The Return of Blue Lake
In 1906, while president Theodore Roosevelt was amassing lands to start the National Forest Service, his administration appropriated hundreds of thousands of acres belonging to Native Americans.
Many thousands of those acres belonged to the people of Taos Pueblo, and for the next 60-plus years, leaders from that northern New Mexico tribe made their way to Washington, DC, to petition the federal government to return their sacred lands. And on December 15, 1970, President Richard M. Nixon signed into law legislation that returned 48,000 acres to its rightful owners; marking the first time lands were restored to a Native American tribe in lieu of monetary compensation.
Forty years to the day after that momentous White House signing, Taos Pueblo, in collaboration with the University of New Mexico’s Harwood Museum of Art, will open to the public, The Return of Blue Lake, an exhibition of photographs, letters, newspaper articles and objects, including a pen used by President Richard M. Nixon to sign Bill P.L. 91-550.
The month-long exhibition is the direct result of the official two-day commemoration that was held at the Pueblo in September. Given the level of interest that show generated, the Pueblo’s Blue Lake Commemoration Committee, chaired by Linda Yardley, has chosen to collaborate with Harwood Director Susan Longhenry in organizing this museum exhibition.
Drawing exclusively from the private collections of Taos Pueblo tribal members and government offices, the exhibition will feature original photographs, documents, and objects relating to this historic event. Included are photographs of the historic meeting of the Taos Pueblo delegation with President Nixon, photographs of the signing of the legislation, and photographs of those who assisted in the process during the long struggle. Other objects on exhibit will include a framed copy of the bill stamped by the White House, and petitions signed by Taos Pueblo members and members of the Taos community in support of the return of Blue Lake. Video footage from 1970 and 1971 will also be on view, as well as footage shot by the Smithsonian Institution for a 20-year commemoration held in 1991.
Taos Pueblo Governor, James Lujan, Sr., and War Chief, David G. Gomez, are pleased that the Harwood is hosting the exhibition that will reach an even larger audience. “This land and its return is very important to Taos Pueblo,” says Mr. Gomez. “In September we had a great event at the Pueblo, but since many of us were busy organizing those activities, the exhibition was not viewed by all of our people. Now with the showing at the Harwood, many of our Taos Pueblo people will be able to experience the exhibit at their leisure. We invite the Taos Valley community and visitors to visit the museum to enjoy the exhibit that is part of our continuing 40-year commemoration activities.“
Museum admission will be free-of-charge to Taos Pueblo members while the exhibition is on view. In addition, the Harwood will be open on Mondays – when it is normally closed – to school groups interested in viewing the exhibition. Members of the Taos Pueblo will lead tours of the exhibition for school groups. School groups interested in booking a tour should contact the Harwood Museum of Art at firstname.lastname@example.org or 575-758-9826
The public is invited to an opening reception on Wednesday, December 15 from 5-7pm. Refreshments will be provided by the Taos Pueblo. A program beginning at approximately 6pm in the museum’s new Arthur Bell Auditorium will feature remarks by Taos Pueblo Governor James Lujan, Sr., Taos Pueblo War Chief David G. Gomez, and Taos Pueblo Tribal Councilman Gilbert Suazo, Sr. Mr. Suazo, with Cesario “Jim” Lujan, and the late Allen Martinez, founded the Youth of Taos Pueblo to demonstrate the interest of the younger generation in the return of Blue Lake. Mr. Suazo gave testimony in the Senate Blue Lake Hearings in 1970, and participated in the historic July 8, 1970 White House meeting when President Richard M. Nixon pledged his support for returning Blue Lake to Taos Pueblo.