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Bosque Redondo Memorial

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  • Bosque Redondo Memorial

    The Bosque Redondo Memorial Opens up Saturday June 04,2005 in Fort Sumner, NM

    FORT SUMNER, N.M.--More than 140 years after the infamous Long Walk of
    the Navajo people and their imprisonment on the Bosque Redondo Indian Reservation,
    the State of New Mexico has established a memorial that recognizes the great human
    tragedy that occurred here.
    The Bosque Redondo Memorial will be formally opened Saturday, June 4; at 11
    a.m. Hundreds are expected to attend, including Navajo and Mescalero Apache leaders
    and federal, state, county and Village of Fort Sumner officials.
    “It didn't get the attention it deserved when it happened, nor has its significance
    been much noted since outside of the Southwest,” said José Cisneros, State Monuments
    Director. “Now we have a memorial that is a fitting tribute to the enduring suffering of
    the Navajo from 1863 to 1868, and to the Mescalero Apache, who shared their plight.”
    “Hundreds of the Navajo people died when they were rounded up by the U.S.
    Army and forced to march from their Four Corners homeland, across most of New
    Mexico, to Fort Sumner,” Cisneros said. “A third of the population at Bosque Redondo,
    some 9,000 at its height, succumbed to pneumonia, dysentery, exposure and starvation.”
    The memorial was conceived in 1967 by planners of the 100th anniversary of the
    Treaty of June 1, 1868 that freed the Navajo and established the Navajo Nation of today.
    The Village of Fort Sumner purchased a section of the Bosque Redondo Indian
    Reservation and deeded it to the State of New Mexico. In 1969, the site was proclaimed a
    New Mexico State Monument, and in 1970, a modest visitor center was constructed to
    relate the events of the Long Walk period.
    But the actual memorial languished until State House and Senate Memorials in
    1992 and 1993 respectively spurred the effort along. The Senate Memorial called for a
    site at Fort Sumner to “commemorate the Long Walk that the Navajo people took back to
    their homeland and to commemorate the healing that has taken place since that event.”

    On June 14, 2002, the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs signed a
    Memorandum of Agreement with President Kelsey Begaye of the Navajo Nation and
    President Sarah Misquez of the Mescalero Reservation authorizing construction of the
    Bosque Redondo Memorial.
    The memorial is located within Fort Sumner State Monument on the south bank
    of the Pecos River, and was designed by Navajo architect David N. Sloan, who was
    among those who felt Bosque Redondo needed appropriate recognition.
    “There was little to indicate that the Navajo had ever been to Bosque Redondo,
    when I first visited Bosque Redondo in 1979,” he said. “There was nothing that
    welcomed Navajo visitors.”
    Today Sloan and his project manager, Delbert Billy, believe Bosque Redondo has
    become imbued with a long absent “spirit of place,” as a result of creative landscaping
    and a 6,345 square foot visitor center filled with exhibits that tell the story. The
    building's elevated, hextagonal entrance faces the rising sun of the winter solstice,
    signaling rebirth.
    Its features include such cultural symbols as circular patterns and markers for the
    cardinal directions. A circular pathway from the parking area funnels visitors clockwise
    through a grove of cottonwoods, mere saplings today, to the entrance. The trees were
    cloned from a cottonwood planted by the captives.
    “The physical landscape, and the plants and animals, dominate the perception of
    how all tribal groups see themselves in life,” said Sloan. The Pecos is a key part of the
    equation. An observation deck on a bend in the river is available so that visitors may
    enjoy both upstream and downstream vistas.
    The state and federal government shared in the funding. An initial $2 million was
    provided by the U.S. Department of Defense, and the State Legislature added $500,000.
    Local government contributed in-kind donations of land and buildings in the amount of
    about $500,000. The Village of Fort Sumner donated 61 acres adjacent to the existing 50-
    acre monument in order to make construction possible, and DeBaca County donated an
    old fire station for use as a maintenance shed.
    “The memorial would never have happened without the strong support of the
    local community and of our principal stakeholders,” said Scott Smith, monument
    manager. “Over the past 10 or 12 years representatives of both the Navajo Nation and the
    Mescalero Apache Tribe have given generously of their time in order to share their story
    with us. And it is their story, their history.”
    A second phase of construction, which would add a large exhibit hall for a
    permanent Long Walk exhibit and complete the landscaping, still requires funding.
    “Phase I of construction goes a long way toward fulfilling our commitment to
    commemoration and healing, but the job is not complete,” said Cisneros.
    Cisneros calls the memorial a “museum of conscience” and compares it to other
    such sites established in recent years to recognize such tragedies as the Sand Creek
    Massacre in Colorado, and the Cherokee Trail of Tears.
    A companion federal project is also under consideration. In 2003, Congress
    authorized the National Park Service to study the feasibility of designating the Long
    Walk routes from the Four Corners area to the Bosque Redondo as a unit of the National
    Trails System.

    “We're very supportive of the creation of a federally recognized trail,” said
    Cisneros. “Such a trail would complement the Bosque Redondo Memorial, where the
    Long Walk ended, and link it to the Navajo homeland in a profoundly positive way.
    “The noted Yale historian Robin Winks said that such sites of conscience are
    ‘places where human abuses occur which are later formally recognized by society in the
    hope that present and future generations learn never to repeat them,'” Cisneros said. “If
    the Bosque Redondo Memorial and a future Long Walk Trail can move visitors to
    understand that, then all of humankind will benefit.”
    New Mexico State Monuments is a division of the Department of Cultural Affairs. The
    State Monuments present a capsulated chronology of the state’s history that date back to
    the 13th Century.

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