Navajo Wars Battles History
The Navajo Nation is the largest, acreage-wise, and most numerous of the 500 or so Indian tribes that once roamed the land known as the United States. It’s not by chance. The Navajo people have their ancestors to thank who stood before the federal government 150 years ago to demand that they be returned to their homeland.
At that time, in 1868, the Navajo would have had little negotiation advantage. They were removed from their territory by the US military and held captive in eastern New Mexico for some five years in what could only be described as a concentration camp. But Navajo leaders were eventually able to convince federal officials—primarily General William Tecumseh Sherman—that they should be allowed home.
Acceptance by those federal authorities was codified in the Navajo Nation Treaty of 1868 and separated the Navajo (known as the Dine) from other tribes who had been forcibly and permanently removed from their ancestral territory.
“We have been told for centuries that we always need to live within the Four Sacred Mountains,” says Navajo Nation president Russell Bege, who attributes the treaty to about 350,000 din people today – up from about 10,000 in 1868. Food was one with valley, desert, rocks and air in the land that sits between Blanca Peak to the east, Mount Taylor to the south, the San Francisco Peaks to the west, and Mount Hesperus to the north. it is said.
The 1868 treaty, called the “Old Paper”, or Navajo language, Nal Tsus Sani in Dine Bijad, is on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. It will remain in place until the end of May, when It travels to the Navajo Nation Museum in Window Rock, Arizona. The treaty’s homecoming is a nod to the tribe’s significant return in 1868.
At the unveiling in Washington, about a hundred Navajo people crowded around the dimly-lit glass box containing the treaty, which is on loan from the National Archives and Records Administration.
Elmer Begey, President Russell Begey’s assistant, stood up to offer his blessing. He spoke almost entirely in Deen Bijad language, and then offered a song, which he later described as a traditional song of protection. The people of the tribe’s medicine advised him to use the protection song, saying it helped breathe life into the document and allowed it to be used for the purposes of the tribe.
“It’s just a piece of paper,” he says. But, he adds, “we use that treaty to acknowledge, respect, and listen.”
President Bege agrees. “It’s not just a historical relic. It’s a living document,” he says, “it’s a contractual agreement with the U.S. government and the Navajo Nation.”
Tribe faced annihilation
Like many tribal treaties, the Navajo Treaty was secured at great cost.
The Dine had long dealt with Mexican and Spanish incursions, and navigated their way through the troubled waters of the colonization attempt. But the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the Mexican War, posed a new threat – American invaders, who claimed the Southwest as their own, said Navajo historian and University of New Mexico associate professor Jennifer Nez. According to Dennettdale.
Indian tribes were seen as an obstacle to land grabbing driven by destiny. By 1851, Americans had established Fort Defense smack in the middle of Navajo Country. Not surprisingly, there were often conflicts. Major General James H. Carlton, who was then the commander of the New Mexico Department, ordered the famous frontier Kit Carson to reduce Indian resistance.
Ultimately, according to Dennetdale, this led to the surrender of thousands of Navajo beginning in late 1863. From that time until 1866, more than 10,000 Navajo walked east—in the Long Walk—on several routes to Fort Sumner, also known as the Bosque Redondo Reservation. There, the Navajo lived in poor conditions. Many died of hunger and disease.
“We were almost at the point of complete destruction,” says Navajo Nation’s vice president, Jonathan Nez.
The government’s initial stated goal was to assimilate the Navajo through new education and by teaching them to farm. But they were primarily a pastoral people and the Bosques could not adapt their farming methods to the resource-poor area around Redondo. In 1865, knowing that things were deteriorating there and elsewhere in the West, Congress authorized a special committee led by Wisconsin Senator James Doolittle to investigate the conditions of the various tribes.
The committee met with Navajo leaders and was amazed at the atrocious conditions. It reported back to Congress, which had a lengthy debate over what to do. But the 1867 report of the Doolittle Committee—along with the rising cost of war against the Indians—persuaded President Andrew Johnson to attempt peace with the various tribes. He called General William T. Sherman and Colonel Samuel F. Tappan to negotiate a treaty with the Navajo at Fort Sumner, led by Chief Barboncito.
In exchange for a return to their homeland – which the Navajo insisted on – and the allocation of seeds, cattle, tools and other materials, the tribe agreed to allow compulsory schooling for children aged 6 to 16; not to interfere in the construction of railways through new reservations; And, not to harm any wagon train or cattle passing through their land. He started his reverse migration home in June of 1868.
The signing of the 1868 Treaty is celebrated on 1 June each year. To honor the 150th anniversary this year, the treaty will travel to the Navajo Nation Museum in Window Rock, Arizona, after its display in Washington, DC.
Dennetdale says that stories about the Long Walk are still a big part of the fabric of the Navajo Nation. He has collected several oral histories, including those who say that the women were important to convince both their tribal leaders and Sherman – who was sent as peace commissioner – to allow them to return home.
Dennetdale says, “The stories are “very vivid, very clear, and not only part of the individual or clan, but part of our collective memory.” Experience “still shapes and informs the present in both positive and negative ways.” does,” she says.
While respecting the treaty “we also remember the struggles of our ancestors and we respect them for their perseverance and their perseverance. They had a lot of courage,” she says.
But still something is missing. “The US has so far apologized for its treatment of the Navajo people,” Dennetdale says.
Sovereignty challenges abound, Bears Ears is the latest
Bege says the treaty is accepted as the key to preserving the tribe’s sovereignty, but it comes with strings attached. Navajo who want to build their own home or start a business on their land need permission from the federal government, he says. And, “to this day we have no control over our natural resources,” Bege says.
To them, the rigors of the treaty almost feel like being imprisoned again at Fort Sumner. “All this the government is imprisoning to keep us in poverty,” he says.
The Navajo people have continued to struggle to maintain their land—which now spans some 27,000 square miles in the Four Corners region of New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah. The treaty promised land in Colorado, says Bege, but it was never delivered. His administration recently successfully purchased nearly 30,000 acres of land in Colorado that will aid Navajo beef operations.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration plans to retake the Navajo Holy Land at Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. The Navajo people have lived and hunted in the area for centuries, says Bege. President Barack Obama’s administration established Bears Ears in 2016 as a 1.35 million-acre national monument. President Trump has proposed to cut acreage by about 90 percent. The Navajo, along with the Hopi tribe, the southern Ute Indian tribe, the Ute Mountain Ute tribe and the Pueblo of the Zuni, have filed suit to block that action.
Both Bege and Vice President Nez hope that the 1868 treaty will inspire young Navajo to fight such modern incursions. Navajo are also fighting demons at home, says Nez, listing diabetes, heart disease, suicide, domestic violence, alcoholism, and drug addiction.
“The old way of living – with an emphasis on returning to the homeland – needs to be brought into the 21st century,” says Nez. “I see that 2018 is a great year to be proud of who we are as Navajo,” Nez says. “We are a strong and resilient nation and we must continue to convey this to our youth.”
“A lot of our people are hurting,” he says. “Many of them just need a little dose of hope,” which he says treaty can provide.
The Navajo Nation Treaty is on view in the “Nation to Nation: Treaty Between the United States and American Nations” exhibit at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC through May 2018.