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Shaw, Anna Moore

SHAW, Anna Moore

Born Chehia (Pima name), 30 November 1898, Santa Cruz village, Gila River Pima Reservation, Arizona; died April 1975

Daughter of Josiah (S-wegi Hapot, Red Arrow) and Rose (Haus Molly) Moore; married Ross (Jujul Tonal, Zigzag Light) Shaw, 1920; children three

When Anna Moore Shaw's parents, traditional Pimas, converted to Presbyterianism, they chose a new direction for the life of their then-small youngest daughter. Although they trained Shaw in the values and skills central to their Pima heritage, they sent her to American schools and encouraged her to learn a different tradition. After graduating from Phoenix Indian Boarding School in 1918, Shaw completed her high school work and became in 1920 the first full-blooded Native American graduate of Phoenix Union High School. Shortly thereafter, she married her school sweetheart, a Pima-Marcicopa, and settled in Phoenix. During her forty years in the city, Shaw raised three children, cared for her aged parents, led an antiracism project for Church Women United, and was the first woman ordained as an elder in her Presbyterian church.

Shaw and her family always spent weekends and vacations on the reservation, and when Ross Shaw retired in 1960 as a foreman for the Railway Express, they returned to his birthplace, the Salt River Reservation. Shaw's "retirement" was active: she edited the tribal newsletter and served with the Pima Mutual Self-Help Housing Program. She also helped start an Aid to the Elderly program, revived basketweaving among Pima women, and founded a tribal museum. Meanwhile, Shaw taught Pima language and culture to young children in the reservation school.

In the 1930s, Shaw began recording Pima legends in order to prevent their loss as the older generation took their memories to their graves. In 1950 she enrolled in a two-year writing course at Phoenix Technical School to gain the skills necessary to actualize her "plan to help make both Indians and whites aware of the proud heritage of the original Americans." Her first major work was a play, Darkness to Light, dramatizing the missionary efforts of Dr. Charles H. Cook among the Pimas, which was performed at her Phoenix church.

Shaw's first book, Pima Indian Legends (1968), realizes her goal of presenting Pima oral traditions as told by her father in lively, readable English. Although Shaw removes the contextual elements of the telling and uses pseudo-Native American words like "squaw"—ostensibly to follow white practice—her work has importance as an example of an intermediate stage between oral and written Native American literatures folklore scholars are just beginning to investigate. The tales Shaw includes are those intended traditionally for education and entertainment; only a simplified version of the sacred Pima origin myth appears among many humorous and instructive animal legends and trickster coyote stories. One tale, "Potsherd Speaks," is especially interesting, establishing a living link between the ruins of the ancient Hohokam and ongoing Pima culture.

Conscious of traditional Pima injunctions against being "boastful and over-talkative about myself" like Coyote, Shaw begins her autobiography, A Pima Past (1974), with her ancestors and ends it with her "Indian Hall of Fame" of successful 20th-century Pimas, producing an unusual blend of tribal, family, and personal history. The information Shaw provides about Pima culture in depicting the life of her father, raised by his grandmother, helps readers appreciate the drastic change her own lifestyle represents. Her work lacks the bitterness of many Native American autobiographies, focusing more on the possibilities for intercultural understanding and less on the traumas often experienced by those attempting to reach this goal in a prejudiced society.

While Shaw, a committed Christian, is insistent upon the values of education and cultural adjustment through brotherly love, she is proud of her Pima identity and has helped revitalize her heritage. Her works, as strong statements of dual values, reveal the complexity obscured by the facile dichotomy separating "progressive" from "traditional" Native Americans. Shaw shows us what she calls "a lifetime of treading the bridge between two cultures" can be creative and fulfilling, rather than psychologically debilitating. Her works are important in giving readers a firsthand report on the adaptability of Native American values, and the continued strength of Native American women.


Reference works:

Indians of Today (fourth edition, 1971).

Other references:

Arizona and the West (Summer 1975). Choice (May 1969, Oct. 1974). EJ (Jan. 1974). Journal of Arizona History (Summer 1974). LJ (July 1974).


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