Taos Pueblo commemorates 40 years with exhibit
TAOS, N.M. – In 1906, while President Theodore Roosevelt was amassing lands to start the National Forest Service, his administration appropriated hundreds of thousands of acres belonging to Native Americans.
Many thousands of those acres belonged to the people of Taos Pueblo, and for the next 60-plus years, leaders from that northern New Mexico tribe made their way to Washington, D.C., to petition the federal government to return their sacred lands. And on Dec. 15, 1970, President Richard M. Nixon signed into law legislation that returned 48,000 acres to its rightful owners; marking the first time lands were restored to a Native American tribe in lieu of monetary compensation.
Forty years to the day after that momentous White House signing, Taos Pueblo, in collaboration with the University of New Mexico’s Harwood Museum of Art, will open to the public, “The Return of Blue Lake,” an exhibition of photographs, letters, newspaper articles and objects, including a pen used by President Richard M. Nixon to sign Bill P.L. 91-550.
The month-long Harwood exhibition is the direct result of the official two-day commemoration that was held at the Pueblo in September. Given the level of interest that show generated, the Pueblo’s Blue Lake Commemoration Committee, chaired by Linda Yardley, has chosen to collaborate with Harwood Director Susan Longhenry in organizing this museum exhibition.
Drawing exclusively from the private collections of Taos Pueblo tribal members and government offices, the exhibition will feature original photographs, documents and objects relating to this historic event. Included are photographs of the historic meeting of the Taos Pueblo delegation with President Nixon, photographs of the signing of the legislation, and photographs of those who assisted in the process during the long struggle. Other objects on exhibit will include a framed copy of the bill stamped by the White House, and petitions signed by Taos Pueblo members and members of the Taos community in support of the return of Blue Lake. Video footage from 1970 and 1971 will also be on view, as well as footage shot by the Smithsonian Institution for a 20-year commemoration held in 1991.
Taos Pueblo Governor James Lujan Sr. and War Chief David G. Gomez, are pleased that the Harwood is hosting the exhibition that will reach an even larger audience. “This land and its return is very important to Taos Pueblo,” Gomez said. “In September we had a great event at the Pueblo, but since many of us were busy organizing those activities, the exhibition was not viewed by all of our people. Now with the showing at the Harwood, many of our Taos Pueblo people will be able to experience the exhibit at their leisure. We invite the Taos Valley community and visitors to visit the museum to enjoy the exhibit that is part of our continuing 40-year commemoration activities.”
“The Harwood is honored to collaborate with the Taos Pueblo on this extraordinarily meaningful exhibition,” Longhenry said. “The return of Blue Lake to the Taos Pueblo corrected a terrible injustice, and it also restored – as so eloquently stated by Taos Pueblo War Chief David G. Gomez – ‘the faith of humanity in honoring the need for sacred places.’ We’re thrilled to join the Taos Pueblo and the rest of our community in celebrating this very poignant victory.”
Reva Suazo, Taos Pueblo tribe member and part of the Blue Lake Exhibit Committee, was just a young girl in 1970 when her father and other tribal members were influential in seeing the land’s return. While she hopes that someday this story will be documented in a permanent exhibit at a future Taos Pueblo Visitor Center, she believes this show’s timing presents a rare opportunity to see this wealth of material exhibited in one place.
“My generation is really grateful for all the hard work and perseverance it took. Hopefully, visitors to the exhibition will understand the long struggle and the strength of our people. And it wasn’t just our own people, but Native people across the nation. The return of Blue Lake was a symbol that they could win back their lands, too.”