The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded a $1.5m grant to support a digital initiative dedicated to the history of enslaved Indigenous people in the US. Titled Native Bound-Unbound: Archive of Indigenous Americans Enslaved, the project will compile historical records and stories into a centralised website, and later transform that content into virtual exhibitions and other programmes.
The project, which will be developed over the next three years, was conceived by the New Mexico-based anthropologist and Indigenous scholar Dr. Estevan Rael-Gálvez. “Collectively, these archival [materials] encompass the indelible stories of people, places and moments in time, and when drawn together, promise to deepen the national narrative and consciousness,” he says in a statement. “Above all, this project holds the potential for understanding, transcendence and healing in descendant communities.”
It is estimated that between 150,000 and 340,000 Indigenous people were enslaved in North America (excluding Mexico) between 1490 and 1750, coinciding with the increased importation of enslaved Africans and the Indian Wars of the early 18th-century. But the history of enslaved Indigenous people has been obscured from the national narrative, and no comprehensive research hub currently exists.
“When it is completed, the repository will offer a distinct source of materials that have never been organised into a single collection and will provide a major source for educators, scholars, storytellers, artists and, most critically, descendants,” Rael-Gálvez adds.
The website will include documents related to legal cases, censuses, letters, wills, newspapers, photographs; records of baptisms, marriages and burials; and personal objects and ephemera collected from descendants. Funds will be overseen by the Santa Fe-based School for Advanced Research, which holds a preeminent Indigenous research collection spanning thousands of items.
Rael-Gálvez previously held roles as the executive director of the National Hispanic Cultural Center and as the senior vice president of historic sites at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. He also previously served as the state historian of New Mexico and founded Creative Strategies 360° in 2014, a cultural and strategic planning firm focused on projects related to Indigenous histories and art in the Southwest.