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EVERYDAY GREEN / The Oo-Oo-Nah Art Center at Taos Pueblo
Youth are the future of a culture. A modern Native American dilemma is how to blend traditional and contemporary lifeways to forge a future based on time-honored traditions.
Over the past 30 years, the Oo-Oo-Nah Art Center has provided the gift of traditional and contemporary arts to Taos Pueblo’s children, youth, young adults and senior citizens. The center’s history of cultural sharing has been an integral part of that gift.
Oo-Oo-Nah’s approach is unique in Indian Country. The center operates separately from Taos Pueblo government. It was developed and is directed by Marie Reyna, with extensive assistance from tribal members as well as non-Indian volunteers.
The unemployment rate at Taos Pueblo is 11.1 percent—double the New Mexico rate. Income per capita at the pueblo is $14,900, compared to the state per capita of $23,749. Oo-Oo-Nah’s programs address poverty by strengthening cultural retention and making employment in the arts possible for many people.
Teaching the Arts
Worldview relationships with nature and language are learned through the cultural arts. Throughout Taos Pueblo’s history, a wide range of cultural arts, both utilitarian and decorative, have been integrated into everyday life. The arts have also been important to traditional trade, where relationships with other tribes resulted in increased diversity of food, materials, tools and art supplies.
Art making is traditionally taught in the family. The Oo-Oo-Nah Center’s Robert Abeyta Memorial Mentorship Program encourages the family style of teaching, utilizing intergenerational mentoring. Other programs are often jump-started through these classes. The mentorship program focuses on preserving traditional arts such as micaceous pottery-making, buckskin sewing, red willow basketry, jewelry-making, leatherwork (moccasins, knife sheath, pouches) and the making of traditional clothing. Oo-Oo-Nah’s jewelry program offers an introductory class for students 13 to 19 years old. Intermediate and advanced technique classes are offered to adults and senior citizens.
The Young Artist Workshop Series offers a variety of traditional and contemporary projects for children 5 to 12 years old. Projects include traditional doll making, printmaking, painting and drawing, leatherwork, beading, making dreamcatchers and more through the “Art for the Fun of It” program.
Students are able to develop as Pueblo artists who produce quality art for sale at exhibitions, as well as arts and craft shows. Many former students have gone on to create their own styles.
The Heritage Project
Oo-Oo-Nah’s Heritage Project provides opportunities and experiences in Tiwa language, art, culture and history. Students are taught to utilize traditional “life skills.” Over the past 10 years, more than 250 have participated in this cultural immersion project, which has been endorsed by parents and grandparents. Forty to 75 youth participate each year.
In the program, students gain foundational knowledge and skills that include:
- Wisdom about life cycles, seasons, weather cycles and climate
- Farming with heritage Taos Pueblo seeds, using traditional irrigation techniques; planting a garden and maintaining it through harvest; and utilizing a Pueblo waffle-style garden for water conservation
- Identifying medicinal plants, edible wild greens and fruits; cleaning, preparation, drying and storage of these plants
- Learning about neighboring pueblos and tribes
- Reading and language practice for comprehension and vocabulary usage—in a cultural history class, through oral history and in articles and books.
- Experiences such as adobe plastering, traditional gardening, cooking and baking
The 50-Year Vision: The Oo-Oo-Nah Cultural Center
A recent planning process by tribal members identified a community need for Oo-Oo-Nah to expand beyond an art center to become the “Oo-Oo-Nah Cultural Center,” which will teach additional cultural and economic sustainability skills. They envision a time when economic conditions will encourage a return to traditional skills and livelihoods, where:
· The language is strong and flourishing, with 95 percent of tribal members being Tiwa language speakers—essential for cultural expression.
· The health of the people is restored, with no more diabetes, substance abuse or cancer. Programs include stress reduction and exercise. Earning a livelihood through traditional activities allows time for both cultural participation and quality self-care. In turn, good health brings happiness.
· Taos Pueblo tribal members have returned to traditional ways by creating culturally relevant education and employment. They support themselves through agriculture in community fields and through the arts, with the pueblo once again a center of trade. Oo-Oo-Nah includes an artist co-op and art sales at the cultural center’s gallery.
The Oo-Oo-Nah Art Center is operated with volunteer assistance and donations. If you would like to provide some support, contact Marie Reyna at 575.779.9566.
Susan Guyette, Ph.D., is of Métis heritage (Micmac Indian/Acadian French) and a planner specializing in cultural tourism, cultural centers, museums and native foods. She is the author of Sustainable Cultural Tourism: Small-Scale Solutions and Planning for Balanced Development and is co-author of Zen Birding: Connect in Nature.
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