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Inspiration for “This Miserable Kingdom’

 

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Overview:
The notion that America is in harmony with itself is a fractured belief that continued to die with Civil Rights, Viet Nam, and the destruction of the Twin Towers. Racism still exists, we continue to be at war, perpetuating brutality and aggression, and remain threatened when America’s political, economic, and religious dogma is attacked.

The greatest environmental catastrophe to occur on our continent was the systematic slaughter of eight million buffalo, providing an end to the American Indian’s food source.1 Ethnic cleansing was introduced by use of germ warfare administered through small pox infected blankets given to the starving Indians under forced relocation, thus eliminating another threat to our ordained Manifest Destiny. Such are the continued actions and reactions of the inhabitants that make up this miserable kingdom, creating a cultural collision within society’s melting pot, and developing a recipe for the possible demise of our own democracy.

This Miserable Kingdom is a photographic survey documenting minorities who have withstood the onslaught of our government’s radical form of genocide upon its own indigenous peoples. The Pojoaque (Po-wah-kee) Pueblo located in Pojoaque, New Mexico is the primary focus, as it has been repeatedly victimized because of its religious, cultural and historical identity. The survey document’s the tribe’s continued survival, and its ability to live in cultural harmony while protecting their sovereignty.

Background:
Archeological studies of the Rio Grande have dated inhabitation of the Pojoaque Pueblo as early as 500 BCE with the population peaking in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. During this time, Pojoaque maintained its strong cultural identity because of the confluence of three rivers at the heart of its nation. The abundance of water encouraged and perpetuated an economy based on an agrarian society, but this coveted resource eventually became the demise of the Pojoaque Pueblo.

Although Pojoaque was one of the six Northern Tewa speaking Rio Grande Pueblos, each nation had its own government, autonomous from each tribe. If Navajo or Apache warring parties attacked the Pueblo, Pojoaque defended itself alone, but the warring parties were aware that complete annihilation of the defeated Pueblo would also limit food provisions for the victor’s spoils in years to come. Such was the sacrifice of living in a fertile land.

The early 1600s introduced the Pueblos to a far more menacing foe than the Apache or Navaho. The Spaniards came with greed, conquistadors, and missionaries; their primary agenda to convert the Puebloans to Christianity, while inflicting cultural, social and economic suffering on the indigenous peoples. The Spanish church forced its North American inquisition upon the Pojoaque natives and surrounding Pueblos. If the populace didn’t convert, they were deemed heretic, punishable by hanging, severed limbs, or a life of indentured labor or slavery in Mexico. Kivas were desecrated, kachinas, and ceremonial masks and robes burned. Despite certain reprisal, the Puebloans continued to practice their own religion.

After generations of continued abuse, the Pueblo revolt of 1680 gave the Pueblos twelve years of freedom, but the Spaniard’s second Entrada of New Mexico (This Miserable Kingdom) caused the desertion of the Pojoaque Pueblo. In 1706, five Pojoaque Pueblo families returned to resettle the Pueblo, and by 1712, their population had grown to seventy-nine. The Pueblo was finally given an official land grant from President Lincoln, commemorated by a silver cane (as were the other eighteen New Mexican Pueblos). Shortly thereafter, Pojoaque was devastated by small pox. Drought, encroachment of non-Indian settlers, and their loss of irrigable soil forced its people to desert its sacred land once again. Its members—including the last known Governor, Jose Antonio Tapia and his family—left the Pueblo to live and work in neighboring Pueblos and surrounding communities. There were now fewer than forty descendents remaining.

Word of the 1924 Pueblo Lands Act, authorizing payments to the Pojoaque Pueblo for lands deserted through federal negligence eventually reached the ears of Governor Tapia who was residing in Colorado. In 1932, the Governor along with five Pojoaque families made their journey in covered wagons to reclaim the land of their ancestors. Upon arriving at the Pueblo, the Pojoaqueans had to rely on the surrounding Tewa tribes for re-education of their traditions, including their native tongue. It wasn’t until 1973 that the Pojoaque Indians danced for the first time in over one hundred years.

This Miserable Kingdom:
Despite the posted sign at the Pueblo’s entrance, “ No photography, video, or painting allowed,” I am one of the few white men who have been allowed to document life on the Pojoaque reservation since Edward S. Curtis spent time there in 1905. My project was presented to, voted upon, and approved by the Pojoaque Tribal Council.While providing the tribe with a document of their living history, working at the Pueblo continues to be a humbling experience, observing an indigenous people governed by the laws of their sovereign nation whose life almost became extinct. The Pueblo is not only in a period of cultural revitalization, but on a track for self-sufficiency, and financial independence, similar to the historic Pueblo of the 1500’s. Corn fields have been replaced by the economic footprint of the Cities of Gold, and Buffalo Thunder Casinos, and tribal businesses; providing sustainability into the modern era.

The magnitude of This Miserable Kingdom cannot be overstated. Aside from the visual impact of the photographs, I believe the viewer will question our human condition, “where did I come from and where are we going—as individuals and as a nation?” A question often lost in the cultural abyss of our miserable kingdom, polluted by the onslaught of racism, sexism, bigotry, and indifference.

1 Jim Stiles, “Where the Buffalo Roamed.” The Zephyr, (June/July 1999), p. 22.
2 Don Antonio de Otermin, “Account of the Pueblo Revolt by Don Antonio de Otermin, governor and captain-general of New Mexico.” September 6, 1680.

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