Remembering the Navajo Treaty of 1868

Remembering the Navajo Treaty of 1868
June 7, 2017 Tyler Mitchell
In Uncategorized

Thursday, June 1st marked the anniversary of the Navajo Treaty of 1868.

The Treaty allowed the Navajo people to return home after being imprisoned at Army Fort Sumner in Bosque Redondo, New Mexico.

The Long Walk, Hweeldí as the Navajo refer to it, was carried out by United States Army starting in 1864 in which they captured Navajo men, women, and children.

Once captured, the Navajo were forced to march hundreds of miles to Fort Sumner with little to no food and sleep resulting in at least 200 casualties.

The conditions at Fort Sumner were no improvement as the ground was unable to produce food and the water was unhealthy to drink.

Malnutrition, disease, and exhaustion caused more Navajo lives to be lost during imprisonment at the fort.

After four years of being forced to march a great distance to imprisonment, the United States Government sent two Peace Commissioners, W.T. Sherman and Samuel Tappan, to investigate the living conditions in Bosque Redondo.

The duo was horrified at what they saw and soon the Treaty of 1868 was created and signed by 29 Navajo leaders including Manuelito and Barboncito.

Almost 150 years later, the Navajo celebrate “Treaty Day” as a reminder of becoming a sovereign nation through immeasurable resilience.

Acknowledging the Anniversary of the Navajo Treaty of 1868 makes known the historical events that make education and land crucial to the Navajo.

From the 1846 Treaty of Ojo del Oso to the Treaty of 1868, a total of eight treaties have been arranged between the Navajo and the United States government.

Treaties act as a legally binding agreement between two sovereign nations, in this case, The Navajo people and the United States Government, to formally establish an agreeable aspect of the nation’s relationship.

The United States Constitution declares, in Article VI, Clause 2, treaties are made to serve as supreme law between two sovereign nations, (The Treaty of 1868 recognizes the Navajo People as a sovereign nation).

Sovereign nations are understood to have:

  1. The power to determine the form of government.
  2. The power to define conditions for membership in that nation.
  3. The power to administer justice and enforce law.
  4. The power to tax.
  5. The power to regulate domestic relations of its members.
  6. The power to regulate property use.

Understanding the Articles in the Treaty give greater significance to contemporary Navajo culture as they have over the years been improved upon in areas regarding education and boundaries of the Navajo Nation.

Furthermore, Article II states the borders of the newly defined Navajo land which has since increased to about five times the original amount due to constant cooperation between the Navajo Government and the United States.

Then, Article VI mentions Navajo children between the ages 6-16 are required to attend an English education.

Boarding Schools were introduced to Native Americans with the intention to replace Indigenous culture with English education.

Children were forbidden to wear their traditional clothes, given western names, and were punished for speaking their native language resulting in a massive loss of cultural identity.

Navajo author and illustrator, Daniel W. Vandever, takes a contemporary approach in his new children’s book, Fall in Line, Holden, to promote creativity in the minds of young children in the face of a conservative, military style of education prominent in boarding schools.

Navajos share stories of The Long Walk and continue to teach every generation about the historical events that occurred many years ago.

Sharing stories to help educate younger generations continues to be a crucial part of Navajo culture which we here at Salina Bookshelf fully support in working with indigenous authors ensuring that the important historical and cultural aspects rooted in Navajo culture are authentically represented.

Navajo author, Dr. Evangeline Parsons Yazzie, plays a huge role in connecting her storytelling with Navajo culture with her children’s book, Dzání Yázhí Naazbaa’:The Woman Warrior Who Came Home, and her novel, Her Land, Her Love, both revolving around the Navajo Long Walk.

Dr. Yazzie continues to promote Navajo teachings with her textbook, Diné Bizaad Bínáhoo’aah: Rediscovering the Navajo Language, in efforts to resurrect everyday use of Navajo Language.

The continuity of traditional family values has kept the community strong on “Treaty Day” as parades are held to remember those ancestors who persevered through harsh environments.

The Navajo celebrate the past and look back at the Treaty of 1868 as a positive example of resilience on behalf of their ancestors as they are now operating public schools and providing free healthcare to Navajo individuals under the jurisdiction of the Navajo Nation Government.

(Source: From Ch. 30 “Treaties” from the book, Diné Bizaad Bínáhoo’aah: Rediscovering the Navajo Language, by Evangeline Parsons Yazzie, Ed.D and Margaret Spears, Ph.D.)

(Illustration by Irving Toddy)



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