July 1, 2016, Fort Sumner, NM- There are several places in the United States, that every citizen should see, if for no other reason than to know that unity is a delicate thing. Fort Sumner, a place of captivity for thousands of people, in the 1860’s, is such a place.
I have known, and worked with, Navajo (Dineh) and Hopi people, for several years. The Dineh, along with the Mescalero Apache (Indeh) people, were forcibly removed from their ancestral lands, in 1864, by one of the most unfortunate edicts of President Lincoln, who had a blind spot, where Native Americans were concerned. He never stopped being an Indian fighter.
The people endured the harsh life of captives, very similar to what the Japanese internees endured in the camps of World War II. The difference was that the Dineh and Indeh people built the camps, including the quarters of their overseers. Many died of disease and starvation, in this squalid place.
The people were released in 1868, on orders from President Andrew Johnson, who had no real axe to grind with the Navajos or Apaches. They walked homeward, and the Navajo wept, when they spotted one of their sacred mountains, Mount Taylor, east of Albuquerque.
Here are some of the sights that presented themselves to me, during my visit here, this morning. The first shows the pyramid-like structure that houses the museum displays and theater, that tells the story of the Long Walk. The ranger initially interpreted my foregoing the film, as a sign of disinterest in the actual events. A conversation, afterward, corrected that misconstruance.
The second photo shows the area, as it might have appeared when the captives first arrived in Bosque Redondo, as the woods were called back then. The Commemoration Stone, first brought here by Navajo Nation President Peterson Zah, in 1994.
The descendants of both Navajo and Mescalero Apache internees, and many others from various tribes, bring items of dedication to this memorial site.
The above is an example of the structures which captives were forced to build, for the housing of their overseers.
Below is a flock of Churro Sheep, raised by Navajos and now viewed as an heirloom breed, for the quality of their wool and meat.
This visit, which I had planned for quite some time, was a sobering reminder of just how far we have come, and a caution of how far we can fall backwards, in our inter-human connections. Like Manzanar, and Berga, Germany, it is a place that the smug and self-assured would do well to see, as a wake-up call.
NEXT UP: Return to Amarillo’s Happy Southwest 6th Street.