I'm standing inside the visitor's center at the Wupatki National
Monument near Flagstaff, AZ. And feel no pride in my country. Only
In the 1920s, the government took the land I'm standing on, turned it
sideways, shook off the few native people living here, then righted
it again, as a shrine to the very people it threw out.
What I see is a wonderfully colorful edge of the Painted Desert and a
handful of pueblo remains stretching out against a most dramatic sky.
I walk to each structure, and touch one of them. Wow, I'm touching a
pueblo (the one shown above). I remove my hand. I feel like I've
trespassed on someone's home.
And my heart begins to tighten.
Why did we kick them out? Who are we? Neither of us owned this land.
They lived with it. We took it. I took something once. My mother made
me return it.
In brief, here's what happened. The U.S. government took possession of
this land in the 1920s to protect a fascinating history of native
peoples who came together here 800 or years ago ... and no one knows why.
Not yet, anyway. Research is constant and archaeologists are trying to
document what happened here, back around 1250, to cause thousands of people to just leave.
The few people living here at the time were told they could stay
until they died, as long as they didn't interfere with the government
plans. Sure enough, interference occurred and the people booted.
So, we tossed out people to study their ancestors.
OK. Not THE VERY people. The history of this place travels through
centuries, survives a volcano blast, and maybe even a few earthquakes.
We're not really sure which native people populated the place the
most. We have pueblo remains and pottery shards traceable to about 100
Yes, the history is fabulous.
A document online by Martha Ward Blue, a lawyer turned artist,
details the Navaho connection to the Wupatki Basin and examines the
way the land was systematically pulled out from under their feet. By
greed. National greed.
She feels a spiritual connection to this place: "Wupatki is not just a
visual experience for I often wallow in its silence, sniff and taste
the dampness of the air by the river in its spring flooding, and sink
in the cinder sand."