The Destruction of the Economic and Cultural Heritage of the Navajo Nation

During the 16th century, Native American nations such as the Navajo and Hopi nations acquired Churro sheep from Spanish settlers. By the 18th century, the Navajo people began to rely upon the Churro for income derived from their wool. 

In 1864, the U.S. government attempted to “ethnic cleanse” the Navajo nation and forced them to leave their lands in Arizona and take the long walk to New Mexico. In 1868, the federal government and the Navajo nation signed a treaty to return the Navajo people to their homeland. Each Navajo family was given two Churro sheep. 

The flocks increased in size to where there were 500,000 Churros by the 1920s. For the Navajo, their livestock were not just a source of income but part of their cultural heritage. 

In 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt’s appointment to lead what is now the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) concluded that there were too many sheep for the grazing capacity of the Navajo lands. Others disputed his conclusions, but their voices were suppressed. 

The BIA undertook a program for the purchase and removal of more than half of the Churro. The Navajo people were deeply opposed on both economic and cultural grounds. Those in strongest opposition were arrested. Many of the Churros were slaughtered on the reservation in front of the Navajo people. 

The Navajo nation described the destruction of their livestock as the Second Long Walk. The head of the BIA was accused of being a dictator and implanting reign of terror. The actions of the BIA bare many similarities to fascism.

Quotas were established for the livestock Navajo people could maintain. The quota system remains in effect today. 

Just imagine what the role of government should be in cases such as this. In a democracy, where does the authority of government end? What part of the U.S. Constitution gives the government the right to impact the economic and cultural heritage of its citizens? 

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“Officials called it a reservation, but to the conquered and exiled Navajos, it was a wretched prison camp.” – David Roberts (Smithsonian Magazine)

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