Project team, pictured L-R: Lillia McEnaney, Dr. Jennifer Dentdale (Diné), and Katie Yellowhair (Diné)

UNM American Studies Professor and Chair Jennifer Denetdale (Diné) in partnership with the Navajo Nation Museum, has been awarded a $95,000 grant through the Henry Luce Foundation’s Indigenous Knowledge Initiative, sponsored by the First Nations Development Institute, to support an upcoming exhibition at the Navajo Nation Museum.   

The exhibition will explore U.S. Indian Commissioner John Collier’s livestock reduction programs that radically transformed Diné life, as expressed through the photography of Milton Snow. Exploring themes of community and kinship, nation and democracy, gender and patriarchy, and refusal and resistance, this exhibition will feature over 60 photographs alongside interpretative text supported by the Diné community. With the goal of providing a physical space for the Navajo Nation’s leaders and citizens to reflect upon a critical era in history, this project allows for greater accessibility and community input in museum spaces.  

Jennifer Denetdale

Over 20 years, Snow produced thousands of images of Diné people, homes, and landscapes, all of which were intended to provide proof that federal technologies were in fact working to “rehabilitate” Navajo lands and lives. Instead, Snow’s images show us radically altered communities, landscapes, and homes; the construction of dams, mines, and imposed grazing and agricultural practices; and newly formed political, educational, and socioeconomic organizations, all of which point to the pervasive, oppressive nature of the American colonial administration. By placing Snow’s images in conversation with a selection of archival documents, collection objects, and contemporary photographs, this exhibition foregrounds Diné perspectives on the intersecting and ongoing legacies of both photography and American colonialism.

I'm so pleased with the opportunity to share my research on the photographs of Milton Snow with this museum,” Denetdale said. 

Following a successful $45,000 planning grant, the project team will implement the exhibition. Funding from the Luce Foundation will fully support the project team, as well as facilitate community-based research, videography and audio-visual production, collaboration with contemporary artists, and exhibition design. This is also in collaboration with the Maxwell Museum.

In addition to Denetdale, project team members include co-curator Clarenda Begay (Diné), project manager Lillia McEnaney, consultants Klara Kelley, Kenji Kawano, Ruth Kawano (Diné), and Andrew Curley (Diné), and videographer Ramona Emerson (Diné). Katie Yellowhair (Diné) is a University of New Mexico undergraduate student and will be the project’s intern, learning about museum work and Indigenous-based projects. 

This project was initially brought to the former Navajo Nation Museum Director Manuelito Wheeler (Diné), who embraced and supported the exhibition from its inception. Luce funding will also contribute to the production of a companion catalog. Funding for exhibition fabrication, preparation, and administrative support is generously provided by the Navajo Nation Museum.  

This collaborative project builds on original research that Denetdale has been conducting for years. Recently, Denetdale shared her expertise in a temporary exhibition at the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology at the University of New Mexico. 

Co-curated by Denetdale and McEnaney, Nothing Left for Me: Federal Policy and the Photography of Milton Snow opens May 4, 2024.