Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye speaks at a Bureau of Indian Affairs consultation in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on June 25, 2018. Photo: Navajo Nation Office of President and Vice President
Navajo Nation raises treaty in opposition to Trump reorganization
The Navajo Nation has come up with perhaps the most pointed argument against the Trump administration's reorganization of the Department of the Interior.

The Navajo Treaty of 1868, marking its 150th anniversary this year, requires a dedicated federal agent for the tribe, according to President Russell Begaye. So eliminating the existing Bureau of Indian Affairs office that serves the reservation violates the government-to-government agreement, he said.

“I’m extremely disappointed in the current plan that tries to break up the Navajo region,” Begaye said on Monday, as the BIA held another tribal consultation for the reorganization.

“The proposal is chaotic and instead of simplifying operations, it will create bottlenecks that will not only negatively impact the Navajo Nation but other tribes that are forced into our region," Begaye said. "Simply put, this proposal is not progressive and does not move us into the future.”

According to maps released by the Trump administration, the BIA's Navajo region would go away in order to establish a "unified" system of 13 regions for all bureaus, agencies and offices at Interior. The Arizona portion of the reservation, where the capital city of Window Rock is located, would fall into one region while the New Mexico and Utah portions would end up in another.

The tribe says the changes violate specific provisions of the treaty. The agreement, for example, requires an "agency building" to be located on the reservation in order for the federal government to serve the Navajo people.

"The United States agrees that the agent for the Navajos shall make his home at the agency building; that he shall reside among them and shall keep an office at all times for the purpose of prompt and diligent inquiry into such matters of complaint by or against the Indians as may be presented for investigation, as also for the faithful discharge of other duties enjoined by law," Article 4 of the treaty reads.

The treaty was signed on June 1, 1868, following one of the most difficult periods in the tribe's history. Four years prior, the U.S. military forced thousands of Navajos to march hundreds of miles from their homelands to Fort Sumner in New Mexico. At least 200 died in the Long Walk, known as Yet Hwéeldi in the Dine language.

Clare "Kitty" Weaver, views the third copy of the Navajo Treaty of 1868 with Navajo Nation Vice President Jonathan Nez. Weaver is the great-grand niece of Col. Samuel R. Tappan, the Indian Peace Commissioner who signed the treaty. Photo: NNOPVP

Conditions at Fort Sumner were harsh. Nearly 2,400 people, many of them women, children and the elderly, died while being held as prisoners by the government between 1864 and 1868.

But even after the treaty was finalized, the Navajos were forced to endure another hardship. They had to walk back hundreds of miles to their homes, all based on the promise that their obligations would be fulfilled by the government.

“Our ancestors faced almost total annihilation, but we survived," Vice President Jonathan Nez said on June 1, the 150th anniversary of the agreement. "We grew from 8,000 to more than 350,000 people. One hundred and fifty years later, we are one of the most influential indigenous nations in the world.”

The tribe commemorated the treaty with a 400-mile run that began at Fort Sumner on May 14. The run ended on June 1 at the Navajo Nation Museum in Window Rock where a copy of the agreement is on display.

“From this terrible time in our history, our nation was born,” Begaye said as the treaty exhibit was unveiled.

Running for Resilience: The Navajo Nation led runners on a 400-mile trek from Fort Sumner in New Mexico, where their ancestors signed the Treaty of 1868, to Window Rock in Arizona, the tribe's capital city. Photo: NNOPVP

The Navajos aren't the only ones opposed to the reorganization. Tribes from every region of Indian Country have asked key lawmakers to restrict funding for the effort, fearing the executive branch will move forward without addressing their concerns.

"Pueblos, tribes and nations in this country are not natural resources," said Governor Kurt Riley of the Pueblo of Acoma, referring to the way the 13 unified regions have been depicted by top officials, including Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke.

"To reorganize based on drainage systems and watersheds is not appropriate and is not acceptable," Riley told key members of Congress at a hearing in Washington, D.C., last month.

Lawmakers from both parties have indeed pushed Zinke to consult with tribes before Interior moves forward. But Republican leaders, who control both branches of Congress, have rejected Democratic efforts to put a pause on the reorganization.

Indianz.Com on SoundCloud: House Committee on Appropriations - Debate on Department of the Interior Reorganization - June 6, 2018

Earlier this month, Republicans on the House Committee on Appropriations outnumbered Democrats and rejected an amendment that would have blocked the reorganization, pending further consultation with tribes.

"Not one tribe suggested there had been true consultation about this reorganization,” Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minnesota), the co-chair of the bipartisan Congressional Native American Caucus, said before her proposal was killed at a markup on June 6.

But there was a little hope for Indian Country. According to Republicans, the fiscal year 2019 funding bill for Interior whittled the administration's request to spend nearly $18 million on the reorganization down to about $14 million.

Despite the push toward the system of 13 unified regions, Secretary Zinke has said the national model might not imposed on the BIA. He has suggested that it will be up to tribes to decide.

"The nations, they're sovereign," Zinke told the members of Congress who write Interior's funding bill on April 11. "We are beginning consultation, and whether or not they adopt this model is really up to them."


President Begaye, though, described Zinke's “take it or leave it” approach as counter-productive. Giving tribes an ultimatum is not true government-to-government consultation because it leaves no room for open discussion, he said.

“This could be an opportunity to bring the old BIA into the 21st century,” Begaye said of efforts to coordinate tribal services throughout Interior.

“Unfortunately, by not listening to tribes, our federal government is missing an opportunity to truly engage with tribes,” Begaye concluded.

Tribal consultation

So far, the BIA has held one listening session and three tribal consultations on the reorganization. The schedule for the remaining meetings follows:
Thursday, June 28, 2018
9:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.
Jackson Rancheria Casino Resort
12222 New York Ranch Road
Jackson, CA 95642

Tuesday, July 24, 2018
9:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.
Morongo Band of Mission Indians Tribal Chambers
11581 Potrero Road
Banning, CA 92220

Thursday, August 2, 2018
9:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m. Juneau, Alaska
Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall
320 W. Willoughby Avenue
Juneau, AK 99801

Tuesday, August 7, 2018
9:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Embassy Suites Oklahoma City
1815 South Meridian
Oklahoma City, OK 73108

Thursday, August 9, 2018
1:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m.
Philadelphia, Mississippi
Pearl River Resort, Golden Moon Hotel & Casino
Hwy 16 W
Philadelphia, MS 39350

Written comments can be submitted through August 15.