Ute honored at Santa Fe market as inspiration to youth

Santa Fe, New Mexico (AP) August, 2007

A designer of historically accurate costumes, Austin Box isn’t comfortable sharing the stage with others modeling the latest, contemporary American Indian fashions.

So the 77-year-old Southern Ute sat out the past few years of the Santa Fe Indian Market, although he’s been a favorite for some 20 years.

“It’s hard for him to compete against 19-year-olds with bare midriffs,” said John Berkenfield, a board member of the market. As the market came to a close, Berkenfield and clothing contest chairwoman Jeri Ah-be-hill had a surprise for Box.

Before a throng of onlookers, they awarded him a certificate honoring his longtime participation, a colorful blanket, a large famed photograph of himself at an earlier market and an envelope of cash.

“He always brings such dignity and authority to the ceremony,” Berkenfield said. “I think he is an inspiration to young people.”

For Box, the understanding of tribal clothing is a gateway to an appreciation of the diversity and cultures of American Indians. With that knowledge, he teaches others about cultures thought to be long gone – cultures he says are worth preserving.

“The elders, they told stories, they taught the young kids about do’s and don’ts,” he said. “If you listen to your elders, you just carry on.”

Box wore a beaded buckskin jacket and pants adorned with beads more than 150 years old. His moccasins and leggings bore a beaded shield in the yellow, red and green scheme familiar to Vietnam vets – the yellow and red of the former South Vietnamese flag and green reminiscent of the jungle where that conflict was fought.

Before Box taught young people details of his tribe’s culture, he taught combat skills overseas. In Vietnam, as a member of the Army Special Forces, he trained and learned from Montagnard tribesmen, he said.

He earned advanced black belts in karate and tae kwon do, though these days he practices tai chi, a gentler martial art.

It wasn’t until around 1981, after he completed his military service and spent years in civil service that he starting doing beadwork and researching tribal histories, said his daughter, Debra Box.

Information from: The Santa Fe New Mexican, www.sfnewmexican.com