Entries in American Indian (2)


Ghost Dance Statement

"Ghost Dance: Native American Massacre Sites"
Photographs by Quinn Jacobson

"I have seen in my mind that some time, after I am dead, light-skinned bearded men will arrive with sticks spitting fire. They will conquer the land and drive you before them. They will kill the animals who give you their flesh that you may live, and they will bring strange animals for you to ride and eat. They will introduce war and evil, strange sickness and death. They will try and make you forget Maheo, the Creator, and the things I have taught you, and will impose their own ways. They will take your land little by little, until there is nothing left for you. I do not like to tell you this, but you must know. You must be strong…because you are the perpetuators of life and if you weaken, the Cheyenne will cease to be."
Sweet Medicine
Cheyenne Prophet

The purpose of this project is to remember the suffering and to transmit that memory in order to fortify conscience, to plead for decency, to strengthen values, and to intensify a commitment to human dignity.

Bruce Johansen and Robert Maestas, in, "Wasi'chu, The Continuing Indian War", said, "The first people who lived on the northern plains of what today is the United States called themselves ‘Lakota,’ meaning 'the people'," a word which provides the semantic basis for Dakota. The first European people to meet the Lakota called them ‘Sioux’," a contraction of Nadowessioux, a now archaic French-Canadian word meaning ‘snake’ or enemy.

The Lakota also used a metaphor to describe the newcomers. It was Wasi'chu, which means "takes the fat," or "greedy person." Within the modern Indian movement, Wasi'chu has come to mean those corporations and individuals, with their governmental accomplices, which continue to covet Indian lives, land, and resources for private profit.

Wasi'chu does not describe a race; it describes a state of mind. Wasi'chu is also a human condition based on inhumanity, racism, and exploitation. It is a sickness, a seemingly incurable and contagious disease which begot the ever advancing society of the West. If we do not control it, this disease will surely be the basis for what may be the last of the continuing wars against all people that believe in a better way."

My images deal with genocide and the broken treaties of the mid-to-late 19th century in the western United States. There is a long, sordid history of European occupation and genocide of the native people starting in the 16th century in North America. After defeating resisting Timucuan warriors, in 1539, Hernando de Soto (Spanish) had 200 Native American men, women and children executed. This was the first large-scale massacre by Europeans on what became American soil. This was called, "The Napituca Massacre".

I've selected the massacre sites of the 19th century because of my location (Denver, Colorado), my own heritage, and because of the photographic process I'm using (Wet Collodion). My intent with these images is to represent the horror, betrayal, injustice, and genocide; they are not documentary images. In the end, this is not only about land, it's about the greed of humanity, the indifference to suffering, the intolerance of difference, and the human condition. It's about the Wasi'chu.

In 2005, I had my DNA tested through The Genographic Project (National Geographic). My Y-DNA (father) is Jewish and my mtDNA (mother) is Native American. My mother's heritage goes back to the Ket people or Yenisey ostyaks people. The Ket language is virtually the same as the Navajo or the Na-Dené languages of North America. My mother comes from the Navajo tribe of the southwestern United States.

Growing up, I was conflicted about how to think or feel about this diverse, and unique, heritage. My father told stories about his grandfather always telling him to not disclose his Jewish heritage. And, at the same time, my mother would be telling me about my uncle hunting and fishing on the Shoshone-Bannock reservation (Fort Hall) in Idaho where he lived. This started, what I now know as, an identity crisis for me. I was confused about what I was hearing and wondered why I came from two peoples that were not wanted by the Europeans and both experienced genocide. My heritage, or the tension in my identity, has been the muse for the majority of my work.

Making landscape images of these sacred places has burdened me with the anxiety of showing the proper respect and, at the same time, making engaging art. It's challenging and difficult. A lot of these places are truly beautiful. For me, it's almost like making a portrait of a person. In the spirit of the Indians of all tribes, it does feel like the land is alive. I believe that every one of these sites has remnants of the people murdered there and that the land remembers what happened there. It's palpable if you are present and look long enough. I want the viewer to feel, and contemplate, both the beauty and the horror of these places.

What do we do with this history? I say we embrace it, study it, wrestle with it and transform it into a weapon for the human spirit; one that will enlarge our sense of responsibility, alleviate human suffering and strengthen our moral resolve.

"I have come to kill Indians and believe it is right and honorable to use any means under God's heaven to kill Indians."
Colonel John Chivington
1864, Sand Creek Massacre
Sand Creek, Colorado



Native American Massacre Site Project (NAMS)

This year, I plan to have a very good start on the Native American Massacre site project. This project is yet to be titled. I'll call it NAMS for now.

It seems that I'm constantly pulled into other projects and things that distract me. Teaching is a big one. As much as I love teaching, I'm going to have to figure out a better way to have more time, and I think that translates to less teaching. There are plenty of people teaching nowadays, it wouldn't be a big deal if I cut back. Of course, I would have to make some changes, but I'm ready for that.

In the next several weeks, I will be traveling to a couple of different massacre sites. I have a feeling that I'll be making more than one trip to some of these locations. Which translates to a very long time to make this project a reality. And I'm very much okay with that.

In fact, part of my desire to do this project is to get away from the ridiculous "photography" pace I've kept for the past several years. I'm tired. And a little bit burned out.

As many times as I've tried to slow down and cut back, there's been more opportunities that are presented. However, now, I'm learning how to say, "No, thank you" as it relates to photography and art. My boundaries are being redefined so I can do the things I need to do. 

While I've been very fortunate in my career, taking opportunities for opportunities sake doesn't really satisfy me. As an artist, I'm supposed to be thinking, reading, writing, researching and making photographs. That's the opportunity I want to pursue.

For the past year, I've been doing a lot of research on the NAMS project. I'm not over thinking it, but I am trying to position myself to make several inquiries not only about these events in history, but about art in general as well as aesthetics. It will speak to a lot of my concerns, questions, and attitude about art in general, too.

Recently, I discovered a treasure trove of information here in Colorado about obscure massacre sites and places where treaties were signed (and later broken). These sites, and the information they include, are almost like 19th century urban legends. The writing tells of fantastic events about Native Americans, men, women, and children being slaughtered, raped, burned alive, skinned alive, and enslaved.

One entry that I read has rented space in my head. I can't get it out of my mind. It happened at at the Sand Creek Massacre site here in Colorado. It talks about the slaughter of native men, women and children by the U.S. military. As the natives were trying to run away, there was a little boy, about three years-old, naked running and crying toward the others. He couldn't keep up. One soldier pulls up his rifle and fires. He misses the little boy. Another soldier says, "Here, I'll get that little sonofabitch." He pulls his rifle up and fires. The little boy stumbles and falls dead into the sand. I cried when I read that.

Even that brief description doesn't come close to the things I've read about these events. I've visited a couple of these sites, without cameras, just to be there and to feel the land. One of them, just outside of Denver, is one of the most beautiful places I've seen here. To think about the horror, pain and suffering that took place there is almost like being back in Europe standing the gas chambers or looking at a blood ditch.

I'm reminded of Sally Mann's "Southern Landscapes" and "Battlefields". It's beautiful work, very haunting. The connection to the land is crucial. She imbued the work with that. You can feel how the land remembers. Those horrible events scarred the land.

My work will seem much more documentary in style, but will not be a documentary project. I don't even really believe those exist. This is about my relationship to my mother's heritage, to the land, and to genocide. It's a personal, very subjective look at my own thoughts and feelings regarding this terrible piece of American history.