Thursday, April 30, 2015

Finishing a Story: Bosque Redondo Memorial, Fort Sumner, New Mexico : The Cry

Bosque Redondo Memorial, New Mexico

Part 1 is here and Part 2 is here.

The cry

When I heard the woman's cry, it was terrible in its grief.  Even today, more than a year after I saw the video of her cry, it still grips me to remember it.

The video showed the 2005 dedication ceremony of the Bosque Redondo Memorial, screened for us by Dr. Thomas Vincent Allena, as part of a presentation he gave on places of trauma and memories.

The woman's cry, more than all of the hundreds of words spoken by the dignitaries at the Bosque Redondo Memorial's 2005 dedication ceremony, said everything. From an article in El Palacio, Hwééldi, by Ben Moffat: 
Nowhere was the sentiment ... more powerfully evident than during an ... indelible moment that took place during the remarks of New Mexico's senior senator, Pete Domenici. 

Nicole Walker, a Window Rock grandmother, arrived at the ceremony late, concluding her personal re-enactment of the last leg of the historic Long Walk, a journey that she began at 3:00 a.m.

Wrapped in a traditional blanket and followed by a small procession, including a youngster carrying a Navajo Nation flag, she entered the courtyard, uttering soul-wrenching cries of anguish. 

In the video, I saw Senator Domenici emit banal verbiage about remembering the past, but using lessons learned to move forward in unity to blah, blah, blah. All of a sudden, you could hear Ms. Walker as she entered and then approached the speakers' area. I can't find the video, but you can listen to an NPR report here, which has a recording of Ms. Walker's entrance.

All of those words, spoken from a point of detachment, of rationality about an unfortunate tragedy in the distant past - these were drowned in Ms. Walker's cascade of mourning in the here and now.

Bosque Redondo Memorial, New Mexico
Sites of conscience

Bosque Redondo Memorial is a "site of conscience."  I hadn't heard of sites of conscience until I visited the memorial. Some concepts of the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience organization are: 
  • To "transform sites of oppression into sites for learning."
  • "Heal: Public memorials provide spaces for rebuilding after tragedy." 
  • "The need to remember often conflicts with the equally strong pressure to forget."

Historical trauma

Many years ago, I attended a professional conference related to mediation. A presenter observed that as children, our parents likely exhibited behaviors and world views that reverberated from events our forebears experienced centuries ago, and which we, in turn, pass unknowingly to our descendants.  

Dr. Maria Yellow Horse Braveheart, PhD, put forward the concept of "historical trauma" in the 1980s.  Historical trauma is "cumulative emotional and psychological wounding over the lifespan and across generations, emanating from massive group trauma."

In other words, trauma continues to occur, albeit perhaps in different form and intensity. In the case of the Navajo and Mescalero Apache, for example, trauma didn't end when they got to return home. Even today, there are microaggressions that prolong the historical trauma - those daily, indirect or direct, small assaults on a person based on his ethnicity.

Historical trauma helps explain why some groups continue to have such a hard road to travel in our society, all the while the majority population is wont to say, "Get over it already!" without even having fully acknowledged and honored the trauma to begin with.

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