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Special tells history of Pueblo Indians

As a youngster growing up in his native New Mexico, Acoma Pueblo Indian Conroy Chino learned very little at school about the history of his people.

"I went to a mission school," said Chino, a one-time investigative reporter for a Los Angeles TV station who now works for an Albuquerque TV station.

"There were mostly non-Indians there and a handful of Acoma kids. You talk about the extremes of education; everything was basically taught from a non-Indian perspective. I don't remember ever being taught anything about contemporary Indians. It is as if we were left on the pages of history books."

The same thing has happened with the Christopher Columbus quincentennial. Indians _ they prefer that description to Native Americans _ say their perspective has been virtually ignored in the numerous documentaries, movies and specials focusing on Columbus' "discovery" of America 500 years ago.

Three years ago, Larry Walsh, a visiting scholar at the University of New Mexico's Latin American Institute, decided the original inhabitants of the United States should be given the chance to tell their own story.

"The whole Columbus quincentennial has been billed as the encounter between two cultures, but in looking at all the various other projects, there wasn't a project presenting the other side of the story," Walsh said.

"We needed to get something that gave the other side of the story, not just celebrating Columbus, but looking at the impact on native peoples from their own perspective and their own voices, not just the white man's viewpoint."

Surviving Columbus: The Story of the Pueblo People, airing tonight at 9 p.m., locally on WEDU-Channel 3, follows the 450 year-relationship of the Pueblos and other cultures, beginning with the Spanish explorers in 1539 New Mexico.

The program also explores their lives under the Spanish colonial period of the 18th century, after Mexico's independence from Spain in the early 19th Century and then under the U.S. government.

Today there are 45,000 Pueblos in New Mexico, in addition to 25,000 in the Hopi region of Arizona and in Texas.

The two-hour documentary includes stories from elders, interviews with scholars and leaders, archival photographs, historical accounts and re-enactments.

Chino, who hosts the documentary, said Surviving Columbus not only illustrates the Pueblos' journey through history, it also became a personal journey for him.

"I think what stood out most in putting together this documentary was to hear all the Pueblo voices, young and old, and the range of feeling and emotion about the historical encounter between the Pueblos and the Spaniards," he said. "Emotions (ranged) from anger to anguish to, just more recently among the young, feeling such hope."

Director Diane Reyna, a Taos Pueblo, said she hopes Surviving Columbus will spur viewers to take an interest in Indian tribes who live near them.

"A lot of tribes have gone through this type of history," she said. "I hope it does educate (non-Indians) at least to see and allow another perspective on history. That is the most important part of the documentary."