Fire threatens more than wilderness

Posted at: 06/07/2013 6:39 PM
Updated at: 06/07/2013 6:40 PM
By: Stuart Dyson, KOB Eyewitness News 4

The Thompson Ridge fire in the Jemez Mountains is threatening much more than valuable real estate and precious wilderness. For the people of Jemez Pueblo an entire way of life is in danger of going up in smoke.

To the Jemez people, the mountains are life itself. Their history and their religion is all entwined together in the steep canyons and high mesas and rugged peaks.

That's according to Paul Tosa, an elder and former governor of the tribe. He’s also a historian. Tosa said he fears that the fire may destroy hundreds of sacred sites throughout the mountain range.

“It is our burial grounds, it is our churches,” Tosa said, gazing toward Redondo Peak, the mountain the Jemez call Wavema. “The ancestral people are buried there, and yet at the same time, because of those people, we are still existing. We are still surviving.”

One big worry is the Eagle - a huge combination of rock formations and forest patterns that the Jemez people can see on the southern slopes of Wavema. It is literally everything to them.

“As told by the Creator to our ancestral people, once you have found the Eagle you will make your home permanently around the Eagle because the Eagle will be your source, your power, and your culture from hereforth to infinity," Tosa said.

To lose the Eagle? Unthinkable, in the Jemez world-view.

As soon as the fire is out and it’s safe to go in, Tosa and other tribal leaders will venture into the flame-scarred canyons, to see how much of their past will survive into their future.