The Importance of Land

For this week’s seminar my fellow students and I read Ari Kelman’s Misplaced Massacre. 

Kelman details the story of how the Sand Creek Massacre site became a NPS memorial site. As the title suggests, a major issue was the location of the massacre. The Native American descendants claim the site was in one place, while the NPS archeologists and geographers claim another place. In the end, in true sitcom form, they all learn the river they used as a guide had moved over the years and the NPS widened the boarders around the massacre site to include both arguments.


Ari Kelman, A Misplaced Massacre: Struggling over the memory of Sand Creek (Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, 2013)

The question that arose in my mind was what is the importance of finding the original landscape? Is the aim to recreate the ransacked village? No. Is it so we know now to develop that area with a suburb? No, but why not place a suburb there? Well it would dishonor the memory of dead people. Yes, but if we don’t know where it is anyway and the descendants think it is somewhere else, what does it matter? One could argue that there is no place on the NPS paper work to check “The Native Americans say it is here, and we trust them.” It that it though?

It as seen as hallowed ground, but what is that? Sacred ground, land defines as some how holy or divine. Why? Perhaps people believe the past left us something that needs to be protected and honored? Something intangible and very tangible at the the same time. The rain has washes away the blood, humans and animals have taken care of the bodies. Though archeologist have found material remains, that simply confirms the landscape had people on it at that time, right?.

What then is left? The Native American descendants argue that the spirits of their ancestors are in the land. While some may consider this a romantic thought, I would argue it is an honest thought.

It is rather hypocritical to look at Native American’s veneration of historical landscape as a place of spiritual connectivity as simply romantic or magically native ideology.(oh man they are so in touch with nature, so deep those Indians)  When you tear away at the construction around Anglo-America’s desire for historical landscapes, you find that they think historical landscapes are full of spirits too. Native Americans appear to be more comfortable with their own concepts of that importance, while Anglo-Americans try to repress their spiritual longings with science and paperwork. If you want a spiritual connection, however you define that, own that.

Maybe this concept of spirits might not be fully formed Casper-type ghosts, but rather a understanding that past people are present in some form.  This is then a desire to connect with the un-connectable. Or maybe it is honestly ghosts, Casper-type ghosts. (Quick someone call an ethnographer!)

I picked this off of Google. It is not my own work.

I picked this off of Google. It is not my own work.

Or another option.  People fear that forgetting the “real” site is a product of having forgotten a memory or part of the past. If people know where something was then it proves they did not forget it, and insures they won’t again. But that does not answer why the place that the Native Americans decedents venerated was unacceptable.  And recognizing a site as historical does not mean people will remember it, that is why most historical sites are curated. Curation functions as a reminder and has the potential to keep a story alive, but that depends on if people come to see it.

Summing it up

The importance of knowing historical land is maybe a desire for spiritual connectivity or simply a good opportunity to curate?


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