UTEP Sociology and Anthropology Teams Up with Tigua Indians

Last Updated on November 24, 2014 at 10:52 am

Originally published November 21, 2014

By Lisa Y. Garibay

UTEP News Service

At archaeological digs, it can be difficult to build a partnership between the scientists and the communities to whom the treasured finds belong.

The collaboration between UTEP’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology and the Tigua Indians of the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo is special because the work being done between them has value well beyond the objects being dug up, not only for the Native Americans and the professional researchers, but also for undergraduate students who receive an unparalleled research opportunity.

UTEP anthropology students Coryn Padgett, Dale Frost and Fernando Estrada during an archaeological survey at the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo Chilicote Ranch. Photo courtesy of David Carmichael.

UTEP anthropology students Coryn Padgett, Dale Frost and Fernando Estrada conduct an archaeological survey at the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo Chilicote Ranch. Photo courtesy of David Carmichael.

The collaboration began when senior anthropology major Ricardo Quezada took an “Indians of the Southwest” class in fall 2012. Spurred by learning so much about his own people, he approached his instructor, David Carmichael, Ph.D., associate professor of sociology and anthropology, with an idea.

“I asked whether he’d want to do an archaeological study of a 72,000-acre cattle ranch that the tribe owns near Valentine, Texas,” Quezada said. “We have a lot of presence in that area. It was the setting of the last Apache battle between them and my people.”

After Carmichael said he was interested, Quezada – a Tigua tribal member – got the pueblo on board to approve this work, thus differentiating it from other archaeological undertakings.

“There’s a huge amount of tension between most archaeologists and most Indian tribes or pueblos,” Carmichael said. The UTEP professor decided early in his career to always respect his Native collaborators. He even helped ethnographers write parts of a law passed in the 1990s to repatriate Native American remains.

The Tigua project also is being used by Carmichael to reinforce the approach that students be anthropologists in the whole sense and interact with living cultures to understand what is important to them.

“My concern with the way I teach my students is, ‘What is it that the tribes need that we can provide for them?’ Not, ‘What do I want to do that they can let us do?’” he said.

As such, Carmichael and his students are charting natural and cultural resources, generating a data layer for the tribe’s land management and helping them be good stewards as part of their ranch, hunting and recreational efforts.

“They’re going to be in complete control over what happens with that information as well,” Carmichael said. “They’re our clients, our consultants and our partners, not our data source.”

Traditional cultural properties – also known as sacred sites – also are being assessed for the tribe. In contrast to Euro-American sacred sites, which tend to be quite obvious built environments like churches, Native American sites might not be built at all, but perhaps part of a natural rock formation or a very minimal feature on a landscape.

UTEP’s study of such sites for the Tiguas gives students valuable expertise on how to properly deal with these important monuments while tribal members get the excitement of discovering spots spoken about in their oral history.

Funding for the archaeological survey of the ranch was hard to come by, but finally manifested in the form of a grant from the National Resources Conservation Service. It enabled an archaeological survey this past summer as part of Carmichael’s summerlong field school, which takes place every 2-3 years and offers sociology and anthropology undergraduates a full immersion into the archaeological experience. 

“It’s a very intensive and an integral part of professional training for our discipline,” Carmichael said. “We know that our students who go on in that discipline largely get placed because of that experience or go on to graduate school because of that experience.”

Students Stacy Reeves, Coryn Padgett, Ayleen Gutierrez, Jonathan Rocha, Colton Tune, Kelly Rush and Daniella Pablos contributed to the authorship and presentation of papers Nov. 8 at the 21st annual meeting of the Center for Big Bend Studies in Alpine, Texas. There, the team was recognized for working in an area that no one else has been able to study, giving other researchers a better understanding of the archeology of the Big Bend region.

Another course Quezada took in 2012 led to further examination of his culture on a different level. Aurolyn Luykx, Ph.D., associate professor of anthropology and teacher education, was excited to have the native Tigua speaker in her class and encouraged him to examine his people’s language. But it wasn’t until spring 2013 that Luykx and a group of students pursued more focused work on linguistic anthropology in the Big Bend region via the Tigua pueblo.

Two undergraduate students were funded to observe language use at the pueblo and attend language classes taught by Quezada. Those students, along with Quezada and Luykx, presented their findings at the Society for Applied Anthropology meeting in Albuquerque in March 2014.

“The language has been described, but the specific question we presented was why the language has declined so much more in the pueblo here than it has in New Mexico pueblos. It was unique for Tigua,” Luykx explained, noting that she has done this kind of work in South America. Tigua also has not been as studied as much as other Southwestern languages, so the commitment by UTEP students and faculty is significant.

Language loss is a huge issue for Native American tribes all over the country. To combat this within his own people, Quezada is currently teaching three sections of language classes, equipped by what he has learned alongside Luykx.

Although there are only about five speakers within the 1,700 that make up the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, Quezada is encouraged by the fact that teenagers seem to be the most interested in learning.

“A lot of the traditional knowledge is maintained in the context of the native language, so you lose that and you lose a big chunk of your cultural identity,” Carmichael said.

Luykx added, “It’s actually pretty anomalous for someone Ricardo’s age to be a fluent speaker, because usually when a language is that endangered, the only people who speak it are 60 or older.”

The UTEP team’s work has contributed to a process of documenting the language’s structure, which is important given that Tigua is not a written language. Data is currently being entered into a robust online dictionary that the tribe can use. It’s a significant step given that non-written languages and the oral traditions behind them are rarely taken seriously compared to the written word when it comes to land claims and other legal scenarios.

“It’s definitely a start, this collaboration between UTEP and the tribe,” Quezada said, noting that reports from both Carmichael and Luykx’s projects will be used by the tribe for funding for future research. The three hope these initial projects lead to additional support for furthering not only the study of Tigua traditions, but more so the preservation and expansion of them for future generations.



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