Ft. Sumner, NM I love a road trip and I’ve probably been past the turn off to Ft. Sumner on I-40 two dozen times, even a couple of times wondering how far it was from the interstate (47 miles) and thinking that someday I should go, especially after 2005 when the state of New Mexico established a state monument at the site where 6,000+ Navajos were incarcerated from 1864 to 1868. Today, I went to the memorial with Jennie Slick.
In Navajo, the site is referred to as Hweeldi, meaning a place of suffering. The history leading up to the forced march of the Navajo to a place 350 miles from their homes is a complex series of failures to understand the culture and governance of the Navajo played against the backdrop of a growing nation convinced of a Manifest Destiny that endowed it with the right to modify, move or destroy anything in it’s path. It is to the immense credit of the Navajo people that their leaders, notably Barboncito and Manuelito, were able to befriend and negotiate with the government agents and convince them that the best thing for all concerned was to return the Navajos to the homeland where they had been self-sufficient.
Even under the conditions at Hweeldi, the Navajos still wove as a means of survival. Here, the Navajos learned to use the brilliantly colored plied yarns from Germantown, Pennsylvania, producing some of the finest and most beautiful weaving that is part of the art form. In a strange place, trying to adapt to unfamiliar foods and enduring atrocious treatment, they did not dwell on the injustice but instead they carried on their traditions as best they could and they found a way to come home.
Hagoshíí (so long for now)