"Everything in US history is about the land… who invaded and stole it; how it became a commodity…" - Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz, An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States.
"The objective for Native people is to heal. The objective for non-Native people is to come out of denial" - Faith Spotted Eagle (Dakota)
I Own This Stolen Land is work-in-progress. Its first phase uses photography, text, and performance on video to question the landscape in which I live. What are the meanings of owning land when the title to it originates in settler-colonial genocide? What are my responsibilities? What are the threats to and stresses on the land? Later phases will attempt to repair the present in collaboration with the descendants of the Indigenous former inhabitants, by thinking of the seventh generation to come.
Last year my wife and I bought a field and forest next to our house in upstate New York. Since then, I have been reflecting on the history and connections of this quiet rural landscape. Wrested from Gayogohó:nǫˀ (Cayuga) people by the ruthless 1779 Sullivan Expedition and subsequent fraudulent treaties, it bears the scars of failed settler-colonial agriculture. It is nonetheless a site of global capitalism, producing hay for industrial milk production and, prior to our purchase, slated for logging to supply the international lumber market, which was to be followed by development for housing. Adding to the pressures are the climate crisis and devastating forest pests, brought in by global trade
As the new owner of this picturesque forest and field, I am both a beneficiary of genocide and a fallible agent of capitalism. I need creative strategies to explore and uncover radical understandings of my opportunities and responsibilities. I’ve come to appreciate that Indigenous peoples have a reciprocal rather than an exploitative relationship to land and to each other; I hope this work will follow those precepts.
In this initial phase of the project, the text I Own This Stolen Land appears in the landscape whole or in fragments. The word "Stolen" is then replaced by other words, created with materials to hand: snow, fence wire, vegetation, upcycled lumber, etc. The word “Land” is simply represented by the setting. Many of the images are layered blends of several photographs. This first phase of the project is envisioned as an installation in which the images will hang in pairs or clusters, together with performance videos and interviews.
I Own This Stolen Land is funded in part by a Project Support Grant from The Center for Photographic Art, Carmel, CA. The work is a fiscally sponsored project by the New York Foundation for the Arts.