Years ago my Dad had a large pond constructed on his property. When my parents moved back to the land after retirement, it was the first place he wanted my Mom to see. When they drove down to it, it was gone, the dam had failed and it had washed away. With some help from NRCS I was able to reconstruct the old pond and was delighted clay had remained exposed when the pond was built.
Today I went back to visit it. My Dad might have had the experience of seeing his pond gone, what I found was mine had turned into a lake. Beavers have been hard at work, extending the dam, which almost doubled the size. Crossing the dam with a brush hog to keep it cleared had become impossible, so I took my heavy lobbers (if that is a word) and cut back the young trees that were coming up.
It is important to keep it cleared because some of the most talented Native potters come there to gather the best pottery clay they claim they ever used. People throughout the world have used clay to form objects for use, constructing pots of all sorts leaving traces of what their culture valued. The broken parts of these clay pots are called shards and the potters coming here are creating objects that one day will shatter and be tossed away only to be found by someone in the future trying to discover what we were like, how and what we valued, and how highly developed our culture had become.
What we leave behind will tell much about us. Hopefully they will discover pieces made from my clay and know during this era there were people basing back to their past, to their tribal heritage who added their skills as artists and are showing a sophistication the plastics they have to dig through to find them might be hiding.
One of the first Cherokees to renew the art of making pottery was our friend Annabel Mitchell and we are proud that she sometimes used the Frayser clay. When Cherokees made the forced move to Indian Territory many of the skills they had used in the old lands were left behind. We all credit Anna for her research and for bringing the use of clay back and developing it into a Fine Art.
This country was filled with Indigenous people from coast to coast before Columbus and others found us. For over a thousand years Native people lived in an area in Utah, the Indigenous descendants of the Southwest, the Navajo, Ute, Ute Mountain Ute, Hopi and Zuni Tribes, we know this by what they left behind, the most identifying are their pottery shards.
Our previous elected President designated Bears Ears as the first national monument requested by those 5 tribes for land they hold sacred. The 1.35 million acre, 2,188 square mile monument contains tens of thousands of archaeological sites, including cliff dwellings. This has changed just days ago when the current U.S. president reduced the monument by 85 percent to only 202,000 acres.
It seems there had been requests made by a uranium mining company to make the change because it “threatened national security” since it disrupted access to additional mineral deposits by the last active uranium mine which operates on the outskirts of the monument.
Opening up the site will provide yet another kind of gold rush for pottery hounds scouring the formally protected lands. If you google POTTERY SHARDS you will find them for sale, site after site, no history, no cultural discussion, just prices.
The sellers got them somewhere and if they went out and found them on their own, the majority would have been found where those ancestors had lived and in many cases the best preserved pieces, and whole pots were found in graves.
A grave robber came to my house once. There is something that pushes the air right out of your lungs. It happened to me as the man proudly unwrapped totally intact pieces of the finest pottery I had ever seen. They were exquisite. Effigy pipes, pots and even a flute of sorts. The beauty and craftsmanship like nothing I had ever seen before. And then he told me, he had dug them up out of graves in Arkansas, most likely the Quapaw. He wanted to give me the opportunity to buy them before he took them to sell. I didn’t know his name and refused to buy them. This was years before I knew how to report him for this foul act.
The importance of preserving cultural history includes protecting archeological sites which may have pottery shards but also the scattered pieces of ancestors and what they may have treasured. Those ancestors were sure to have experienced the joy of sharing a meal with loved ones on a cold night.
There was a lot of laughter around the table at my house lately and I hope that for yours as well. Don’t fret over a beautiful dish that might be broken this season. Toss it out with the understanding what we leave behind tells our story, a story I hope shows we valued the beauty of fragile things and the experience of sharing time with others around our tables.
Hoping you have laughter around your table.
Respectfully Submitted ~ Rebecca Jim