Looking for the Wednesday Wanderings? Page back one and find out how an Idea became a Story. Then join me and Alan as we take a look at some elements at modern New Zealand and New Mexico – including the mysterious figure of the pakeha.
ALAN: Last time I told you a little about how the Maori have become part of modern New Zealand. How are things in New Mexico? What are the pueblos like today?
JANE: Today, many of the pueblos still exist. Like all the remaining indigenous peoples, they are recognized as semi-sovereign nations within the United States
ALAN: Wait! I thought “pueblo” was just another word for Native Americans or American Indians or whatever you call them. I think I’m missing something.
JANE: “Pueblo” is actually a Spanish word meaning “town.” The Spanish applied it to those Indian groups they encountered that lived in villages and cultivated farms. There were many such groups, as I mentioned when we were discussing the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, encompassing multiple languages and a wide variety of customs. Still, they had more in common with each other than they did with the more nomadic groups, such as the Apache, Navajo, and Comanche.
Does that help?
ALAN: Thank you – that helps a lot. I hadn’t realised that distinction existed.
JANE: Honestly, I’m not certain how much I realized before I moved to New Mexico. Now it’s more or less second nature.
As I’ve mentioned, the first European-based group to come into the lands now called New Mexico were the Spanish. However, in 1846, the Spanish turned over New Mexico to the United States. In a process far, far too complex for me to go into here, agreements were worked out over time with each group. These agreements included reserving land for the exclusive use of each group. This reserved land became known as “reservations.” With me so far?
ALAN: Yes. But what are the practical implications of that? Doesn’t it imply that there could be several administratively separate semi-sovereign (to use your term) “nations within a nation” as it were? That must lead to some horribly complex legal problems when the two systems interact and overlap.
JANE: Yep! Exactly. New Mexico has within its borders something like twenty reservations. These vary in size from the sprawling Navajo reservation that has territory in both New Mexico and Arizona, to much smaller pueblo holdings. However, even a small reservation encompasses many thousands of acres. The larger tribes – like the Navajo – even have their own police force.
This makes life in New Mexico interesting, because there are large areas that are technically both part of and not part of the state. Planning a road or rail line can become a nightmare, because each reservation must be negotiated with separately – and each tribal government will want concessions, equal to or exceeding those already granted to the other tribes.
ALAN: I just knew it was going to get complicated!
JANE: The thing that is often overlooked when people talk about “Indians” or “Native Americans” is that they are no more one group than Europeans are one group.
ALAN: And here, on the other hand, the Maori really are one group in the same sense that the English are a group or the French are a group.
JANE: That must be convenient! Though, now that I think about it, I’d miss all the different cultures. It’s one of the things I like about New Mexico.
Anyhow, a good way to get a feel for these nations within the nation is to read Tony Hillerman’s mystery novels featuring Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee. Leaphorn and Chee are both Navajo, but the stories touch on many of the tribes and their interactions both with each other and the Anglo world. Jim Chee’s best friend, Cowboy Dashee, is a Hopi. (Despite the nickname “Cowboy,” Dashee is an Indian.) He and Jim frequently tease each other about cultural differences – much as someone from Italy might tease someone from France.
ALAN: We don’t have that degree of separation or of isolation (though some Maori activists do campaign for it). The population of New Zealand is just the population of New Zealand and ethnic heritage gives no special rights or privileges. Though having said that, the country does have three official languages – English, Maori and Sign Language. So, if a Maori is charged with an offence and goes to trial, he can insist that the trial be conducted in Maori, even if none of the court staff speak it! And of course there are social programmes aimed exclusively at Maori in a kind of left-handed, positive discrimination sort of way.
JANE: I love that Sign Language is included… But I’ll resist a tangent and stay on the point.
Certainly the reservation system can lead to isolation, if that is what the residents prefer. However, many Native Americans live and work within the general population. Two of Jim’s and my neighbors are Indians. Jim works with several other Indians. On his last project, his crew included one Comanche/Santa Clara and one Navajo/Zuni. As this shows, the tribes frequently intermarry both within themselves and with non-Indians.
Although this has led to some sharing of cultural traditions, it hasn’t eliminated the sense of distinct nations any more than a French woman marrying an Italian man would dissolve their cultural identities.
ALAN: That’s just as true here – intermarriage between Maori and pakeha is very common and both share many cultural traditions. Nevertheless, Maori retain a distinct cultural and spiritual heritage of their own. Obviously it is based on the language that all Maori share (Te Reo) but many other aspects are also alive and well and positively encouraged and respected by all sides.
JANE: I don’t see what’s “obvious” about it being based in the language. Reason I say this is that my mother is part Italian. She doesn’t speak a word of the language, but that doesn’t keep her from identifying with Italian culture, to the point that she recently fulfilled a lifelong hope to visit Italy and including the area her grandparents came from.
ALAN: Maori regard Te Reo as something that identifies and defines them. Without it, they are diminished. In the mid-twentieth century, Maori children were punished at school if they were caught speaking the language. As a direct result of this, both the language and the culture almost died out. Each requires and depends upon the other. They really are seen as two sides of exactly the same coin.
These days the pendulum has swung almost to the other extreme. In the 1970’s, Maori language pre-schools started to appear. They are known as kohanga reo (there’s that word again) and have been very successful. However, when the pre-schoolers entered the mainstream educational system, they often started to forget their language…
So in the 1980s, total language immersion schools started to appear. They are known as kura kaupapa maori and are designed specifically to promote and revitalize the language and culture. There’s even a TV channel (also called Te Reo) that broadcasts exclusively in Maori and presents shows based firmly in Maori cultural ideas.
JANE: Wow! That’s interesting. We had similar problems with native languages being lost. However, since there are so many more indigenous people here, a program such as the one you mention would not be practical.
I think we need to step back and define the term “pakeha.” As I recall, that’s what the Maori call people of European extraction, right? I did some research on New Zealand for a short story (“Pakeha,” published in Freedom, edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Mark Tier) and I learned that much, but I don’t think I ever found out what the word means.
ALAN: It’s an odd word, and there is still some argument about what it means. It has been in use since at least the early nineteenth century and possibly before. Nobody really knows where it comes from, but Te Ara – The Encyclopedia of New Zealand – suggests that it might derive from pakepakeha (imaginary spiritual beings resembling men) or pakehakeha (one of the sea gods). Both terms might easily be applied to the original European explorers who, I imagine, took the Maori rather by surprise when they first appeared.
JANE: No kidding! Go on…
ALAN: On the other hand, Te Ara also suggests that the word might be related to keha (a flea) or poaka (a pig). The article goes on to say, rather drily, that use of the work pakeha is “in no way derogatory”.
Many New Zealanders of European ancestry have adopted the term enthusiastically. I’m very proud and happy to refer to myself as a pakeha. But some people do object to its use. The census asks people to identify their ethnicity, and the word pakeha is noticeably absent from the list of choices it presents. The word was used in one census but there were so many complaints that it has been replaced with the phrase “New Zealand European.”
JANE: Interesting… Again, in the U.S., we don’t have any similar word. Here in New Mexico, those who are neither Indian nor Spanish tend to be clumped together as “Anglos” – never mind that many of those “Anglos” have no tie to England at all. I’ve even heard people of African extraction referred to as “Anglos” or “black Anglos.”
ALAN: That’s a bit mind boggling!
JANE: That’s New Mexico in a nutshell. Boggling!