Article appearing in the Arizona Daily Sun out of Flagstaff...
Navajo Nation seeks control of national monument
Thursday, September 11, 2008
More than 75 years ago, the Navajo Nation asked Congress to establish Canyon de Chelly in northeastern Arizona as a national monument.
The National Park Service was charged with preserving thousands of artifacts and ruins within the monument's towering red sandstone walls, while the land revered by the Navajos as sacred remained tribally owned. Now the Tribal Council is seeking full control of the 83,000-acre monument and the more than $1.8 million in federal funding that goes with it. Doing so would strengthen the tribe's sovereignty and demonstrate its expertise and competence in administering tribal land and resources to benefit Navajo people, supporters say.
"It's a site that is very important in terms of not only the historical but also the cultural and spiritual aspects of the nation," said Arvin Trujillo, director of the tribe's Division of Natural Resources. "We are moving in a direction where we're becoming better equipped to take over some of these monuments."
The Tribal Council will take up legislation to seek the transfer of the canyon to the tribe during a special session in Window Rock today.
Canyon de Chelly, near Chinle in the heart of the Navajo Nation, is the sole national monument that is entirely on reservation land. The Navajo call the canyon "tsegi," which means "within the rock," and about 80 Navajos live in the canyon.
Canyon residents have been divided over the years on how much involvement they believe the Park Service should have in overseeing the monument. Some favor a joint management plan, while others want the Park Service out of the picture.
The Park Service has various agreements with tribes whose reservations lie within a national monument. Some allow tribes to manage a portion of park, rebuild trails, restore watersheds and hunt on tribal land, for example.
In South Dakota, the Park Service is thinking about returning complete control of the South Unit of Badlands National Park to the Oglala Sioux. In 2000, Congress passed a law that allows the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe to completely manage tribal trust land within Death Valley National Park. At Everglades National Park in Florida, the federal government has set aside a special reserved area for the Miccosukee Tribe within the park.
Patricia L. Parker, chief of the Park Service's American Indian Liaison Office in Washington, D.C., said tribes are encouraged to take a more active role in managing their lands. But no national monument has been completely turned over to a tribe, as the Navajo Nation is asking, she said.
"If I were the tribe, I would take a good look at to what extent would the lands be better protected, what would be the benefits locally for having it be a tribal park rather than it be a national monument or park, and I'm sure they're weighing the benefits," she said.
The Park Service, which employs about 25 people at Canyon de Chelly, says the Navajo Nation has every right to seek full control of the canyon, believed to be the birthplace of many tribal deities. The legislation in the Tribal Council doesn't include a timeline for a transfer or a management plan. Congress would have the final say.
"There would be a lot of coordination that would need to happen and a lot of discussion with lawyers to figure out how things would transfer," said Canyon de Chelly superintendent Tom Clark. "It would be a big process, but obviously doable."
Adam Teller, president of Tsegi Dine, a group of canyon residents opposed to a takeover, said he doesn't believe the Navajo Nation has the expertise to manage the canyon and that the Tribal Council is going about it the wrong way.
"They (residents) feel that it's kind of like a hostile takeover," he said. "I guess a lot of other parks and places that they look at that the Navajo Nation runs, they're very concerned our national monument is going to go the same way."
If Congress approves the transfer, Canyon de Chelly likely would be added to a handful of tribal parks overseen by the Navajo Nation that include Monument Valley, Antelope Canyon, Marble Canyon and Four Corners.
Teddy Halwood, president of the Canyon de Chelly/Canyon del Muerto Resident Association, contended the Park Service has overstepped its boundaries on many occasions. Having the Navajo Nation run the canyon would mean more jobs for tribal members, better access to sacred sites and better protection of the tribe's resources, he said.
"It would be in the best interest of the Navajo Nation to oversee its own affairs," he said.