(*FAQ's=Frequently Asked Questions)
About Life on the
Section II Updated Sunday, June 09, 2002
& Among the Navajo
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Edited by Larry DiLucchio, Chinle, Arizona - Copyright
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- Are alcoholic beverages legal on
- Federal Law prohibits the possession, sale
or consumption of alcoholic beverages. Restaurants usually stock nonalcoholic
What is the penalty for bringing
alcohol onto the reservation?
- On first offense, the alcohol is usually
confiscated or disposed of. Continued offenses result in heavy fines and jail
time. The entire Navajo Nation is included by this law. There are no "safe
zones". Everyone living or traveling on the Navajo Nation is included. As
a result of a limited number of police officers and the need to address more
serious crimes first, prohibition may not be actively enforced in some areas,
unless abuse of alcohol becomes evident. Because of this, some non-Navajos have
falsely assumed that some housing compounds are exempt from the ban on alcohol.
This is not true, though some might wish it. There are no exceptions. Violation
of prohibition is a Federal crime. Continued offenses can result in jail time,
heavy fines, or loss of the right to visit, live, or work on the Navajo
Do you mean that everyone does
not have a "right" to come to the Navajo
- It is not a right non-Navajos possess.
While it seldom happens, there have been individuals who have been escorted to
the Navajo Nation's boundary and instructed not to come back.
You said alcohol was prohibited
on the Navajo Nation; why then have we seen beer cans by the side of the
highways? Is liquor available on the Rez?
- Bootleggers sell liquor illegally. It is
also very easy to bring liquor on to the Navajo Nation. There are usually no
highway check points and if there were, they have proven ineffective. Rather
than waste money fighting smugglers, it has been suggested that liquor be
legalized and heavily taxed. The moneys would then be used to fund social
programs to combat alcoholism. There are no clear solutions to this problem as
long as the policy is not completely supported by the people whom it
Do all residences on the
reservation have electricity and running water?
- A greater number do now than fifteen years
ago, especially those in developed areas or near power lines, but because the
distribution of homes is so scattered, it is not economically possible to
provide power and running water to every location. Many families must still
haul their own water from the nearest source. Passive solar energy using solar
cells and batteries has been very popular in the more remote locations.
For those lacking running water, many Chapter Houses have showers that may
be used. Some older Gallup Hotels offer "shower" services in town.
Public Schools used to have "shower days" for students from remote
homes, but this was discontinued as more facilities became available in the
community. A coin laundry is a common sight and gathering place even in smaller
An interesting sidelight is that families who do not depend on outside
sources of power, best weather long power outages that sometimes happen when
major power transmission lines that supply the area shut down during winter
storms. Ice can buildup on the wires causing them to sag more than normal
between transmission towers. Winds can then blow the individual cables against
each other. This shorting out, automatically takes the lines out of service.
Entire regions have lost power for hours on end, sometime continuing into the
night. This can be a real problem for those of us who have grown dependent on
utilities and have only electric heaters to warm our home when outside
temperatures drop below twenty degrees. Thinking about the families in their
nice warm hogans when we are struggling to stay warm is really humbling however
and reminds us of our roots.
Are all types of telephone,
cellular and paging services available in Navajoland??
Telephone service has increased due to the
availability of radio-telephone and cellular telephones, however only about 30%
of Navajo homes have a telephone in them (1999). This may be higher in
developed communities. Where there are no phone lines or at remote locations
that cannot justify the expense of miles of poles to serve only a few homes,
radio has been used to provide phone service.
analog cellular service is available and coverage is sporadic. As of May 1999,
small, handheld units only do well in some towns close to towers, such as
Chinle and Window Rock/Fort Defiance. Digital cellular (PCS) service is not
available at this time. Satchel sized analog cellular phones with 3 watts power
have the best range, but this is only from high ground. Cellular One has
instituted some innovative marketing to do business on the Rez. They have
marketed pre-paid accounts that work while there is money on deposit. This
eliminates the necessity of trying to collect for delivered services.
For the most part, pagers do not work in Navajoland. Major chains like
Skytel sound like they should work here, but they don't. Cellular One is the
only company that has towers in Navajoland. Other companies rely on distant
towers and their performance is worse.
Are there many Social
Opportunities for non-Navajo's?
- Not compared to what one might expect in a
more metropolitan region. There is only one service club (Lion's International)
which struggles to survive. A chapter of Phi Beta Kappa is in the Chinle School
District. Most other opportunities are centered on friends, family, school or
church. Volunteers are always welcome at the hospital and nursing home. We have
a volunteer fire department. It is not a place for shy recluses. You best be a
friend to have friends. As you show an interest in the community, opportunities
will open up. Sometimes, just sharing a meal is a good start.
What do families do for
- Family and school activities form the core
of life here. Families with children in school are often involved with school
sports. Intramural co-ed team competitions in volleyball, baseball, softball
and basketball have something going most weekends. Pow-wows, regional and area
fairs, rodeos, and ceremonies fill in empty days on schedules. A group of lakes
formed by the flood control dams for Canyon De Chelly provide year-around
fishing. Hunting for deer, turkey, bear and elk is an option for some. Families
having animals must see to their continual care. It is an endless cycle. They
must be provided with clean water and sufficient browse. Ewes need help with
their young during lambing season. Sometimes, orphan lambs must be raised by
hand and bottle-fed. Shearing follows when the weather warms. Many move animals
to summer pasture. There, shepherds must remove noxious plants from the ground
where the sheep and goats are feeding. The animals are inspected daily and
treated for medical conditions of all types. Flocks must move to lower pasture
in the Fall, where they can be protected from winter snows and fed supplemental
feed if the ground gets covered with snow. The work with the animals unites the
family. The cycle begins again in the Spring. Other chores demand time. Coal is
hauled from Kayenta or Window Rock to keep hogans warm during the cold of
winter. Firewood, obtained in the mountains, needs to be cut, hauled and
stacked. Many attend church on the weekends and often other nights during the
week when activities such as home making lessons, skating, bingo or dinners are
offered. Women often have their vertical looms set up in their home and do
weaving as time allows. Many men work with silver or other crafts. Trips to
town on weekends eat up more time.This isn't even considering school activities
and sports. Who has time to be bored?
A sad reality is that this
image is not as rosy as it may sound. Young adults often have few
opportunities. Those who drop from school before graduation, or those who have
been ill prepared to succeed in school have few constructive places to turn.
Drugs become available, whether it be alcohol from a bootlegger, marijuana, or
something stronger. Even in our remote area, it is available. No one has really
found a long term solution to assist these "drop throughs" until they
commit a crime and become a concern of the courts. It is one of the many areas
confronting the elders in a society where the majority of the population is
Can Navajo Nation families
receive television and radio broadcasts?
Has other "advanced"
technology reached the Navajo Nation?
- To a limited degree, depending upon
location and equipment. In the last five years it has improved dramatically.
Cable Television, provided by Navajo Communication Company (current owner
Citizens Telecom) serves only higher populated communities where housing is
concentrated. It only offers thirteen channels. Some areas are served by
television repeaters that rebroadcast the major networks from New Mexico
cities. Arizona television does not reach very far north of Interstate 40. We
heard tales of families erecting tall towers and large antennas to receive
stations from Utah in the north, but this was rare. The Chinle valley now
enjoys an FM radio station and often it is possible to receive a FM station
from Farmington. Since Chinle itself is located in a valley, most FM signals
that can be received on the rim, travel far overhead as they radiate by line of
sight. Before the local FM broadcast began, only the tribe's AM station KTNN
660, was available to most. Some bible stations that broadcast to the Navajos
from nearby towns can be received during the day. At night, AM and short wave
radio open up the world. The high altitude makes it easy to tune-in
clear-channel AM radio stations from across western America. KOMA, 1520 AM,
from Oklahoma City is popular, as is 1160 KSL , 770 KOB, and KOA from
The marketing of small satellite television
dishes has improved access to television dramatically. They can provide the
major networks as well a host of cable and sports channels to any place in
America. Primestar has seen a lot of business as it doesn't require any
big capital investment up front. USSB, Direct TV and "The Dish"
provide competition. While the small dishes cannot be tuned to different
satellites, their low cost, good picture and ease of use have made them
extremely popular - and a viable alternative to the large dishes that were once
required. In addition to television, some services, like "The Dish
Network" provided radio programs unavailable by any other means.
The only "wrinkle: in this arrangement is in receiving NBC
programming. An affiliate in Farmington, NM provides NBC's signal to a
transmitter originally funded by area motels. A variable signal is available
with "rabbit ears", or outside antennas. While it once was the only
signal available in Chinle, its quality is far below that of digital dishes.
Satellite based companies may provide major network services (ABC,CBS,NBC,FOX,
& PBS), provided households can't receive good signals locally. Most people
in the Chinle valley requested this package when they started dish service. In
late 1997, the Farmington NBC station requested satellite based providers omit
NBC from channel packages sold in this region, which was done. I don't think it
worked out quite as they intended. The net result was that most people have
learned to live without NBC completely! It is just enough of a complication to
switch to the rabbit ears, that it is very rare for people to bother. Since NBC
is no longer available by dish, people don't watch it there either!
A common caricature seen in local newspapers and on
postcards here includes the picture of a older log hogan with smoke curling
through the smoke hole. A large satellite dish is mounted on a pipe that is
anchored in the ground outside, and a brand new pickup truck is parked beside
it, towing a trailer used to haul drinking water. A sheep corral is behind the
hogan filled with livestock. Behind it is the outhouse. A generator sits beside
the hogan, with a cord going through the hogan's door.
- Cellular telephones are somewhat of a
novelty. In 1997, where competition is great in other markets, only one of the
two bands available to provide cellular service is in use on the Navajo Nation.
As a result of this lack of competition, prices remain high and
"give-aways" used elsewhere to entice subscribers are rare. Digital
cellular service that is replacing conventional cellular service is not yet
planned for here. On the bright side however, the phones provide service where
Navajo Communications has been unable to go with their lines. Most, but not
all, of the reservation is blanketed and the network is expanding each year.
Changes in marketing have been required, including the practice of pre-paying
for use, rather than billing once each month. Sheep herders are no longer as
isolated as they used to be, nor are some Navajo cowboys who ride the range
with their cell phone at their side. The larger, more powerful cell phones work
better. Cellular antennas are too far apart for the pocket size .6 watt units
to get wide coverage. Calls to most reservation towns are the same price with
cellular service. This may be less than Navajo Communication's rates. Pagers do
not work on most of the Navajo Nation. Several companies are trying to provide
them, but they must first find, then get available tower space to do so. School
districts and other entities have resorted to installing inexpensive private
paging systems, or "people finders." Used with an external ground
plane antenna, they can cover ten square miles.
Do residents on the Navajo Nation have
access to the Internet?
- Some communities are getting it for their
schools and governmental offices this year. When 70% of the homes still lack
conventional telephones, the Internet is not yet a concern to these families.
Some individuals have had access to the internet for some time. It has been
expensive in most cases, since it required a long distance call to a city that
had a facility. If you surf the Internet, there are a growing number of home
pages from this region. Use Yahoo and do a search for "Chinle" or
A recently discovered limitation of the radio
telephones is their inability to carry enough data for some users who have
tried to access the Internet using them! Satelite Internet links such as those
from Direct TV may be a work around for this however. Users receive Internet
data from their mini-dish that connects to their computers. The users still
require a telephone connection, but it is only used to submit short requests
for the Internet pages or files that the user wants. The radio link seems to be
able to tolerate this according to sources at a reservation wide technology
conference in Shiprock in April 1999.
It has been a major battle to get the
Internet onto the reservation, even for schools, hospitals and government
offices. The basic communications network did not exist. Chinle was among the
last places in the nation to convert from electro-mechanical to digital
switching equipment that could deliver information at the speed and volume
required. There had been little need for this type of equipment in Navajo land
previously. Internet Service Providers were unwilling to invest in this
unproven market. Furthermore, because of the way telephone service developed
for the Rez, all long distance calls, even to other Arizona towns, were routed
through Albuquerque, New Mexico. This included calls to towns on the other side
of the Interstate, only one hundred miles away. Dineh College had to
éget its internet service from a provider in New Mexico at a cost
exceeding $21,000 per year.
The purchase of Navajo Communications by Citizen's Telecom, which also
owned the telephone companies south of I-40 offered new hope. Soon they
established a microwave link between Holbrook and their operations center in
St. Michael's. Long distance companies leased most of the circuit, which gave
them a direct route to Arizona and an alternate route for calls to the rest of
the world. Prior to this time, if the microwave linking St. Micheals and
Albuquerque went down, off reservation calls were not possible.
In the summer of 1997 Apache County Schools funded 56KB frame relay lines
to some of the reservation schools, but T1 service was still not available in
most locations. Teresa Hopkins of the tribe's legislative branch pioneered
setting up internet access for chapters and judicial offices. The IHS developed
its own routes. In January of 1998, Citizens Telecom, expanded the Holbrook
link, openning additional radio channels. Likewise the route to Chinle was also
expanded. The Chinle School District secured one of these links. This was
completed on March 13, 1998. During Senate hearings on telecommunications,
testimony was given about the lack of parity for rural areas concerning basic
communication line costs. In a city a school district may pay $500 for a T1
line. We will be paying more than triple this, since we also must pay to
transmit it the 140 miles from Holbrook by way of St. Micheals. Fortunately the
E-Rate will reduce this to a bearable price.
Update:The Chinle Unified School District finished basic Internet
connections in May of 1998. It now has its own server and presence at
Speaking of technology, while we were
driving from Tuba City to Kayenta, we noticed what looked like the tracks for
an electric railroad on the north side of the highway. What is it used
- You saw the tracks of the Black Mesa Railroad. It is one of the many
private railroads in Arizona, but the only electric railroad in Arizona. It
hauls coal mined at Black Mesa to a power plant in Page, Arizona.The Navajo
Generating Station is the largest coal powered plant west of the Mississippi.
It is also the largest chemical plant in the region, producing gypsum when
limestone, loaded in its scrubbers absorbs sulfur compounds from the water
vapor that result from combustion. Ash is sold for other industrial uses,
including the manufacturing of cement which supports the building boom in
Arizona these recent years. The gypsum is of sufficient quality that it is
trucked to plants that convert it into the wall board like that found in most
modern homes. It is worth stating that pollution from Navajo Generating Station
is not the cause of the degradation in the atmosphere in the Grand Canyon seen
(or is that obscured) in recent years. When I was in col lege during the early
seventies, we often made weekend trips to the bottom of the Canyon to change
the graph paper on a laser light receiver in the bottom by Phantom Ranch.
Measurable amounts of particles were creeping into the Canyon even then. Some
borne by predominately westerly winds from cities as far away as Los Angles and
Las Vegas. Other pollutants overflowed from the automobiles in the megapolis of
Phoenix and its associated cities in the Valley of The Sun. This is documented.
Having had myself both installed scrubbers to clean industrial smoke and having
been reassured by experienced workers now that the process is accurate, I feel
safe in stating what I have. Plumes of water vapor escaping from tall stacks
may seem an obvious cause for the Canyon's decreased visibility to the
uninformed, but internal combustion engines win hands down as the real
Citizens' Band (CB) radio is very
popular. What is it used for?
- Citizens' Band two-way radio was
originally licensed by the government for personal communications. In an area
where 70% of the people do not have telephones, CB radios are a common
accessory in vehicles. Channel 19 is always in use (to the dismay of truck
drivers who use it over the rest of the Nation.) CB is a community party
Update:2002 Citizens Band is slowly being replaced for many applications
by the small frequency modulated (FM) Family Radio Service Radios. They are
inexpensive, have a range from 2 to five miles and cheap. They use a
shorter wave length than the 49MC Citizen's band and are not subject to
having their signals bounced off the higher levels of the earth's atmosphere.
This "skip" often renders citizen's band radios unuseable for all but short
distances although they we originally intended to exceed 50 miles.
While the new FRS radios do not guarentee privacy, they have 14 channels and
each channel has 38 privacy codes that can be selected so that they only recieve
transmissions from other radios that first send a matching digital signal.This is
an illusion of privacy actually, as a person with a receiver that does not require
the codes can hear both sides of the conversation. The codes just eliminate
other transmissions from being heard when one is using the codes!
Is the water on the Navajo Nation safe
- Fear not. Water in public water
systems is completely safe and potable. It is tested on a regular basis to meet
State and Federal standards. Because of the nature of the rock from which the
water is pumped, the water can contain fine sediment which gives it a red
color. This is not harmful to people or animals. The fine particulate s can
build up on the inside of supply pipes over time. It can cause problems when
doing laundry. I have been startled by pink underwear that was supposed to be
white: A clod of iron rich sediment came loose from where it had built up on
the inside of a main supply pipe and flowed into the washer during the rinse
cycle and dyed my freshly washed clothes pink. This can be overcome by a
cannister type filter on the water line, or by occasionally treating clothes to
remove the iron stains. It is easy to tell when the pipes have been worked on
with older systems. The water can run red until the lines clear.
While municipal water is potable, water
from streams and lakes should not be considered safe unless treated.
Treatment can include chlorinating or filtering with a ceramic filter. There
are instances of microorganisms like amoebas and giardia living in some lakes
and streams. Boiling, purification or some filters can remove them. These are
both harmful to humans. If you have what you consider a sensitive digestive
system, you may want to consider drinking bottled water and drinks that are
readily available. The local grocery store has coin-operated water filtering
machines. Because the water itself is pure once the sediment is removed by
filtering, steam purification systems, or those using reverse osmosis are
In the early nineteen nineties,
newspapers and television carried stories about a disease that was plaguing the
people in the Four Corners area. What was that about?
- An outbreak of Hanta virus was identified
in New Mexico.
What is the Hanta virus?
- Hanta virus is a fast acting disease that
can affect humans. It is transmitted by airborne particles originating with
deer mice. Unless an individual is working in a confined space where mice
exist, it is unlikely that the disease can be transmitted. The virus cannot
survive without moisture and our dry climate kills particles of the virus in
mouse urine as soon as the urine is dry. Hanta virus is recognized by flu-like
symptoms and a buildup of fluid in the lungs.
Is Hanta virus only found on the
- Hanta virus was named for a river in
Korea! It occurs in many states. The Four Corners became associated with it
because of an outbreak in a small hamlet in northwest New Mexico, Once the
illness was identified, cases were discovered in many other states.
Is Hanta virus a danger tourists should
- No. It should not be considered a hazard.
Typically, it occurs when individuals in rural settings are doing Spring
Cleaning of areas infested by deer mice over the winter. In towns and larger
communities, the deer mice seem to be displaced by the common field mouse,
which is not a carrier.
The year this story first broke, the media
did such a thorough job of putting the news before the public as one of terror,
that many people misunderstood the danger. One bus load of Chinle elementary
students was recalled from a trip to the Los Angles area after
they had arrived. The host school's administration voiced concern that if
the Navajo children mingled with their students it might pose a danger! Our
students did not understand why they had to return from the long anticipated
trip because of a disease that they did not have, nor was ever existant within our
community! Because the school being visited was a private Jewish school, such
discrimination in shunning our children seemed especially tacky, considering
the similar treatment those of Jewish heritage received in the last century
at the hands of the Germans.
Are there any other health hazards not
generally found elsewhere?
While it may not have been an intended message, some did feel like the monied
minority was reacting in a manner where they were trying to keep the
unwashed minority from contaminating their families.
- For most people, no. A form of bubonic
plague lives on fleas which frequent prairie dogs and other rodents including
squirrels and rabbits. Federal wildlife control teams conducted large scale
reductions in rodent populations over ten years ago on lands in the entire Four
Corner's area. Increased competition for grasses and use of the land by
livestock has made these once common rodents rare over most of their original
range. Every year there is a report from somewhere in New Mexico, Colorado or
Utah of someone being infected with the bubonic plague after handling dead wild
animals. Fortunately, the disease that once killed millions in Europe can be
controlled by antibiotics.
How do the Navajo People care for their
- With love, care and a great deal of
respect in most cases if one follows tradition. Traditionally family units were
built around the elderly. This allowed the younger generation to both learn
from them and care for those who needed assistance. The elderly were not
confined to some sterile retirement village devoid of youth. That seems very
selfish. Recent construction of mass housing for young people has eroded this
tradition by separating generations, however people have resisted and fought to
maintain family ties. It is not unusual for a child to be placed with a
grandparent "to keep them company, so they won't be lonely", as one
child explained why they lived with a grandfather to a teacher. The particular
child went on to emphasize it was " their turn." This implies others
were involved too. There are nursing homes for the elderly who require medical
assistance they can not get at home. The tribe funds these. Again even though
the elders may be disabled, they are treated with a great deal of respect. This
is a sharp contrast to the treatment of some nursing home residents off the
Navajo Nation who have been warehoused there by their families.
elderly with no immediate children, both the Tribe and local Chapters help out
to ensure they have sufficient wood, or coal in the winter, adequate food and
water and a solid roof over their head. The system is not perfect, but by and
large it works. The heavy emphasis on family relationships, both by blood and
clan forges links that last a lifetime.
Elsewhere on the Central Navajo Website, are words of wisdom for tourists to
help them understand American Indian culture better. While the article was
written for the Papago, a Navajo concludes with the concept that when an elder
speaks, the correct response is to stop talking and listen. It is too bad that
American society today could not have learned this lesson. No matter who it is,
I have found that I can usually learn something if I am patient enough to hear
people out. If the person has lived longer than I, it is even more probable
that I will gain by listening.
If the elderly are so respected,
why is it a common sight to see a pickup truck on the highway with the cab full
of children and older people seated against the cab in the back of the truck
with a blanket wrapped over their head and shoulders??
- I have no idea. I have seen this too and
have wondered. Seems more consistent that the older ones should be allowed in
the cab. The only insight I can offer is through my Grandmother. She sacrificed
many things for her children and the grandchildren. I well may be the elderly's
choice to have the children in a warm cab.
The Colorado Plateau and Four Corner's
region is high desert, most of it at an elevation of 5,000 feet above sea
level or more. What brought the non-Navajo's here in the first
- The Spanish (and many to come afterward)
sought riches and territory. The Catholic church, which was a partner in the
exploration with the Spaniards, sought new souls to save (and riches for the
papal coffers!) The quest for the "Seven Cities of Cibola" is well
known. There was little noble about the efforts.
Distrust by the Spanish monarchy of some of
the orders in the Church, led to the Jesuits being recalled from the New World.
Examination of some missions built by the Jesuits has led to the conclusion
that some missions might have been used to "hide" excavated material
from nearby silver mines the Jesuits may have operated. The waste took the form
of the adobe blocks. Tumaccocori Mission, south of Tucson was one of the most
suspect. It was at the edge of the Santa Rita mining district which has yielded
fortunes in silver and copper.
Many years later, another wave of immigrants
invaded. Each sought different goals. Prospectors and miners again looked for
minerals. Because of the region's geologic background, the only gold found was
some very fine powdered gold (flour gold) that had accumulated over the eons in
the bed of the San Juan river. The gold washed down from the Rocky Mountains.
Early miners missed the wealth of coal and natural gas, as well as deposits of
radioactive ores that have proven to be both a boon and a curse.
Some immigrants came seeking religious
freedom. Mormons traveled across the area frequently, to and from settlements
along the Little Colorado, the Salt, the San Pedro and the Gila rivers, in the
White Mountains of Arizona, in western New Mexico and in northern Mexico. Tuba
City was established by them. A large textile mill was built there to weave the
wool from the Indian flocks. For almost fifty years, Mormon couples in Arizona
trod the "Honeymoon Trail" through Lee's Ferry to St. George, in
southwest Utah to be wed in the LDS temple. This ended when a temple was
constructed in Mesa in the 1920s.
Fortunately, the land here was too dry, with
too few sources of water to support large-scale farming, so few of the
outsiders stayed. The Hopi people are considered masters of Dry Farming and
host visitors from around the world to study their methods. The Navajos farm
where water is available. Canyon De Chelly holds many orchards and fields. The
tribe has developed a huge farm in northwest New Mexico near Farmington. Navajo
Agricultural Products Industries (NAPI) now grows most of the potatoes used in
the snack chips manufactured in the southwest. NAPI gets its water from the San
Juan river which now has a year-round flow since the construction of Navajo dam
to the east.
What draws non-Navajos to Navajo Land
to work now?
- There is no single reason. For some, it is
a level of pay that is often higher than off the reservation. Many school
teachers and administrators come here to gain experience before transferring to
other districts in the state. Some, like a physician at an area hospital,
wanted to work over-seas, but his wife did not. The region was as close to
being in a foreign country, while still remaining in the United States as they
could find. Some families enjoy the people and the country. It is more
favorable than living in a city. Some people have religious reasons and believe
they can make more of a difference here, than they can elsewhere. Many Indian
Health Service employees take this posting after they complete their residency,
to gain experience while at the same time, earning credit that decreases the
amount that they must repay for government loans they took out to complete
their education. Later letters with readers also stated that a variety of other
positions in other professions, such as forestry and geology were eligible for
loan forgiveness. I do not have details, but I have suggested that others
seeking information begin with the agency responsible for the loan.
Kit Carson is widely regarded as one of
the individuals who opened up the west in most American History texts. Does
Navajo history respect him as an honorable man?
- No. He is despised. He ravaged the land.
He burnt crops and orchards. He slaughtered the flocks and starved the Navajo
people into submission. Most Navajos were forced to leave their homeland and
travel by foot, wagon, or horseback the 300 miles to Fort Sumner, New Mexico.
This journey is remembered as "The Long Walk." Thousands died, either
on the journey, or at Bosque Redondo, where they were confined.
might have been an end to the Churro sheep, but some bands did not go to Fort
Sumner and others abandoned their flocks to canyons where the sheep were able
to fare for themselves and survive the predators until the owners came home.
Some have questioned conditions during Long Walk and the confinement at
Ft.Sumner. The death toll alone should provide a clue. Not commonly known are
losses from raids by neighboring Comanches from Texas, lack of shelter, long
searches for firewood for cooking and warmth, sacks of grain infested with
"worms", or larvae and rancid tinned beef. Had the Dine's keepers
wished for them to all perish, their actions may have been little different.
Fortunately the Dine' survived. Furthermore, they were not exiled to the Indian
Territory of Oklahoma, which was as great a fear. Fortunately, the Dine' did
come home to prosper in the land bounded by the four sacred mountains.
How did the Navajo Reservation come to
- After several year's confinement at Fort
Sumner,New Mexico with the Diné struggling to survive in the dire
conditions of the Bosque Redondo along the Rio Grande River, the military met
with Navajo leaders and offered a treaty. It was the ninth treaty the United
States had made with the Dine'. Among the terms of this treaty, the United
States agreed to set apart land for the Navajo people and allow the 7,00
surviving Navajos at Ft. Sumner to return home. Barboncito, also known as Hosteen Deegah,
stated his thankfulness that the Dineh were allowed to return to the lands they had known
and were not, like many other tribes, relocated to Indian Territory in Oklahoma.
Since the original land allotment, additions have been made by congress resulting in the
Navajo Nation we know today.
What were some other provisions of this
- In exchange for lands forfeited by the
Navajo tribe, the government agreed to care for the Navajo people and provide
for their health, welfare and education. Originally a school house and teacher
were to be provided for every thirty students. Men were encouraged to improve
tracts of land and become farmers.
It is hard to imagine that the settlement
was fair and free of duress. More than two-thousand of the nine-thousand who
came Ft. Sumner had died of dysentery and pneumonia. Raids from the Comanches
were a constant threat. Much of the terminology concerning boundaries in the
treaty is in technical terms of longitude and latitude. At the treaty
"negotiations" there was no one present who could speak both Navajo
and English. The treaty's terms were communicated to the tribe's
representatives through a man who only spoke Spanish and Navajo. The treaty was
offered only after several years of meager rations at Ft. Sumner, New Mexico in
the Bosque Redondo. Navajo leaders feared the tribe might be consigned to
Indian Territory in the state of Oklahoma, something they had heard happened to
other native peoples. The Dineh's only wish was to return to their homeland
between the Four Sacred Mountains.
The Government wanted the Navajos to
become farmers? Hadn't the Navajo people always tended flocks and herds of
animals that needed to be moved from pasture to pasture?
- Yes, this did create problems. The B.I.A.
eventually wanted the reservation divided with barbed-wire fences as was being
done elsewhere in America during the same time. This was in direct conflict
with existing Navajo social systems.
What else did the government do to
"help" that wasn't really help?
- This could fill pages, but I will only
touch on one of the more notorious incidents. In the 1930s, there was a
national reassessment of all federal range lands. After a two-year study, it
was evident to B.I.A. researchers that Navajo Land was being overgrazed.
Protected parcels of land isolated from the animals by fences maintained a
cover of vegetation, while there was little forage remaining on grazed tracts.
There are several good examples throughout the world that un-controlled flocks
of sheep and goats reduce a marginal environment to a desert wasteland when
overgrazing occurs. In an effort to prevent the ecosystem from reverting to
sand dunes, the B.I.A. announced a program of livestock reduction.
"Excess" animals were to be purchased, then shipped away for sale or
slaughter. Over 600,000 animals were included. Federal funds were secured to
purchase them. Fifty percent of female goats were to be purchased at one dollar
each then sent to packing houses. Foul weather and wet range conditions
prevented this from happening. The Navajos were asked to slaughter as many of
the animals scheduled for sale as they could use. The remainder were taken and
killed, then buried in mass graves. No attempt was made to salvage the hides,
wool or meat. Considering many Navajo people knew their individual animals well
enough to have named them, this was perceived as an act of extreme callousness
In all fairness, the Four Corners was not
the only place this happened. The Oklahoma "Dust Bowl" had emphasized
the necessity that the land be carefully managed nationwide. Because of the
Navajo People's close relationship with their animals however, memories of this
perceived brutal treatment will not be soon forgotten.
Has anything been done to prevent this
from happening again?
- Each chapter has a Grazing Officer who
enforces grazing limits and settles disputes involving families over grazing
rights and animals.
Recently, there has been even greater involvement
of the Chapters' Grazing Committees. To minimize disputes over who owns what
animals and whose brand should be burnt onto each calf's rump, the Grazing
Committee supervises, or does all branding. This saves many disputes as the
animal grows older, as well as accusations that individuals may have increased
their herds by branding mavericks which belong to another.
Owners may lop and split ears, or attach ear tags, but the brands determine
A weak point in this scheme is that the Grazing Officer is an elected
position, If he becomes unpopular because he enforces the law, he will be
replaced at the next election. Because of the clan system, the individual
probably has some relative that does not conform to the allotments. Enforcing
the law on that individual makes it very hard to go home at night, or opens one
to accusations of favoritism if the relative is overlooked. Furthermore, the
question has been raised as to whether all understand the concept of
"animal units" used to calculate an area's grazing capacity. If a
gearing unit equated to one cow, this might be equivalent to three sheep per
unit, or 3/4 a calving cow per unit. One woman who had a permit for thirty
sheep was questioned why she also had as many cows and half as many horses.
"I only have thirty sheep", she recounted. As the permit said she
could have the thirty sheep, but did not specify limitations on any other
animal, she considered she was legal. Fortunately, since the last few years
have brought ample moisture, overgrazing may not have hurt. As soon as there is
the start of a drought there will be problems.
What single policy does the government
have that has adversely affected the tribe more than any other?
- Other than the Government's failure to
originally respect the American Indian Tribes, or First Nations, as sovereign
and equal peoples, considering everything, it has probably been the policy of
long term welfare. This policy has lulled many tribal members into a false
sense of security that their needs are being met and will continue to be met.
Implementation of changes to the federal welfare system that limits the length
of time a person may receive welfare may change this.
There have been allegations that the
B.I.A. is no longer needed. Is this true?
- The B.I.A. may seem an unnecessary level
of bureaucracy, but it employs many people in Navajo Land. When unemployment
here is at 58.6% (Courtesy Sandia Labs 4/1999), talk of eliminating a large
employer is not popular. Perhaps the same thing could be accomplished by
transferring all of the functions and responsibilities of the B.I.A. to the
tribes, along with the funding the B.I.A. receives. This would restore a
greater degree of autonomy, responsibility and accountability to each tribe,
while preserving bottom level jobs.
Many of the Pueblo tribes such as the Zuni have grown independent of the BIA's
administrative hand and now manage their nation for themselves. The road to this step for
the Navajo people grows slowly. In the past few years the tribe and the Federal Government
have been trying to decide who should administrate the Indian Health Service Hospitals
and Clinics serving the Navajo people. There is some fear that if the tribe takes over
the operations that all will not be well. This was recently reflected in a vote
on the decision which clearly showed the Navajo people do not have a faith in the Tribe's
ability to manage, but would prefer they hire a professional management company!
How is the Navajo Nation governed? You
mentioned the Tribe and the B.I.A.
- The Navajo Nation has its own elected
government at both local and tribal levels. Like the United States government
it is tripartite, having an executive, judicial and legislative branch.
At lower levels, the Nation is divided up into Chapters, each with a president.
much like states are divided into parishes, or counties. There has been an effort
to decentral control of the chapters and to place many decisions regarding
local operations into the hands of local people. This is a process in progress.
Some communities like Kayenta have tried to jump ahead by declaring themselves to be
a township, electing a Major and other officers and levying taxes to support themselves.
This has its problems as well, for when jurisdiction is concerned, there is
confusion whether the Chaper or Township is in control!
Where do the Navajos have their
- Members of the tribe have twice voted down
gambling as a means of raising revenue. Each time the vote was about 55%
against and 45% for. The last vote in November 1997, followed several months of
promotion that cost over half a million dollars.
Tohaajohli, or Canyoncito a band of the Navajo tribe close to Alburquerque has sought and recieved
permission to construct a casino along I-40. This would place the Navajo casino closer to Alburquerque
than eith the existing Laguna or Acoma operations, however since the Canoncito community has
no land on I-40, negotiotiations to get such a site from the Laguna seems improbable unless
it is a joint operation.
Many other tribes have found casinos to
be an excellent source of revenue. What were some of the reasons that the
Navajos turned it down.
- In traditional Navajo teachings, gambling
is painted as a sickness that should be avoided. No-one ever wins in the long
run. The Gambler-Who-Always-Wins cost the people dearly, drawing into slavery
many of the Dineh, until he finally earned the displeasure of the Sun, then was
vanquished by the wind. In the distant past, animals of the night and day once
gambled each other for more day, or more night, but they finally compromised on
the current arrangement. This is a teaching that was turned to for its lesson.
Many residents feared that the most affected would be tribal members who could
least afford to lose the money, but would be lured by the potential of escaping
personal economic woes.
Another concern was that there was no market
share for additional casinos in Arizona or New Mexico. For casinos to be
profitable, they need a good supply of people with money to gamble. The only
border cities considered for locations were Flagstaff and Page. Neither is a
large metropolis. I-40 has much traffic, but there are already casinos along
I-40 in New Mexico. To the West are the casinos in Laughlin and Las Vegas that
serve the more serious gamblers. The Utes have a casino in Cortez to the north
and Payson and Phoenix have casinos on nearby reservations in the south.Perhaps
the refusal of the tribe to gamble tribal monies that a casino could be a
source of revenue says more than anything else.
- If the land belongs to the Navajo
people, have they been unable to keep life uncomplicated by bureaucracy? For
example, do Navajos need fishing licenses at reservation lakes?
- Navajos and non-Navajos alike require
Fishing and Hunting Licenses. They can be purchased at any number of locations.
This is far simpler that the hoops that an applicant must jump through to open
a business or get a lease on land to build a home. Before any new construction
may be started, both an archeological and an environmental impact statement
must be filed! The whole of the reservation is regarded as a potential
A popular election time promise is to reduce
the complexity of starting a business. It is a promise that has not yet been
Three questions this time. Who enforces
the law in Navajo Land?; Does the Navajo Nation still have an army?; May
Navajos own guns?
- No army. Scalping has never been much in
vogue either - wrong tribe. The Navajo Police force is the primary police force
on Navajo Land, first organized by Thomas Keams in 1872. It has jurisdiction
over everyone on the Navajo Nation - Indian and non-Indian alike. However,
county sheriffs, the Arizona Department of Public Safety, B.I.A. investigators,
the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Navajo Rangers and National Park Service
officers all have jurisdiction in some manner also. The Arizona Department of
Public Safety patrols State and Federal highways that cross the
There are no restrictions on firearm
ownership on the Navajo Nation. The Tribe has adopted a Bill of Rights
with the Second Amendment that guarantees the Right to Bear Arms.
Courses in safe firearm handling must be completed before
tags for any big game (turkeys, deer, bear, elk) can be applied for and game
How many of these agencies enforce
In a matter that has recently come to notice, the Tribe does have jurisdiction
over Navajo and non-Navajo alike concerning animals they may have while
in the Navajo Nation. Recently a school employees dog attacked a child and the
owner tried to claim "lack of jurisdiction" when she was given a summons to
appear in court. Trial is pending.
- The Navajo Police, State Highway Patrol,
and County Sheriff deputies all can and do give tickets for speeding and other
violations. Marked patrol cars are used by most, but the Navajo Police has a
large number of utility vehicles in its fleet, as well as some
Is it legal to use radar detectors on
- Use them with caution. The best way to
avoid tickets is not to exceed the speed limit. Citations are expensive.
Arizona has added surcharges to most offenses. Even if the fine is reduced for
some mitigating circumstance the surcharges remain. While most of the equipment
is low-tech, a radar detector is no license to speed. Airplanes are sometimes
brought in by the Highway Patrol. A "catch" vehicle is parked at both
ends of the trap with its radar on. When cars pass the vehicles, the ones with
radar detectors tend to increase speed going into the center of the trap. The
speed is measured by a pilot in a small plane circling overhead. A roadblock at
a low point in the road, or behind a curve detains- and tickets- the offenders
in the middle of the "trap". This operation is manpower intensive:
fewer tickets are given out per man-hour than if the officers were working
independently, but they are able to apprehend violators that may often not be
Fair warning: In Arizona it is not unusual for officers to tolerate travel
above the speed limit by 10MPH.Arizona has a law that only allows a minimal
fine for violations in this range. New Mexico, on the otherhand, seems to
follow the 10% rule and will allow speeding for only the speed limit plus
Why are there sometimes small wooden
crosses by the side of the road?
- The State of Arizona placed a white cross
on the shoulder of the roadway at the site of any fatal accident well into the
late 1950's. Eventually, there were so many crosses in some places, it was
difficult to place any more. The program was discontinued and all crosses were
removed. In the last few years, crosses of the same type have been reappearing,
but these are placed by families in memorial of a relative who may have died
there. Often the crosses are adorned with flowers.
In our short stay on the reservation we
have seen many dead animals on, and along the side of the road. Why are they
not picked up?
- The Navajo Nation has cut the funding for
its Animal Control officers to almost nothing. In most non-reservation
communities, this department picks up strays and removes carcasses from
roadways. Some who live here like to advance other theories, but under hard
consideration, none seem to bear examination. Eventually, the large black
ravens which are the area' scavengers, other animals, or someone who is weary
of seeing the carcass will remove it. Larger animals like horses and cows,
whose rotund, gas inflated bodies are on the verge of becoming health hazards
may be removed by B.I.A. or county road crews.
Elsewhere, many communities demand that
pets be spayed or neutered to eliminate increasing populations of dogs and
cats. If this is done on the Navajo Nation wouldn't it help?
- It would help eliminate the number of dead
dogs seen on and beside the road. Unfortunately, neutering and spaying costs
money. With unemployment above 58.6% and money within a family limited, the
need to get a dog or cat "fixed" is of small importance. It is easier
to let someone else - the tribal government - deal with the results of the
problem. Callous as some outsiders may believe it to be, the welfare of the
people comes before the dogs' and cats'.
A close examination of the word for dog in
the Navajo language, gives some hint at the animal's place in society.
Literally translated "dog" is "that which makes a mess to step
in." This is considerably less than the adage that a dog is man's best
friend. When all family groups depended upon their flocks, dogs held a higher
rank, since they were essential in management of the sheep and goats. Since
many families no longer depend on the animals for this service, the
relationship has lessened. It is unusual to find Navajo families that have the
same closeness to their animals as do some people off the reservation, where
the dog is treated as a member of the family. Tradition teaches that if a dog
is allowed in the home, he will forget his primary role, which is to protect
A program developed in the Chinle School District for elementary and
primary school students, also addresses this problem. The "R.U.F.F."
program has received national awards and is now used on several other
reservations. Students care for stray animals until homes can be found. An
added benefit is that abused children working in the program made exceptional
progress. It is as if talking and caring for the dogs rebuilds trust in people
and themselves. Unfortunately, since the program lacks the support of the Tribe
and relies on volunteers, service can be spotty and at times, unreliable. This
is especially true when summer comes and the volunteers leave until the Fall!
In that case, the only economical recourse some agencies are left with may be
to kill the surplus animals.
Do Indians still eat Dogs?
- Sioux and other northern tribes have been
reported to dine on puppies as part of a ceremonial meal. Some Asians and the Filipinos
, consume dog meat as a regular part of their diet. It is not an item that is
considered for the Navajo menu. Cats are safe here too.
May Navajos leave the
- American Indians were endowed with full
citizenship rights in 1924. This includes the right to travel in the United
States unimpeded. Some activists did have it pointed out to them however , that
the laws prohibiting the Indians from leaving the Reservations had never been
taken off the books. If it were ever taken to court my legal advisor
states that any enforcement would lose on appeal because of the rights of
Do non-Navajos need a visa or passport
to visit the Navajo Nation?
- The Reservation is part of the United
States. No special permits are required to travel there. If a person wants to
stay on Navajo Land for an extended period of time, the only solution is to
live in a motel, find someone who has a house there already, or get a job that
qualifies them for housing from the employer. The land is not for sale. Rentals
are almost unheard of.
Are members of the Navajo Nation and
other American Indians United States citizens?
- Yes. But only since 1924 when Congress
finally extended them citizenship rights. The Constitution originall contained
a clause to except non-tax payers from voting rights.
Can Indians vote in state and national
- Yes. In 1948, the Arizona Supreme Court
ruled American Indians could vote.
Can Non-Navajos who live in the Navajo
Nation vote in tribal elections, or on matters that would affect
- Generally, No. Every now and then however,
this issue pops up. Sometimes it is brought up by tribal members who wish to
include their long term guests. At other times it surfaces from the opposite
view, when non-Navajos feel they have lost their voice in the world in which
What is the significance of the Great
Seal of The Navajo Nation?
- The Seal was designed by John Claw, Jr. of
Many Farms. It was adopted by the Tribe in 1952 and updated in 1988. Fifty
arrow heads point outward, representing the fifty states protecting the Navajo
people from the outside world. Inside the arrow points are three colored lines
that are open at the top. These red, yellow, and blue lines represent a
protective rainbow. The Sun rises from the East at the top of the seal,
illuminating Navajo Land bounded by the four sacred mountains, each in its
appropriate color. Cows, sheep and goats, graze on the land. Two green corn
stalks, symbolic of as the sustainer of Navajo life grow from the bottom of the
seal. They have tips of yellow pollen that are used in many ceremonies.
What does it mean when someone says
that Navajo people "point with their lips?"
- No one knows where this custom originated,
but it does exist and is taken for granted as a normal part of life. If you ask
a native for directions, they may turn their head and pucker their lips as if
to kiss, and point them in the direction they wish you to go. It startles many
people the first time they see it done, but it easily learned. Quite handy when
someone asks you a question and your hands are full!
If you come from outside the area, one of
the first indications that you have successfully adapted comes in the form of
the strange and puzzled looks you receive when you point with
your lips when visiting friends and family who live elsewhere.
What is an acceptable way to point
toward something while on the Navajo Nation?
- Either use your lips (see previous), or
point with your whole hand, with all fingers extended. Pointing with the index
finger alone is considered rude.
Why are there often animals grazing
beside the road.
What little moisture falls is concentrated on
the sides of the road when the rain runs off highway pavement. The ground on
the shoulders typically has more vegetation than nearby land that does not
receive this extra runoff. The animals-and their owners are simply making the
most of marginal grazing lands. This practice can produce a dangerous condition
at night in warmer times of the year. Black horses are extremely difficult to
see at night. Unwary motorists have claimed that the animals have "come
from nowhere" shortly before the truck or car collided with them. Do not
drive so fast that you can not stop within the length of road your headlights
If so little rain falls, how was the
- In nature, there are usually long periods
of stability marked by short periods of rapid change. Flooding from heavy rains
is responsible for creating the torrents of water that carved Canyon De Chelly
and which, more impressively removed all the sediment from the Chinle valley
that once existed up to the height of the surrounding mountains and mesas!
Round Rock, a large monolith north of Many Farms is proof the entire valley was
once filled with sedimentary rock to this level.
On September 15,1996, a sudden storm filled
the Canyon with over four feet of surging water that ran for many hours. When
this flood was over, many sand bars had been rearranged, or were missing. Some
referred to it as a "two Hundred Year Flood", meaning floods of such
intensity is thought to occur only once every two hundred years. Dams on the
three tributaries to Canyon De Chelly have limited flooding over the last one
hundred years, as has the presence of imported Russian Olive and Tamarisk trees
that were planted for erosion control. The use of the trees has been a mixed
blessing. They have narrowed the width of the channel and prevented the washes
from overflowing their banks. This concentrates more water in the main channel,
resulting in more water traveling downstream. Erosion still continues, albeit
at a slower pace. People who were born and raised in the Canyon have pointed
out where the level of the Canyon floor existed feet above its present level.
No one can really know whether ruins high above the canyon floor were
originally that far above the water, or if the deepening of the Canyon has
caused their higher relative position. Carved handholds on old Anasazi paths
throughout the Canyon may shed some light on this puzzle.
Studies of growth patterns in tree rings by
a graduate student at the University of New Mexico at Albuquerque in 1996 show
the last twenty years to be the wettest the region has experienced in the last
2000 years. Records of floods early this century that swept away or damaged
some ruins are testimony to the scouring power of the flowing water.
Are flash floods a real danger in this
- The surface of the land cannot absorb much
runoff. What is normally a moderate rain in more temperate climates can produce
flooding and fill dry washes with surging water. Floods can be fatal if not
respected. In the late Summer of 1997, eight people were killed in Antelope
Canyon near Page, Arizona. The eighty foot deep slot canyon is so narrow that
it is easy to touch both sidewalls at the same time, when hiking through the
bottom. The hikers' only hint of a localized downpour several miles away was
the rushing wall of water that killed them. Be cautious on unpaved roads. Ask
locally about road conditions. Simply because a map shows a road crossing a
wash does not guarantee that there is not an eighteen inch drop to the bottom
of the wash! Mud can be also as bad.
If the entire valley full of sediment
was removed, in addition to the rock that filled the canyons, where did it
- Sediment carried down the Chinle Wash
empties into the San Juan river. The San Juan is a tributary of the mighty
Colorado which for eons has been building a delta where it empties into the
Gulf of California south of Yuma, Arizona. Growth of the delta has slowed
almost to a stop during this century. Boulder Dam. near Las Vegas, Nevada first
blocked sediment the river carried from its upper reaches. Present day Glen
Canyon Dam blocks the sediment from the San Juan and upper Colorado system from
being carried downstream through the Grand Canyon. This sediment now settles to
the bottom in the tranquil waters of Lake Powell. Hydrologists have even
predicted how long it will take before Lake Powell becomes a mud flat and the
canyons are filled with sediment.
Visitors to the Grand Canyon today, who look
and see a blue ribbon of water in the Canyon's bottom cannot gain an
appreciation for the erosive power of the river when it carried all the
sediments from the upper basins. A sample from the Colorado before Lake Powell
was complete, contained over 30% suspended solids. It was chocolate brown. This
is where all the rock removed from the Four Corners area and the canyon lands
of Utah went.
If you really want to exercise your
imagination, visit Shiprock in northern New Mexico by the Arizona border. It is
the remains of an old ancient volcano that rose twice as high as the remaining
core. The entire outside of the mountain is gone, swept away by wind and water.
Only the inner core and walls, called dikes remain. The dikes radiate out from
the core for miles. They were formed when molten rock forced its way through
cracks in the earth. Some of these dikes are twelve feet thick and forty feet
tall. They were seen as the spire's "wings". In Navajo, Shiprock is
called the "Rock with Wings."
Visible for miles, early anglo travelers
first saw the peak from such an angle that its outline appeared to be similar
to the silhouette of a masted sailing ship with sails set, plowing through a
rough sea, thus the name of Shiprock. (We have only been able to envision this
profile when viewing the peak from the north.)
Does the wind blow often?
- Sometimes, especially in the Spring. Most
people discount the power of the wind as a tool of erosion. Out here, it moves
tons of soil. It is not as fast or dramatic as water, but it is a major force
in shaping the landscape. Several years ago, a piece of land was used for a
fair. Many trucks driving in the area pulverized the thin crust that forms on
the soil when it rains. After a dry winter, Spring winds picked up this loose
soil and moved it miles down the valley. Behind some buildings, six foot tall
dunes formed within a week. Parking lots became covered. Several years before,
during construction of a new high school, a three foot fence that had
surrounded the property since I arrived was replaced. To the amazement of many,
the fence was a six foot fence! Three feet of fill had blown in since it was
erected. When we were installing communication cables that same year, we
discovered a layer of asphalt 18" beneath our dirt parking lots that were
scheduled for paving!
Didn't that take a long time to erode
the Colorado Plateau?
- Rocks in the Four corners region are
sedimentary rocks. As rocks go, they are quite soft and easily eroded. Some
beds of the Chinle Formation completely lack cohesion. Other layers like the
Wingate Sandstone are harder and resist erosion, but are destroyed when the
softer rock beneath them erodes and leaves them unsupported. The rivers don't
do the actual erosion. They are best thought of as conveyor belts. They cut
downward and carried away anything that falls in. Rain, wind, temperature
changes (freezing and thawing) and gravity work to widen the valleys.
Geologists speculate that the entire series
of sediment forming the region was created from the delta of some unknown
tropical river. The red rock is typical of tropical soils. The types of plants
forming the beds of coal that are mined near Window Rock and from Black Mesa,
were tropical plants. Water levels varied. Some deposits were winnowed by the
wind. Finer particles were blown away leaving only coarse sands. There are many
other hints. It is worthy of a career to completely appreciate how the region
You just said that the region was once
tropical? How can that be? The tropics are thousands of miles away.
- In order to make sense of how the world
may have been in the past, scientists study how it is today. Today, deposits
similar to those in the Navajo Nation are only being formed in the tropics. In
the nineteen sixties, scientists who study the earth made two important
realizations. The first was that there is no such thing as a "solid",
except for crystals. Without exception everything else behaves as a liquid when
force is applied and enough time is given for the effect of the force to show.
Glass will shatter if hit with a hammer. It will also flow if subjected to a
force like gravity over enough years. The rock forming the earth acts the same.
Hot rock, heated near the earth's core flows in currents to the surface at a
rate of centimeters per year. The movement of this underlying rock moves the
lighter continents about the surface of the earth. Land once in the tropics now
appears at the South Pole, or anywhere else on the earth's surface.
By comparing sequences of rocks it is possible to determine groups of rocks
that may have once formed together. Differences between the red rock of New
Mexico, southern Utah, and Arizona first caused concern. Coal deposits, the
remainder of rapidly growing tropical plants provided other clues, Apparently,
the entire mass forming this part of North America was once at a lower
latitude, (in the tropics) and then over the eons, moving in inches per year,
came to its present position. Other pieces of this same land mass have been
identified in Guatemala.
What are Pawn Shops?
- Pawn shops are businesses that loan money
that is secured by property the person who wants the loan provides in order to
secure the loan. If the loan is not paid, the property is forfeited to the
lender. Generally, items given for security must have a value of several times
that of the amount of the money loaned. The rate of interest pawn shops charge
is high, but not illegal.
Why do Navajos use pawn
- Traditionally people have not trusted
banks and they were not used. Extra money is often invested in jewelry and wool
blankets, or in equipment such as chain saws, vehicles, livestock and firearms.
Saving accounts are uncommon. In emergencies, belongings are put up for pawn to
raise money. Sometimes, items may be hocked because they are more secure in the
trader's safe than they would be in the home.
In the 1980s banks on the reservation were
little more than check-cashing facilities. They could not get enough deposits
to stay in business. Recently, with the availability of money through banking
machines and employers using direct deposit for payroll, banking has increased.
Loans at lower rates than pawn shops, as well as the availability of large
safety deposit boxes at reasonable rates are causing people to move away from
the use of pawn shops.The Norwest bank not only was able to get the minimum
deposits needed to justify keeping a bank in the community, but seems to be
prospering by loaning money at less than pawn rates.
What happened to all the trading
- Trading posts outlived their function. The
increased numbers of vehicles and better roads, combined with stricter laws
governing their operation, made most unprofitable to run. They could not
compete with large chains in their prices, nor variety. They could not
undersell discount gas stations and convenience stations that popped up at
reservation junctions providing the gas to get to town. Those that survive
either do so because of tourism, or a change in marketing. In the mid 1980's
many were gone. Some burned down, with traders collecting insurance, until the
law was changed making insurance payments directly to the tribes. Other laws
required traders to risk everything with no security. Few were willing risk
What is "Dead
- "Dead Pawn" is a term used by
traders to specify jewelry that was pawned by families who never repaid the
loans. This is opposed to "live pawn" which the trader cannot sell
because it is held as security. "Dead pawn" jewelry may be of higher
quality that made for the tourist trade. If the pieces are heirlooms or
antiques, this is more likely the case. Whether what is offered as "dead
pawn" really is "dead pawn" may be cause for question. Again,
buying from a reputable dealer, or becoming an informed buyer is your best
What foods can be considered typical
Navajo Cuisine? Are their any outstanding specialties?
- Fry bread and mutton stew would have to be
the most typical fare. Fry bread dates back to the days that the Navajo were
interred at Fort Sumner. When flour was first provided, the Dineh did not know
how to prepare it. Stories from that era note stomach sickness often followed
consumption of this strange food. No longer. A ball of dough made of flour,
baking power, salt , water and lard is flattened into a disc, by using the
thumb and fingers of both hands to flatten it into an eight inch diameter disc.
This is then fried in hot oil. How it is consumed after that varies locally.
When I first arrived in Navajoland the closest thing I had been used to were
sopapillas, which we always ate with honey. It took some getting used to see
Navajo children dipping their fry bread into a pan filled with salt and
thoroughly relishing the white encrusted result. Generally fry bread is served
with mutton stew, but is at home in other dishes as well. Navajo tacos are
piles of beans, lettuce and chili on top of a piece of fry bread.
Beyond mutton and fry bread, I am often asked about other Navajo
"specialties". Aichee (cleaned sheep intestine wrapped around mutton
fat and fried) and Sheep's head might be classed as local
"specialties". Both are sold in the meat department of the local
markets. Kneel Down bread (because of the shape of the finished product) should
be tried It is a dense cornbread, with the consistency of a cold tamale and it
comes wrapped in corn husks. (Don't eat the husks.) It is often available from
vendors at schools, and at parades and fairs. Burritos made with mashed
potatoes, Spam and eggs serve for fast food breakfasts. Roast ears of corn are
favorites. Families down on their luck have been known to subsist on prairie
dog, a common small rodent.
Pinon nuts, also called pine nuts, or simply
pinons (pronounced pin-yons), are the seeds of the pinon pine. They are the
Navajo snack food equivalent of sunflower seeds. They are collected where they
fall beneath the trees each Fall, having been released from the cones.
Collecting pinon nuts is a family activity. The nuts have a firm white meat
once the outer shell is removed. They can be eaten raw, but most chose to roast
them in a skillet, sometimes soaking them in salt brine first, to salt them in
the shell! With current buying prices of $9.00 per pound (1998), it is a
profitable way for families to spend time together in the forests. ( There is
no mechanical method for gathering this harvest. Everything to do with pine
nuts is labor intensive. Shelled pine nuts carried in local grocery stores are
usually from China, where they are collected by hand, from forests there, then
Are there any foods that are
- Some very traditional people will not eat
shell fish or sea food. One of the Worlds the Navajo passed through, before
arriving in this, the Fourth World, was that of the water creatures. Through
the emergence process, many believe they have relatives remaining in the
previous worlds. Some do not wish to eat what might be their relations! This is
rare, but does occur.
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