Ancient Taos speaks of survival

Published 3:46 pm Monday, June 14, 2010

America is scarcely more than 200 years old. Compared to other civilizations, we are still in our infancy.

Most Americans enjoy conveniences like electricity and running water. However, life can instantly seem fragile when tragic events occur. Oil spews into the Gulf, destroying ecosystems, impacting millions of people. Where can a person find a human model for stability in an ever-changing world? Where can we see an example of endurance through hard times?

There is a living example for survivorship. It is the Native Americans of Taos Pueblo, New Mexico, a high desert mountain oasis.

Shelby County resident Roland Lee visited this oldest continuously inhabited community in America, where residents still speak the native language Tiwa.

“These people are the true survivors,” Lee said. “If our way of life were assaulted, as was theirs, would we survive?”

What might we learn from them?

At first glance, a visitor to Taos Pueblo sees architecture like modern condominiums, or Middle Eastern multifamily housing made of thick earthen walls. Original buildings had only rooftop doors, ladders to ascend, pulling up after them. A 10-foot high courtyard wall surrounded the community, which once housed hundreds.

Taos Pueblo was attacked on many fronts, and yet remnants of the ancient “Red Willow” people are still on their homeland, nestled at the foot of snow-capped Taos Mountain on more than 100,000 acres of their land, in adobe (earth and straw) buildings dating back nearly a millennium.

It wasn’t just fellow native enemies who threatened. Spanish invaders came in the 14th century, forcing peaceful farmers into submission to European ways and religion, bringing disease.

The 19th century brought U.S. government domination and the massacre of 250 Taos Pueblo residents, mostly women and children huddled inside a church.

Today, Taos is clearly most threatened by their youth’s migration away from its slower lifestyle, toward big city jobs and a modern world. Only a handful of folks now live in the ancient homes, minus electricity, drawing drinking water from Red Willow Creek with a pail.

Yet, Taos residents remind us Native Americans were in this beautiful country first. Millions of them lived here when Europe invaded. They took only what was needed from nature’s bounty, never fouling water or air, leaving only a few stone artifacts and potshards in their dying wake.

Today, Taos Pueblo speaks of tenacious humanity. During dire events, as told on our daily newscasts, remember simpler times and draw from inner strength given to each of us.