Transcript of Ella Shoefer-Wulf's part of the Navajo Mountain School Project presentation at the annual social practice conference, Open Engagement, in Chicago, spring 2017.
On the next steps of the project and the premises of its archive
When we came to the mountains we began our dialogues with community members we began to realize more and more the variety of stories told about the buildings we were working in. Ranging from cultural eradication, incompetent and aggressive teachers from the outside to compassionate and caring teachers from the communities and stories of friendship and joy, we encountered a dimensionality of community articulation we had not had before arriving at the project site. The colonial effort of erasure of indigenous and histories and, more importantly, indigenous presence, became more stark and palpable.
And while the buildings themselves will continue to develop as the community determines how they will be used, the urgency of emphasizing the stories and history at Navajo Mountain and the boarding schools became clear. I believe it is the responsibility of social practice artist, especially myself as a white woman who is privileged by this system that silences, gaslights, and delegitimizes non white hetero historical narratives, to work to emphasize intersectional histories and the presence and narratives of marginalized communities.
So as a team we began to investigate forms for our project to take to support the communities needs to tell and make visible its history and presence.
We are now working on how we can create a historical archive by and for the community, for the local high school and to put online. An archive that does not water-down or compromise the stories of indigenous communities and serves both the communities from which the stories come, and people who want to educate themselves on the intersectionalities of U.S. histories and gain perspective on the violence and erasure imposed upon marginalized communities.
The archive will include the community’s ideas about the future use of the boarding school and in this way become an action-oriented archive. As we continue on this project of an action oriented historical archive we ask ourselves: how do we make sure the archive, in its form, doesn’t just serve academia, as academia has been an imperative tool for the colonial enterprise? How can we ensure compensation for the local archivists? How do we make sure the archive doesn’t just novelize the pain and anguish of oppression, but serves to also highlight the resilience, strength, culture and joy that drives, more than anything, the lives of communities that survive despite neo colonial efforts? How do we make the archive a catalyst for future actions?