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Know the West

Colonial Spain tried to erase them, but the Genízaro persevere

A photographer captures the fortitude of the Genízaro Pueblo of Abiquiú community.


Rafaelita Martinez in front of the wooden doors and once-high adobe walls surrounding her placita, or courtyard.
By the calm flow of the Rio Chama stands the Genízaro Pueblo of Abiquiú, a two-century old community whose heritage blends Spanish mission life with many Southwest tribes, including Apache, Comanche, Kiowa, Diné, Pawnee and Ute. The Genízaro (pronounced heˈnēsǝrō) are not a federally recognized tribe, and their history has been obscured by slavery, violence and forced assimilation in the 18th and early 19th centuries, when the Spanish Crown did its best to “detribalize” them.

Genízaro Maurice Archuleta in the high desert surrounding Abiquiú.

Santo Tomás Feast Day Festival commemorating both the pueblo’s patron saint and its people’s ancestors’ painful experiences as war captives.

In shadowy black-and-white photographs, Salt Lake City-based photographer Russel Albert Daniels (Diné and Ho-Chunk) documents the celebration of the Feast Day of Santo Tomás in The Genízaro Pueblo of Abiquiú. Children prepare for the festival’s three days of song, prayer and dances in a family kitchen, dressing in ceremonial regalia. In memory of their ancestors, some have $2 bills pinned to their shoulders, symbolizing the “ransom” the Spanish paid to their captors. Daniels’ photographs are reverent, a careful look at a people whose history of capture, enslavement and mixed heritage is now observed by them from a place of total freedom. The series is part of the Smithsonian Institution’s “Developing Stories: Native Photographers in the Field” exhibition; the date has been postponed and will be announced later.

Genízaro Mayordomos Frankie and Carmen Lopez holding Santo Tomas bulto, Abiquiú, New Mexico.

José Roberto Garcia, whose complex family’s history combines Spanish and Hopi ancestry.

Genízaro Delvin Garcia standing in remains of 18th century Santa Rosa de Lima Church, Abiquiú, New Mexico.

(Editor’s Note: Tristan Ahtone, HCN associate editor for the Indigenous Affairs desk, was a collaborator for the exhibit.)

Kalen Goodluck is an editorial fellow at High Country News. Email him at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor.