The exhibit recounts the story told by the people of the Isleta Pueblo, a Native American community in New Mexico, of when the arrival of American soldiers and explorers in the mid-1800s changed their world dramatically. Divided into three parts, the exhibit describes the traditional year where the community lived by the seasons, with regular sequences of ceremonies and rituals and practices of hunting, gathering and farming. The second section sees the arrival of the Americans and describes how this influx disrupted their ways of living, altered by the taking of lands and other resources. The Isleta people fought these changes but eventually came to terms, in their own ways, with becoming members of America. The third section of the exhibit examines the hundreds of historical photographs displayed, asking what kind of record these photos represent, and how this kind of documentation is a product of “white culture”. Established in the 1300’s, Isleta Pueblo remains a traditional society today, in many ways a people living in two worlds.
The photographs on display came from a number of archival collections throughout the United States, and now reside in the Isleta Tribal Archive. The project began with two lengthy land disputes, which required extensive research by elders and their consultants, uncovering a large collection of oral histories, photos and other records. The committee of traditional leaders wanted to tell the history of their people from their point of view and make it available to the Pueblo and the wider world, while importantly keeping traditions private as to not reveal and diminish integral practices and beliefs.