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Cultural Continuity

Local Voices
Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde – bboserup /

In his futile 1540 search for the Seven Cities of Gold, Vazquez de Coronado made contact with native people at Hawikku, near present-day Zuni Pueblo. Since then, the Four Corners region contains and preserves some of the oldest, most diverse communities within the continental United States. Yet today's modernized society represents a greater threat to cultural community than centuries of population shifts, climatic change, and successive government and military reigns.

"To the Navajo, turquoise symbolizes prosperity and good luck. When you have a belief system like they do, you get up in the morning with a positive outlook and it helps you lead a positive life. Everything I have in my store has meaning to the Navajo people.

"If you believe strongly in a cultural tradition like the Navajo, that belief will help you in your daily life as long as you live. It's a very common sense approach that all people can understand. That doesn't mean that you must continue to make pottery and baskets and rugs, just like you no longer ride horseback to work every day. But when you have a strong belief system that will carry you forever."

-- Tom Wheeler, a fourth-generation trader and proprietor of the Hogback Trading Post, just east of Shiprock, New Mexico, on the Navajo Nation

"Aridity. It has dominated the Four Corners for centuries and over time has forced us to compete for scarce water resources. First the Indians struggled to grow crops, then Hispanic settlers. The soil rewarded them grudgingly. The old cultures managed to survive by developing uncommon endurance.

"Incoming Anglo Americans also adapted to harsh conditions in the Four Corners. Still, as the twentieth century advanced, the newcomers imposed heavy-handed modern methods that diluted traditional folkways. Even so, the old ways were not displaced entirely and create the authentic fabric of this region today.

"The interplay of natural and human forces has made Four Corners the distinctive place we see today. This country has always been a tough place to make a living."

-- Marc Simmons, Southwest historian and author of many books on the Southwest, including Coronado's Land: Essays on Daily Life in Colonial New Mexico