All photography by @capturasdominique

This booth was originally constructed for me to go to the Sante Fe Indian Market in 2019.

It’s only a 2-day event, Saturday & Sunday. It’s very quick, but the occasion is pretty awesome because you have people from all over the world who come to New Mexico – 100,000+ people showing up at the capital for this one weekend.

Originally though, it was an effort by the city of Santa Fe to bring tourists in. But it was also an opportunity, especially for the nations from Santa Fe & New Mexico, to come and sell their work, to interact with people they might not normally reach unless they were going out to their reservation. But at its core, it’s a colonial situation.

It’s over 100 years old now, so you’re seeing vendors who are 4th or 5th generation that learned skills from their parents, grandparents, great grandparents, in all these traditional practices… Weaving, pottery, jewelry making, woodworking, Kachina doll making. It’s an impressive gathering of people.

But for me, who grew up outside of my traditions – not knowing who my parents were, knowing that I was adopted… I was afforded many opportunities in terms of education and experience. I went to art school in San Francisco and graduate school in New Jersey, but meanwhile, I was not really immersed in my culture, in the culture that my ancestors come from, my mother’s culture. And it wasn’t until I was 40 that I met her. My adopted mother used to say to me, as soon as you’re old enough, we can help you register with your tribe, because you should be counted, you should be recognized.

Exhibiting at the largest Indian Market in North America was a huge deal because I come from a completely different way of connecting. Being a child, having a sort of identity schism because I was adopted and didn’t necessarily fit in… And then finding this community of punk rockers & alternative musicians & drug takers, being immersed in that as a young person in my early twenties, reflecting back on how that kind of opened things up for me…

The first iteration of this booth was smaller. It didn’t have these side walls, it was more of a traditional display of 2 dimensional work, mostly fringe paintings – I was so scared to display in Santa Fe. I thought people were gonna call me out like, what are you doing here? 

What do they call that? Imposter syndrome? That paranoia or insecurity that creeps up when you’re presenting your work in a new situation… Anyways, my dog got sick and required a major operation about a week before the market. Ultimately, I just wasn’t ready to let him go and dropped. But I took my booth to the Autry for the next American Indian marketplace in Socal, then the Orange County Museum of Art… Added some layers, brought it to the Moss Arts Center at Virginia Tech… The more I was able to expose my work to different audiences, the more comfortable I felt.

I found that bison on the podium. I recycle a lot of my work. I wanted to make a statement on the history of what settlers did to their population; millions of bison had been on this continent before they got here, it was a primary source of food. The bison was a spirit, and it was part of this continent. But to think about how quickly their population was decimated in such an incredibly short amount of time…

It was a way to control Native populations: a main tactic in warfare is starving your enemy. And those actions completely decimated a way of life and living. Even down to them grazing the fields, a natural form of fire control was lost as well. It made me very sad. This whole notion of… f*cking humans again. Right? 

It does resemble the United States flag – it’s sort of a weird juxtaposition, using that, but I was also thinking about how the stars are also our relatives. And a lot of times when people die, that’s what’s communicated, is that they’ve gone to the heavens, and how the stars we see are our ancestors. 

Homeward Bound is a commemoration of all the bison that were slaughtered and left to rot. This was constructed for our relatives, but it’s also acknowledging the fact that the US was complicit in destroying them. It also commemorates the fact that now there is an effort to return the buffalo, which is a different kind of species than the bison, to Native land. The colors on the ribbon skirt have no real significance in terms of matching a particular design.

This car hood was a gift that hung around in my studio for a while. I found the hubcap on the street, got the Mustang emblem down the street at a friend’s place. This curation isn’t necessarily part of the booth, but it’s part of the overall installation, a separate piece titled Pony. Besides playing music and creating art as a child, I loved to ride horses. The idea of spirit in the animal, being able to ride off into wherever; that sense of freedom was huge for me.

There’s a big custom car culture scene here in San Pedro. I also grew up with cruise nights out in Arizona. As a teenager, I loved going to the park on Sundays and seeing all these guys with their low riders come out… That was a real scene that I loved, the attention to this machine. Having that freedom, that ability to go places and not being tied to anything.

In high school, I remember one of my teachers saying, you’re so quiet because you’re Indian. And comparing me to his wife who was also Native American, who also happened to be quiet, but saying this in front of the whole class. I was pigeonholed in a sense – how does that affect a young teenage girl who’s already having a difficult time just connecting with anybody?

That feeling of not growing up in your culture, but always recognizing it, even though nobody else might really be getting it… You see yourself in the mirror: I am Native American. It’s very present. It’s right there. But it’s a real mind trip growing up with shallow roots… Today, I’m peeling back the layers by learning about my ancestry, connecting with my relatives. And through that process, creating this work, which is an extension of that reconnection.

I could say I’m just telling people my story – what good is that going to do for other people? But I feel that ability to expose myself creates connection with others and provides an opportunity to relate & grow.

-Laurie Steelink.


By Hector Zaldivar

Professional magician. @hexzald