In the far south of Colorado, near the border with New Mexico, there is a distinctive range of tall, flat-topped mesas that stretch from northwest to southeast like the reaching arm of the Sangre de Cristo range. The highest of these mesas is striking against the sky—at 9,633 feet, it is higher than any point in North America east of it. It rises from the surrounding forest like a castle, steep-walled and prominent, and for millions of years it has loomed large over the valley below.
Fishers Peak is one of the most recognizable landmarks in southern Colorado, and has been for centuries.
Trinidad, Colorado, is a small and relatively quiet community. It has a long history of mining and entrepreneurship, evident in the stately Victorian-era buildings of its historic district, but in the latter half of the twentieth century it became world-famous for a reason that few at the time would have expected. For more than forty years, “going to Trinidad” became slang for undergoing gender confirmation surgery, and this otherwise quiet and previously little-known Colorado town found itself on the map, not just in the United States but the world over.
This story begins with one man doing a service, an act of kindness that at the time was controversial and even dangerous, for a friend.
Congress passed the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, or NAGPRA, into law in 1990. This federal law mandated that museums across the country examine their collections, make detailed lists of any human remains and artifacts of Native American origin in their possession, and provide these lists to federally recognized tribal authorities for potential repatriation. Thousands of sacred items and human remains were returned to their tribes of origin this way, after decades or even centuries of potentially exploitative treatment.
This was a turning point in the world of museum operations, and has served to reframe entire exhibits and their interpretation. A new emphasis has been placed on outreach and communication with Native American groups before their cultures are placed on exhibit.