A Grim, Long-Hidden Truth Emerges in Art: Native American Enslavement – The New York Times

December 17, 2021 by No Comments

FORT GARLAND, Colo. — On a bitter, windy day, a long-overdue reckoning took place in the commandant’s quarters at Fort Garland, a former military outpost turned museum and cultural center. For most of its history, the museum has celebrated the frontiersman Christopher (Kit) Carson, who briefly commanded this far-flung garrison built during American westward expansion to protect settlers from raids by tribes.

But now the museum was telling a far different story in an exhibition titled “Unsilenced: Indigenous Enslavement in Southern Colorado” — one of the first dedicated to highlighting details of the little-known and centuries-old system of Indigenous bondage that the historian Andrés Reséndez called “the other slavery” in his landmark 2016 book.

On this October afternoon, the quarters were redolent with smoke from a healing ceremony performed by a Navajo spiritual leader for the descendants from many tribes who had gathered this day to honor the grim history of kidnapping, enslavement and forced assimilation of their ancestors. Though glorified for decades, Kit Carson led a devastating 1864 U.S. military campaign to defeat Navajo resistance and remove Indigenous people from their homelands.

“We knew that historically our lives were distorted due to colonization,” said Shawn Price, the Navajo teacher or “wisdom keeper,” who learned of the exhibition on social media and offered to perform a traditional healing ceremony at its opening, with Dineh’ Tah Navajo dancers. “What they’re telling us is a long hidden and suppressed truth.”

Some scholars now argue that the brutal trafficking in Indigenous people began with Christopher Columbus’s first voyage in 1492 and flourished in the Southwest borderlands. Many women and children were taken and traded, sometimes in retaliatory tribal raids or in attacks by Spanish colonists; and much later, they were obtained and exchanged by American settlers. While Indigenous enslavement was never legal, slaveholders stubbornly resisted federal and state efforts to stop it.

Until relatively recently, it was an untold part of the Southern Colorado story, an area of intricate political geography made more complex by deeply-rooted histories. The region was once New Spain, then Mexico and then the northern frontier of the U.S. territory of New Mexico until 1861, when the territory of Colorado was created.

Fort Garland sits at the base of Mount Blanca, or Sisnaajini, a sacred mountain on the eastern boundary of Dinétah, the Navajo homelands. Inside, the creaky old floors of the commandant’s quarters lead to a hushed historical realm filled with images and documents of enslaved Native children who were …….

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/17/arts/design/native-american-enslavement-colorado-exhibition.html

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