The Vanishing Race
In Edward Curtis’s The North American Indian, each of the 20 published volumes is accompanied by a portfolio of 35 large prints. The first plate is titled “Vanishing Race” and shows a group of Navajo people riding single file on horseback into a murky canyon. The title and dark print already create an ominous image and are magnified by Curtis’s own words:
The thought which this picture is meant to convey is that the Indians as a race, already shorn in their tribal strength and stripped of their primitive dress, are passing into the darkness of an unknown future. Feeling that the picture expresses so much of the thought that inspired the entire work, the author has chosen it as the first of the series.
The title “Vanishing Race” would appear to suggest that the entire indigenous race was moving towards extinction. There was reason to support this assumption in Curtis’s day, since the death rate in reserve communities was exceeding the birth rate. But we know today that indigenous people did not vanish. The images I selected for my version of the “Vanishing Race” are taken from my series “Scouting for Indians.” The series reflects the reality I came from, having been born and raised in a city, and having to contend with the general public’s assumption that real Indians died long ago.My version opens with the question: If indigenous people had vanished, what would be left to represent us?
View the other Portfolios from this series: