Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Cliven Bundy, land and the Navajo's Long Walk

Once they arrived at the Bosque Redondo, the Navajo were forced to dig 30 miles of irrigation ditches, plow and plant 2000 acres with corn, then watch helplessly as cutworms and flooding destroyed their crops. They walked 12 miles to gather mesquite for firewood and carried it on their backs. While they were gone, their enemies, the Mescelaro Apache, would raid their camps and steal the few blankets and clothing they had left. Meanwhile, the Spanish, Mexicans, and white settlers stole their land back home with the approving nod of the U.S. Government. Source

by Lisa Hane,

Reading the recent blog on the events around Cliven Bundy the Nevada cattle rancher and his battle with the Bureau of Land Management over his refusal to pay grazing fees for his 900 head of cattle that graze on public lands, it was hard for me to have any sympathy for him or his supporters.  The land he, his family, and his cows have been allowed to use was stolen by the US government from Native American communities who had lived there for centuries. Bundy hasn’t made much mention of how he got the land and how he feels about the original people who used to live there.

Last week I was fortunate enough to take a vacation with my husband and my three school-age kids. We drove about 1,000 miles in an RV visiting national parks in Utah, Arizona and Nevada. The landscape is some of the most spectacular in the world – canyons, lakes, mountains. We were able to talk about the history of the American West and the struggles faced by people who lived there.  Much of the area we traveled was within the Navajo Nation. This land occupies about 27,000 square miles (about the size of West Virginia) and home to about 175,000 Navajo people. The beauty of this countryside belies the terror experienced by the Native People at the hands of the US government about 150 years ago and the nightmare that is still being felt today.

In 1864, over a period of about two years, the US government forced thousands of Navajo men, women, and children to march at gunpoint off this land to internment camps in eastern New Mexico.  Hundreds of people died and all were traumatized. The Long Walk as it became known was one of the most brutal and devastating insults the Native People in North America. After a treaty was signed in 1868 the Navajo people were released from their imprisonment and “allowed” to return to their land. 

The repercussions of Long Walk were felt long after and they are still being felt. Over the late 19th and 20th centuries, Navajo people faced great difficulties re-establishing life after returning to their communities within the Nation. They were not recognized as US citizens until 1924 and even though they now have their own constitution and governing bodies, they are not truly free. Poverty, unemployment, and poor health are rampant.  According to an official Navajo Nation website, unemployment is 42% and the poverty rate in the Nation is 43%. Rates of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and suicide are much higher than in non-native communities.

On our trip, we stopped for gas and picked up a copy of the Navajo Times – the daily newspaper of the Navajo People. A front-page article made me do a double-take. The article was titled: “Entering the Modern Age”, and it reported that for the first time ever, citizens of a Navajo community would be getting…ELECTRICTY!!! In 2014, in the United States, families living in   LeChee, Arizona would finally get to have the use of electricity in their homes.  These families were promised power in 1969 after a confederation of utilities set up the Navajo Generation Station which was established to bring power to communities in the Southwest and they have been waiting ever since. They will at last see some results after paying into the NGS for 40 years.
One of the residents commented, “I bought my first gallon of milk and bought some meat” to put in the first refrigerator she ever owned. Up until last month, this 55-year old woman had to buy ice to keep foods fresh.  Another resident said that she was happy she got electricity and now she hopes this means she “can get water”. 

Reading the article with my kids made me sad and angry (though not surprised) that in a country as wealthy as the US, with all our advanced technological capabilities we are somehow unable to get electricity and clean water to people living in the backyard of one of the largest dams in the Unites States.  This administration, like all since the Long Walk, continues to disrespect a community that descends from the first people to live on this continent. The economic system we live under is continuing to prove incapable of providing the most basic resources to communities, Native American and beyond. My kids saw this first-hand and now see that there needs to be a change. This vacation proved to be a better history and economics lesson for my family than I could have ever imagined.

No comments: