Emily Arthur, Marwin Begaye and John Hitchcock present a curatorial project which metaphorically retraces the history of seventy-two American Indian peoples who were forcibly taken from their homes in Salt Fork, OK, and transported by train to St. Augustine, Florida. The United States war department imprisoned Cheyenne, Kiowa, Comanche, Arapaho, and Caddo leaders under Lieutenant Richard Henry Pratt from 1875-1878.
It was at Fort Marion (renamed Castillo de San Marcos in 1942) that Lieutenant Pratt developed the assimilation methods of control that defined a century of government policy. Assimilation as a term and a political strategy is defined as the total eradication of one culture by another culture by force.
The imprisonment method was institutionalized in the federal off-reservation boarding school policy that was in place in the United States until the 1930s. The most central boarding school example was authored at Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania (1879) where Lieutenant Pratt coined the phrase “Kill the Indian, save the man.” Five hundred and thirty Chiricahua Apache men, women, and children were imprisoned in Fort Marion, Florida, which initiated twenty-seven years of prisoner of war status.
The curators asked seventy-two artists to respond to the experience of imprisonment by creating an individual work on paper in the same dimensions as the historic ledger drawings made at Fort Marion from 1875-1878. The exhibition is a contemporary response to a historical experience held intact within American Indian communities through oral history and art.
The artists selected include Native American, non-Native and descendants from both periods of imprisonment. Engaging these historical events, the artists reclaim the telling of this story to offer an indigenous perspective of our shared history. We urge the viewer to consider this fresh perspective, while bearing in mind the idea of forgotten histories, and the power of memory. As curator Emily Arthur states, “It’s not history,” Nancy Mithlo further posits in her essay for the exhibition: “Memory and alternative temporalities have conspired to make this history present and alive.”
Chris Pappan Through the Shadow of Cahokia