In my home country of America, I have had the good fortune to live in some of the most beautiful places in this very large piece of land. For ten years, the 1990’s, I made as many trips from my home in the Napa Valley (CA) to Northern Arizona as I possibly could. Some of those trips were for week-long workshops in the desert, and some were to just be there and be a part of the land, and share it with my then very young son, Kyle. I was able to move there in the spring of 1999 and enjoyed the next six years living in the north-central part of the state, in the Verde Valley.
What does this have to do with Scotland?
Sacred lands… invaders… conquerors who forced the indigenous to deny their own culture, and take on the trappings of foreign culture (quite often through torture)… sound familiar?
The biggest difference is that the Indigenous cultures on this continent got to have a couple hundred years more of peace than my ancestors in Scotland did.
1492 heralded the end for the way of life for the Eastern bands in what would become the Americas, but it wasn’t until the late-1600’s that the invaders came, first in the black robes of the priesthood, and then a century later in the blue coats of the cavalry. It wasn’t until the mid-1800’s that whites came to live in the area that we now call Arizona. In what I suppose is one of the earliest graffiti markings in this country, (Mr.) Pauline Weaver carved his name in the walls of Casa Grande, southeast of what is now Phoenix, with the date 1833. He lived peacefully among the different Native Cultures of the Arizona region until his death in 1867 at his home farther north in Camp Verde, Yavapai County, AZ. (Sivan Vah‘Ki: a Hohokam complex built in the 1200s or 1300s, was given the name “Casa Grande”, Big House, by Spanish missionaries. )
Much the same as the various cultural “tribes” of Scotland: the Picts, Scots, Britons and Angles; the Indigenous Cultures of North America lived, fought, blended and survived on, and with, the rhythms of the land. Specifically in Arizona, there are now twenty-two sovereign nations of indigenous peoples who have their roots in the land and in (pre-)history.
The “ancestral Puebloans” as they are now called, replacing the term “Anasazi” which means “enemy ancestor” in Athabaskan, are called “Hisatsinom” by the Hopi. They, along with the Mogollon, Hohokam, Sinagua, and Salado make up the ancient groups that populated the region that is now Arizona. The ancestral Puebloan are known for their cities and cliff dwellings in northern Arizona, the Sinagua for their settlements in the fertile plateau near Flagstaff and the Verde River Valley, and the Hohokam for farming, and developing extensive canal systems for irrigation, in the Gila and Salt River Valleys between Phoenix and Casa Grande. Most of these peoples left the area by 1400 A.D., likely because of a major drought.
Human presence in the Sedona/Verde Valley area dates back to between 11,500-9000 BCE. The first inhabitants were big game hunters, and then there were hunter-gatherers who took advantage of the local resources, remaining in the area longer than in other parts of the American Southwest. The Sinagua came to the area around 650 CE and left again around 1400 CE, joining other clans with the Hopi in Arizona and the Zuni in what is now New Mexico. The nomadic hunter-gatherer Yavapai joined the Sinagua in the Verde Valley around 1300 CE, and then the semi-nomadic Apache arrived around 1450 CE. Both the Yavapai and the Apache were forcibly removed from the Verde Valley in 1876.
Twenty years or so after the Highland Clearances of 1853, the 1500 indigenous people of the Verde Valley were marched, through winter weather (which even in northern Arizona can be quite cold and snowy), 180 miles to the San Carlos Indian Reservation. Several hundred died on the way. The survivors were forced to stay on the reservation where they were not allowed to live in their traditional ways for twenty-five years. In 1900, the 200 or so who were left were allowed to return to their homeland, forming the (combined) Yavapai-Apache Nation.
Slowly, slowly, the People work to re-gain their culture even as they work in the modern world. The Peoples of the Southwest work boldly to overcome the cultural despair brought on by the forced de-culturalizaiton that they have had to endure.
When I walk in their land, I look past the jeep tours and the sprawl, and try to see the messages they have shown us in the land.
Once home to prehistoric ancestral Puebloan and Sinagua Indian farmers and traders, Wupakti (National Monument) is just north of Flagstaff on the wind-swept lands that lie in the shadow of the San Francisco Peaks, a sacred place to all the indigenous peoples of the area. There are more than 2700 archeological sites at Wupakti; the structures all have a distinctive deep red color that comes from being built from thin, flat blocks of the regional Moenkopi sandstone. There are several pueblos at Wupakti, the largest of which is Wupatki Ruin, a Sinagua-constructed three-story pueblo that contains nearly 100 rooms, located in the southeastern portion of the monument.
Another Sinagua pueblo still stands to the south of the San Francisco Peaks in the Verde Valley on the Verde River. The Apache people called the 12th century site, Tuzigoot (Tú Digiz“crooked water”). The largest and best-preserved of the many Sinagua pueblo ruins in the Verde Valley, Tuzigoot is made of the local limestone and sandstone. It has 110 rooms which used only a few doors. Instead, they used trapdoor type openings in the roofs, and used ladders to enter each room.
Farther east across the Verde Valley in a riparian “oasis” along Beaver Creek, Spanish explorers mistakenly believed that they had found the dwelling place of Montezuma, and so they named the Sinagua cliff dwelling that they found “Montezuma’s Castle”—despite the fact that Montezuma was never closer to the site than about 500 miles. A wealth of artifacts were found when the site was excavated, greatly enhancing the understanding of the Sinagua people who inhabited this for over 400 years. Early visitors to the monument were allowed access to the five-story, 45-50 room, pueblo by climbing a series of ladders up the side of the limestone cliffs, but due to the extensive damage that they caused to this valuable cultural landmark, public access of the ruins was discontinued in 1951.
When I lived in the Verde Valley, the view from my house looked across the valley to the red sandstone rock formations of Sedona. The view was especially striking at dawn and at sunset, when the colors of the red rocks would mirage off of the clouds in brilliant oranges, reds, and purples.