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  • Countering Colonization:Albuquerque Laguna Colony
  • Myla Vicenti Carpio (bio)

The federal government's relocation program, coupled with its termination policy, attempted to usurp indigenous lands and indigenous cultures. Beginning in the 1950s, relocation and termination provided a way for the government to withdraw "legally" from its federal trust responsibility and impose a policy of assimilation on indigenous peoples. Terminating trust responsibilities, borders, and "Indianness" sent a clear message that the federal government intended for American Indians to cease to exist as cultural and self-determined peoples. The federal government's formula was to get Indians off the reservations and the federal dole—if no one lived on the reservations then there would not be a need for public funds to support social, educational, and land management expenditures on those lands. Seeking to absorb indigenous peoples into mainstream society, the relocation program aimed to send them from reservations to urban areas where they would provide vocational training, a place to live, and a job. As with other policy eras, indigenous people and the federal government had very different ideas on the meaning of relocation.

No matter the reasons for moving, relocation, with or without the federal relocation program assistance, failed to completely assimilate indigenous people into American society. The myriad experiences of those who migrated to the cities and those who stayed on reservations created dynamic relationships between urban life, indigenous identities, and reservation life. Unfortunately, early studies of relocated [End Page 61] Indians simplistically characterized assimilation in terms of success (staying) or failure (returning).1 These terms create another simplistic dichotomy similar to that of traditionalism versus progressivism. The notion of the reservation Indian versus the urban Indian utilizes colonialistic labels of progress that posit the "good" Indian against the "bad" Indian. Those who stayed in the city were "successful" despite unmeasured living conditions and situations; the only important criterion by federal standards was that they stayed. Failure meant leaving the city and returning to the reservation. Consequently, the urban Indian was seen as the assimilated Indian no matter what his or her socioeconomic and cultural status.

As a result, the reservation/urban dichotomy denotes an urban Indian experience as being completely distinct from, and less authentic than, reservation life. The reservation is believed to generate "authentic Indians," ones who know their culture, practice their religion, and speak their language while always challenging the colonial policies of the federal government. Conversely, the dichotomy posits urban identity as being separate from the reservation; creating a home in the city represents a changed identity, removed from the reservation, giving rise to either the assimilated or the generic pan-Indian. As these polar identities become internalized, the process of American colonization further obscures, divides, and devalues indigenous peoples' lived realities. Succinctly describing this phenomenon, Anishinaabe scholar Lisa Poupart writes: "As Western constructions of abject difference are both forced upon and accepted by American Indians, we define ourselves through these constructions and subsequently participate in the reproduction of these codes... the very codes that created, reflected, and reproduced our oppression."2 In this case, the internalization of the reservation and urban dichotomy further divides and devalues indigenous people living in urban centers.

The generic "Indian" or pan-Indian identity may be a reality for some. However, this paper argues that a concept of pan-Indian identity limits our understanding of the lived reality of urban indigenousness. Instead of concentrating on the division between the reservation and the urban, I will focus on the intersection where urban Indian organizations develop community while maintaining and nurturing connections with reservation life and culture. Although relocation was responsible for urbanization among Indians, primarily in the 1950s, the Lagunas began to live away from their reservation in the late 1800s. However, those who left found means to maintain social, economic, and political bonds with their people back home. The unique history of the Laguna Colonies, particularly the Laguna Colony of Albuquerque, illustrates the intersections of urban and reservation life and the dual landscapes where indigenous peoples counter colonization. Instead of assimilating the dichotomy of reservation and urban Indians, members of the [End Page 62] Laguna Colonies live outside their reservation home while maintaining cultural connections through the colony.



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pp. 61-78
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