“The Sacred Hoop”
This piece portrays the exploitation of Native American reservation land during World War II and throughout the Cold War. The yellow granite represents the uranium that was mined in the Four Corners region; the green granite represents the nuclear waste that was left as a byproduct. As a result the green granite is paired with the white figures and the yellow granite is paired with the native figures. The four steel legs are an abstract representation of 4 figures marching in a restricted pattern. Each of these legs has shelving units for the discarded chess pieces to be placed when a game is in play. These shelving units are also representative of a human spine, giving direction to the marching pattern. Each ceramic figure was hand carved in a circa 1950s genre. The pawns represent the foreground of this time period— bison vs. automobiles. The rooks represent the landscape from which both sides originate— sandstone buttes vs. skyscrapers. The knights portray opposing modes of war— spears vs. armored tanks. The bishops represent modes of religion— ceremonial dancers vs. the pope. Finally the king and queen are adorned with objects that define their characters— a staff & child vs. a briefcase and shopping bag.
Native Americans believe we are living in a “sacred hoop”, where “in some way, past, present and future all converge” (Wilson, xix). This belief creates a concern for the living, for the unborn, and for the preservation of the land. With this sculpture, I wanted to juxtapose the “Sacred Hoop” with the idea of a restrictive, destructive, “industrial hoop”.
“It has been estimated by some demographers that by the seventeenth century, more than fifty million natives of North and South America had perished as a result of war, disease, [and] enslavement” (Thomas,17). Following this, reservations were set up for those who remained. Unfortunately for those relocated to the Four Corners region, their land possessed the largest supply of uranium in the entire country. “In one of the stories the Navajos tell about their origins, the Dineh (the people)…were given a choice. They were told to choose between two yellow powders. One was yellow dust from rocks, and the other was corn pollen. The Dineh chose corn pollen, and the gods nodded in assent. They also issued a warning. Having chosen the corn pollen, the Navajos were to leave the yellow dust in the ground. If it was ever removed, it would bring evil” (Eichstaedt, 47).
It was the Navajo nation and that of the Laguna Pueblo that were most gravely affected by the mining of uranium. President Truman signed into law the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 which, “gave the government a broad mandate…to explore…condemn and obtain the land to secure the uranium, with or without the owner’s consent” (Eichstaedt, 33). The Navajos were asked to locate and mine the uranium from their land. Although “grotesque cases of radiation poisoning had been documented in the early 1920s”, the Native Americans were never informed of the extreme dangers associated with mining uranium (Eichstaed, 54).
“The earliest lung cancers found among miners…[produced] death within six months…The working conditions were terrible…the machines [for ventilation] didn’t work” (Eichstaed, 49). When the conditions of the mines were tested by the US Public Health Service they recorded levels of radon which were “as much as 750 times the generally accepted limits” (Eichstaed, 52). Although the federal government initiated and monitored uranium mining, they “argued [that] the states…[were responsible] for the conditions of the mines” (Eichstaed, 58). The states, in turn, refused to claim responsibility because they were operated on reservation land, and thus, they claimed, should be the responsibility of the federal government. In turn, nothing was done to improve the conditions of the mines nor to clean up the waste.
This piece was designed and constructed by Jamie E. Hatch. Her work totaled over 500 hours which included fabricating the steel base, cutting & polishing each granite block, and hand carving all 32 ceramic figures. The board stands at 5’ tall x 4’ long x 3’ wide. The granite blocks are 3” wide x 3.5” long. The figures range in height from 2.5” -5.5”. This piece was completed in Alfred, NY in 2002
If You Poison Us: Uranium and Native Americans. Peter H. Eichstaedt. Red Crane Books, 1994.
The Earth Shall Weep. James Wilson. Grove Press, 1998.
The Native Americans. David Thomas, Miller, White, Nabokov, Deloria. Turner Publishing, Inc., 1993.