On the Road to Taos
(Oregon Planners' Journal, May 1996)
By Richard Carson
One of the more pleasant things I get to do in life is serve on the Board of Directors for the Kit Carson Historic Foundation. Once every three months, I travel to Taos, New Mexico which is over a mile high at the southern tip of the Rocky Mountains - and discuss the operation of the five museums operated by the Foundation. It is a dream come true for me because I trace my ancestry from both Kit Carson and his Arapaho wife, Waanibe (Singing Grass). This quarterly sojourn is a chance to relive and understand my family roots.
One of the things I like most about Taos is its ethnic diversity. Here in the high desert -- in the shadow of the Sangre De Cristo Range -- three peoples came together to create a unique culture. The native Americans lived here first in their adobe pueblos (or cities). Later the Spanish came to settle this area and built their haciendas and Catholic churches of the same native adobe. And finally the Northern Europeans came with their Protestant religion and their constitutional republic. They too built their houses of adobe. This mixed culture has created its own unique and vibrant style of art, architecture, clothing and cooking.
I like Taos because it such a contrast to the mono-culture of Pacific Northwest. In Oregon, Washington and Idaho we almost eradicated the native culture and worked very hard to keep out other cultures. The Mexican, Chinese and African-American cultures were not welcome in Oregon. In fact, minorities could not own property up until the 1950s. The minority peoples were imported to do the sweat work of building the white people's railroads and cities, then to they were asked to leave. I remember reading the deed to my grandmother's house after she died and being shocked to find such people actually excluded from property ownership.
Gambling Casinos and other sins.
One of the things I dislike about New Mexico is the fact that in the two and one-half hour drive from Albuquerque to Taos I saw a native American gambling casino at almost every freeway interchange. This is a phenomenon new to Oregon. Places like the "Spirit Mountain" casino, which is about halfway between Portland and Lincoln City, have opened or are scheduled to open all over Oregon. Their purpose and reason for being are tragic and ironic. I make no bones about the fact I think gambling is stupid and criminal. When I was in state government, I very much admired then Governor Victor Atiyeh for standing alone against the proposed Oregon lottery.
Any intelligent woman or man knows that the odds are against you winning! How can any public policy justify a government program which encourages people to legally throw away their money? It is morally, ethically and statistically wrong. Yet we not only encourage gaming, we own the entire system. Are each of us - as citizens of this state - morally accountable for the idiots who spend all of their family's food and rent in the quest for wealth? Yes! And what of us planners? What of the planners who process and permit such uses. Are we also guilty of violating a moral imperative - taking advantage of the poor and the desperate? The blight and the tragedy of legalized gambling, video poker and the native-American casinos is upon all of us, but some will bear more of a burden than others. Enough ranting and raving. Some of you will wonder if I am a religious fanatic. The answer is no. As a human being who traces his ancestry to the Arapaho people, it just pisses me off.
A native-American Prayer
It is important that the later generations of Oregonians continue to find ways to celebrate what little ethnic diversity we have. There is a Mexican pre-Columbian poem that captures the sadness for many of those peoples who have either been driven from their lands or had their lives reduced to pandering to the white man's vices:
We only come here to sleep.
We only come here to dream.
It is not true, it is not true,
That we come to Earth to live.
I hope that we the planners can bring back some of this rich ethnic diversity to our cities. And take a stand against the demeaning of indigenous peoples. For in defining the real meaning of livability, we must ask ourselves, "Livable for who?"
Richard Carson is Director of Oregon City's Community Development Department.