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Developing Stories: Native Photographers in the Field

Abiquiú, New Mexico, located northwest of Santa Fe, is best known as the place where Georgia O’Keeffe lived and painted for more than five decades. But a new online exhibit mounted by the National Museum of the American Indian documents a centuries-old community with a complex history: the Genízaro. As photographer Russel Albert Daniels explains through a combination of sober black-and-white images and deeply reported captions, Native Americans have lived in the area for at least 700 years; their discarded awls, hoes, and pottery pop up in local fields with some regularity. In the 1600s, Spanish colonizers arrived and abducted or purchased members of the Apache, Comanche, Kiowa, Navajo, Pawnee, and Ute peoples and enslaved them for 10 to 15 years under Spanish law. Regardless of where they came from, the Spanish called these people and their children “Genízaro.” In 1754, Genízaro and Hopi families received a land grant they still hold some of today. The Genízaro continue to observe aspects of their unique Catholic and Native American heritage, such as the Santo Tomás feast day ceremony, which is punctuated by the 150-year-old El Cautivo (The Captive) dance, in which participants dress as their ancestors, with face paint, feather hair ornaments, ankle bells, and dollar bills pinned to their clothing, signifying their “ransom.” Daniels’ crisp images are undergirded by his own personal history; while Daniels is not Genízaro, he comes from Diné, Ho-Chunk, Mormon settler, and European ancestry, and calls his work “an act of self-discovery.” His images and text are available online, along with a recorded interview, at the National Museum of the American Indian website. Daniels’ exhibit will rotate out on July 14 with the posting of another documentary project, this one by Tailyr Irvine, detailing the legacy of U.S. government policy on contemporary Native families. The exhibition is available at americanindian.si.edu/developingstories. Free. —Louis Jacobson