Thanks to the funds from the Mack-Mayerfeld Fellowship, I was able to travel to New Mexico for 5 days in June 2018. The purpose of the trip was two-fold: to visit the Center for Southwest Research at the University of New Mexico to view archival materials, and also to interview elder family members to help build a family archive. My research examines indigenous perspectives on representation and sovereignty in order to explore media complicity in furthering a settler colonialist agenda, and my family history provides a deeply personal context.
The first two days in New Mexico were spent in Albuquerque at the Center for Southwest Research, where I had the opportunity to consult with a research librarian. The Center holds a tremendous amount of material on the Long Walk, the Diné people, and their internment at Bosque Redondo, from military archives to oral histories, including a recording of Chief Manuelito’s son recounting his father’s oral histories of this event. Manuelito was one of the Diné Chiefs who signed the Navajo Treaty of 1868 which established the first iteration of the Navajo Nation. The Center’s research librarian also pointed me to sources, documents and media that were new to me, resources for future research.
The second half of the trip was spent on the primary purpose: to interview elder family members and gain access to family documents, photographs, or other materials to add to the family archive. Indigenous research is relational, requires accountability to one’s ancestors, and its purpose is to do good for the community, and oral history is an important element of indigenous history and tradition. This aspect of my research is comprised of a combination of oral history, memories, recollections of old conversations, as well as my personal reflections on the family history in relation to settler colonialism, indigenous sovereignty, and representation.
The visit with family was very illuminating, though not really at all what I had envisioned. Some elders were reluctant to speak about the past. One was willing, but led the conversation to places I did not expect; we didn’t discuss the family involvement in the Long Walk much at all, but we did discuss a number of events that occurred in the mid-20th century. There was a house fire in 1950 or 1951, for example, started by accident by my grandmother as she attempted to light the oil stove. The house burned to the ground, so if my grandparents had documents and photographs, they were all destroyed that night. He told me of his experiences over the years working in the oil fields, moving away from Bloomfield were he and my mother grew up, and then returning later in life, just before retirement. We discussed the difficulties and dangers of working in the oil and gas fields, as well as the reality that it is one of very few good paying (though unpredictable) employment options in the area. I also had the opportunity to speak with two of my cousins, who helped me visualize day-to-day life in the area, which borders the Navajo Nation and has been the site of racial tensions and violence for many years.
The trip was fruitful, in terms of both my current and future research. It was exciting to have the opportunity to delve deeper into the history of the region and the people who live/d there, and also into my family as a part of that history. My research is enriched because of this experience. I am so terribly honored and grateful to have had this opportunity, thanks to the Mack-Mayerfeld Fellowship.