While in Bernalillo

Returned late Saturday from the 23rd annual Native Vision, this year in Bernalillo, NM, June 13-16. Always more sparkle in a year when, after a successful fundraising campaign, we’re able to send basketball campers home with a basketball they can use year-round. What follows is a scattering of notes, takeaways, glimpses, and lasting impressions.

Coaches and players arrived on Wednesday evening, gathering at the N. Albuquerque Marriott Pyramid for a welcome dinner and reception. Before the dinner and reception I swam until I could no longer feel the lowly buzz of air travel in my numbnesses. And before that I talked with longtime friends in the lobby and sipped from the six different infused waters on offer.

On Thursday morning we bussed to Sandia Pueblo for their Feast Day, arriving just after the first of two corn dances had commenced, between two and three hundred dancers, unforgettably ornate. Coaches and players divided into thirds, and so a third of us were invited as guests into the governor’s house where we sat at the long table and ate. Learned before eating of a blessing of plenty: crumb of bread in the left hand, crumb of bread in the right, then touch each portion before placing it into a common clay-fired bowl, the morsel in the left going to the spirit of relations who’ve walked on and in the right to those who are experiencing need or hardship. This before eating.

On Thursday afternoon, Corey and I went with a group of basketball players who’d selected the Team Building/Bullying Prevention workshop. Led by San Felipe’s Project Venture, it consisted of a pair of games or obstacle courses; we spent maybe thirty or so minutes at each–one called Bridge to Freedom that had us using boards and balance to build a route across a shaded area, another whose name I didn’t learn that was something like Giant Shoes, walking in sync in teams of four to retrieve prizes, or, if anyone fell off, to have added a blindfold so as to make the course more challenging. One of the organizers spoke as we concluded about complexity and relationality. To illustrate, he pointed to where our shadows touched the earth and suggested that the earth itself cannot help but transformed in the lesser-lit place where shadows were discernible. A shadow marks; its inscription temporary-seeming, or enduring lastingly. Reminded me again, as did so much this weekend, about Shawn Wilson’s Research Is Ceremony, about the most basic tenets of phenomenology ascribable to an indigenous cosmology. As Wilson explains it, for Western positivism and its empirical biases, seeing is believing, but that’s only half of the story. The rest of the story, Wilson writes, is that believing is seeing. Believing makes seeing possible. Every shadow ever, writ, known and knowable.

Coach D and Coach Kayla talking with Native Vision camp-goers at the Friday morning layup station.

I ate dinner on Thursday evening with two nine year-olds from San Felipe who told me about glitching, about video games they enjoy, about their families, about how they were related, about the trades from their dinner trays they were willing to make, hints of hardship, mostly optimism and hope. Pets, too. I learned all about so many pets. The one told me, too, about how not last year but the year before, South Pole Santa brought him a puppy on Christmas Day. South Pole Santa? There is much to enjoy in the gifts of a white, Western Santa, but beyond the cultural pomp and mythos and costume, it’s of a limited dimension. South Pole Santa is, as it was explained to me, an adaptation, another santa who is communal, local, tribal, whose giving is not cloaked in something so popular but who is more harmonious with Pueblo values, more visible and honest with gift giving from source.

Sharing a few comments at closing ceremony about how 48 hours isn’t a long time, but it is enough time to change, even a little bit.

At Saturday morning’s closing ceremonies, I was listed on the camp itinerary as the representative from the basketball coaches who would share a few words. I went ahead extemporaneous, considering at first a couple of anecdotes from the camp, about the campers whose names I remembered, or about the third group of basketballers who on Friday morning made 22 layups in a row when there were only 18 of them, a remarkable showing for its being unexpected, shared, surprising to all of us. But on Saturday instead I said a few remarks about how 48 hours–the duration of the camp–is enough time to recount 48 instances of exemplary sportsplay, model attitudes, great players making great plays. It’s not a lot of time, but it is enough time to change, even a little bit, and to carry on that transformation, applying what’s learned, practicing and playing year round.

Far, far more impressive than these remarks, however, were the remarks of my friends and peers, the other coaches, LJ leaving me verklempt as he does every year, this time with a few words about Father’s Day. Before us, though, it was a local who told us all about ceremony, about gratitudes to the elements all, about how blowing a conch to each of the four directions is akin to thanking the directions, about how we should turn and face each direction as he pivoted. And so we did. First to the east. One by one, the four directions. After the coaches spoke, together we followed the drum circle’s lead through a friendship dance and then a thank-you dance.

There’s more, always more, but this will do for now. And I may add to it in the next day or two, though I have a mountain of work to do, all of which a few days in the shadow of Sandia has more than prepared me for.

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