San Ildefonso Pueblo must still prove its “indian-ness”

At the visitor’s office on the Pueblo de San Ildefonso, I met a young Indian woman named Josie. I walked up to the counter and introduced myself as a writer looking for information.

She wasn’t impressed. She just nodded a little.

I said, “OK, well, what I mean is that, my grandmother used to live here on the Pueblo. But something happened here. Something involving the Americans. Maybe around 1920, or so?”

Her eyes turned on. “A lot happened,” she said. “The problem is, our elders can’t remember because they were too young at that time. It’s hard because we don’t remember our own stories. You might want to talk to Myron. He’s trying to research our history, here’s his number. I bet he’s around somewhere, maybe at the Pueblo Office. Good luck,” she said and stamped my visitor pass PAID.

I hadn’t given her a dime.

* * *

I found Myron outside of a makeshift office building. Some Pueblo men were on the roof, staring down at me. Maybe it was a bit of paranoia on my part, but I could’ve sworn they were laughing at me. I didn’t know who was who, so I said, “I’m looking for Myron.”

“That’s me.” He looked younger than me, which came as a surprise. I expected the Cultural Resources Technician to be an old man. I also expected him to have all the answers I needed.

I explained what I was looking for. I told him about my grandmother and about how she lived her on the Pueblo. The men on the roof stared at me and actually laughed.

“I don’t know,” Myron said. “I’ve had problems getting any information. I know that the Spanish people who lived here had to leave, but I don’t know why.”

“Well, I remember my Grandmother telling me something about the Americans coming.”

“Yeah, they did all kinds of stuff. They even came in and surveyed the Pueblo and made us prove that we had proper claim to the land.”

“When was that?”

“Around 1924. We had to do it again in 1974. This land is ancestral and aboriginal, but the American government makes us prove it to them.” He looked at the ground and kicked a rock. The men on the roof of the makeshift building turned away and let their hammers pound the roof. Myron looked up at me and said, “Well, I got to get back to work. Give me your number and if something comes up, I’ll give you a call.”

I wrote my number down on the back of a business card. I knew it would get thrown away.

* * *

I left the Pueblo and thought about what Myron said. If the Pueblo itself had to prove itself to the government, maybe my grandma and grandpa had to do something similar. I had no idea how right my hunch would prove to be and how the path I began would change my life.

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