"I HAVE SEEN A LOT OF PEOPLE SAY it’s sad,” a recent visitor wrote on a whiteboard filled with responses to the new permanent exhibition Bosque Redondo: A Place of Suffering, a Place of Survival. “I see bravery, I see my people, my blood. I see myself.”
The commenter had been granted what 20 Diné students who had visited the Fort Sumner Historic Site in the summer of 1990 were not: a chance to see their history told at the 1864–68 Bosque Redondo Indian Reservation, in eastern New Mexico, where Navajo and Mescalero Apache people were forced to relocate by the U.S. government. Diné people refer to this historical event as the Long Walk. More than three decades after those students left a hastily penned letter at the site, asking administrators to tell “the true story behind what really happened to our ancestors,” Bosque Redondo opened last summer.
The exhibition boldly declares it will never be finished, as visitors are brought face-to-face with the letter and prompted to continue the students’ critical inquiries with their own responses. Designed through partnerships with the Navajo Nation and the Mescalero Apache Tribe, the Bosque Redondo Memorial’s exhibit features oral histories in Diné (Navajo), Ndé (Apache), and English. The immersive experience includes murals, photographs, historic items, and prominent quotes. They describe the creation of the reservation, the abominable conditions there, and the daring mass escape of Mescalero captives in 1865.
The final component, a soothing room with couches, coffee and tea, and a library, is what Site Manager Aaron Roth calls “the decompression space.” What visitors write while there, Roth says, “is one of the most telling parts of the experience. I foresee this as another opportunity to have a future exhibition of how people deal with difficult history in their responses.”
On May 28, the site holds a daylong event in formal recognition of the exhibition. Keynote speakers include leaders from both tribes and state government. Activities include dance performances, a kids’ corner, Indigenous food and craft vendors, a Navajo rug and blanket auction, and a free catered lunch for the first 500 attendees.
Although the word “sad” dominates the responses, many messages reflect the survivors’ spirits, a sense of which threads through the exhibit. “Makes me proud to be Native American,” wrote one person. “We are still here,” another scrawled. One remark reads simply, “Thank you for listening to us.” It is signed, “Diné.”