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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


August 11, 2001 - Issue 42


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New Links - Ancient Heritage


 by Kevin A. Schneider Albuquerque Tribune-July 28, 2001

WASHINGTON - Duane Blue Spruce is tracing his Laguna Pueblo roots in, of all places, Washington D.C.

After his parents divorced just after Blue Spruce was born, he had only family photos, American Indian pots and baskets, and some early childhood visits to learn about his dad, George Blue Spruce Jr. - a Laguna and San Juan Pueblo man who now lives in Arizona.

But Duane Blue Spruce has reconnected - both with father and his heritage, one he's hoping to bring to all Americans.

Blue Spruce, 40, is a liaison between the design team, including American Indian consultants, and the Smithsonian Institution on the project to build the National Museum of the American Indian on the National Mall in Washington by 2004.

Blue Spruce is the facilities planner for the museum, which many American Indians are touting as their chance to put a permanent national spotlight on their cultural history.

"They (American Indians) want us to tell the truth in our exhibits and public programs," Duane Blue Spruce said.

Born and raised in New York - far from the wide open spaces and the Indian influences of New Mexico - Blue Spruce has found that the past matters and, sometimes, can be reclaimed.

"Growing up, it didn't really bother me that much," said Blue Spruce. "But now as an adult, I think about lost opportunities."

Blue Spruce's parents grew up in Santa Fe, but he lived in Staten Island, N.Y., with his mother, Barbara Blue Spruce, as a child. He credits her for raising him and his two sisters by herself in their apartment.

"New York is a wonderful place to learn life lessons," Blue Spruce said.

He laughs about always burying himself in books on buses because the family couldn't afford a car.

"I think our financial situation made us develop a work ethic of sorts," Blue Spruce said.

With his father now filling in the branches of the family tree, Blue Spruce said he now has newfound understanding of the culture he is helping chronicle.

"(Work) makes me realize the real beauty and greatness of native culture. Everybody's a little bit different," he said. "I take a great deal of pride in being able to marry my professional life with my cultural background."

Blue Spruce's American Indian background is prestigious. His uncle, Beryl Blue Spruce, was the first pueblo Indian physician and worked in Philadelphia. And his father was the first Pueblo Indian dentist when he was stationed in the U.S. Navy at Mare Island, Calif.

Yet someone Blue Spruce never really met, his grandfather, might have influenced him the most. He learned about 10 years ago that George Blue Spruce Sr., who taught woodworking and furniture making at Santa Fe Indian School, always dreamed for one of his children to become an architect. None of the three did.

"I was the one, and we never really met," Blue Spruce said. "I trace my being an architect to him."

Unwittingly, Blue Spruce made the dream a reality in 1984, when he began sketching for a small architecture firm in New York, fresh out of Syracuse University. But his grandfather already had passed away when Blue Spruce learned of the wish.

"It's kind of bittersweet," Blue Spruce said. "I felt kind of sad that my family history didn't allow him and I to meet in any meaningful way."

Blue Spruce spoke to his father for the first time in more than 20 years in 1988, when he handled best-man duties at a friend's wedding in Arizona and set up the meeting.

Since then, he occasionally speaks on the phone with his dad and meets with him about once yearly.

"It is sort of filling in a family history that has a fair amount of gaps in it." Blue Spruce said. "The animosity between my mother and father never allowed those groups (families) to mingle again. It still hasn't happened."

In 1991, Blue Spruce started working for the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe in a role similar to the one he plays now. In 1993, a workshop organized to design the Smithsonian's Cultural Resources Center in Maryland made Blue Spruce a job offer he accepted.

"I was able to speak the same language of the architects working on the project," Blue Spruce said. "And as a native person, I'm able to bring my perspective and represent the museum's interest."

Blue Spruce notes that he's changed a lot since the days when he rode a New York City bus to get around. His museum job and greater contact with his American Indian relatives have sprouted a new perspective.

For example, sports teams' caricatures and negative portrayals of American Indians and films, such as Peter Pan, that his son watches, offend him.

"If you can take a culture and trivialize it to the point of being a mascot - that's a significant thing," Blue Spruce said. "It's not only a symptom of the problem; it is a part of the problem."

And this perception is why Blue Spruce and other museum officials have consulted with true American Indians - especially during the building design phase from 1991 to 1995, to portray the culture accurately. It will be showcased in the curving, Kasota stone structure with an overhang roof.

"I think it's important, in the nation's capital, that there be a place where people can be reminded that native culture is not something of the past; it's not something that is regionally based," Blue Spruce said. "Native people over time have had to be incredibly adaptable."

Others affiliated with the museum note that adjustment is vital in today's society.

Dottie Tiger, member of the Sauk-Fox and Yuchi tribes, said she has spent much of her time distilling old American Indian myths as coordinator of the museum's welcome center, which debuted in June.

About 30 people daily visit Tiger, a former Albuquerque resident who once worked with Blue Spruce's grandfather at the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

"Do you still live in teepees?" Tiger said someone asked her recently. "It's so surprising how uninformed people are about us."

Meanwhile, the Blue Spruce father-son conversations have flourished, branching out to include American Indian-federal government relationships and sports.

But in the end, family values dwarf other topics, George Blue Spruce Jr. said. And because he never was an active father in Duane's life early on, the emphasis on family is important.

"I'm especially proud that he's such a good father," George Blue Spruce Jr. said of his son.

Now living in a D.C. suburb with his wife, Ida, Duane wants to make certain that their children - 7-year-old Miles and 3-year-old Milena - learn the roots he never knew about in his childhood.

"I want to be able to pass on something to my children - who I am," Blue Spruce said.

 Maps by Travel

San Juan Pueblo
San Juan Pueblo, or Ohkay Oweenge as it is called in Tewa, is the largest and northernmost of the six Tewa-speaking Pueblos. It is located just north of Espanola, New Mexico, near the confluence of the
Rio Grande and Rio Chama.

Laguna Pueblo
Laguna Pueblo is located about forty miles west of Albuquerque. The Pueblo is made up of six villages: Laguna, Paguate, Encinal, Mesita, Seuma, and Paraje

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  Canku Ota is a free Newsletter celebrating Native America, its traditions and accomplishments . We do not provide subscriber or visitor names to anyone. Some articles presented in Canku Ota may contain copyright material. We have received appropriate permissions for republishing any articles. Material appearing here is distributed without profit or monetary gain to those who have expressed an interest. This is in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107.  

Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.


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