in Sheep-springs, New Mexico, Bennett grew up during what proved to be one of the most difficult periods of Navajo history, the Livestock Reduction Era of the 1930s. Collier and other backers of this federal policy of both voluntary and forced reduction of Navajo herds aspired to reduce erosion, improve livestock quality, and sustain "traditional" Navajo life, but its harsh economic consequences devastated the livelihood and integrity of many Navajo families. Bennett watched over her family's large sheep herds as a child and attended a boarding school at Toadlena, New Mexico, as a teenager. When the reductions and drought ruined her family's fortunes, she accepted an Anglo missionary family's offer to live with them in Los Angeles and attend school there. She would clean their home in exchange for room and board. What became of Bennett's educational goals remains unclear. It is certain that by World War II she was living in Los Angeles with a Navajo husband and two young daughters and working as a file clerk at Douglas Aircraft. After the war, she left her first husband and returned to New Mexico with her daughters. Thus, like other Navajos, who demonstrated their attitude toward Collier's "reform" policies when they rejected the "Indian New Deal" he offered them and other Indian communities in 1934, Bennett would remember the 1930s not as a time in which her Indian identity was affirmed, but rather as a time in which she and other Navajos experienced the strains of twentieth-century relocation and dispossession that became even more widespread for Indian communities in the 1950s. (30)
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Bennett sought a way to escape poverty, but found that doing so required further relocation and family rupture. She apparently entrusted her daughters to the care of a relative or a school, because she began working as a matron, teacher, and interpreter in various American Indian schools in the Southwest. One such position was with the Special Navajo Education program started at the Phoenix Indian School in 1947. Unlike the experimental "traditional" curricula sponsored by federal legislation in the 1930s, this program reflected, as historian Peter Iverson has noted, "an unapologetic emphasis on vocational training and assimilation" consistent with 1950s U.S. Indian policy. (31) Such programs did respond to Navajos' own demand for curriculum that would permit them to prosper in their new postwar circumstances. But, given her own lack of significant advancement, Bennett may have sensed that women, who faced more barriers in their attempts to join a well-paid workforce, would gain less from such training than men. Having begun her career as a singer in 1951 by performing publicly (in Navajo) at the Intertribal Indian Ceremonial in Gallup, New Mexico, she may have seen that, for her, there could be more profit in seeking a public career as an "interpreter" of Indian culture. Perhaps in pursuit of the kinds of educational opportunities Velarde had received at the Santa Fe Indian School, Bennett resigned her position at the Phoenix Indian School in 1952, explaining to her employer that the Gallup Women's Club had offered her a scholarship. But she apparently did not go back to school after all: later employment applications indicate that she married her second husband at this time (this marriage would end after a few years) and moved to California.
Bennett also began to enter beauty pageants for Indian women, and, in this distinctly feminine realm, she achieved success. In 1953, she became "Queen" of the Flagstaff Indian Powwow, and in 1954, she represented Navajo women as a finalist in the "Miss Indian America" contest in Sheridan, Wyoming. Local coverage of the 1953 Intertribal Ceremonial reported on Bennett's looks and accomplishments:</p> <pre> She has broken with the past in many respects, but she still clings to the traditional mode of dress.... Noted for both her beauty and her clear soprano voice, [she] chooses the bright velvet squaw blouse and full ankle-length skirt as most becoming. And like her ancestors, she tops off the costume with silver and turquoise jewelry. (32) </pre> <p>In 1954, a New Mexico newspaper reported that Bennett had appeared on the television show Queen for a Day and inspired more fan mail than the show had ever received for any prior guest. Bennett won viewers over when she spoke up from the audience to request a stove for her "grandmother" who had been cooking all her life over an open fire. The show's sponsors apparently gave Bennett the "stove, a set of Club aluminum cooking ware and an electric perculator [sic] for her grandmother." (33)
Bennett's decision, in this moment of attention, to refer to the woman who was more likely her mother as her grandmother--and not to refer to her own daughters at all--suggests that she wanted to fashion her image as a "young" woman. But it also shows her ability to predict which features of her identity the mainstream media would seize upon. The Gallup-area newspaper that printed this article could not praise Bennett's accomplishments without implicitly criticizing other American Indians: "Kay is not always the Navajo entertainer. She is a modern girl, well dressed and cultured with a vivid, charming personality. She has faced and overcome many difficulties all intelligent, ambitious Indians face when they leave the vastness of the reservation to make a place for themselves in the world." (34) Like Velarde's early moments in the Anglo media spotlight, Bennett's initial brushes with publicity emphasized her supposed embodiment of "Indian" femininity and the qualities of a "good Indian" making her way in the "white man's world." Taking part in events that seemed to be competitions to determine who could be the most "feminine" and the most "Indian" at the same time, competitions that based such determinations on non-Indian standards, must have helped Bennett to develop a public image that, like Velarde's, seemed to promise authenticity and assimilation at the same time.
In 1956, Kay married Russ Bennett, an Anglo who had grown up in Missouri. When they met, Russ was working as an engineer on the construction of Interstate 40 through Gallup, and she was working there in a drugstore. This marriage provided Kay with the financial and emotional stability she had been pursuing all of her adult life--and it also served, for non-Indian audiences, as a vivid testament to Bennett's appropriateness as an Anglo-Indian intermediary. After marrying Russ, Kay began writing a book about her childhood. Kaibah: Recollection of a Navajo Girlhood, published in 1964, is a third-person account of "Kaibah's" (Kay's given name) experiences in the 1930s. Some of the events she depicts are tragic, such as when a school superintendent takes Kaibah and her siblings to school against her mother's will; and some are empowering, such as when Kaibah learns to care for and increase her family's sheep herds. The book provides insight into a child's life in a lost world--one that ends, like the book itself, abruptly, when Kaibah decides to leave the reservation for better opportunities in Los Angeles. "Life on the Navajo reservation did not provide all the luxuries of the city," the narrator tells readers when introducing Kaibah's story, "but the people were happy. They lived an uncomplicated existence, free from the worries which beset most people who live and work in urban communities." (35) Though undoubtedly romantic about reservation life, Kaibah is also a book that offers implicit criticism of forced efforts at assimilation.
Bennett continued writing history in her second book, which she cowrote with her husband and published in 1969. A Navajo Saga follows characters based on Kay's family through the "Long Walk" era of 1864 to 1868, when federal troops forced at least nine thousand Navajos to leave their homeland for a disastrous experience at a reservation in eastern New Mexico. The book also offers commentary on contemporary notions of "Indianness" and American Indian affairs, as reflected by these introductory remarks:</p> <pre> Actually, there are few pure-blooded Indians or Spanish people in the Southwest.... There is little difference between the people with Indian blood who are wards and those who are non-wards of the United States, except that the former are told they are not capable of self- government, and the latter share in governing the states in which they live. (36) </pre> <p>Later in the book, the Bennetts challenged readers' cultural assumptions by including the story of Kay's Mexican grandfather, thus disputing the idea that Navajo identity stemmed from "pure blood."
As in Velarde's case, press coverage of Bennett's books shifted between portraying her as authentically native and reassuringly passive, despite clear messages to the contrary in her books. Both her publisher and review articles frequently presented Bennett as a "full-blooded" authentic Navajo (completely ignoring her grandfather's Mexican heritage) who had nevertheless adapted to modern life. They also depicted her marriage to an Anglo man as her most visible endorsement of assimilation. Soon after the 1964 publication of Kaibah, the Women's Section of the Scottsdale Daily Progress featured an in-depth interview with Bennett spotlighting her ability to juggle the "new" and the "old" gracefully. "Navajo Writes about Navajos" began auspiciously: "Mrs. Russell C. Bennett is a full-blooded Navajo and the first member of her colorful Northeastern Arizona tribe ever to have written a book." Bennett emerged in the interview as a Navajo renegade of sorts--as much through her own statements as in the way the article's author frames her. "I may drive a Cadillac and wear contemporary clothes instead of traditional velvet tunics and gathered skirts when I return to my old mother's hogan at Sheepsprings, N.M.," Bennett reportedly said, "but that does not make her words of wisdom nor the practices of the medicine men any less valid for me. What is invalid is living in a mud hut and tending sheep. That is not my way of life and I cannot accept it."
Reading the article today, one is struck by Bennett's apparent bitterness toward her difficult youth, but perhaps what is even more striking is the article's deliberate smoothing over of the difficulties Bennett clearly implies that she had experienced. The review acknowledged that Bennett's memoir tells stories of the harsh years of the Stock Reduction Era, but it also described her book as a "no-sweat little volume, written with the charm and warmth of most reminiscent stories of past days." While the article praised the book as being the first one "written by someone who actually lived in a hogan," it also implied that Bennett's work was of interest because "Mrs. Bennett lives in an apartment in Gallup with her non-Indian engineer husband. With him, she has traveled the major capitols [sic] of the world and now can look at her tribe with an objective perspective few others can boast." (37)
This implication of "respectability" earned Bennett praise in other arenas as well: in 1968, Bennett received New Mexico's "Mother of the Year" award, a first for an American Indian woman. Bennett's daughters were grown by this time, and publicity for the award focused more on her public achievements than what were, in actuality, her quite difficult experiences as a mother. Though her marriage ostensibly had nothing to do with the award, it is unlikely Bennett would have received it had she not been married, at this time, to a "respectable" man.
In the eyes of some, Bennett's marriage, interpreted as a preference for non-Navajo life, made her the perfect candidate to represent and write about Navajo identity. For example, an Albuquerque Tribune review of Kaibah did not specifically mention Bennett's husband but did reassure readers that "Mrs. Bennett" has "no axe to grind in her book." According to this impressed reviewer, the memoir "expresses sympathetic understanding of all points of view" even as it shows how Bennett "comprehends" the issues it presents "as only the Navajo people can." (38) One wonders if reviewers would have blatantly ignored the criticisms of the stock reduction program Kay had included in the book had she not been married to Russ or had she not been so willing to discuss her Cadillac and her aversion to raising sheep for a living. The fact that Bennett's books focused on past tragedies, those of the "Long Walk" and the stock reduction years, rather than what was happening during the Termination Era, likely made it possible for reviewers to focus on her "authentic" links to a tragic past rather than her contemporary political perspective.
This focus on authenticity becomes especially apparent in reviews of A Navajo Saga, the book that actually listed Kay and Russ as coauthors, though Russ had likely also contributed to Kaibah. Rather than noting the significance of the fact that this interethnic couple had worked together to create a critical account of the Long Walk tragedy, reviewers zoomed in on how the collaboration ensured the book's value because it combined the voice of a "real" Navajo with that of an Anglo analyst. As noted above, jointly authored American Indian autobiographies, in which an American Indian gave his or her story to an Anglo intermediary who wrote or edited the book for an Anglo audience, were popular during this time. Writing in 1971, John G. Neihardt, who insisted that his Oglala subject spoke "through" him, proclaimed that Black Elk Speaks had become, since its 1961 republication, famous "throughout the United States and also in Europe," and that the "old prophet's wish that I bring his message to the world is actually being fulfilled." (39)
Responses to the Bennetts' book indicate that readers found their quite different format appealing because it layered an "authentic" Navajo voice with an "authoritative" Anglo one: Anglo readers could get close to Indian life but also feel assured that they were getting an "objective" account. Still, there is some variation in the ways in which reviewers dealt with the Bennetts' collaboration. An Albuquerque Tribune review reported that the authors presented the story of tragedies faced by Navajos "without bitterness even though from a conquered people's point of view," describing "Mrs. Bennett" as well known in New Mexico as a Navajo doll maker and singer" and "her husband, an engineer," as someone who "did much of the research for the book," (40) While this emphasis on Russ's scientific profession shows one reviewer's sense that "research," not lived experience, provided the driving force of the book's validity, a brief review of A Navajo Saga in the "Southwestern Bookshelf" feature of New Mexico magazine praised Bennett's heritage (calling her a "great granddaughter of a Navajo clan chief"), mentioned her awards, and then added, only offhandedly, that Russ Bennett "collaborated with research on the non-Indian phases of the book." (41) The book's preface makes no reference to its joint ownership and the exact way the authors divided the work. Reviewers, then, seem to have been left to make their own inferences about the issue. In both of the above cases, however, the reference to the collaboration focused on the book's basis in verifiable "research." Bennett's experiences qualified the book as "real" but Russ's work, either as assistant or as the book's main "engineer," ensured its "truth."
In other words, as in Velarde's case, Bennett's marriage enhanced her ability to speak to Anglo audiences in this era. Just as reviews of Velarde's work simultaneously attempted to establish her as both a "real Indian" and a wife to an Anglo man (even after her marriage had ended), reviews of the Bennetts' collaboration show how Anglos in this time period wanted "authenticity" but preferred it in a nonthreatening form. A non-Indian reader seeking the Indian experience might turn to Black Elk Speaks or to more recent works in which Anglo editors filtered the life stories of American Indians. But one might also turn to the writing of Velarde or the Bennetts: these promised readers a new manifestation of the author-informant relationship, one in which the marriage of an Indian woman to an Anglo man indicated true intimacy to a "real" Indian even as it also implied submission to the "ways of the white man." The fact that reviewers seem to have overlooked the Bennetts' criticism of Indian policy indicates their intense desire to see Kay not only as a link to the "authentic" past she wrote about but also as a woman whose life justified the present termination-orientation course of U.S. Indian policy.
NOT AUTHENTIC ENOUGH: THE CHANGING STATUS OF ANGLO-INDIAN INTERMARRIAGE
The ability of Bennett and Velarde to appeal to the contradictory desires of their contemporary reading audiences rested in their tenuous capacity to appear to be simultaneously traditional and assimilation-oriented. As their words in these press features reveal, Velarde and Bennett were aware of this contradiction, and they fluctuated between emphasizing either their traditionalism or their unconventionality, depending on which trait seemed most appropriate and advantageous at the time. Bennett, for example, managed to mention her Cadillac and her adherence to the teachings of medicine men in the same sentence. Employing a similar strategy, Velarde used a feature story in New Mexico magazine as an opportunity to refute critics who called her work "modern" even as she also asserted her right to paint, despite disapproval at Santa Clara. "How can anything so ancient," Velarde responded when questioned about this issue, "be referred to as modern?" (42) Clearly, the traditional-vs.-modern contradictions in these women's words speak to the very real circumstances of their lives.
Interestingly, this duality does not exist in the works Velarde and Bennett wrote and published--works where they, rather than the news media, had control over what they were saying, works that maintained a fairly strict focus on "traditional" content. In this respect, it may be tempting to dismiss the books as fulfilling the kinds of idealistic visions of American Indian life held by many Anglo Americans (and reinforced by publishers). Perhaps this is why these books and their authors have received little scholarly attention, even though their innovative combinations of personal stories with community ones anticipate the kinds of "Indian autobiographies" written by authors like N. Scott Momaday (Kiowa) and Leslie Marmon Silko (Laguna Pueblo) that would gain critical praise and wide readership in the years to come.
But these authors' choices of what to leave out of their books also may demonstrate a desire to exercise more control over their public images. Omitting references to their marriages to Anglos from their autobiographical books allowed them to state indirectly that American Indian women who marry Anglos do not lose their claim to being "traditional" and "authentic." Becoming wives of Anglo men, their writings implied, did not prevent them from continuing to be American Indian individuals. During the early 1960s, this omission could still play a part in boosting their images, because their books' emphasis on maintaining cultural integrity was offset by their marriages, which assuaged any anxiety about cultural radicalism through the assimilation they implied.
By the end of the 1960s, however, Anglo Americans seem to have become less sure about the goals of the assimilation process they had once praised in Velarde and Bennett. While the Civil Rights Movement and its focus on the struggle of African Americans certainly contributed to the changing attitude towards Indianness, the rise of a countercultural movement that prioritized "authentic" experience may have had an even greater effect. "Freedom Riders" went to the South to press for integration for African Americans; American Indians were more likely to encounter young Anglo Americans who wanted to live "among" them. For example, actor Dennis Hopper, who came to New Mexico while filming Easy Rider (1969), bought the house of Mabel Dodge Luhan in 1970 in an effort to establish a countercultural center in Taos. He came at the same time as many other young Anglos, all of them seeking, like Luhan before them, "reality": according to Lois Rudnick, by 1970 there were at least twenty-seven communes in Taos County, "one of the largest geographical concentrations in the nation." (43) Both within New Mexico and in the nation at large, the idea of "real" Indians, uncorrupted by conquest--or, by implication, intermarriage--gained appeal. Like Luhan in the 1930s, counterculturalists of the 1960s, who came to have a profound influence on how Americans in general viewed Indians, seem to have believed that Anglo intimacy with Indians would invigorate Anglos but corrupt Indians. Thus, it is not surprising that even as Black Elk Speaks, in which a living Anglo author proclaimed that an "old prophet" had spoken "through" him, soared in popularity, Velarde and Bennett's books faded from public notice. (44)
From the perspective of American Indian communities and authors emerging from those communities in the 1960s, non-Indians' reinvigorated approach to an essentialist view of Indians may have offered welcome respite from the Termination Era emphasis on inevitable assimilation, but it achieved little in the way of actual improvement of daily circumstances for Indian people. While Anglo Americans paid attention, at least initially, to the occupation of Alcatraz Island by American Indian activists from 1969 to 1971, the day-to-day efforts by American Indians to regain measures of community sovereignty in the wake of the damage done by Termination Era policies attracted less attention. As Indian activist Vine Deloria, Jr. (the father of Philip J. Deloria) noted in 1969, perceptions among non-Indians that Indian culture had been "ruined" served as "excuses for Indian failures." (45) Moreover, to those less inclined to view even "ruined" Indian culture sympathetically, as Peter Iverson notes, "assimilation and economic progress" could remain "higher priorities than maintenance of traditional Native subsistence or assertions of Native sovereignty." To illustrate how this contradiction could work in a popular climate that had shifted toward an essentialist view of Indians, Iverson cites the example of a U.S. Senator, Henry Jackson of Washington, who between 1968 and 1971 could rely on the perception of justice done when he led the fight to settle Indian land claims in Alaska that would facilitate the construction of the oil pipeline there, while simultaneously opposing the return of the sacred site Blue Lake to Taos Pueblo, on the grounds that this land (and its lumber) was better off in the hands of the U.S. Forest Service. Taos did win this battle, in part because the spiritual leader of the pueblo, in Iverson's words a "small, old, dignified man," made an effective television spokesperson to an Anglo audience interested in preserving authentic cultures. (46) In this climate, one in which efforts to infringe upon tribal sovereignty could potentially be masked by an interest in preserving "real" Indian culture, it is not surprising that American Indian communities responded by bringing not only demonstrations of protest but also legal mechanisms to their efforts to maintain themselves as they saw fit.
Such transformations in Anglo attitudes toward Indianness and the accompanying reaction by American Indian communities made Velarde's and Bennett's links to Anglo culture newly suspect. No longer ensuring their status as suitable focal points for Anglo attention to Native cultures, their marriages to Anglo men could now brand them as "not authentic enough." While increased Anglo interest in American Indian traditions brought new Anglo attention to the traditions of Velarde and Bennett's communities of origin, it also produced disdain for the kinds of real-life accommodations Velarde and Bennett had made in order to bring those traditions to the attention of the American public--not only among Anglo audiences but also among American Indians, who increasingly demanded public representations of their cultures that reflected a more explicit focus on protest than that offered by the work of Bennett and Velarde and a more protective view of Indian culture than that demonstrated by their cross-cultural lives.
Bennett, for example, experienced a marked decrease of interest in her work. Her books were both out of print by 1985, when she republished Kaibah independently. Perhaps the Anglo audience that had originally welcomed the writings of an American Indian woman who had married an Anglo man had become more interested in books that either emphasized transcendent spirituality or took a more direct approach at attacking racist policies. While this book might have, in turn, experienced new interest among American Indian scholars tracing Navajo literary and cultural history, it has instead been dismissed by one critic as "romantic," perhaps because, unlike the books about Qoyawayma and Sekaquaptewa, it ended when Bennett first left the reservation, rather than dealing with the changes she faced afterwards. (47) Kaibah, a children's book, no longer served as the lens through which American Indians and non-Indians alike wanted to view Navajo culture, and it is likely that awareness of Bennett's marriage to an Anglo only intensified such perceptions. Critics who reviewed Bennett's books when they were published ignored the criticisms she made of Indian policy because they were determined to see her as nonthreatening--later readers may have ignored them because they didn't see Bennett as threatening enough.
Velarde also experienced a change in her reputation. In 1971, art critic J. J. Brody published an attack on the "studio style" of American Indian painting through which Velarde had established her career. In Indian Painters and White Patrons, Brody argued that Velarde and other students of Santa Fe Indian School teacher Dorothy Dunn, many of whom were by now well-established artists, were in fact not true Indian artists but merely those who had adopted the European genre of easel painting in "meek acceptance" of Anglo ideas about what Indian painting should look like. (48) Art critics of the 1960s hailed instead the more confrontational style of painters like T. C. Cannon (Kiowa-Caddo) or Fritz Scholder (Luiseno), or even the work of Velarde's daughter, Helen Hardin, who created abstract, stylized images that drew from Pueblo imagery but that also asserted (as Hardin would do vocally herself) her independence from tradition. (49) In essence, Brody attacked the very same quality that had made Velarde attractive to earlier audiences: her ability to embody Indianness while also demonstrating adaptability to non-Indian culture, both through her marriage and through the formats in which she painted and wrote about Santa Clara. In the wake of 1960s militant social movements, both by Anglo counterculturalists and Indian activists, the same nonthreatening feminine persona that once appealed to non-Indian audiences now became a potential symbol of inauthenticity.
But Velarde's painting and her public image have weathered such criticism. Though some might argue that her work has endured precisely because of the qualities that Brody attacked, the fact that Velarde succeeded to a greater extent than Bennett in maintaining interest in her work illustrates her willingness to embrace another image that audiences found appealing: that of the independent woman. In the 1970s and 1980s, the same publications that characterized "Mrs. Herbert Hardin" as a "feminine" painter in earlier years began to emphasize her departures from Pueblo tradition and did not hesitate to refer to her divorce from Hardin. Though Velarde might not call herself a feminist, she has spoken openly with interviewers about the opposition she faced from both the Santa Clara community and her husband regarding her painting career, and as a result, she was increasingly portrayed as a feminist pioneer for the American Indian art world. In 1979, El Palacio, the same magazine that described Velarde's "pleasant home" and mothering strategies in the 1950s, featured Velarde in an article on "Pioneering Women of New Mexico," proclaiming that her life could serve as an example to "today's 'liberated' women." (50) "Painting took me out of a shell," Velarde disclosed in a 1985 Albuquerque Journal story. "I've become--well ... sort of brazen." (51) As if to avoid making her seem too brazen, the reporter was careful to detail the somewhat measured way in which she made this statement. Velarde's charm now lay in her ability to represent a new image, that of the once meek Indian woman who now stood up for herself.
Portrayals of Velarde's work in the 1990s increasingly seized upon her departures from tradition as keys to understanding her work. Estimations of her art continued to emphasize, as they had in the first years of her career, her distinct contribution as a woman who succeeded in a field "dominated by men." (52) But such recognition now focused on her assertiveness rather than her "delicacy," even though her artwork had, in fact, changed little in style. The Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian in Santa Fe hosted a retrospective exhibit of her work in 1993. Its title, "Woman's Work," alluded to conventional ideas of gender but actually relied upon Velarde's rejection of such roles for meaning: "Painting was not considered woman's work in my time," the exhibition catalog quoted her as saying. "A woman was supposed to just be a woman, like a housewife and a mother and chief cook. Those were the things I wasn't interested in." (53) Numerous "human interest" profiles of Velarde's work in this decade emphasized what one magazine called her "spunk and sparkle." (54) A feature in the prominent tourism-oriented New Mexico magazine went so far as to describe Velarde's career as a process of rebellion: Pablita had responded to criticism at Santa Clara by becoming a "sharp-tongued," "rebellious," and "irrepressible" woman who "knocked down [walls] of tradition." (55)
On the one hand, such portrayals provided a way of echoing the themes of Velarde's earlier experiences with the press. If perceived as a "brazen" woman, Velarde broke from Anglo stereotypes of American Indian women as docile or dominated and thus again could be seen as similar enough to "liberated" Anglo women to be an acceptable focus of attention. But, on the other hand, her continual focus on Santa Clara themes in her work--and the re-issuing of Old Father Story Teller by a Santa Fe press in 1989--continued to grant her status as a spokeswoman for "authenticity." In a way, what Velarde managed to do in the 1980s and '90s was not so different from what she had done in earlier years: she appealed to non-Indian desires to see her simultaneously as both reassuringly similar and authentically different. (56)
This contradiction seems unsustainable in print, and it did, in fact, take a toll on Velarde personally. Part of the process of developing her feminist image was an increased distancing from Santa Clara Pueblo, which understandably and predictably often resisted the kinds of breaks with tradition that she advocated, especially when they seemed to emerge from an Anglo culture with little understanding or concern for the actual lives of American Indians. Feminism, as two scholars of American Indian women's literature have noted, seemed rooted in ideals that were irrelevant to people who needed to devote "their energies to keeping families intact, getting jobs, and fighting the political battles of their people." (57) Velarde experienced such resistance, not only to feminism but also to women who seemed to embody its principles, and she noted in our interview that she believed the objections to the ethnographic project she attempted to start at Santa Clara in the 1960s stemmed from her identity as an independent woman as much as concerns about community privacy. (58) Velarde also struggled with the fact that her children, born from her marriage to someone from outside Santa Clara, could not inherit her land at the Pueblo. Another Santa Clara woman would challenge this Santa Clara rule all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1978. The Supreme Court upheld the Santa Clara law, establishing tribal community sovereignty over membership issues. (59) Though people at Santa Clara lacked consensus on this particular issue, they probably agreed that preserving identity, rather than challenging traditional conceptions of it, should be a community priority. The individualism that made Velarde attractive to the Anglo mainstream press as a "bridge between the Indian and non-Indian worlds," as one article put it, made it hard for her to live at Santa Clara. (60)
This complicated intersection of individualism and cultural integrity brought similarly troubling consequences to Bennett in the late 1980s, when she dramatically entered Navajo politics. Her experiences as the first woman to run for the office of Navajo Nation Chairman in 1986 illustrate her determination to continue her career as a Navajo public figure, but they also show that this effort would be an uphill battle, not only because she was a woman, but also because she was someone who had established her distance from the Navajo community through her marriage, her career, and her willingness to depart from a traditional lifestyle. She undertook her 1986 effort, soon after her husband's death, more than aware that her chances were slim but hoping, according to one friend, to "shake up" voters and (mostly male) government officials. (61) Though she was initially dismissed as unqualified due to political inexperience, Bennett had in fact spent time in politics. In addition to her work in various community service positions, she had run unsuccessfully as the Republican candidate for the McKinley County, New Mexico, assessor's office in 1968, and from 1969 to 1973, she had served as a governor-appointed member of New Mexico's Human Rights Commission. In 1974, when she served as exhibits chair of the Inter-Tribal Ceremonial in Gallup, she publicly opposed a boycott against this showcase of Indian arts and crafts called for by activist groups such as the American Indian Movement. In a newspaper interview, she countered the boycotters' charge of exploitation by asserting that Indian communities benefited economically from the event. (62) Bennett's record of political involvement may have been so quickly dismissed by observers of the 1986 election because it illustrated a political outlook that seemed to endorse assimilation, a stance likely also perceived in her marriage.
Moreover, Bennett was perceived as departing from Navajo ideals of femininity, and in this respect her near-complete lack of votes in the 1986 election was hardly surprising, given that she competed in a field of candidates dominated by men with long-running careers in Navajo electoral politics. The cool response to her message seemed to be grounded in a general unwillingness to see women as political leaders (not just in a Navajo context, but in the U.S. at large) as well as hesitance about her experience and outlook. (63) Bennett sensed this strongly enough to publish a "Position on Issues Affecting Women," in which she affirmed that she was, like "most Navajo women," traditional and "conservative." Nevertheless, she stated, she believed women were "underappreciated" and staked out her campaign as one to correct that problem. (64)
Election officials initially disqualified Bennett as a candidate for the 1986 election, questioning her candidacy because she was not an established resident of the reservation and she had never served as a Navajo Nation elected official or employee. (65) Bennett, who used a press conference to speak out against the ruling, urged the Board to consider ways in which her career as a performer and writer had served the Navajo people. "Every [Navajo] beauty queen," she challenged, "is singing my songs at fairs." (66) The board eventually allowed her to reenter the election, but she endured a similar process of scrutiny in 1990, when she again applied for certification as a candidate for the Navajo Nation's highest office. Bennett's recurring efforts to fight not only for her right to run for office but also her status as a "real" Navajo show that she was determined to maintain the image she had gained in Anglo media attention in the 1960s; however, in a post-1960s era, the characteristics that had once made that image possible now distanced her from other Navajos.
Despite Bennett's experiences, the Navajo community has had and continues to have a strong tradition of women's leadership. During one of Bennetts disputed election campaigns, one woman, Genevieve Jackson, wrote to the Navajo Times to express her support for the idea of a woman as leader, eloquently voicing sentiments she perceived as widely held. "A Navajo woman is the best kind of leader," Jackson wrote, "because she has experienced the pain of childbirth and life. She is the daily arbitrator in her family's life and constantly makes sacrifices so her family members can have better or more. Thus she is in a better position to be logical, firm, consistent, and yet temper her decisions with gentleness and love." (67) Like Bennett, this writer rooted her faith in Navajo women's leadership in "traditional" values. And, in fact, one of Bennett's contemporaries, Annie Wauneka, did succeed in transforming such traditionally feminine duties into an elected leadership position: the daughter of a chairman of the tribal council, Wauneka led campaigns to improve health and education in the Navajo Nation, and served on the Tribal Council as early as 1951. Bennett inherited no such political clout and, like many other Navajos during the times of Livestock Reduction and Termination Policy, had to leave the Navajo Nation to support herself and, eventually, to build her career as a "spokeswoman." In 1997, when the two women died within a few weeks of each other, both were mourned as women who had played an important part in Navajo history; but whereas Bennett's obituaries portrayed her as a "path-breaker," Wauneka was memorialized as a "good grandma" and the "matriarch of the Navajo Nation." (68) Bennett did not easily fulfill the image of a grandmotherly leader. And, unlike Velarde, she did not proclaim herself to be liberated from the Navajo community, but, rather, quite painfully sought its endorsement. Bennett continued to make her mark on public affairs, and her election campaign did receive publicity, but she seems to have had trouble negotiating the binary notion of identity that emerged from post-1960s definitions of Indian identity: she had either to be Navajo in all ways or not be Navajo at all.
A feminist identity seems to have provided Velarde with a means of transcending this dilemma, but not without the same costs to community participation experienced by Bennett. As a result, their varying success in both establishing and continuing public careers illustrates the particular challenges faced by American Indian women who hope both to remain active participants in their communities of origin and to enter the broader American culture. Their life choices, especially their marriages to Anglo men, ensured their initial appeal peal to non-Indians, but changing ideas about assimilation ultimately affected their ability to appear "authentic" in the eyes of both Indians and non-Indians. While their experiences are hardly typical, attempting to understand how changing ideas about Indianness and femininity shaped their time in the public eye makes it possible to better understand the lives of all women who struggle to be part of more than one culture. Velarde and Bennett's marriages provide a convenient way of tracing how changing ideas about assimilation and authenticity affected their careers, but ultimately their stories show how each marriage formed only part of their much larger cross-cultural experiences.
Scholarship about American Indian women's lives has emphasized the extent to which they have served as "negotiators of change," demonstrating what historian Nancy Shoemaker has describes as an ongoing process through which Indian women have "actively, creatively, and often successfully resisted marginality" by "responding to the changing world around them" and resisting "conform[ity] to the Euro-American gender ideal." (69) Clearly, Velarde and Bennett undertook such resistance when they attempted both to fulfill and to manipulate the expectations of gender that surrounded them, expectations complicated by their interethnic marriages and the time they spent away from their communities of origin. It is worth emphasizing, however, that both women wanted to focus broad attention not on their difficulties in crossing cultural boundaries, but instead on the communities in which they had grown up and for which they still held great affection. Thus, tradition became the tool with which they undertook their efforts to define themselves in a climate of contradictory expectations. The extensive lengths to which they went to do so show, on the one hand, the continuing power of authentic tradition as an ideal, even in a context of significant changes in the history of how non-Indians perceive Indians and their place in American culture. But on the other hand, their efforts also show active participation by American Indian women in an ongoing dialogue about tradition and change, as well as their frustration with the limitations imposed by viewing culture in these binary terms. The story of Mabel Dodge Luhan's marriage will likely endure as a symbol of an Anglo American quest for the ideal of authenticity: the stories of Velarde and Bennett's marriages testify to the need to consider the limitations of this ideal.
The author would like to express her thanks to Pablita Velarde for her interview comments; to Leilah Danielson, Desley Deacon, Carolyn Thomas de la Pena, Lois Rud-nick, the journal's editors and anonymous outside readers for their suggestions on this article; and to Nancy Reed, James Reed, and Patrick Walsh for their help with its completion.
1. "Anglo," a term commonly used in New Mexico, describes white Americans of non-Hispanic origin. I use this term here, rather than "white," because it acknowledges the distinct sets of ethnic dynamics that existed among the three dominant ethnic groups in New Mexico. Whenever possible, I refer to specific community affiliation of American Indian people; where a more generic term is warranted, I use American Indian because it reflects the terminology Pablita Velarde and Kay Bennett preferred as well as contemporary usage by indigenous peoples in the United States.
2. Lois Palken Rudnick, Luhan's biographer, describes Luhan's memoirs as a "conversion narrative" that reverses the genre's racial associations for captivity and liberation. Rudnick, Mabel Dodge Luhan: New Woman, New Worlds (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1984), 256.
3. Mabel Dodge Luhan, Edge of Taos Desert: An Escape to Reality, vol. 4, Intimate Memories (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1937), 298. Luhan's other book depicting her marriage is Winter in Taos (New York: Harcourt, Brace, and Co., 1935).
4. Mabel Dodge Luhan to John Collier, Nov. 30, 1933, John Collier Papers, Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library, New Haven, CT, Microfilm Edition (Sanford, ND: Microfilming Corporation of America, 1980), Reel 15.
5. Polingaysi Qoyawayma, No Turning Back: A True Account of a Hopi Indian Girl's Struggle to Bridge the Gap Between the World of Her People and the World of the White Man, ed. Vada F. Carlson (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1964); and Helen Sekaquaptewa, Me and Mine: The Life Story of Helen Sekaquaptewa, ed. Louise Udall (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1969).
6. Hertha Dawn Wong, Sending My Heart Back Across the Years: Tradition and Innovation in Native American Autobiography (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), 118.
7. John G. Neihardt, Black Elk Speaks, Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux (as told through John G. Neihardt) (1932; 1961; repr., New York: Pocket Books, 1972).
8. For accounts of Velarde's life, see Marcella Ruch, Pablita Velarde: Painting Her People (Albuquerque: New Mexico Magazine, 2001); Sally Hyer, "Pablita Velarde: The Pueblo Artist as Cultural Broker," in Between Indian and White Worlds: The Cultural Broker, ed. Margaret Connell Szasz (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1994), 272-293; and Maureen E. Reed, A Woman's Place: Women Writing New Mexico (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2005).
9. Pablita Velarde, Old Father the Story Teller (Globe, AZ: Dale Stuart King, 1960). The book was republished with a slightly revised title: Old Father Story Teller (Santa Fe: Clear Light Publishers, 1989).
10. D. Hancock, "About Pablita and Her Legends," introduction to Old Father the Story Teller, 13.
11. Pablita Velarde, foreword to Old Father, v.
12. For the story of Dunn's influence on the style and standards of American Indian easel painting, see Bruce Bernstein and W. Jackson Rushing, Modern by Tradition: American Indian Painting in the Studio Style (Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico Press, 1995).
13. Olive Rush, "Remarkable Paintings by Indians at Art Museum," Santa Fe New Mexican, May 7, 1934, 4.
14. Olive Rush, "Indian Students Show Work," Santa Fe New Mexican, May 4, 1933, 4.
15. Velarde recalled the families' initial opposition when I interviewed her in 1998 as well as in a book recently published about her life. Pablita Velarde, interview with the author, Albuquerque, NM, Nov. 7, 1998; Ruch, Pablita Velarde, 52.
16. Philip J. Deloria, Playing Indian (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), 129.
17. Dorothy Dunn, "Pablita Velarde: Painter of Pueblo Life," El Palacio 59 (November 1952): 340.
18. Flo Wilks, "Rain Gods Bless the Pueblo Soil in Painting by Pablita Velarde," Albuquerque Journal, May 16, 1954, 16.
19. W. Thetford LeViness, "Pablita of Santa Clara Pueblo," Desert, Sept. 1956, 26.
20. Philip J. Deloria, Playing Indian, 150.
21. Sally Hyer, "Woman's Work": The Art of Pablita Velarde, Exhibition Catalog (Santa Fe: Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, 1993), 15.
22. Lela and Rufus Waltrip, Indian Women: Thirteen Who Played a Part in the History of America From Earliest Days to Now (New York: McKay, 1964), 159.
23. Velarde, interview with the author.
25. Ruch, Pablita Velarde, 60.
26. Velarde, Old Father Story Teller, 31.
27. "Pablita Velarde: Indian Artist of the Red Earth Country," New Mexico, Dec. 1960, 11-12.
28. Lela and Rufus Waltrip, Indian Women, 162.
29. For an account of the life of Kay Curley [Kelleywood] [Price] Bennett, see Reed, A Woman's Place. Biographical information included here is derived from Kay Bennett Scrapbook, Private Collection; and Kay Kelleywood [Bennett] Personnel File, Civilian Personnel Records, National Personnel Records Center, National Archives and Records Administration, St. Louis, Missouri.
30. Indian communities voted individually on whether to accept the terms of the "Indian New Deal" (also known as the Indian Reorganization Act, or IRA, and the Wheeler Howard Act), which generally concerned issues of self-government, education, land, and judicial administration. The fact that the Navajo community rejected these terms (albeit by a close margin) was especially significant given their status as the largest Indian community in the U.S. By contrast, Santa Clara was one of the eighteen (out of nineteen) New Mexico Pueblo communities that supported the measure, as did the Hopi community in Arizona.
31. Peter Iverson, Dine: A History of the Navajos (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2002), 193.
32. Caption for photo of Kay Price [Bennett], undated and unattributed article, Kay Bennett Scrapbook, Private Collection.
33. "No More Cooking on Open Reservation Fires," McKinley County (NM) Warrior, April 15, 1954, 1, 4. In this article, Bennett is referred to as "Kay Price," the last name of her second husband. She is also referred to by her performance name, "Princess White Feather."
34. Ibid., 4.
35. Kay Bennett, Kaibah: Recollection of a Navajo Girlhood (Los Angeles: Western-lore, 1964), 11.
36. Ibid., viii.
37. Maggie Wilson, "Navajo Writes about Navajos," Scottsdale Daily Progress, February 15, 1965, 6.
38. Howard Bryan, "Navajo Singer Shows Great Talent as a Writer in Book," Albuquerque Tribune, February 16,1965, A14.
39. Neihardt, Black Elk Speaks, xiii.
40. Howard Bryan, "Understanding, Appreciation: Gallup Woman Writes New Book on Navajos," Albuquerque Tribune, April 3, 1969, F1.
41. Review of A Navajo Saga, by Kay Bennett, New Mexico, Sept./Oct. 1969, 46.
42. "Pablita Velarde: Indian Artist of the Red Earth Country," 12.
43. Lois Palken Rudnick, Utopian Vistas: The Mabel Dodge Luhan House and the American Counterculture (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1996), 11. Rudnick also illustrates the tensions that arose in the Taos area between the "hippies" and Hispanics, partially caused by the "continuing practice of 'selective ethnophilia'" that led counterculturalists to "admir[e] the Taos Indians while denigrating the Hispanics" (230). As in Luhan's time, Anglos perceived Indians as culturally "pure" and thus more deserving of attention than Hispanics, who perceived such attitudes, especially in light of the land they had lost to both Anglo and Indian claims, with hostility.
44. Neihardt, Black Elk Speaks, xiii.
45. Vine Deloria, Jr., Custer Died For Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto (New York: Macmillan, 1969), 87-88.
46. Peter Iverson, "We Are Still Here": American Indians in the Twentieth Century (Wheeling, IL: Harland Davidson, 1998), 139-141, 155.
47. Rayna Green, Native American Women: A Contextual Bibliography (Blooming-ton: Indiana University Press, 1983), 26.
48. J. J. Brody, Indian Painters and White Patrons (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1971), 206.
49. Helen Hardin established her career as a painter in the late 1960s. Unfortunately, her life and work were cut short by breast cancer in 1984. See Jay Scott, Changing Woman: The Life and Art of Helen Hardin (Flagstaff, AZ: Northland Publishing, 1989).
50. Nancy C. Benson, "Pioneering Women of New Mexico," El Palacio 85 (Summer 1979): 37.
51. Kim Anderson, "Earth Yields Harvest of Colors, Textures for Traditional Artist," Albuquerque Journal, Sept. 29, 1985, E1.
52. Joyce M. Szabo, introduction to Pablita Velarde, by Marcella Ruch, 8.
53. Velarde quoted in Hyer, "Woman's Work," 15.
54. I will list several such portrayals in chronological order: Gussie Fauntleroy, "Spunk and Sparkle," Pasatiempo [Sunday magazine of the Santa Fe New Mexican], January 15-23, 1993, 24-26; Sharon Niederman, "Pablita Velarde: The Nourishment of Rocks," Santa Fe Reporter, January 20-26, 1993, 23, 25; Candelora Versace, "Pablita Velarde: Still Dreaming After All These Years," New Mexico, July 1995, 32, 34, 36; and David Steinberg, "A Well-Crafted Life: Half a Century Ago, a Santa Clara Artist Defied Tradition to Paint, and She Hasn't Stopped Since," Albuquerque Journal, June 16, 1996, D1, D4.
55. Versace, "Pablita Velarde," 32, 34.
56. Margaret Jacobs has characterized this process as the inevitable result of Indian artists producing goods for Anglo audiences: it "blunts differences" between Anglos and Indians rather than preserving them. See Margaret Jacobs, Engendered Encounters: Feminism and Pueblo Cultures, 1879-1934 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999), 179.
57. Gretchen M. Bataille and Kathleen Mullen Sands, American Indian Women: Telling Their Lives (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1984), 129.
58. Velarde, interview with the author.
59. For accounts of Martinez v. Santa Clara Pueblo, a case initiated in 1972, see Karen Anderson, Changing Woman: A History of Racial Ethnic Women in Modern America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 83-85; Catherine A. MacKinnon, "Whose Culture? A Case Note on Martinez v. Santa Clara Pueblo" in Feminism Unmodified: Discourses on Life and Law (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987), 63-69; and Iverson, "We Are Still Here," 170.
60. Thorn Mahoney, "Pablita Velarde ... The 'Golden Dawn' of Native American Art," undated article from unknown source, found in Pablita Velarde file of Dorothy Dunn Kramer papers, Archives of the Laboratory of Anthropology/ Museum of Indian Art and Culture, Santa Fe.
61. Martin Link, interview with the author, Gallup, NM, November 11, 1998.
62. Susan Landon, "Leaders Defend Concept of Indian Ceremonials," Albuquerque Journal, May 15, 1974, E1.
63. Bennett won only 103 votes in her 1986 campaign for Navajo Nation chairman, as opposed to the winner and second-place finisher in this primary, who each received over thirty thousand votes. She received only 195 votes (0.43 percent of the total) in her 1990 campaign for Navajo Nation president. The title of the office changed because of a restructuring of the Navajo Nation's government in the interim. For election results, see Bill Donovan, "Odds on the Race," Navajo Times, August 2, 1990, A4 (an article in which Donovan gives Bennett one-hundred-to-one odds); and "Official Results for Candidates Seeking Office of the Navajo Nation President," Navajo Times, August 16, 1990, 6.
64. Kay Bennett, "Position on Issues Affecting Women," election statement printed in Gallup, NM, by Martin Link, 1986.
65. Bill Donovan, "Certification for Three Candidates May Be Held Up Over Residency," Navajo Times, June 16, 1986, 1; Catherine Feher-Elston, "Bennett Shocked by Decision (To Throw Her Off Ballot)," The Gallup Independent, June 26, 1986, 1.
66. Kay Bennett quoted in "MacDonald, Greyhat, Bennett to Appeal Candidacy to Navajo Voters--Bennett: A Tribal Worker for Life," Navajo Times, June 26, 1986, 1.
67. Genevieve Jackson, letter to the editor, Navajo Times July 4, 1990, A4.
68. Deenise Beecenti, "Navajos Will Miss 'Dr. Annie': Many Remember, 'She Was a Good Grandma,'" Navajo Times, Nov. 13, 1997, A1, A2.
69. Nancy Shoemaker, introduction to Negotiators of Change: Historical Perspectives on Native American Women (New York: Routledge, 1995), 20.
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|Title Annotation:||woman's studies|
|Author:||Reed, Maureen E.|
|Publication:||Frontiers: A Journal of Women's Studies|
|Date:||Sep 1, 2005|
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