Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Day 146: Apache Revenge

Peridot to Cutter. 20.7 miles/2801.9 total

Monday, December 6, 2010

8:50 a.m. I’m walking downhill from near the intersection of U.S. 70 and Indian Route 6, at Mile 276, heading west through the Peridot-San Carlos area to a point about two miles past the Apache Gold Casino in Cutter, a distance of 20.7 miles.

It’s a little warmer this morning than it was yesterday, probably in the mid-50s, with a scattering of high clouds, but mostly clear. Once again I expect it to get into the low 70s.

About a mile into the walk I get a ride offer from a nice white guy and his wife. He wonders, as folks usually do, if my car has broken down. This happens especially early in the day when people see my car and then me a short distance later. He gets out of his car to talk to me, and as he’s going back he says, “Careful walking on this reservation. They’ve got gangs and stuff.”

Whether that's true or not, I realize how the media victimize us all with the use of catch phrases and sound bites, pandering to our fearful imaginations like scoutmasters telling ghost stories around the campfire. Newspapers are very lucky if they get things half right, and TV stations--well forget about it. I tell him, “Thanks anyway, but these are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met.” I did see a few pairs of young guys yesterday, walking or hitchhiking, but gangs? On a piece of land three times the size of Rhode Island with a population of less than 10,000, how much gang activity could we be talking about? And if there really are gangs, they’re more likely to be messing with each other than with some old white dude who looks like he’s trying to find a place to go fishing.

To be sure, I’m not blind to the devastation of the place. I see the hundreds of broken bottles and empty cans at many of the pulloffs, probably better than the motorists do, and I’m sure that on Friday and Saturday nights when the weather’s warm there’s plenty of carousing going on, and that things must get ugly now and then. But at the moment it’s 9:00 a.m. on a Monday. I’ve walked 20 miles on this reservation so far and I just spent a very quiet, starry night on the roadside. I wonder how many miles this guy has walked here?

This morning I get a flurry of ride offers. I get checked on by a San Carlos Ranger and I tell him my deal, and where my car is parked and where the motor home is parked and that I’m walking between them. He looks a little bemused, as people often do. But it’s a good thing, because now the local law knows my vehicles aren’t abandoned and maybe they’ll keep an eye on them. He tells me to have a good walk.

At the bottom of the hill I come to a project of fifty or more pretty decent-looking houses, all sand colored and small. Some are detached one or two bedroom places, some are trios of condo-type dwellings. There are a few of the obligatory wrecked cars and a little bit of garbage, but the neighborhood looks more prosperous by far than Bylas did, though it would be overstating it to say that it’s middle class.

I enter Peridot, a community of about 1,200 named for the mineral peridot, which is found in nine different forms in basalt deposits nearby. The town has a different name in the Apache language, which I won’t try to reproduce here because of all the diacritical marks.

The other town nearby is San Carlos, about two miles to the north, which is the seat of government of the reservation. It has a population of 3,700 or so. According to the internet its median family income of $13,400 makes it one of the poorest Indian communities in the U.S. I don’t know what effect the casino has had on that poverty, but I hope it has alleviated it somewhat.

At Moonbase Road I come to a Texaco station, and head in for some refreshment. Outside a man stops me and says, “Didn’t I see you walking earlier? And yesterday, too?” I tell him yes, and fill him in on my project. He wonders if I need a warm place to stay tonight but I thank him and tell him I have the motor home. He asks if I’m walking for a reason, and this time I say I’m going to write a book about how friendly and kind people are all over the country. He smiles. He tells me he’s lived on the reservation all his life and that people have this idea that Apaches are wild and violent, but they’re not. I tell him that I’ve found the people on the reservation to be uniformly decent and friendly. We shake hands and he says his name is Joe. He tells me to put him in my book, and I promise I will. Then he holds up his beautiful little girl, about two or three, and says, “Her name is Kimberly.”

I go in to the station and a woman who has overheard my conversation with Joe says, “Didn’t I see you sitting on a guardrail yesterday?” I say yes indeed. Guardrails, of course, are my favorite places to sit and rest. Then the cashier starts asking me about the walk. I guess I’m a bit of curiosity.

One thing I notice in the Texaco station, which I’ve seen in a couple of other places on the reservation, is a framed picture of Geronimo—a photo of him on one knee facing the camera and holding a rifle. It was probably taken after his capture in 1886. It’s a rather iconic picture, even though by the time it was taken he was being treated a little like a tamed beast. I suppose here on the reservation the picture of Geronimo is a bit like portraits of Washington or Lincoln would be. He wasn’t a chief, though; he was a very fierce warrior and a powerful man, supposedly being able to walk without leaving tracks and impervious to bullets and possessing other supernatural gifts. He was hit with bullets and buckshot a number of times, but always survived. And he spent the last 23 years of his life as a prisoner of war, not as an American. For those reasons and many more he is revered. Also, he seems the embodiment of the Apache ethnic type—wide round face, high cheek bones, wide mouth, aquiline nose, dark brown skin, black hair.

Here in Peridot I cross the San Carlos River and leave Graham County and enter Gila County.

I stop in at the Apache Cultural Center in Peridot. It’s a small museum dedicated to the history of the Apaches. The director of the museum is a pleasant and cultured Apache man named Herb Stevens, who gives me his card, which says he possesses a Master of Fine Arts degree. The exhibits in the museum put together the picture of the history of the tribe and help me to better understand some things I have been mulling over already.

What I’ve been preaching since shortly after I left my front door on this walk fourteen months ago is the sameness of people everywhere. This despite the fact that well-meaning friends have warned me at every turn to be careful as I walk into each new state, because the people are “not like us.”

The perceived differences between Native Americans and the European conquerors of this continent, and particularly the biases in favor of and against the two groups, begin to evaporate the more one looks at the facts. I absolutely reject the idea that the Indians are qualitatively different from us in their beliefs and lifestyle, as well as the pervasive myth that they occupy some moral high ground with respect to us in terms of their relationship to nature and the land they occupy. Ultimately, both we and they have been motivated and shaped by the same forces, and our histories are not that different, except insofar as the accidents of geography make them so.

Our ancestors and theirs were nomads and warriors. They came, they saw, they conquered. The forebears of the Apaches had the advantage of occupying a mostly empty continent, so they probably were able to avoid other groups for long periods of time. Our immediate predecessors—groups like the Celts, then the Huns, the Goths, the Visigoths, and the Vikings—came into places that were already occupied. But at some point the “indigenous” peoples they displaced—the ancient Britons, the Etruscans, the Basques, and others—had come into an empty land also.

The Apache tongue is in the Athabaskan family of languages, related to those of the Navajos, some Indians of the California coast, the Alaskan natives, and people in Asian Siberia. So what happened is that the people who came down across what is now the Bering Strait eventually spread out and got a little different from one another.

Like all people who have been in one place for many hundreds of years, the Apaches began to believe at some point that they had been on this land forever—that God had placed them there. The Europeans had a long written history to disabuse them of this silly notion, but at some point in history there were surely people in Europe who believed this and maybe there still are in a few out-of-the-way places. Even today the attitude of most national groups, be they Irish, Spanish, French, German, Swiss or whatever, is that they have some God-given right to possess their little pieces of the rock. So again, not much difference between the Apaches and us.

The museum explains how Apaches believe themselves to be the guardians of the land on which their ancestors have died. Tell me how that’s one iota different from the way the English feel? Or the Portuguese? This is merely part of the natural conservatism that comes from living in one place for a long time.

The museum even says, with a straight face, that the Apaches weren’t as warlike as people accuse them of being, because they only made war when food and resources were scarce (in other words, when they needed to), or in order to get revenge for injustices they thought had been done to them by others (in other words, when they were angry or felt insecure). Am I missing something, or aren’t those the same reasons that people make war everywhere on earth? It might also have helped that the Apaches were pretty good at making war—they usually won. Nothing incites people to repeat an action more than knowing they’ll be successful at it. Look at the United States. Wars regularly every twenty or thirty years throughout our history. Why? Because we usually win. Let us get our asses kicked a few times in a row and we’ll start thinking like the Belgians.

So what did finally push the Europeans over into the North American continent, to in turn push the Indians aside and replace them as the owners of this land? What, for that matter, made the Vikings sweep down into western Europe a thousand years ago, or the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes invade the British Isles five hundred years before that?

What makes people do these things is not something essentially different in their natures than that of the indigenous peoples they conquer or displace. It’s usually just overcrowding and a desire for more room and resources. The Indians hadn’t reached that point yet, though they eventually would have. Our ancestors had. The ancestors of the Apaches must have been prompted to move for some urgent reason—famine, warfare, changes in climate. They didn’t just wake up one day and say, “Let’s migrate.” If things are good, people tend to be complacent and pretty happy where they are. If things aren’t so good, they get restless, irritable, and discontented--and feisty, too.

Whether our conservatism causes us to think other people aren’t as good as we are, or our liberalism causes us to think other people are better than we are, both ideas amount to the same thing, namely, the erroneous notion that people are fundamentally different from one another.

I pass the post office and the brand new San Carlos High School, looking very well financed, probably with casino money. Across the street is a place called Apache Burger, a triumph of cultural assimilation.

After traveling uphill for about four miles from Peridot, I begin to descend into another valley. Across the expanse of lowland I see a few houses and other buildings, their roofs glinting silver in the mid-afternoon light.

At 16.7 miles I come to another intersection of U.S. 70 and Indian Route 6. I’m just a mile or so east of the Apache Gold Casino and Resort. I am at the point on the map called Cutter, and beginning to reach the western end of the reservation. Off to the south and southwest are the Mescal and Pinal Mountains.

I’m approaching the Apache Gold Casino now. It’s surrounded with palm trees. This is indeed a goldmine for the Apaches, as casinos are for Indians everywhere. In fact, it’s better than a gold mine, because nothing is being taken out of the land. Instead people from off the reservation bring their gold here and deposit it. People pay money to drive out here in order to go inside and give the Apaches a guaranteed profit of perhaps ten to twenty cents of every dollar spent inside. All the hosts must do is maintain the casino and serve free drinks. The rest takes care of itself. A nice antidote to centuries of privation and spoliation at the hands of the invaders. Now the invaders, particularly the eldest of them, dependent on Social Security and pensions, go to the Apaches and lay treasure at their feet in hopes of winning, against all odds. This amounts to voluntary direct taxation for the benefit of the Indians, an idea which, if you were to put it that way to these white senior citizens, would seem abhorrent.

Ordinarily I would go inside and bet my five dollars, as has been my custom. But since I have only 78 cents in my pocket at the moment I will forgo the exercise. Maybe I’ll come out here tomorrow on my day off. Now I need to get through the walk before dark.

After the casino things get lonely again pretty quickly, and the next 2.5 miles go by uneventfully. At the intersection where the motor home is parked Smokey the Bear on a sign says the forest fire danger today is moderate.


Anonymous said...

Speaking about the Belgians, it's icy out here and Brussels is still it's old Jacques Brel style self. You'd love the metro trash, unidentified puddles, etc... Nice "holiday tree" on the Grand'Place.

Peter Teeuwissen said...

Ah, bon. And is Belgium still one country, technically speaking? L'union fait la force.

Anonymous said...

A country which hasn't had a government for the past six months or so and still managed to get through their turn at the EU Presidency pretty much OK.