Category: Uncategorized

Native Enslavement in the Southwest

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.

“List of Indian Captives acquired by purchase and now in the service of the citizen of Conejos County, C.T. (Colorado Territory), as taken and rendered by Lafayette Head, U.S. Indian Agent for the Tabeguache Utah Tribe of Indians. July 1865.”

1865 Costilla County list of enslaved Native people as documented by Lafe Head.

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.

Navajo captive youth pictured behind the Conejos County list of enslaved Native people
photo by Eric Carpio

Maria Rita Gallegos near the Costilla County list

Deluvina Maxwell
The Conejos County listing of enslaved Native people on the former dwelling of enslaved people at the Lafayette Head compound in Conejos County.
The Head list in the quarters of the enslaved at the Head homesite in Conejos.

Text from Virginia Sanchez’s chapter in Nacion Genizaro

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.

Last page of the Native Enslavement in the Americas Timeline zine

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.

stories from ground zero

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.

Larry King, a Church Rock resident who was an underground surveyor at the Church Rock Uranium mine at the time the dam failed in 1979, speaks to a group of anti-uranium activists on the 40th anniversary of the spill, July 16, 1979. Activists were present from Japan and across the U.S.

Activist + community organizer, Leona Morgan, of Nuclear Issues Study Group, Diné No Nukes and the Radiation Monitoring Project spoke at the Church Rock 40th Anniversary commemoration. She noted “The Church Rock Chapter of the Navajo Nation passed a resolution in July 2018 opposing the storage and transport of high-level nuclear waste from nuclear power reactors across the country through the local community along the railroad track. There are two proposals for nuclear waste storage of irradiated fuel from power reactors which are going through the neighborhood process as part of the application for a license from the United States nuclear regulatory commission. The Navajo nation currently has a ban on transportation of radioactive materials unless it’s for cleanup of legacy waste from uranium mining or milling for medical purposes. However, the Navajo nation‘s jurisdiction does not extend to state and federal roads and railways. Still there is a need for protection from further contamination of radioactive materials within the homeland of Diné peoples.”

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 Mils.

“Everybody is afraid of nuclear war. Are they not waging nuclear war when the miners die from cancer from mining the uranium?” John Trudell (Cyndy Begay holding a photo of her dad.)


 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.

The text reads “Name:  Harvey Speck, Age: 87, Previous work:  Uranium miner at the Oljato Moonlight Mine 1956 – 1964.”

As high rates of illness began to occur workers were frequently unsuccessful in court cases seeking compensation.  In 1990 Congress passed the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act which seeks to make compensation available to persons exposed to fallout from nuclear weapons testing and for living uranium miners, mill workers or their survivors who had worked in Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona between January 1, 1947 and December 31, 1971.  An amendment to this bill is awaiting Congress after its recess that will expand years of coverage from 1971 to the mid 1990s as well as expanding the regions of the US covered.

Design by Klee Benally of

At the other end of the life spectrum the Navajo Birth Cohort Study is the first prospective epidemiologic study of pregnancy and neonatal outcomes in a uranium-exposed population.  The goal of the Navajo Birth Cohort Study (NBCS) is to better understand the relationship between uranium exposures and birth outcomes and early developmental delays on the Navajo Nation.  It started in 2014 and has funding through 2024.

The text around JC + Gracie reads “The Navajo Nation encompasses more than 27,000 square miles across three states – New Mexico, Utah + Arizona – and is the largest home for indigenous people in the U.S. From 1944 to 1986 hundreds of uranium and milling operations extracted an estimated 400 million tons of uranium ore from Diné (Navajo) lands. These mining + processing operations have left a legacy of potential exposures to uranium waste from abandoned mines/mills, homes and other structures built with mining waste which impacts the drinking water, livestock + humans.”

“As a heavy metal, uranium primarily damages the kidneys + urinary system. While there have been many studies of environmental + occupational exposure to uranium and associated renal effects in adults, there have been very few studies of other adverse health effects. In 2010 the University of New Mexico partnered with the Navajo Area Indian Health Service and Navajo Division of Health to evaluate the association between environmental contaminants + reproductive birth outcomes.”

“This investigation is called the Navajo Birth Cohort Study and will follow children for 7 years from birth to early childhood. Chemical exposure, stress, sleep, diet + their effects on the children’s physical, cognitive + emotional development will be studied.”

“JC with her younger sister, Gracie (who is a NBCS participant). #stopcanyonmine”


Efforts to mine uranium adjacent to the Grand Canyon have accelerated during the Trump administration. The most pressing threat comes from Canyon Mine located closely to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Because of the plethora of abandoned mines on the reservation the Navajo Nation banned uranium mining on the reservation in 2005.

However, it’s possible still to transport ore from off the reservation across the reservation. Approximately 180 miles of the Canyon Mine haul route would cross the Navajo Nation where trucks hauling ore had 2 separate accidents in 1987.

For more information on these and other uranium related issues at Ground Zero, check:


(DOE map from 2014)


  1. November 8, 1895   German physicist Wilhelm Conrad Rontgen discovers x-rays.
  2. 1896   French physicist Henri Becquerel discovers radioactivity.
  3. 1898   Marie + Pierre Curie discover polonium + radium.
  4. December 28, 1931  Irene Joliot-Curie reports studying penetrating particles produced by beryllium when bombarded by alpha rays. She believes the particles, which are actually neutrons, to be energetic gamma rays.
  5. May 1932   British physicist James Chadwick discovers the neutron.
  6. September 12, 1933  Leo Szilard conceives the idea of using a chain reaction of neutron collisions with atomic nuclei to release energy. He also considers the possibility of using this to make bombs.
  7. July 4, 1934  Szilard files a patent application describing the use of neutron-induced chain reactions to create explosions and the concept of the critical mass.
  8. January 29, 1939  Robert Oppenheimer hears about the discovery of fission. Within a few minutes, he realizes that excess neutrons must be emitted, and that it might be possible to build a bomb.
  9. September 1, 1939  Nazi Germany invades Poland, beginning World War II. The U.S. didn’t send soldiers overseas initially. President Roosevelt declared that America would support the Allies with material, assuming the role of “arsenal of democracy.” The initial interest was in mining vanadium, a heavy metal used to make steel alloys and amour plating for tanks and ships. Byproducts of vanadium milling are carnotite and uranium. Uranium which was initially considered a waste product and was used at this time as a coloring agent for ceramics (ex. Fiestaware).
  10. April 9, 1940  Germany invades Denmark and Norway.
  11. May 10, 1940  Germany launches its assault on Western Europe, attacking Holland, Belgium + France.
  12. June 22, 1941 Nazi Germany invades the Soviet Union.
  13. September 3, 1941 With PM Winston Churchill’s endorsement, the British Chiefs of Staff agree to begin development of an atomic bomb.
  14. December 7, 1941 Japan attacks Pearl Harbor. We declare war on them the following day.
  15. December 11, 1941 The US declares war on Germany and Italy following their declaration of war on the US.
  16. January 19, 1942  President Roosevelt approves the production of an atomic bomb.
  17. August 1942        Luke Yazzie reveals to trading post owner Harry Goulding and Vanadium Corporation of America prospector, Denny Viles, the carnotite deposit in Cane Valley that would become the Monument Number 2 Mine located on Yazzie Mesa.
  18. August 13, 1942  The Manhattan Project is formally established.
  19. September 19, 1942  Oak Ridge, TN is selected as the site for a uranium processing pilot plant. Construction begins February 18, 1943 and the site is closed off the public April 1, 1943.
  20. November 1942   VCA obtains the rights to Harry Goulding’s Monument Number 1 site in Monument Valley.
  21. December 1942M.  Sundt Company is appointed contractor to build Los Alamos Laboratory. It opens in April 1943.
  22. April 20, 1943   A contract is concluded with the University of California to manage Los Alamos, NM. This contract served as the basis for University of California management of both the Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore laboratories.
  23. September 8, 1943   Italy surrenders to Allied forces.
  24. September 20, 1943 John von Neumann visits Los Alamos, NM and points out the potential for high compression from implosion thus theorizing a method for making an atomic bomb.
  25. April 1944   IBM calculating equipment arrives at Los Alamos, NM and is used in implosion research.
  26. June 6, 1944 Allied forces launch the Normandy invasion.
  27. September 1944 President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill sign the Hyde Park aide-memoire, pledging to continue researching atomic technology.
  28. October 27, 1944 Robert Oppenheimer approves plans for a bomb test in Jornada del Muerto valley at the Alamagordo Bombing Range.
  29. December 22, 1944 First Fat Man bomb assembly is completed.
  30. February 13, 1945 Dresden, Germany is burned down in an incendiary raid killing 50,000.
  31. February 19, 1945    Marines land on Iwo Jima, a Japanese observation post for B-29 raids. Over the next two months 6281 Marines are killed and 21,865 are wounded in capturing the island from 20,000 defenders.
  32. July 16, 1945 As part of the Trinity Test, the first nuclear bomb named “Gadget” is detonated in Alamogordo, NM in the first atomic explosion in history.
  33. July 26, 1945 President Truman issues the Potsdam Declaration which warns Japan of “prompt and utter destruction” and requires unconditional surrender of the Japanese armed forces.
  34. July 29, 1945  The Japanese government rejects the Potsdam surrender demand.
  35. August 6, 1945  The bomber Enola Gay drops the atomic bomb Little Boy at 8:16:02 Hiroshima time.
  36. August 9, 1945  Fat Man (2nd atomic bomb) is dropped over Nagasaki at 11:02 Nagasaki time.
  37. August 14, 1945  Emperor Hirohito orders an Imperial Edict be issued accepting the Potsdam surrender agreement.
  38. September 2, 1945  Japanese officials sign the formal Japanese Instrument of Surrender on board the USS Missouri.
  39. January 24, 1946  The United Nations Atomic Energy Commission is established.
  40. July 1, 1946  Testing of nuclear weapons begins at Bikini Atoll in the Marshal Islands.
  41. August 29, 1949  The Soviet Union explodes its first atomic bomb in Asia. President Truman waits until September 23, 1949 to announce the Soviet atomic bomb.
  42. June 9, 1950  Nobel prize winning physicist Niels Bohr presents his “Open Letter to the United Nations.” As early as 1944 Bohr had recognized that the creation of atomic weapons would completely change the nature of future warfare. Bohr stressed the free exchange of scientific and technological information as critical to creating the basis for peaceful cooperation between nations and reflected on the hopes + dangers of the Atomic Age.
  43. January 27, 1951  The U.S. conducts its first nuclear detonation, Operation Ranger Shot Able, at the Nevada Test Site.
  44. October 28, 1951    While nuclear bombing tests continue in the Marshall Islands the United States conducts the “Baker Shot” at the Nevada Test Site.
  45. December 20, 1951  The first U.S. nuclear reactor to produce electricity goes critical.
  46. 1951 The U.S. Public Health Service begins 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.
  47. 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 Mils.” 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.
  48. October 3, 1952  The U.K. tests its first atomic bomb known as Hurricane.
  49. November 1, 1952  The U.S. tests its first ever thermonuclear device at Eniwetok Atoll in the South Pacific which yielded 10 megatons of TNT and was roughly 1000 times larger than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima seven years earlier.
  50. March 17, 1953  The U.S. conducts the “Annie” nuclear test at the Nevada Test Site. A wood-framed house was built for the occasion as part of the civil defense study on the effects of a nuclear explosion.
  51. May 19, 1953  The U.S conducts the “Harry” test. It was the 9th nuclear detonation in the test series at the Nevada Test Site. This test was the most efficient pure fission device ever detonated. Due to an unexpected change in the wind “Harry” caused the highest amount of radioactive fallout of any test in the continental United States contaminating the city of St. George, Utah. The test was later called “Dirty Harry.”
  52. June 19, 1953  Julius and Ethel Rosenberg are executed by the U.S. for passing atomic secrets to the USSR.
  53. March 1, 1954  The U.S. conducts the “Bravo” test which is the largest thermonuclear device in history up to that point. The bomb was in a form readily adaptable for delivery by an aircraft and was thus America’s first weaponized hydrogen bomb.
  54. November 22, 1955  The first megaton-range Soviet Hydrogen bomb is detonated in Kazakhstan.
  55. 1955   The Navajo nation received $625,000 a year in uranium royalties which provided about 25% of the annual budget. By 1956 the United States was the world’s leading provider of uranium thanks to the Navajo nation. Monument Valley provided nearly 1.4 million tons of uranium ore to the American people. At the same time the Public Health Service recorded the first death of a 48 year old white mining foreman at the Monument Number 2 mine who died of lung cancer.
  56. October 30, 1961 The Soviet Union detonates Tsar Bomba which is the largest nuclear device in human history. The weapon yielded 57 megatons of TNT which is 4 times larger than any nuclear device tested by the U.S and amounted to all of the explosives used during WWII multiplied by 10.
  57. October 16, 1962  The Cuban Missile Crisis begins after surveillance photos taken by a routine U-2 flight over Cuba shows Soviet Medium-Range Ballistic Missiles on the island.
  58. October 10, 1963     The Limited Test Ban Treaty, signed by JFK and Nikita Khrushchev, enter into effect. The LTBT bans all nuclear weapons test above ground, in the atmosphere, under water and in outer space.
  59. October 16, 1964   China tests its first atomic bomb.
  60. June 10, 1967   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.
  61. June 17, 1967  China tests its first hydrogen bomb.
  62. July 1, 1968    Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is opened for signature. A total of 190 parties have joined the Treaty since 1968 with five states being recognized as nuclear-weapons states: the U.S., Russia, the United Kingdom, France + China.
  63. May 26, 1972S.  President Richard Nixon and Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev sign the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM) and the first Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT), both of which were important steps in slowing the nuclear arms race between the U.S. and the USSR.
  64. May 18, 1974   India tests its first “peaceful nuclear device dubbed Smiling Buddha which was the first confirmed nuclear test by a nation outside the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.
  65. April 7, 1978    President Jimmy Carter cancelled production of a neutron bomb, a thermonuclear weapon designed specifically to release a large portion of its energy as fast neutrons rather than explosive energy.
  66. March 28, 1979   A partial nuclear meltdown occurs in one of the two Three Mile Island nuclear reactors in Pennsylvania. The partial meltdown resulted in the release of small amounts of radioactive gases and radioactive iodine into the environment. It was the worst accident in U.S. commercial nuclear power plant history.
  67. August 16, 1979    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 Diné lands. Sheep in the Rio Puerco wash keeled over and died as did crops along the river bank. 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.
  68. April 26, 1986   A catastrophic nuclear accident occurs at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine under the direct jurisdiction of central authorities of the Soviet Union. An explosion and fire release large quantities of radioactive particles into the atmosphere which spread over much of western USSR and Europe.
  69. August 2, 1990   Depleted uranium munitions made from nuclear reactor waste was first deployed on a large scale during the Gulf War. The U.S. military used depleted uranium for tank armor and for some bullets due to its high density helping to penetrate enemy armored vehicles. Within 2 years of their use grotesque birth defects numbers grew – such as babies born with 2 heads, or missing eyes, hands and legs, or babies born with stomachs and brains inside out. Leukemia cancer rates in children up to age 14 years doubled from 1992 to 1999.
  70. September 23, 1992  The U.S. conducted its last nuclear test, code named “Divider,” at an underground facility in Nevada. It was the last of 1032 nuclear tests carried out by the U.S. since the Trinity Test 47 years earlier.
  71. May 11, 1998    India detonates its first “weaponized” nuclear bomb. It was the first time India carried out such tests since 1974. The experiments took place without any warning to the international community and there was widespread outrage and concern over the tests.
  72. May 28, 1998   Pakistan detonates its first nuclear weapons in response to India’s nuclear tests two weeks earlier. The move provoked worldwide condemnation and fears of a nuclear conflict in one of the world’s most volatile regions.
  73. October 9, 2006   North Korea detonates its first nuclear bomb.
  74. March 11, 2011   Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident occurs after a severe earthquake off the coast of Japan.
  75. January 25, 2018  The symbolic Nuclear “Doomsday Clock” moved to 2 minutes away from midnight which is the closest it’s been since the Cold War in 1953 when the U.S. and Soviet Union were testing hydrogen bombs. Scientists behind the report cited a long list of concerning geopolitical developments, many of which come back to Donald Trump, as reason for the move: a halt in U.S. nuclear nonproliferation negotiations with Russia, Trump pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal and escalating nuclear tensions between the U.S. and North Korea.



merry christmas from the rez





I’d wanted to get this up sooner but I had a heck of a time getting the images + video to upload from the rez.  I had to wait until I went to town (Flagstaff) to use a faster service.  Anyway, in the spirit of festiveness… Christmas lights in the sheep corral on a cold December night.

baa, baa black sheep…


Last month I had an opportunity to get this quickie up at the old Wauneta Trading Post.  Man, a quick Google search reveals that this place had quite the reputation as “the” spot  for bootleggers on the rez to get large quantities of beer back in the day.

We had big rains in October.  A night or two before I installed a 26 year old French woman was involved in a horrible accident on Highway 98.  During one of the big rains a section of Highway 89 washed away in the night.  In the darkness of night vehicles on the highway couldn’t see that a section of highway washed away.   The car driven by the young French woman dropped into a sink hole.  She had 2 other passengers in the car and they all survived.  Stunned, the driver got out of the car and within seconds was hit by a vehicle coming from the other direction trying to avoid the sink hole.

I can’t get over her thinking “…Mon dieu!  What just happened? We just survived that horrific accident” and wham.  It doesn’t seem fair.

In order to get to the site all traffic was rerouted through Hopiland.  In Kykotsmovi traffic went south to Leupp and then onto Highway 89 near Flagstaff.  As much as I wanted to whine about a trip that normally takes 75 minutes taking 3 and 1/2 hours I couldn’t when I thought of the 26 year old French woman who’d been tricked by life.

A storm front bringing the first light snow of the season was coming in from the west.  making for dramatic light and lots of wind.  Such early season storms get people saying things like “…Yeah, we’re due for an El Nino winter.  It’s been a while.”

It has been a while.

NPR’s Morning Edition “Listen” ad

npr’s new “fully awake” ads:

full 30 second spot:


Discussion from Facebook with my friend and activist Lane Hall regarding working with commercial entities and the dangers one may not have considered in contributing to the society of the spectacle…

Lane Hall I love your work – the roadside stands, the water towers, homages to the people involved in the area. I love your amazing facility with images, especially close-ups. I am happy for you with this NPR opportunity, but not sure about it. It makes me uneasy, just as the requests for OLB as advert (regardless of the affiliation) has done the same (which we haven’t pursued as a general policy)… I do respect that you must have done some soul searching to do this, and came out with it as a personal positive, so am not saying this to rain on the parade here, but it really does change your work!

me:  lane, thanks so much for your feedback. interestingly, i’m at “into action” in l.a. this weekend where the feeling of being a sell out is exacerbated. one of the factors that led to my agreeing to take part in this project is the consent of all the people photographed who for the first time were reimbursed for the use of their imagery. while i see the npr project as a one off opportunity i will continue doing the work i’ve been doing for marginalized communities.
Lane:  thanks for the response. I was hesitant to write what I did, because I don’t want it to seem a critique or accusation of “sell out.” Indeed, I think that such a term is ridiculously low on nuance. I am more concerned about how such a corporate sponsor repositions the work, and not just that specific work, but the work that leads up to it, and indeed, continues. Of course, repositioning happens with everything – gallery shows, museum shows, more “grassroots” sponsorships than NPR… all of those bring baggage.
Lane:  But I do want to be clear in my appreciation for all that you are doing. You can’t imagine how much your work inspires me, even, and especially, in these dark times!
me:  interestingly, i don’t get to have this conversation with folks and am appreciative of the opportunity. i’m sure there are others who identify me as a sell-out but who haven’t shared it. in this ad npr was looking for inclusivity and representation of communities frequently overlooked and/or whose representation in media is negative. as a morning edition listener i was happy to get the opportunity as my photography has always been about challenging mainstream narratives. whenever i get money from my art related projects i use that money to bring artists to the reservation to create art. this includes indigenous artists. having no other paying projects lined up this year this too was a factor in deciding to do the ad as it’ll allow me to continue the painted desert project. and as i mentioned before it helps that the people photographed were into it. 
Lane:  Great to hear about the feedback loop regarding funding going back into community projects. 
NPR is a strange one…. it seems to have gotten more and more corporate and “let’s hear both sides” as a kind of false narrative of balance, yet at times it is exceptional. It is especially important in non urban communities (used to keep me sane as a carpenter working in non-urban areas). Have you thought of trying to do fundraisers that would go directly into Painted Desert Project Funds for “scholarships” to bring in artists? I just followed Radical Mycology’s funding to start a school (online) in Portland… man, they did really well… made their goal (65k) in three days, ended with twice that!

me:  i wish i had the time to pursue seeking nonprofit status and to do fundraising and grants. as a one person operation working a 40 hour a week job whose primary passion is just getting work up i can’t do it all. sadly, i’ll have more time to pursue this once i retire but i’lm no longer be living on the reservation. with regard to the ad, i wish it’d been for “democracy now” or “free speech tv” but alas, it was npr. i guess the question is if i were given the opportunity to do this again, would i? at this point i don’t know. 

Lane Hall Thank you for not taking offense. I should be clear (for other commenters) about how much your work means to me.

me:  Lane, talk more about how doing this project with NPR and the ad agency changes the work.

Lane Hall When your work is an image of a person that you know, and it is independently applied to a structure in the area you live, it has a quality of completeness… it has no other need than itself, it indexes nothing but its own visibility, that of the person, the location, the action of making visible. This would be true even if you came to my community and worked with people here, it would simply be a different relationship. However, when your work is part of a sponsored campaign of visibility for a function like NPR, it becomes indexical, pointing both to itself, but also to NPR. In such a system, the sponsoring entity pays to have the aura of your authenticity glow onto them. They are paying for your energy, in a very real sense. The primary index (work as a means to itself) can get lost in the secondary index (work as a means towards NPR’s identity campaign). This isn’t a horrible thing, as they in turn give you energy (money) that you can use for further projects, but this is how it changes the work. The work shifts in “ends and means” terms… from an end in itself towards a means to some other agency’s ends. You become absorbed into their spectacle, to put it in Situationist terms…
me:  again, thanks for this. by extension of this argument any work that isn’t context/place based loses authenticity. for example, the image of stephanie that i pasted in reno that came from a campaign to raise awareness about a sacred site in flagstaff is also inappropriately used?

Lane Hall I didn’t say anything about “appropriate” or “inappropriate” use, merely that these things change the location of the work’s meaning. The example you give above seems very consistent with the intentions of your work. The sacred site (example) is quite different than a large corporation (even a not-for-profit). Using my “double indexing” idea, the large corporation’s needs begin to eclipse the imagery itself (hence, the “absorption into spectacle”) while the sacred site awareness campaign is deeply connected to the imagery (a much closer relationship) and doesn’t absorb the image into spectacle. But I don’t know, what do you think? Does it feel different?

Lane Hall btw… we collaborate with small social justice groups all the time… even larger ones like 350, MTEA, etc… so I think about this a lot. It might well be that the benefits for a project like NPR far exceed the tradeoffs… in a good way beyond $$, such as visibility for other projects, helping you build a reputation beyond what you already have, which in turn, helps all other less visible projects… these are all judgements that we, as artists, are fortunate to be able to make!

me:  dude, thank you again for engaging me in this conversation. it’s all a learning experience.
Lane Hall is a Milwaukee, WI based artist, activist and mycology enthusiast who is cultivating and foraging mushrooms.  He founded the activist organization Overpass Light Brigade (  More information can be found about their work here:
“be the change” =
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Test markets for the “fully awake” spot include Salt Lake City, Phoenix, Austin and Philly.

Broken Boxes Podcast Show – Santa Fe, NM

From the Form + Concept website regarding the Broken Boxes Podcast show

Broken Boxes features the art and ideas of over 40 visual artists, filmmakers, sound artists, activists, performance artists and community organizers from around the world who are effecting change through their work. The show is co-curated by Ginger Dunnill and Cannupa Hanska Luger, and all invited artists have participated in an interview on Dunnill’s Broken Boxes Podcast over the past 2 years.

“This is a celebration for the artists who have contributed their time and energy to the Broken Boxes exhibition,” says Dunnill. “Their work continues to lift up our communities and sustain our growth and vibrancy as human beings.”

The show runs from August 18 – October 21, 2017 at Form + Concept Gallery in Santa Fe, NM.

“Meditation on a cloth signifier”


Breeze + Ian Kuali’i


Ian Kuali’i creating a paper cut portrait.


Winona LaDuke with Keri Pickett who made the documentary “First Daughter and the Black Snake.” The film follows environmentalist Winona LaDuke as she fights to block an Enbridge pipeline threatening sacred wild rice watersheds and her tribe’s land in northern Minnesota. The “Prophecy of the 7th Fire” says a “black snake” will bring destruction to the earth. We will have a choice of two paths. One is scorched, and one is green. For Winona (Ojibwe for “first daughter”), the “black snake” is oil trains and pipelines. When she learns that Canadian-owned Enbridge plans to route a new pipeline through her tribe’s 1855 Treaty land, she and her community spring into action to save the sacred wild rice lakes and preserve their traditional indigenous way of life.  The Broken Boxes Podcast show opening coincided with Winona’s birthday.


Traditional dancers at Indian Market.

full circle


eu amo o brasil!

big shout out to raul zito, photographer and wheat paste artist in sao paulo, brasil.  i’ve been following his work on various street art blogs and learned through flickr he’s been following mine as well.  here’s an example of his work in sao paulo.


he and i got in touch with one another late 2010 and he offered to get a piece of mine up in sao paulo.  the piece isn’t finished yet but here’s what he’s done so far.  i absolutely love it.  he put me beside magrela mag who did the piece on the second apartment in the first photo (up top).  sweet!  i love the way jamaal is flying into the mama bird’s mouth, through the basketball hoop while the beautiful, nude woman checks it all out.  wicked piece!

stay tuned.  he’ll be getting files of his to me soon to paste here.  how cool is that?!



rain dance…

it never fails.  whenever i do a big installation, it rains.  such was the case last week and this weekend in phoenix.  so after a week, stephanie’s photo on the billboard, the collab with breeze, is already starting to come down.  one week later.  that hurts.  steve, julia’s husband and partner in managing the hive, said he’d try to paste her back up.  i left some wheat paste with him that had started to turn sour.  yum.

meanwhile, i met niba yesterday.  he’s a photographer who is based in tucson, i think.  it was one of those moments when virtual reality becomes real and you meet someone from your social networking sites.  in truth, i thought niba, also known as “dead now” on twitter was a woman.  o well.  instead, he’s a great guy with 2 beautiful children.  here are some of his images from yesterday’s installation.  thanks niba!

i mentioned above that raul zito of sao paulo pasted one of my pieces in sao paulo.  i returned the favor + pasted one of his images in phoenix.  what comes around…

shout out to the british two tone movement

with miguel


kicking it with breeze + erin gramzinski


July 9, 2017

I don’t often read posts from back in the day when I started pasting especially posts found on my Blogspot site. (I miss that url –, aka “yo mama.”) It’s fun seeing my enthusiasm for everything about the art form.  In this case it’s especially exciting to read through these posts from early 2011 to reflect on how long I’ve been aware of Zito’s work and to remember that dreams can come true.  He’ll be coming to the rez in just under a month.  Full circle.  Yay!



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