- Indigenous Albuquerque
This book barely scratches the surface of the divide that exists between those Indigenous people who live in urban places versus those who live on their original homelands. That divide is both mental and physical.
But as author Myla Vicenti Carpio reveals, urbanism for aboriginal people has existed since time immemorial. Indigenous people [End Page 115] once coveted precolonial places that were densely settled and centers of complex civilizations. Their displacement through colonial time has resigned them to what she concedes is a dismal “image of failure.” In that sense Westernization and urbanization have served to disempower Native people from the places they both created and valued.
Carpio attempts to set the record straight by looking at the roles Indigenous populations have had in Albuquerque. The largest city in New Mexico, it has historically been the center of many Indigenous urban activities. After all, Carpio’s primary purpose in uncovering that urban narrative is to answer, once and for all, the question of “who are urban Indians.”
Although the treatise stops short of definitively answering that question, in the process she concludes that the answer is invested in how Indigenous people have “lived” that experience. And in that manner, she begins to uncover that legacy by first digging into her own personal life and the journey upon which her mother unwittingly set her.
Carpio’s birthright is Apache. She left her reservation at age four to live in Denver, Colorado, where she stayed for most of her adolescent life. That could have easily dead-ended her except for that fact that her mother never allowed her to forget her Indigenous roots, which were multitribal—Jicarilla Apache, Isleta, and Laguna Pueblos. It was when her family moved to Albuquerque that the urban lightbulbs, so to speak, began to illuminate over her head.
“Who am I?” is probably the biggest unstated question in this volume. It’s where the central tenet of this inquiry begins. It’s the point where most good scholarship should begin. A road map to self and understanding. The concept of urban, and Carpio’s reflections upon it, are not a mundane academic exercise. Rather, it is because she is an urban Indian that we are able to glean the benefit of her scholarly attempts to “decolonize” that legacy. In her mind it’s an urban milieu that has systematically chosen to exploit the presence of Indian people.
All in all, Carpio nearly pulls it off. Nearly, because the book-ends of the treatise are rather lean compared to the fatty grist of the [End Page 116] substance sandwiched in between. That grist represents decades of Indigenous urban movements in a place that is geographically at an Indigenous crossroads. Surrounded by Indian reservations to the north, west, and south, Albuquerque is very much like urban areas where Indian communities have also circled the wagon. Think Phoenix, Denver, Seattle, Oklahoma City and Minneapolis, to name a few.
This book could have just as easily been written about any of these places. Indeed, they all share similar signposts. Indian boarding schools, relocation centers, Indian Health medical centers, Bureau of Indian Affairs offices, and urban Indian centers are only a few of those policy mile markers. Throughout the delusional era(s) of US federal Indian programs, Native people have been subjected to the push and pull of forcible assimilation.
The more interesting stories, however, are those that are invested in the Indian people themselves. Of particular note is the chapter on the Albuquerque Laguna Colony. It’s significant because it doesn’t comfortably fit into any assimilationist niche, per se. It’s an instance where Indian people—or in this case Pueblo people—are adapting to urban life by choice. It represents a twentieth-century encounter when two trains pass one another in the dark of the night. In the resulting moment, railroad barons inadvertently unleash the economic vitality of Laguna workers. In time these workers and their families establish Pueblo colonies. They are dotted far and wide, alongside major railway junctions.
The Laguna Colony of Albuquerque is a survivor...