From the very moment of first contact over 500 hundred years ago, Native Americans and the white American settlers have found themselves caught in a tragic struggle: it was a clash between different cultures, different peoples, different ideologies, and different civilizations. Ultimately though it was a clash over the land itself: lands that the Native Americans called home and that the white American settlers coveted for themselves. This is a story of sorrow and tragedy spanning centuries, of loss and pain that can never be redeemed, only acknowledged.
The images offer a visual timeline of that history of conflict and dispossession. Each photograph made on location around the time of the anniversary of each event, bears witness to a land forever haunted by this past and how we have come to remember that history today. The classically formal compositions of these photographs allude to the place where this tragic history continues to reside as epic American myth in our collective conscience, places where memorialization and preservation have become acts of tacit acknowledgement – yet still begging the questions, “What history is being memorialized and whose stories are being told?”
The project’s title, “So Long as the Grasses Grow and the Waters Flow,” is based on a common phrase employed by the United States in its treaty negotiations with Native American tribes. Today those words are tinged with a sad irony as they have come to represent America’s failure to keep those promises and treaty obligations throughout its history. While those bucolic words reinforce the formal beauty of the landscape itself, each image is haunted by centuries of conflict and dispossession. In the words of Chief Red Cloud of the Oglala Sioux, “They made us many promises, more than I can remember, but they never kept but one: they promised to take our land and they took it.”