Mysteries of the Desert

As mentioned previously, due to the nature of the current phase in which we are archiving Barbara Drake’s collection, I have given myself much more freedom to engage with the specific materials. This past week, I found myself lost in the research Drake had compiled regarding ancient Indigenous history, and the artifacts that contributed to some of this understanding. Doing so, I learned a word I had never heard before– intaglio.

An intaglio, or a geoglyph, can be found prominently in the stretch of desert that connects Arizona to California. Their ancient construction resulted from the displacement of dark stones to reveal the light soil underneath, etchings that created a permanent symbol of prehistoric ancestries. According to an April 1989 issue of Arizona Highways these etchings are believed to be anywhere from 150, to 5,000 years old. Additionally, these etchings range anywhere from 20 feet in diameter, to over 150 feet. One intaglio, 75 miles west of Phoenix, measures an incredible 300 feet. These intaglios bear the resemblance of human figures, snakes, lizards, mountain lions and other geometric shapes. So, what does it all mean? Archaeologists mainly contend that these geoglyphs were intended to communicate with Native gods. The tone of communication exists on a speculative continuum ranging from praise and honor, to cries for help, imploring divine intervention to assuage the cruelty of an unrelenting and changing landscape. The aforementioned geoglyphs provide a peek into a time where the veil between spirituality and mortality might have been thinner.

These relics of a distant past, and their mystery, illustrate how much history was lost to colonialism. Not only did colonizers do their best to eradicate the powerful Native themselves, they simultaneously robbed future persons of enculturated sources for which clues to human history might exist. Due to the genocidal force that perpetuated colonialism, much of the primary, secondary or even tertiary source material regarding the spirituality of the ancient Native has been lost. Luckily, caretakers of culture and heritage, like Barbara Drake and her fellow Indigenous peoples, have preserved what is left and seek to reclaim what is yet to be discovered.

Intaglio of the Arizona desert.
“The Fisherman” (left)– a geoglyph photographed for Arizona Highways April, 1989 issue.

American History: The Unabridged Version

This week the Barbara Drake collection has undergone a sort of restructuring. Materials are being sorted into more specific categories and the collection has started to take somewhat of a shape. Due to the extensive nature of Barbara’s contribution, we are still a long way from finality. Sitting with Barbara’s materials this week, in an effort to ascribe items to subject-matter specific categories, I took more time than usual indulging the curated research.

History was always my favorite subject in primary school. I had a second grade teacher who put together a slideshow of early 1900s Los Angeles, I was transfixed by how different the world seemed. There was no Staples Center or Walt Disney Concert Hall. There was no Geffen or Phillipe’s (though depending on the year of the photos, it would be soon to come). The roads were suspiciously absent of BMWs and Honda Civics. It wasn’t until too many years later that I realized Spanish colonizers did not birth Los Angeles, as I had been told, rather the Tongva had. Just like many facets of American history, fashioned to be palatable for American children, this was yet another important fact that had been conveniently left out of the textbooks. Many years out of primary school, I can say that had I been taught the unabridged history then, it would have helped me conceptualize America’s tumultuous history much sooner. Much sooner would I have understood who rightfully owned my beloved Los Angeles. I am fortunate to be an informal student of Barbara’s materials, through which she has gracefully and posthumously educated me on the real history of America– before the Americans. This collection, for me, has highlighted the grave disservice we do to our public school children when we obfuscate such history from them. However, this collection will be a great resource for those interested in ecology, Indigenous ethnohistory, archaeology and more. With scholars like Barbara, determined to leave the world better and more informed than they found it, those who engage with her materials (and materials like hers) can facilitate an honest understanding of America’s true history.

Under Fire

Around fire season every year, I often reflect on our California hillsides. And while over recent years the dialogue has advanced from managing foothill wildfires to climate change and unprecedented forest fires, I still get into the weeds, mulling over questions about ecological restoration, conservation, agricultural practice, and bioengineering. Today, it was a bit of synchrony coming across “The Land of the People” in A Journey to Tovangar by Mark Frank Acuna in the Drake collection.

Similar to Naomi Klein’s distinction, I’ve always separated two approaches to ecological/environmental restoration: bioengineering or letting nature heal itself. I have often erred to the side of letting nature heal itself and for human mitigation, especially around the development and practice of new technologies, to be minimal if at all. The thinking was always that nature could best heal itself over man’s hubris. This train of thought would often extend to my viewpoints that perhaps devalued the celebration of agricultural practices. I had over years lamented the idea and colonial logic that an agricultural turn signaled the progress of mankind, cleaving the civilized from the barbarian.

On reading Acuna’s paper, he offered a novel provocation to this line of thinking for me. He submitted that the California hillsides we see today would be completely unrecognizable to the Tongva and indigenous populations of the Southern California pre-twentieth century. He argues that it was not because they were more lush or wild, but that the hillsides were in fact profuse with oak trees that were cultivated and managed by indigenous tribes.

Acuna writes, “When the Spanish came through in their first years of conquering encounter, they all noted the park like vistas and the open clear Oak forests. They had not entered the wilderness but a well managed landscape. Even as late as 1844, John Fremont noted that ‘…the…groves of oaks give the appearance of orchards in an old cultivated country” (Fremont in Pavlik, 105). Somewhat similar to groves seen today, the forests were landscaped to be absent of grasses or competing tree species. They were open and “light-filled,” stretching from the mountains all the way to the sea, we individuals could walk “never having to leave the comforting shade of the Oaks” (Acuna, 17).

It is unknown exactly when this happened, but eventually indigenous tribes in the region became more and more reliant on acorns, “Kwar.” Horticulture techniques were developed between neighboring tribes and the Tongva became tenders and keepers of the Oaks (Weht). Three techniques were used in managing the vast oak forests: first, was a “careful and precise” fire to clear underbrush (which would reduce the pests and diseases often attributed to affecting forests and spur grass and forb seed production); second, they used long flexible poles to harvest acorns and prune (encouraging lateral growth to increase the size of the canopy); and lastly, methodically weeding the forests.

Acuna writes, “Two hundred years later, these managed chaparral and hillsides would be wilder and more deadly than they had been to the Tongva” (Acuna, 18). He admonishes the California Legislature and State and Federal Forestry agencies in the 1920’s who halted woodland burning for not even trying to understand or learn from indigenous practices. Returning it to the what they’d consider an “original” landscape was informed by a legacy of the missionary policy to “civilize” the Tongva by “denaturalizing them” (Acuna, 19).

Balance, care, and respect for the land, its people, and the sacred have vital roles to play in our contemporary thinking of ecological restoration. It will be critical to listen and not fall into the trappings of modern ideals, innovations, or hubris.

Intentional Archiving

Having just finished Rundel’s collection, I now pivot to Barbara Drake’s. Once on this archival table were 17th and 18th century maps of South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia produced and reproduced by colonial Europe for atlases. Now in front of me are a variety of sources, artifacts, printed matter, and ephemera of a contemporaneous indigenous America(s), specifically Tongva.

For some period of time, I’ve sat waiting for the right kind of silence to write this. My fingers hover over the keys as I stare at the tubs of folders, flyers, pictures, articles, and documents. I ruminate over the contrast and comparisons of historical discourse in both collections. What is difference in “pasts” offered in both projects? Epistemological questions and thoughts emerge with some urgency and vitality, but perhaps ontology keeps my forehead firmly pressed against my knuckles.

I must acknowledge I’m feeling the weight and responsibility in reporting my work for the Drake collection much more than with Rundel’s. In both, my position was and is etic. But, I am mestizo. Likewise, the maps were produced by Europe to help colonization efforts. They were made for biased knowledge production and consumption. Critical analysis of colonial instrumentation is a craft I have gained over time. Likewise, the material concerned my background. It was, in a sense, personal.

Drake’s collection is a unique and vulnerable experience for me, not in its processing, but in my writing about it. Because, my writing is not just about my thinking but a description of my actions. My actions will have an effect on future research. It reflects my intentionality. My writing will describe how I intend to organize, arrange, and order the material. It exposes my positionality and reflexivity–all of which are essential. How I choose to understand the sources. It concerns matters of access, language, and care.

My personal research is in ethnography and public history. I work with communities in East Los Angeles concerning matters of environmental and social justice. Not only do I try to produce new research but I participate in community activism and help build their archive. With the intersection and interspecies relations of animals, nature, and humans being my primary focus, I hope to learn a great deal from this collection.

Already, I find myself spending perhaps too long reading the articles and studying the documents on linguistics. I look forward to further working on this collection while also thinking deeply about my work.

Arizona Highway

When I was a pre-teen I devoured magazines. I used to shuffle through the mail every day, hoping to find that the month’s issue of Seventeen, Teen Vogue or Allure had arrived. I admired the art of carefully curated images around an up and coming trend, intentionally beguiling and glossy. As I returned to sorting Barbara’s collection, I was pleased to find that she too enjoyed the comfort of a magazine. However, unlike the fashion magazines from my pre-teen years, the magazines Barbara preserved were much more profound. Rather than the pages weighing in on which lip gloss shade was perfect for summer, as mine had, the magazines from the Drake collection covered topics like accessorizing an outfit with Indigenous jewelry.

Specifically, Drake had preserved many issues of Arizona Highway, a magazine that has “captured the beauty and splendor of Arizona since 1925”. As someone who has only been to Flagstaff, the Grand Canyon and Phoenix once, through the publication I was exposed to landscapes of Arizona that I had not yet seen. More importantly, much of the content Drake saved touches on the Indigenous history of the land. Many of the photos capture Indigenous landscapes and visually pay homage to the cultures that founded the areas. Through reading her materials I learned about Arizona’s rich repository of Native basket weaving, whereby the traditions of the Hopi, Apache, and others are displayed through this medium. Consequently, they are more than baskets, they are fixtures of history.

From the Earth

As the heat of Summer settled in this last week, I was able to return to the processing of Barbara Drake’s expansive collection. Most of the time I spent reacquainting myself with Barbara’s collection, was spent on a series cataloguing items relating to Native American Culture and Heritage. I spent a considerable amount of time sorting documents for corresponding subseries, including subseries that are grouped by topics such as holistic remedies and plant uses, Native American history and historical events, and traditional recipes or ingredients.

These subseries were particularly impactful for me, and indicate what a diverse educator Barbara was. The continuum of topics garnered from the aforementioned subseries alone included recipes for traditional acorn bread to Indigenous ethnohistories that recounted the use of shells in early bartering contexts. I was particularly intrigued by the traditional recipes, and how many of them were plant based. From her materials, one could assume that Barbara had an astute eye for details. Similarly, one could also gather that she was a gifted communicator. A communicator that committed herself to relaying the tenets of Native American culture with whatever tools she had available. From what I have learned about Barbara, food and traditional ingredients were tools she utilized dexterously and with genuine passion. Because of her materials, I know that nettle can make a delicious soup and that Indigenous pudding generally constitutes cornmeal as a central ingredient. However, I know that with this collection specifically, I will have much more to learn.

The Many Landscapes of Barbara Drake’s Collection

This week was a busy week, both with Barbara’s collection and finals at CGU! As we head into the winter break I will be thinking a lot about the things I learned from some of Barbara’s materials this week. This week began the processing phase, where her materials are arranged into formal series and subseries for future research. One of the subseries covers her educational materials on different tribal histories as well as geographical locations related to these tribal histories. In these folders she had a nearly perfectly preserved Alaska: The Magazine of Life on the Last Frontier issue from July of 1978, dedicated to all things Alaska. I was fortunate enough to be able to sift through the pages and get a candid peek into decades before my existence and to a place I had never been. The blue toned images of snow caps stood in juxtaposition to the clippings from Arizona Highway which revealed a rust colored landscape with a brimming blue sky, accented by stone and clay housing. Drake’s attention to detail when curating these images is evident, she reminds anyone who looks at them that Indigenous people and Indigenous spaces are anything but monolithic.

Excerpts from Alaska Magazine
Excerpts from Arizona Highway

When reading through her educational materials I couldn’t help but notice the gaps in my own public school K-12 education. I had heard names like Sitting Bull, Red Cloud and Crazy Horse but didn’t know the details of their courage and resolve, or extraordinary lives, until reading through Barbara’s materials. I learned from the materials that Chief Sitting Bull refused to surrender, even in his last moments. I learned that it was Chief Sitting Bull who forced General Custer to take his last stand in the battle of Little Big Horn. Needless to say, I am grateful Barbara’s materials fill some of the gaps in my American history education. As I continue to process this collection I have no doubt that I will continue to learn more from Barbara and all the materials she thoughtfully curated.

Barbara Drake: Original Angelino

This concludes my first week as a CCEPS archival fellow and I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity to catalogue someone like Barbara Drake’s collection. Through her archival materials it is abundantly clear what a force to be reckoned with she was. As a Gabrieleño/Tongva Elder and a member of the local Tongva community she consistently elevated the voices and perspectives of Indigenous peoples not just in her community, but anywhere she had the chance. Barbara Drake was responsible for countless events that embraced the Indigenous community including workshops, natural foods classes, celebration of life events and traditional ceremonies to name a few. However, she was also instrumental in displaying her culture to educate those that were not Indigenous and she did so all over Los Angeles County, Orange County, the Inland Empire and many other enclaves of California. Later in her career she would go on to be a lecturer at Pitzer College on ethnoecology.

Working on Barbara Drake’s collection will be beneficial in many ways, but one of the most salient benefits is allowing her collection and her work to continue to educate people even after her passing. It is an integral piece of American history to understand what Native American land we currently reside in and what treatment Native Americans have been subjected to since the inception of the United States. Barbara Drake made it her mission to educate people on this front but did not stop at the ethnoecology of the Gabrieleño/Tongva. Through the initial survey of her work, I found research and educational materials that touched on many tribal histories including, but not limited to, the Sioux, Lumbees, Cherokee, Hopi and Navajo. Her research detailed an incredible wealth of knowledge regarding plant species, plant uses, holistic remedies and plant-based recipes. On the other hand, I was totally intrigued by some of her correspondence, relaying what an action-oriented educator she really was. I am grateful for the opportunity to informally learn from Barbara Drake and plan to process her collection with the utmost care and responsibility. This week I fully surveyed Barba Drake’s collection and next week I will move on to the processing phase.

A portion of Barbara Drake's folders, complete with interesting titles and stained with pomegranate juice.
A portion of Barbara Drake’s folders, complete with interesting titles and stained with pomegranate juice.