The Junaluska community in Boone, North Carolina is one of the earliest African American communities in western North Carolina. “According to census records from 1850 Johnson Cuzzins (also spelled Cuzzens and Cousins) was a 44 year old farmer with a white wife named Charlotta (1). Johnson and Charlotta had nine children ranging from three months to eighteen years. The census records also indicate that Johnson preceded his brother Ellington and family by at least one year. According to the 1860 census records Ellington, who was listed as a shoe and boot maker, lived in Boone with his wife Margaret, who was white, and their two daughters”
Junaluska takes its name from a leader of the Eastern Band of Cherokees in the 19th century. The community is different from the other early black communities in western North Carolina in that it exists still. Most of the early members of the community were freed enslaved people. However, “slaveholding was not common in the Appalachian Mountains. Ninety percent of mountain people in western North Carolina had no enslaved people and those who did had only a few.” Although the people of Junaluska identify as African American their genealogies demonstrate a mix of white, Native and African American ancestry. Susan Keefe, author of Junaluska: Oral Histories of a Black Appalachian Community notes “While Junaluskans can generally trace descent historically to white slaveowners one way or another, they do not consider them part of the family, nor do they trace descent through their white family tree.”
“Some black residents who moved into the area were able to buy their parcel outright or were allowed to clear land and keep a portion. Most Junaluska residents became landowners and homeowners, a fact that is still true in the community today. Land ownership has been crucial to the survival of Junaluska as an ethnic community.” The community reached its peak in 1942 with 191 black people in 59 families. By 2013 there were only 97 individuals in 42 households. The rich ethnic and cultural tradition that characterizes Junaluska’s history is being threatened as the town of Boone expands and its population declines due to few job opportunities.
I was invited to learn this history last summer and to be a guest artist at Appalachian State University which I did from April 15 – 24. The image chosen for an installation in Junaluska comes from the early 1950s and is found in Keefe’s book. While installing it a member of the community drove by and stopped to share with my assistant, Travis Donavan (art professor at ASU), that it was her mom who found this photo in her archives and shared with Susan Keefe.
A big shoutout goes to Sarah Donavan, Travis Donavan, Ron McCullum of Appalachian State University and Mary Anne Redding of the Turchin Center for the Visual Arts for making this project possible. Thank you to the Junaluska Heritage Association for the use of the image from the Chocolate Bar. #appalachia #blackappalachia #junaluska #blackjoy
Anyone who has spent time in the southwest knows how precious a resource water is. A Washington Post headline in February of this year announced “Southwest drought is the most extreme in 1200 years” and “The past 22 years rank as the driest period since at least 800 A.D.” The Guardian in November 2021 noted that “Lake Powell reaches lowest level since construction of Glen Canyon Dam in 1963.” Sadly, the status of Lake Mead is as dismal.
Complicating the situation in this region is the historical exclusion of Native people from water rights treaties. Native people weren’t considered U.S. citizens when the Colorado River Compact was signed in 1922 dividing Colorado River water amongst 7 southwestern states and Mexico. (Native people became citizens with the right to vote in 1924 with the passage of the Indian Citizenship Act.) Colorado Public Radio noted December 20, 2021… “Tribes were excluded from this agreement and had no direct say in how the water they relied on for millennia was divided – a racial injustice tribal leaders say continues to hurt their members.” Yet, Native households are 19 times more likely to lack piped water services than white households, according to a report from the Water & Tribes Initiative. The data also show that Native households are more likely to lack piped water services than any other racial group. Leaders of tribes who depend on the Colorado River say the century-old agreement on managing a resource vital to 40 million people across the West is a major factor fueling these and other water inequalities.”
There are 30 federally recognized tribes in the Colorado River Basin. Twenty two of these tribes have recognized rights to use 3.2 million-acre feet (maf) of Colorado River system water annually, or approximately 22 to 26 percent of the Basin’s average annual water supply. In addition, 12 of the tribes have unresolved water rights claims, which will likely increase the overall volume of tribal water rights in the Basin.
Wanting to better understand water issues and the legacy of uranium mining more my long time friend and collaborator for this project, Ken Ogawa, and I decided to make a series of sight and sound installations that speak to nuclear colonization and water issues on the Colorado Plateau. We talked with a local scientist and activists working at the grassroots level to bring potable water to homes on the Navajo nation where approximately 25% of homes lack running water. We also talked with activists working to clean up the over 500 abandoned uranium mine sites on the Navajo lands and to prevent future uranium mining and hauling of ore on the Navajo nation.
One of the people we spoke with was Diné geoscientist Dr. Tommy Rock who is completing postdoctoral work at Princeton University where he is studying the impact of oil and natural gas drilling and uranium extraction on local water sources. Tommy, the first in his family to attend college, is focusing his work on 3 communities on the Navajo nation (Sanders, AZ, Sand Springs, AZ and Monument Valley, UT), where he is developing a water filtration system that he can export to other Native communities. His work has tracked groundwater contamination as far as 80 miles from the site of a uranium mill spill at Church Rock in 1979. He is using this information to assure that available water is safe for human consumption. Tommy’s activism is empowering communities to hold corporations and the Federal Government responsible for uranium contamination and is truly inspiring.
Whereas Tommy’s approach to water filtration occurs at water sources, his colleague, Dr. Karletta Chief, Diné hydrologist at Arizona State University uses a different approach to providing potable water to Native communities. She’s developed a nano filtration system to be used in homes.
We asked Tommy to identify grassroots organizations on and around the Navajo nation involved in providing potable water to communities. He gave a shout out to the following groups:
Ken writes of these sound installations… “There are 2 audio loops at the ‘Uranium” site. The first begins with a recording of Geiger counter clicks which are modified electronically and combined with narration extracted from vintage civil defense and uranium mining films. This narration asks the question “What is your job?”, I hope prompting the listener to consider how they might engage with the bigger questions regarding the legacy of nuclear colonization.”
“The second loop is constructed from Geiger counter recordings distorted to an even greater degree, combined with other sources, including the bell from my Japanese grandmother’s Butsudan (home altar). In Buddhism, the bell’s sound is said to be calming and to induce a suitable atmosphere for meditation. These bells are often used as a call to prayer. The ring of the bell can represent the heavenly enlightened voice of the Buddha teaching the dharma and can also be used as a call for protection and as a way to ward off evil spirits. I hope that this represents a call to remember those that are lost and left suffering from the legacy of irresponsible management of uranium mining. There are 2 loops, totaling nearly 20 minutes”
July 16, 1945 was an ominous day in the history of humankind and the planet as the US Army’s Manhattan Project detonated Trinity, the first atomic bomb, in Jornada del Muerto, NM. (“Jornada del Muerto” fittingly translates as “Journey of the Dead Man” or “Working Day of the Dead.”) July 16 is also the day of one of the worst nuclear accidents in US history with the Church Rock, NM uranium tailings spill in 1979 on the Navajo nation (occurring 5 months after the nuclear reactor meltdown at Three Mile Island).
An earthen dam holding uranium tailings and other toxic waste ruptured releasing 1,100 tons of uranium waste and 94 million gallons of radioactive water into the Rio Puerco and through Navajo lands. Sheep in the wash keeled over and died as did crops along the riverbank. According to a Nuclear Regulatory Commission report the levels of radioactivity in the Rio Puerco near the breached dam were 7000 times that of what is allowed in drinking water.
In an effort to end WWII and to beat the Soviets in developing a hydrogen bomb uranium mining under the Manhattan Project began on Navajo and Lakota lands in 1944. Two years later management of the program was transferred to the US Atomic Energy Commission. The Navajo nation provided the bulk of the country’s uranium ore for our nuclear arsenal until uranium prices dropped in the mid 80s and is largely responsible for our winning the Cold War.
However, environmental regulation for mining the ore was nonexistent in the period prior to the founding of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970. During this time uranium mining endangered thousands of Navajo workers in addition to producing contamination that persists in adversely affecting air + water quality and contaminating Navajo lands with over 500 abandoned, unsealed former mine sites.
Private companies hired thousands of Navajo men to work the uranium mines and disregarded recommendations to protect miners and mill workers. In 1950 the U.S. Public Health Service began a human testing experiment on Navajo miners without their informed consent during the federal government’s study of the long-term health effects from radiation poisoning. (This study followed the same violation of human rights protocol as the US Public Health Service study on the long-term effects of syphilis on humans by experimenting on non-consenting African American men in what is known as the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment from 1932 – 1972.)
In May 1952 the Public Health Service and the Colorado Health Department publish a paper called “An interim Report of a Health Study of the Uranium Mines and Mills.
The report noted that levels of radioactive radon gas and radon particles (known as “radon daughters”), were so high in reservation mines that they recommended wetting down rocks while drilling to reduce dust which the miners breathed; giving respirators to the workers; mandating daily showers after a work shift, frequent changes of clothing, loading rocks into wagons immediately after being chipped from the wall to decrease time for radon to escape and for miners to receive pre-employment physicals. Sadly, the recommendations were ignored.
By 1960 the Public Health Service definitely declared that uranium miners faced an elevated risk of pulmonary cancer. However, it wasn’t until June 10, 1967 that the Secretary of Labor issued a regulation declaring that “…no uranium miner could be exposed to radon levels that would induce a higher risk of cancer than that faced by the general population.” By this time, it was too late. In the 15 years after the uranium boom the cancer death rate among the Diné doubled from the early 1970s to the late 1990s while the overall U.S. cancer death rate declined during this same interval.
Native led organizations addressing nuclear colonialism:
Eastern Navajo Dine Against Uranium Mining (ENDAUM)
These are the first 2 of 5 planned sight and sound collaborations drawing attention to the effects of climate change and the legacy of environmental mismanagement in the western United States.
In Traditional Chinese Philosophy, five elements (sometimes referred to as ‘phases’ or ‘agents’) provides a conceptual scheme used to describe the interactions and relationships between all things.
Five Element Theory asserts that the world changes according to the five elements generating or overcoming relationships. Generating or overcoming are the complementary processes by which systems are harmonized and balance is maintained.
It is our hope that having completed pieces representing ‘water’ and ‘metal’ we will continue with ‘wood’, ‘earth’, and ‘fire’.
Thank you to Stephen Stapleton of Culturunners, Daniel Josley, the late Rena Yazzie and Dr. Tommy Rock for helping to make this project possible.
I spent part of this past week in Green River, Utah as a guest of Epicenter whose mission statement reads “Epicenter stewards creative initiatives that honor the past, strengthen the present, and build the future that we envision alongside our community”. My engagement with Epicenter involved spending time with an extended Mexican family that moved to Green River in 2011 and who run a food truck with the best Mexican food in southern Utah. The family’s journey to Green River took a circuitous route. Upon leaving Veracruz, Mexico in 1992 the family first settled in Compton, California just in time for the Rodney King riots. Carlos Cruz, the patriarch of the family, works as a long distance trucker and was familiar with Green River from his trips between Compton and Colorado. Although life in Compton was challenging the kids of Carlos and Obdulia were reluctant to move to this little town in southern Utah but having been there now for 11 years they’ve grown to like it and call it home.
I was invited to do an installation on their building where the food truck is parked. However, when I went to meet the family in early March 2022 Obdulia was visiting a sick family member in California. So I met with Obdulia’s daughter, Jessenia who shared with me family photos from 30 years back and they became the source material for the installation at their food truck stand.
So the next time you’re cruising I-70 between Moab + Richfield stop by to say hey and get some good food. And tell them I sent you!
On June 28, 1865, President Andrew Johnson had directed every Indian Agent in the Southwest to conduct a survey to determine persons holding Native American captives as slaves, although they were not at this time asked to free Indian slaves. When Lafe submitted his list of Indian captives to Colorado Governor John Evan on July 17, 1865, he recorded over 160 names in Costilla and Conejos Counties. His full transmittal letter reads as follows:
In the company of E.R. Harris, U.S. Marshal, I called upon all those persons that hold Indian captives in Costilla and Conejos Counties and interrogated the Indians themselves, and their replies to my inquiries, you will please find in the accompanying lists which embrace within my knowledge every Indian Captive in these two counties, and to the credit of the citizens here I would add, that they all manifested a prompt willingness on their part to give up said Captives, whenever called upon to do so, and in view of the facts, I would most respectfully recommend, that all the Navajo Captives here be returned to their Reservation in New Mexico. Also the few Ute Indians residing in private families here, it is generally understood that they are there with the consent of their parents or friends, and enjoy the full privilege of returning to their people whenever they have the inclination or disposition to do so. Very many of these Ute children are orphans, are therefore homeless and perhaps under these circumstances, their condition would not be so much benefited by your order. Yet if your order is imperative, and you are instructing me to have them all removed, I will promptly do so.
I have notified all the people here, that in the future, no more Captives are to be purchased or sold as I shall immediately arrest both parties caught in the transaction. This step, I think, will at once put an end to this most barbaric and inhuman practice, which has been in existence with the Mexicans for generations.
There are captives here who know not their own parents; nor can be speak their mother tongue, and who recognize no (sic) one but those who rescued them from the Merciless (sic) Captors. What are we to do with these? I would here add that I have not incorporated in the accompanying lists the large number of Captives that have legally married in the two Counties.
I shall wait for further orders from you in regard to their removal. Please also instruct me what course I shall pursue in the premisis (sic) in regard to those who are not willing to return to their people.
A number of well-known men in the San Luis Valley were on Lafe’s list of slave owners, and Kit Carson was said to have three such captives.
Governor Evans promptly forwarded Lafe’s July 17list of captives to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs in Washington with the good suggestion (Probably influenced by Lafe’s transmittal letter) that those “slaves” who did not want to return home not be forced to leave their adopted families, and he considered the project closed. Governor Evans, however, was not aware of one major problem with Lafe’s list – that it did not include any of the Indian children living on Lafe’s home or living with other families in the Town of Conejos. Lafe would later submit a second list that would include himself and other Conejos residents that were slaveholders.
The Life & Times of Lafayette Head by Cynthia Becker and P. David Smith, Pages 190-191.
Millions of Indigenous people lived in North America before European colonial powers invaded. Along with an insatiable desire for free labor to cut sugarcane and to mine gold in the Caribbean and later to mine silver in New Spain (Mexico), Europeans brought a system of slavery that significantly differed from the system of enslavement practiced by Native nations which both pre and postdated African slavery. European concepts of bondage transformed the way Native nations interacted with each other, resulted in the enslavement and death of millions of Indigenous people, and sparked widespread resistance by Native nations in North and South America against colonizing powers (primarily Portugal, France, Britain, the Netherlands and Spain).
Nestled at the foot of Mount Blana, a mountain sacred to local tribes and one of four Sacred Mountains to the Diné (Navajo), Fort Garland was constructed by the U.S. Army in July 1858 to protect settlers from tribes whose land the settlers took. The fort was abandoned in 1883 after confining the tribes defending their land to reservations in Utah, Arizona and Colorado.
Wanting to engage the local community in difficult conversations about Native enslavement in the San Luis Valley Fort Garland Museum held a series of Zoom conversations encouraging participants to share family stories and photos of distant enslaved family members. One Latino participant shared how DNA testing is changing awareness of Native ancestry for many people in the valley. Inspired by an invitation from Fort Garland Museum to install work related to Native enslavement in the San Luis Valley I used this opportunity to begin learning more of this obscured history. As someone who has spent the past 34 years living and working with with the Diné on the Colorado Plateau in northern Arizona and as an African-American this history intrigues me. Many Diné friends shared stories with me over the years of family oral histories that involve distant relatives being captured in battle with other tribes and being held captive. Learning of Native enslavement wasn’t new information for me. However, the motivations, extent and consequences of it were.
Thank you Drew Ludwig, Esther Belin, Ronald Rael, Estevan Rael – Galvez, Eric Carpio, Dawn DiPrince, Delia Charley, the Fort Garland Museum staff, Richard Saxton and the good people of M12 for helping to make this work possible. It takes a village to prevent truth decay.
Unsilenced is part of the Landlines Initiative organized by M12 STUDIO. Since 2018, the Landlines Initiative has connected new art installations and cultural work throughout Colorado’s rural San Luis Valley. This work is supported by awards from Colorado’s Arts and Society, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, and the National Endowment for the Arts.
The first image is a portrait of 2 shrubs that were scorched recently in a brush fire near my home. Scientific models project more fires nationwide (worldwide actually), as temperatures increase creating more kindling for big fires.
On April 14, 2020, a Huffington Post headline read, “Navajo Nation Reports More Coronavirus Cases per Capita Than All but 2 U.S. States: Only New York and New Jersey Have More Confirmed Infections per 100,000 people.” The last point is key, because testing on the Navajo Nation has not been as robust as for New York and New Jersey. Sadly, the rate of infection for the Navajo Nation will continue to increase, as will the mortality rate.
In light of the emergency on the Navajo Nation, several mutual-aid, grassroots organizations have formed to get supplies of food, water, personal hygiene items, and firewood to elders living remotely and to provide hand-washing stations for unsheltered relatives in Kinłani (Flagstaff, AZ). Though the reservation is rich in natural resources that have been and continue to be exploited (including coal, oil, natural gas, uranium, and water in aquifers), roughly 25 percent of the 180,000 inhabitants are without running water and another 20 percent are without electricity.
This poster is designed to inform the community of the public-health strategy to provide optimal health during this time and to support the work of Navajo Hopi Solidarity and Kinlani/Flagstaff Mutual Aid. Additionally, this Diné COVID PSA is a collaboration with Shi Buddy, who provided the poster’s text, and grass dancer Ryan Pinto, who is pictured on the poster and who collaborated on the photograph’s production. Diné COVID PSA is part of a larger collaborative project that is currently underway with poets and visual artists—to drop soon.
Shout-out to Art Journal Open for the opportunity to spread the word and to all the people providing essential work during this time. Thank you. We see you and appreciate you.
My friend sent a message saying “…We have to go tonight man; the Guaraní put out a call for support. The police will be coming at 6 a.m. to remove them from their land. They heard the sound of chain saws cutting down trees earlier in the day and occupied the threatened land.”
A November 28, 2017 article in The Guardian noted “The Guaraní people of Jaraguá are squeezed into the smallest parcel of indigenous land in Brazil, two tiny villages, Tekoá Pyau and Tekoá Ytu, in the far north of Latin America’s largest city, São Paulo. About 700 people live in tiny dirt-floor houses on an area the size of four football fields.” The land under seize was still being negotiated with the State; however, developers jumped the gun and began clearing the land to build apartments.
Guided by the full moon of March 9th our band of activist accomplices arrived at Jaraguá around 1:30 a.m. There were campfires of non Guaraní supporters as we approached the main house on the land under seize. Some people slept as others talked + played music around the fires. The house buzzed with activity as young Guaraní warriors pulverized charcoal to mix with water to paint their bodies.
After some time my crew summoned me from the house saying “…Okay man. It’s time to correct the billboard.”
The billboard read “Your Future Apartment is Here.” The midnight rebels responded with a poignant meditation for the land developers “Sell Your Memories”.
With helicopters and drones overhead and 2 battalions of armed police on the ground Guaraní warriors approached the perimeter of the property to confront agents of the settler state at dawn. Males approached the gate first followed by females who took a position ahead of the men.
With arms interlinked, songs were sung accompanied by a slow rocking back and forth movement. The 6 a.m. deadline came as State surveillance intensified. Guaraní leaders were blessed with tobacco smoke and speeches were made. Ultimately it was decided several hours later to not jeopardize the wellbeing of children and elders. Rather than continuing to occupy the contested land members of the tribe created an encampment in front of the gate blocking developers from entering.
A week later the blockade remains. A luta continua (the struggle continues).
March 17, 2020 update: The Guaraní have halted their occupation as a public health measure in light of the Coronavirus threat.