Words Unglued

The following is is a guest post by Skylar Henry. It was created as part of the COP23 SustainUs Delegation creative challenge.  Please see the end of the submission for his bio.
Poster PictureThis is a photo of six SustainUs members at the 2017 Native Voices Rising march in Washington, D.C. I provided the materials for these posters which I was able to source from the Arizona State University’s American Indian Student Support Services at the West Campus. My friend, Remy Franklin, is holding the awesome poster I created for the event. It reads, “We are not protesters. We are messengers.”

Hello, my name is Skylar Henry and I’m from Cedar Ridge on the Navajo Reservation.  I would consider myself an artist because the tribe I’m enrolled in has a rich culture and creative, artistic people. Not only do I recognize the creative culture of the Navajo Nation, but I am also recognizing that of the other tribes, both federally and non-federally recognized. This is because, collectively put, our cultures encompass the artistic values of our customs and traditions, and, with that, our point of view.

Climate justice is directly affects the lives and cultures of all of our nations.  In drawing on my perspective as an American Indian witnessing the direct impact of climate justice in my community, I chose to contribute with a poster to the 2017 Native Voices Rising march in Washington, DC. My piece incorporates a peaceful message emphasized by the soft background; however, the font also makes a bold statement.

Although I, sadly, was not in the picture, or at the march, I was and continue to be with those pictured in spirit and through my creation, the poster itself. If given another chance to be part of the cause, and possibly access to the resources to get there, I would be more than happy to show up in more than just spirit. As a student, I could allocate my time and notify my professors what I am doing and how it is important to my identity so that I would never miss this opportunity again.

My poster appears simple on the outside, but the story behind it and the energy put into it are far more complex. I was limited on resources – both material and time – but was determined to contribute my piece to the movement. The colors I had to work with were just as limited, but I made the most of what was available to me. With creative, artistic beauty and with a purpose, one is able to create any media that I would call a success.

Once completed and in reflecting on the process of creating my media, I soon realized the true effect my piece could have. To me, the colors of the font are the themes of America and of patriotism, reflecting on our Code Talkers’ view of how and why we must defend this land. That is one underlying fact in the appearance.  The overlying fact – much less abstract to the viewer – is what the statement on the poster has to say.

One of the most appealing and noticeable parts of the poster is its background. With my limited resources, I combined the colors available to me in the best way I could that would still transmit my message. I believe this palette sets the peaceful tone and feeling which was the goal of my work and the goal of the Water Protectors at Standing Rock. Not only is that, but the palette I chose also eye-catching to the audience and you can tell by yourself. The audience can relate to the colors and capture a tone of what they are feeling from the colors. Combined with the written statement, this poster has an effect as a whole that transmits the message the heart, mind, body, and soul.

I designed my poster so that certain keywords are of a different color, highlighting the important pieces of my short and sweet messaging. The word “protestors” may have a negative connotation, so I thought the color red would be an ideal symbolism for CAUTION. The word “messengers,” however, is in white, promoting a more peaceful tone and feeling. I added blue as well to the poster as it carries a more relaxed ambiance and meaning. The juxtaposed expressions of “we are” and “we are not”, written in this blue, illustrate the steady path to the truth and transitions to the main keywords and ideas embodied by the message.

In addition, I believe that messengers are a once-in-a-lifetime deal. To some, Jesus is a messenger.  To Navajos, it might be the coyote crossing their path. Messengers appear in our lives and may vanish as quickly as a shooting star, but their message can still be eternal. Messengers are here for us – all of us – and that which they have to say and do is what we should listen to and be concerned about. Messengers should be taken seriously, not lightly, as they may be transmitting knowledge and a concept greater than our mortal selves.

Image may contain: one or more people, snow, outdoor and natureSkylar Henry (Navajo/Paiute/Zuni) is a Junior at Arizona State University and an upcoming artist.  He draws on his heritage as inspiration and frequently incorporates artistic interpretation into his interdisciplinary Business and Communications studies.  Having grown up in the Western Agency of the Navajo Nation, which is near the Grand Canyon, he is familiar with the intersectionality of natural resources, culture, and climate justice.  In December 2016, he was fortunate enough to visit to Standing Rock and deliver artwork at the sacred campfire.

Eurocentric Curricula: A Modern-Day Colonizer of Young Minds and Perspectives

This is a paper I did for HST102 at Dine College.  I probably could have written thirty pages, but I already went over the limit…


Kayla DeVault

Dr. King

World Civilizations 102

20 April 2016

Eurocentric Curricula: A Modern-Day Colonizer of Young Minds and Perspectives

Formal public education in the United States has its roots in the American Colonia Era. During this era, Christianity and white supremacy affected every aspect of political and social life in the United States as well as in many places in Europe or colonized by European countries. With an educational system being borne from this era, it is therefore understandable that the subsequent system be entrenched in Christian values and a Eurocentric perspective on the world and on racial equality. As eras have passed, more and more work has been done by the government and pressuring citizens to rewrite the curriculum, resulting in changes of religious content in curricula, the inclusion of a more racially diverse student body, and even topics like anthropology that explore more human histories. However, are the curricula in public schools still heavily Eurocentric? In particular, how are the histories First Americans portrayed today in these systems, if at all, and how does it reflect on how they portray themselves?

Until the Indian Citizenship of 1924, any Native American who did not relinquish his or her tribal citizenship could not be considered an American citizen. In some ways, becoming a citizen of both a tribal nation and the United States was controversial as it could be seen as undermining tribal sovereignty. Even so, this change means that it has been less than a century that Native American histories have become part of American history rather than an “us vs. them” viewpoint, i.e. a Eurocentric perspective. The question is whether or not the curriculum has shifted to reflect this societal change. Considering the heightened “Indians and Cowboys” film activities in the 1950s and 1960s, the American obsession with “us vs. them” and the Plains Indians cultures prohibited non-Indian Americans from seeing anything but the 1800s, stereotypical Indian fighting invading frontiersmen.

Even as the American Indian Movement rose alongside other Civil Rights movements in the 1970s, old-fashioned mentalities continued to affect modern Natives. The involuntary sterilization of thousands of Native women by the Indian Health Service during this era, under the guise of “helping” Native communities, demonstrates the prevalence of this outdated, “us vs. them” concept of Indians in the popular American viewpoint. Furthermore, the continued lack of coverage on such acts of genocide reinforces the disparities in including Indians in American history. Yet this is merely one example; American Indian histories extend for thousands of years over thousands of miles, and those histories are living. How well is our public school system doing to address such an enormous spread of topics and in a way that is culturally appropriate, accurate, and inclusive?

One of the first methods used for reviewing the curricula in public schools was to study the guidelines for Social Studies provided by the Bureau of Education. Various public school superintendents, from Flagstaff to Tuba City, confirmed that the Arizona Bureau of Education’s standards are the best resource for studying the curriculum of social studies from Kindergarten through 12th grade. Having also been a student in the Pennsylvania public school system, I spent some time analyzing that curriculum as well. I also took Advanced Placement United States History (APUSH), and so materials were reviewed for APUSH as another “American History Standard”. In all areas, the curriculum was reviewed for: 1) inclusion of Native histories; 2) presentation of Native peoples as historic-only, contemporary-only, or both; 3) breadth of Native cultures included; 4) emphasis on local history, including local tribes; 5) perspective on Native histories (Eurocentric or unbiased); 6) included or excluded historic events that are significant in Indian Country; and 7) Navajo history, especially the Long Walk.

Having attended several public and private schools in Pennsylvania, I am particularly interested in the changes being made to curricula as well as where there are still disparages. Indian mascots are used widely across eastern States, yet so many curricula fail to educate students on proper Native history, thereby perpetuating a vicious cycle of ignorance. One of my private schools is currently looking into a curriculum revision that includes training teachers on how to present materials in ways that are more culturally inclusive. In a conversation with my former school’s headmaster, she described the old curriculum as being “written and presented from the view of the oppressor”. In my years at that school and others, I can only recall a focus on the Removal Act, the Cherokee Trail of Tears, and a very general view of Indian Policy. Otherwise, topics included “Indians”. My younger brother was even given an “Indian name” in 5th grade, and we were both made to create paper headdresses to celebrate Thanksgiving. These activities not only inaccurately depict past and present Native peoples, but they also assume no Native child is on the receiving end of that education by the nature of how the information is presented. These lapses contribute to the Eurocentric curriculum perspective.

Today, education in Pennsylvania still lags behind in quality like much of the nation, but changes in the curriculum are evident. In fact, after reviewing resources for public education standards in Pennsylvania, I was pleased to discover some social studies curricula specifically geared to dispel “Indian” stereotypes in young students. One example of this is a 3rd grade activity that focuses on Anishinabe peoples relative to the Great Lakes region of the United States. This activity introduces students to past and present cultures of the various Anishinabe/Ojibwe people, discussing both original and contemporary locations. The culture and tradition of the Ojibwe people are studied in depth. The class is then tasked with researching the topic of migration of the peoples and reflecting on this migration’s role to culture. Another section, specified for grades 3 through 5, is “Not ‘Indians’, Many Tribes: Native American Diversity”. The point of this section is to show similar interactions between environment and culture for the Abenaki, Hopi, and Kwakiutl Nations. Students are asked to contrast and compare these wildly different groups and to demonstrate how their environment has shaped their cultures. These activities are encouraging to find in the curriculum guidelines because they demonstrate an effort to dispel stereotypes and create a better understanding of native peoples in both a past and present context.

However, not everything in Pennsylvania’s standard curriculum is up-to-date. While the examples found were great ones, they are not representative of the efforts across the board. These two examples were perhaps the only examples that could be made of this myth debunking, and the word “Navajo” only returned results for a collection of poems under a long list of books recommended under one track of high school history. Searches for the term “Long Walk” returned nothing, and so it is expected that even an intensive scouring of commonly used textbooks in the Pennsylvania curriculum will likely result in very little representation of significant southwest tribal history. Even the vocabulary used by these curricula to teach the most disgraceful parts of American history is rather biased. Textbooks are quick to describe the actions of Nazi Germany as “genocide” by means of “concentration camps”, but the reality is these Nazis replicated American designs that were used against tribal peoples – and yet we continue to use language like “walk”, “march”, “relocation”, and other milder terms.

Furthermore, there are many elements in the Pennsylvania history and social studies curricula that, as they stand, continue to present negative figures in a positive light. One prime example of this is the depiction of Andrew Jackson. As most Americans have likely been educated to believe, Andrew Jackson is generally portrayed as a war hero with many great accomplishments. His face appears on the twenty-dollar bill for this reason. Yet, as many modern Natives understand, and as activists like Deloria Vine, Jr. have loved to remind America, Andrew Jackson is far from a hero. Then how is it that, under the standards for social studies teaching for Pennsylvania on the War of 1812, Andrew Jackson is described as having a victory over the British in New Orleans which made him “a new hero” in the United States? (PDESAS). In fact, the link referenced for more information continues by stating: “Added to his fame as an Indian fighter, this brilliant action propelled him to national prominence and ultimately to election as president in 1828” (American History). How would an Indian student reading that line feel about what it was suggesting? Would it even occur to the other students and teachers who are non-Indian that this passage is an incredibly exclusive piece of “history”? The entire section also seems to fail drastically at educating students on contemporary issues, such as why today Andrew Jackson is so widely rejected as a hero in Indian Country. How could a modern, non-Indian student understand the motion to change the face of the twenty-dollar bill when any portrayals of Andrew Jackson in the public system are so positive?

The standards for education in the southwest are similarly governed by the States. In Arizona, the curriculum prioritizes Native history far more than eastern curricula tend to. Various Superintendents across northern Arizona supported this observation in phone conversations about their schools’ curricula. Just by reviewing the very general outlines Arizona sets for education in high school, topics regarding Native Americans appear in history, geography, and government strands. The first mention is in Paleo-Indian topics; an effort is made to differentiate the various kinds of tribal peoples and their specific inheritance. One section is set aside for the southwest populations, relevant as a local cultural topic. Unlike many other curricula for different states, the Arizona curriculum does require students to analyze the movements of American military and government and how these impacted the cultures and lives of the tribal peoples affected. In the government section, students are required to learn about the voting rights issues Natives faced – not just on a National level in 1924, but also following World War II in Arizona. This section also talks about the Code Talkers.

However, one observation is that the “Long Walk” is never specifically detailed in the curriculum, and neither is its famous eastern counterpart, the “Trail of Tears”. Even in descriptions of Kit Carson, his supervisor Carrelton, and Fort Sumner, many American texts shy away from capturing the true brutality, injustice, and Eurocentric mentality that dominated the era (Gordon-McCutchan). Carson, long praised for his efforts as written in White history, is in fact a criminal by modern standards. Especially among the Navajos, this holds true. Students today should be taught the same perspective, for anything short of that would be at conflict with the human rights topics they cover in other classes. Students on the Navajo Reservation or living near it – or perhaps just in the Southwest in general – should absolutely be made aware of not only this topic in history, but of the shift in perspectives regarding how we now reference it. Imagine if we still read passages on slavery in American history books written by those in support of keeping slavery in the economy. There are some perspectives that have to be updated and erased, so why is it taking so long to change Native American passages?

While it is true that local histories should be emphasized in one curriculum more than another, it is still important that the histories being taught at a national level should cover a significant part of Native histories. The curriculum set in place for APUSH is essentially a national standard for understanding United States History. The scores from the AP exams in this area are capable of earning college credits for high school students pursuing higher education degrees. The curriculum therefore should reflect an intense and holistic view of what is widely accepted as “American history”. Yet, APUSH does not define as “American History” starting at its Independence of 1776 or even in just the years leading into that event. Instead, it defines “American History” as 1491 and beyond. This inclusion of one year before Columbus landed in the Caribbean in a way implies that Native history is a part of the American story, but in reality its purpose is to establish an idea that Native populations have been conquered and how it was done. This is a troubling approach as it disseminates Columbus’ viewpoint on the peoples he and the Europeans after him used to justify their actions: Native peoples in a limited, narrow, and uncivilized context that fails to acknowledge cultural diversity and richness. Without making this distinction between how these “conquerors” viewed Native peoples and how they should be viewed, it becomes increasingly difficult to put contemporary Indian issues into a historical context. For example, just the very idea of “Indian policy” as a blanket term for how to “deal with” Indian peoples perpetuates the blurring of lines between sovereign nations and the “us vs. them” mentality that devastates understanding modern issues faced by tribal governments and citizens in the Americas.

Although the curriculum largely focuses on the “Five Civilized Tribes”, the Spanish missions and encomienda system in the southwest, and some of the political movements from the American Indian Movement in the northern Plains, I saw no indication of Hawai’ian and Alaskan indigenous histories. The Dawes Act and subsequent Indian Reorganization Act is mentioned, but no curriculum notes outline the Residential Boarding School Era, the Navajo Long Walk, the Livestock Reduction, the Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute, or even the Termination Era of Indian Policy. In fact, Native history seems to end in 1973 with Wounded Knee – although, sadly, that is much more impressive than most histories that end with the Trail of Tears and which fail to portray Natives as living citizens with professional careers.

In addition to these curricula, one business book for business classes at Coconino Community College was analyzed for material relevant to Indian businesses. The book is “The Legal, Ethical, and Regulatory Environment of Business” by Bruce D. Fisher and Michael J. Phillips (1998). The purpose of the book is to “[emphasize] the relevance of legal environment topics to business functions” and to present a “strong emphasis on ethics, international law, environmental law, and women’s legal concerns”. After scanning the book’s contents for any coverage on Indian businesses or tribal entities, it was found that Native Americans are mentioned very few times in the text.

On page 459, a section devoted to “Exclusions from Coverage” mentions employer discrimination policies. In this, it explains that Title VII does not apply to Native American tribes, but nothing more is stated to explain why this is so. For the Navajo Nation, for example, there is a complicated business arrangement. Not only is employment priority Navajo (not simply Native American), but all business transactions fall under a complicated bidding process with Navajo Priority 1, Priority 2, and Non-Priority. Indian services provided by the Federal government, on the other hand, are Indian Preference. This concept is so widely misunderstood by the non-Indian population that it should be emphasized in all business texts. In a school like Coconino Community College, surrounded by Indian Country, it is somewhat surprising that is excluded. Another mention, on page 783, casually describes the Department of Energy attempting “to convince Native American tribes to accept [nuclear] wastes on their reservations in exchange for federal money”, as if this is ethical business practice (Fisher).

All in all, it appears as though states are making an effort to be more inclusive of non-biased Native histories that assist in dispelling stereotypes. However, the transition is slow, and it is especially slow in areas where there are less Native students or Native populations – i.e. areas that may have a higher tendency to not see Natives in a modern perspective and who would, therefore, benefit from these contemporary lessons the most. So many curricula focus on the expulsion of Spanish powers from the southwest without consideration that people already lived there. That is why incorporating lessons on the Long Walk is such a key point for introducing the atrocities committed by all armies during the 1800s in present-day New Mexico and Arizona. The real story of the Long Walk is not lost among today’s Navajos, however. Modern music about the walk can be heard regularly on KTNN, the local Window Rock radio station. There is also the famous song Shí Naasha, written in 1868, that sums up the true emotions of the walk back from Fort Sumner:

Ahala ahalago naashá ghą

Shí naashá ghą, shí naashá ghą,

Shí naashá lágo hózhǫ’ la.

Shí naashá ghą, shí naashá ghą,

Shí naashá, ladee hózhǫ’ǫ’ lá.

I am going in freedom.

I am going in beauty all around me.

I am going, I am going, in beauty

It is around me.

This song reflects the anxiousness and relief of the people returning. It is also cultural significant when one realizing the story and the impact of reentering the boundaries of the four sacred mountains. Furthermore, “walking in beauty” and “harmony” play such an important part to Navajo culture, and seeing it as such a positive way to recover from Fort Sumner demonstrates the resilience and cultural strength of the Navajo people. The spirituality is completely interlocked with their experience at Fort Sumner, despite the conditions and lack of hope. Their song and prayer is what kept them together. These are things students are not able to learn from modern curricula and therefore are not able to understand wholesomely when visiting the Navajo Nation or surrounding areas.

In conclusion, the American education system still has a ways to go before it will be truly and equal and unbiased learning experience. Once students are able to recite the culture, history, capitals, and names of tribal nations as well as they can European ones, they will be closer to understanding the country they actually live in; and once students can stop using descriptors like “African”, “Asian”, “Indian”, and “French” or “Italian” as if they are parallel words, equality will be better established in the way we perceive the world. We have had numerous battles about removing religion from schools; it is time we begin making greater strides to reform the “Native American” curricula in these schools as well.

Christianity and Navajo Sovereignty: Colonization’s Influence on the Navajo Political Structure


Diné College

Kayla DeVault
Navajo Nation Government: NIS226
Mr. Vecenti


Although recorded Navajo history did not begin until the arrival of the Spanish some nearly 500 years ago, oral traditions recount history since the beginning of time. It is these oral traditions the recount the resilience of Navajos – but also the Navajo ability to adopt and adapt. While language remains one of the most preserved and uniquely Navajo parts of the Diné tradition, the influence of the Anasazi, the Pueblos, the Spanish, and subsequent groups remains unquestionable. The latest influence – Christianity – calls into question to what degree this influence threatens traditional structure and belief, and how have the policies of foreign powers assimilated and reshaped the perspective of tribal leadership today.

There are many values – or lack thereof – that could be considered traditional Navajo. Most notably, these include: matrilineal clanship, Hozho and K’é, a lack of land ownership or even static inhabitance, etc. Even the silver-making and weaving industries demonstrate a shift in economic practices as the Spanish first came into contact with the Southwest. All of these influences have had a significant impact on cultural retention. In the place of tradition, most often Christianity has come to the forefront of religions on the Navajo Reservation. This shift has had an incredible influence on the way many Navajos now think, how resources are managed, and how Navajos treat one another.

Although traditional Navajo belief upholds the importance of women in Navajo society, the influence of Christianity and “Western thought” has put the value of women behind that of men. Clans still function matrilineally, but the value behind that system has been nearly lost. As womanhood also represents the Mother Earth and what it provides for Navajo life, a disconnect is also garnered in this way between the Navajo people and natural resources. Navajos never believed in landownership, but the idea of “property” has been introduced by European influences, resulting in an attitude of superiority over all non-human and non-male aspects of life. Although women once represented portions of Navajo leadership, the influence of Christianity and other Western thought has decreased the influence of women to nearly non-existent.

Another important factor that has been altered over the years is ceremony. Not only has the influence of peyote from the Plains region been adopted into many systems within the Navajo Nation, but so have missions, the Native American Church, and a focus of monetary compensation amongst practicing medicine men. These changes have resulted in a shift of values and a challenge in maintaining a ceremonial structure. As the Nalchid was eliminated with one of the most significant Navajo treaties, it should seem that the era of traditional leadership was also eliminated. These leads into the final concerns: actual government structures and the priorities they make.

While it is important for the Navajo government to be focused on language and culture retention, it is also hypocritical of it to pursue such endeavors while completely adopting American democracy structures, Christian principles, and non-Navajo values. This betrayal begins when reviewing the history of the Navajo government: in essence, it was formed to hand over oil lease-making capabilities to the American government. In its place, we now see Navajos supporting extractive industries for the sole purpose of being competitive in the economy. In so many ways, the Navajo Nation – at least as a governmental structure – has adopted a mentality that views “poverty” in the same way that many non-Indians monetarily base it, have supported rigorously the concept of land ownership, and have not called into question enough the concern that, while tradition should remain, a separation of Church and State is commonplace in the American democratic system. Instead, we are faced to wonder what might become of centuries of resilience to dissolution in the face of policies meant to foster assimilation.





















Christianity and Navajo Sovereignty: Colonization’s Influence on the Navajo Political Structure

Since perhaps the beginning of time, Christianity and Navajo tradition evolved, grew, and spread on completely parallel paths. Although they are on opposite sides of the world, the two religions actually share many of the same values. For one, they respect theories of creation, existence, purpose, and duty to a holy figure(s). This respect dictates much of how they govern themselves and function in daily life. There are certain rituals that both religions require which help to maintain a balance acceptable to each religion’s individual belief system. In fact, many religions could be described as fundamentally similar as they, in many respects, are like a political ideology designed to create and maintain peace within society. They unite people. They create a tradition.

Yet it is when that unity forms superior coalitions over other groups of people and when the Word of God is bared as a weapon that religions like Christianity transform into something different. When Christianity transformed into Manifest Destiny and the Doctrine of Discovery, it became a highly influential and highly deadly reign of terror, especially in Indian Country. Beginning with the era of the Spanish Inquisition and the genocide of peoples from present-day Caribbean down to South America, Christianity was used for cultural erasure. Centuries later, it was still being used to build political framework. Its values have been written into the American Constitution and way of thinking, even when Separation of Church and State attempts to remove it.

Most “New World” contact with Christianity came first from the Spanish. The very title “New World”, alluding to the “discovery” of two more continents, demonstrates the “us” and “them” notion Europeans held that made the “them” (“uncivilized indigenous peoples”) irrelevant in society. Because the ideals being practiced in the Catholic Church at that time had a very strict concept on what made “civil society”, the Spanish were amongst the many Europeans who were incapable of viewing indigenous life without their biased lenses. These lenses meant that enormous and complex civilizations such as the Aztec, with impressive structures that attract tourists to this day, were viewed as incompetent, simplistic, and heathen. The Doctrine of Discovery elaborated on that notion, giving Spanish and other Europeans cause to “civilize” indigenous peoples under the guise it would save their souls. (Wilkins)

Today, missions still attempt to influence indigenous communities. However, the techniques they use could most harshly be called bribery. They build new churches, schools, houses, wells, and things that appeal to the community while passing out Bibles and literature for conversion. The mission work of early Spanish colonization, on the other hand, can most harshly be called genocide. Their techniques included mutilation, torture, enslavement, and murder. If the diseases they brought did not destroy large populations, their brutality and capture of indigenous peoples did. These practices were rampant during the 1500s and continued for centuries in different forms across different parts of the “New World” as a power tool. This marked the beginning of a power struggle era that continues to affect tribes who are “excluded, marginalized and ‘Othered’” in a number of contexts. (Smith, 35)

The Navajos first made contact with the Spanish in 1583 in the vicinity of Mount Taylor. Coronado had claimed the New Mexico territory for Spain in 1540, and in 1607 Santa Fe was established as the capital. The Spanish “rule” in the area would last until the Mexican overthrow in 1826. (Wilkins) During these nearly 300 years of occupation, the Spanish continued their assaults on the Navajo, the Pueblos, and various other tribes in the area. They manipulated tribes against one another for their own personal gain and sent conquest after conquest to find the large swaths of gold they were convinced awaited them in this “New World”. Spain’s interests in this land were strictly to exploit it for its resources and take the wealth back to the crown. These resources not only included land and minerals but also people. As a means of manipulation, they also attempted to sign numerous treaties with the Navajo.

These treaties were manipulative because they demanded things from the Navajos that were often one-sided requests. They were also manipulative because of the conduct in which they were signed. During this time, there were five distinct bands identified among the Navajos. The largely decentralized structure of the tribe was neither convenient for the Spanish nor well comprehended on account of the lenses through which they viewed all indigenous societies. For these reasons, they imposed on the Navajos they encountered the political framework to which they were accustomed. Rather than requesting to meet with a collection of Naat’aanii, who actually better represented the voice of the tribe, they handpicked a single Naat’aanii or even a couple of Navajos not in a recognized leadership position and “anointed” them as “Chief”. This resulted in treaties that were not acknowledged by the entire tribe. It also created friction within the tribe itself, leading to the Cebolleta band’s designation “Enemy Navajos”. (Wilkins)

This schism remained for centuries amongst the Navajos. As the Pueblos around Santa Fe were close to and especially impacted by the Spanish brutality in the name of Christianity, the Cebolleta, who were the easternmost band and therefore the closest to Santa Fe, often negotiated with the Spanish to protect themselves. Their continued “selling out” intensified the animosity felt amongst the bands. The Spanish capitalized on this animosity in an attempt to divide and conquer the Navajos and continued to transpose their views of what constitutes as leadership, views that were heavily entrenched in their Christian values of the time.

From the Spanish era also came a wealth of livestock, including sheep, horses, and cows. The sheep brought wool, and weaving became a trade of many Navajos. Silver-making also found its way into Navajo trades. Many of the styles of jewelry still used today come from Spanish armor details, including the squash blossom – a modified version of the pomegranate that was reclassified as pomegranates were not known in the southwest in that time. (Iverson) Although trade and even acculturation were always a part of Navajo life and survival, these influences from the Spanish were the first tastes of assimilation that would later sweep all of Indian Country.

The Mexican rule in Navajo territory was very brief, from 1826 to 1846. The Mexican government repeated the errors of the Spanish in its treaty-making process with Navajo “leaders”. When the American government seized the entire New Mexico territory, they too made this error. It took until the Treaty of 1868 before true leadership was gathered and an agreement was negotiated. (Wilkins) However, everything about the Long Walk, Bosque Redondo, and even the Treaty of 1868 was a snapshot of the continued attitude of racial and religious inferiority against indigenous peoples. Most significantly to the analysis of how Christianity has affected modern Navajo society during this era is the Treaty of 1868 and the assimilating values embedded in its thirteen articles.

On July 1, 1868, the Treaty of 1868’s creation was concluded at Bosque Redondo. It was advised for ratification on July 25, 1868 and then proclaimed on August 12, 1868. Its thirteen articles are still applicable today to define the relationship between the Navajo Nation and the federal government. Article I called for the cessation of war and wrongdoing. Article II delineated the Reservation proper. Article III called for the construction of a warehouse, agency building, carpenter and blacksmith shops, schoolhouse, and chapel. Article IV assigned an agent reporting to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs for the Navajo people. Article V established the distribution of land to individuals. Article VI made education for children compulsory. (Wilkins)

Article VII provided seeds and agricultural implements, and Article VIII includes other provisions to be given. Article IX demands that railroads, military posts, and roads be able to cross the reservation and that no attacks may happen to US citizens or their belongings. Article X established conditions for the validation of any future treaties. Article XI outlined provisions for Navajos to return to the Reservation from the prison camp. Article XII appropriated monies and, finally, Article XIII was the agreement to making the Reservation the permanent home for the Navajo. The treaty was signed by W.T. Sherman (Lieutenant General Indian Peace Commissioner), S.F. Tappan (Indian Peace Commissioner), and numerous leaders including Barboncito, Armijo, Delgado, Manuelito, Largo, Narbono, Ganado Mucho, etc. (Wilkins)

On the surface, these terms seem like a possibly honest effort to reestablish the Navajos. It provides them with some means of farming, livestock, food, clothes, monies, and also services. However, this is yet another tool of transposing values onto a tribal nation. Article II and Article V created distinct land boundaries for the tribe as well as boundaries for individual land ownership. The concepts of land ownership and static inhabitation go very strongly against the traditional values of Navajos. Without even taking into consideration the spiritual implications of delineating land for ownership, the static state of living was never part of tradition or resource management. Many Navajos have summer homes as well as winter homes. Their farming practices relied on fluidity as well, such as planting corn in areas that flood and utilizing canyons for growing peach orchards. The idea that a Navajo could sustain him- or herself completely on one tract of land does not fit into the cultural context.

As Berry states, the changes of a farming system is “a matter of complex significance, and its agricultural significance cannot be disentangled from its cultural significance… At certain critical points these systems have to conform with one another or destroy one another”. (Berry, 45-7) Smith in Native Science emphasizes this idea, stating that Native cultures are a product of their pre-Columbian state as well as the current federal policies that altered their lives. In terms of landownership, the “communal nature of resource allocation and decision making” was the backbone of many community function. Smith points out that, in the traditional framework, “no single individual has clear and proper title to any parcel of land, meaning that decisions must be made by or for the whole tribe”. (Smith, 62) In these ways, Articles II and V are transposing Western concepts of how Navajos should live and is therefore one (although relatively subtle) mechanism of assimilation.

Article VII, similarly, dictates the Navajo agrarian lifestyle. Although southwest tribes actually had incredibly well-adapted methods for growing crops suited for their environment, Americans did not acknowledge their techniques as being intelligent. Rather, they viewed their lifestyles as lacking. Generations later, we are suffering as a nation from the impacts of such American farming techniques as monocropping. It is clearly not an intelligent method, considering contemporary concerns. Yet the Treaty of 1868 demonstrates the headstrong attitude that American society was civil, proper, and rightful society, so Article VII distributed the tools to assimilate Navajos to American-approved farming methods.

Article III is a great example of the kinds of services Americans prioritized and therefore imposed on the Navajos. Not only were they imposing a different political framework for the distribution of services, they were also imposing their values and idea of how a society should function. Through the creation of warehouses and blacksmith shops, for example, they were suggesting these elements are pertinent to being “civilized”, as if lacking such things equates to a lack of advancement, capacity, and intelligent. Most critically, of course, is the provision for a chapel to be constructed. With this inclusion, it is crystal clear that the American government believed Navajos needed their Christian god to have a future as a civilized society. Finally, assimilation can also be seen in the demand for a schoolhouse. Article VI’s call for compulsory education excludes the possibility that Navajos are already educated, meaning it does not recognize traditional teachings and ways. The Americans only acknowledged formal education using the framework they value. Sadly, Article VI also opens the doors to a future program of residential boarding schools, cultural erasure, and the installment of generations of trauma.

1868 was a turning point in many ways for the Navajo, although not always for the better. It freed them from enslavement, but it also promoted the transposition of political and societal frameworks rooted in Christian values. Politically, the Naałchid, which was never acknowledged by any European or American government, disappeared around the time of imprisonment. (Wilkins) The Naałchid was crucial to maintaining the traditions and traditional structure of Navajo society. It was heavily based in ceremony and also community involvement. Traditional indigenous values and leadership are described as “a spiritual mindset in which one thinks in the highest, most respectful, and most compassionate way, thus systematically influencing the actions of both individuals and the community”, and therefore the Naałchid’s existence symbolized the resilience of culture and values in the midst of severe oppression. (Cajete, 276)

When the Naałchid ceased to exist, the American government was able to impose a Commissioner (Article IV) to oversee the implementation of the federal government’s tools of assimilation on the Navajos. Decolonizing Methodologies says it well by stating: “When confronted by the alternative conceptions of other societies, Western reality became reified as representing something ‘better’, reflecting ‘higher orders’ or thinking, and being les prone to the dogma, witchcraft and immediacy of people an societies which were so ‘primitive’.” (Smith, 51) In subsequent years, the resurrection of formal Navajo government was merely an extension of the arm of federal agents to control Navajo resources.   The assault on indigenous peoples continued through policy:

“Federal policy has had two competing policy goals when dealing with the First Nations: recognition of sovereignty and resource acquisition. The first policy goal acknowledges the Indian Nations as individual and sovereign entities with which treaties and international agreements are to be made. The second policy, best defined by the doctrine of Manifest Destiny, includes acquiring all available resources for use and employment in the economy of the United States.” (Smith, 39)

The erasure of traditional government its replacement of an American structure facilitated this kind of political assault.

The death of the Naałchid is important because it also meant the death of women leadership and women vote amongst the Navajo Nation. Censuses conducted by the United States as a means of assessing the need and distribution of certain services outlined by the Treaty of 1868 transposed Christian, Western values in its very methods. For example, a head of house would be an adult male. This imposes a concept of what makes a human an adult. It also imposes the concept that women are accessories to a household and not significant except as housewives. Even community voice was now limited to the male figure as women were discouraged from participating in elections. With the Indian Citizens Act of 1924 establishing Native Americans as U.S. citizens and therefore creating voting rights for them in elections, women were still left out. Native women would not receive the right to vote in such elections until as late as the 1960s. (Wilkins) What part of these changes sound Navajo in a tribe that revolves around its matrilineal community relationships? None do, because they are all values transposed from a Christian-dominated, predominantly white, and patrilineal society.

The residential boarding schools created by the Bureau of Indian Affairs have an awful legacy that emphasizes the further imposition of Christian values on indigenous societies. “From being direct descendants of sky and earth parents,” reads a passage of Decolonizing Methodologies, “Christianity positioned some of us as higher-order savages who deserved salvation in order that we could become children of God”. (Smith, 35) In an attempt to “civilize” them, children of sovereign nations were ripped from their families and their cultures for years at a time, made to dress in Western clothes, made to cut their hair, taught English, and made to practice Christianity. The federal government’s slogan for this schooling program was, literally, “Kill the Indian, save the man”. While some families took advantage of the program, believing it was in the best interest of their families and their children, most had no choice. Children were subjected to brutally and a high degree of trauma that burdens individuals to this day. Even to this day, education is often taught from the view of the oppressors. Cajete captures this idea biased educational standards, stating “through the curriculum and its underlying theory of knowledge, early schools redefined the world and where indigenous peoples were positioned within the world.” (Cajete, 34)

With these assimilation policies in effect coming into the 20th century, Navajos begin dressing more and more like Americans. The three-tiered traditional skirt, for example, is a product of this acculturation to whatever degree it was actually forced or voluntary. Yet the assimilation policies increasingly focused on the political framework of nations themselves as the years passed and resources were desired on land reserved through relatively recent treaty enactments. This became especially critical on the Navajo Nation when oil was discovered in 1922. (Wilkins) Within one year, the federal government managed to swoop in and create a business council with handpicked Navajos. The focus was not on community building and organization, of course; it was on oil rights and leasing. This is an example of what Smith is describing in Native Science when he states: “Conflicts between culture and economic activity can arise. Past development strategies either were conducted by outside interests for the benefit of outsiders or were designed with the goal of assimilating the tribes into the mainstream capitalist-style economy.” (Smith, 15)

Although the Navajo Tribal Council has gone through a number of changes and reforms since the original council was created, the reality remains that Navajo leadership was no more the Naałchid. It was becoming increasingly American. In fact, studies by the Diné Policy Institute on government reorganization recommendations confirm that the present-day Navajo government is merely a copycat of the American democratic system. Only a small amount of traditional values have been incorporated, and they were late in coming. Beginning with the American attempt to reorganize tribal government with the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, Navajos were being pressured repeatedly to adopt a Constitution and to reform their system. They repeatedly turned it down, only occasional attempting to appease the Bureau of Indian Affairs with a draft. (Wilkins) To this day, no Constitution draft has been both accepted by the Council and approved by the federal government. With all the changes the structure continuing to parallel the American system, the question remains today if a Constitution would be beneficial.

The Navajo Nation Council remains unique from most American government systems in that it is unicameral; however, the rest of the government is a three-branch model after the American democratic framework. The 110 chapters, representing local government, are slightly reminiscent of the Naat’aani years of the past. The Chairman and Vice-Chairman positions have, in the last decade, been transferred to a President and Vice-President position to further copy the American model. (Wilkins) Presently, the Navajo Nation exercises tribal sovereignty authority by having its own cell service and utility company, its own tribal parks, and even numerous entities such as Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency, Navajo Nation Occupation Safety & Health Administration, and Navajo Nation Division of Transportation. However, these are also copycat structures, adapted from the federal government. Most tribal government offices actually report to the federal offices of the same nature and are obligated to do so by law.

The concept of Checks and Balances is also incorporated into the structure, following the American organization. This became a hot topic in 1989 after the Tribal Council scandals, and the embezzlement of tribal and federal funds continues to be an issue. (Wilkins) Some argue our current tribal leaders, victims of the residential school era, are byproducts of systematic oppression and that their trauma is evidenced through their values and choices. Just a short trip across the Navajo Nation will reveal the shift of values in the leaders as well as the people, as paved roads, cars, and rodeos are thoroughly juxtaposed against hogans, livestock, and chapter signs in the Navajo language. Perhaps these shifts and these histories help explain the values Councilmen uphold in the present day.

Society is always fluid and should be that way, so it is not to say that the Navajo Nation should remain static. Static things fail to sustain themselves in the world. As Smith describes, “maintaining cultural integrity does not necessitate returning to pre-Columbia economies…Rather, the behavioral characteristics that make an individual an Apache or a Navajo or a Mohawk are maintained and developed”. (Smith, 15) The shift of values includes the resistance for women to be community leaders or to have certain rights. Whereas traditional Navajo society viewed women as sacred, like many indigenous nations, the residue of past Christian influence and forced assimilation has altered that perspective. No longer sacred as they once were, and also caught often in a vicious cycle of trauma and substance abuse, indigenous women are now facing the highest rates of violence, including domestic violence. Navajo women are not immune to that statistic. The striking down of same-sex marriage’s recognition on the Navajo Nation is another example of how missions and policy have ingrained Christian values to the point that the Two-Spirit society of hundreds of tribal nations are being forgotten and dishonored. These mentalities are learned, not traditional or inherited.

Another example of these shifts in tribal leadership is the current President Russell Begaye and his values. While he was elected after Chris Deschene’s disqualification for not meeting an arbitrary degree of Navajo language fluency, and while Begaye is in support of promoting tribal sovereignty through language retention, he is also known for his refusal to partake in a traditional ceremony during his inauguration. Although Vice President Jonathan Nez partook, Begaye opted for a Christian equivalent. His devotion to Christianity permeates his policy-making and opinions regarding how to govern the Navajo people. This contradiction is problematic as it raises questions about the Separation of Church and State. Should such an argument be used to hold him to all required traditional practices of modern day leadership, such as the language requirement, would the argument for such separation be made? If so, that point threatens the last threads of resistance to assimilation: incorporating traditional values and customs in the governmental system and even in the tribal colleges’ educational framework.

From the first encroachment of the Spanish to the current American-Navajo trust relationship, the assimilation of values and frameworks have been rapidly impacting and in many ways traumatizing the Navajo society. This degree of colonization has resulted in a number of structural changes and value shifts. Although the Navajo system does attempt to incorporate the values of Sa’ah naaghai bik’eh hozhoon, the overarching structures, policies, and even paradigms reflect the values of a Western society rooted in Christian values. (Wilkins) Until the Navajo Nation is able to shake its learned stigmas against women and other realms also shunned by certain non-indigenous religious extremes, it will be difficult for the tribal government to truly function as the leadership structure of a sovereign nation.


















Works Cited

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Chandler, Diana. “Navajo Nation leader’s faith ‘key’.” Baptist Press 19 May 2015: 1.

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Lerma, Michael. “Shocks to the Navajo (Diné) Political System: Resiliency of traditional
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Lewton, E.L. “Identity and healing in three Navajo religions traditions: Sa’ah Naaghai
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Mander, Jerry. In the Absence of the Sacred: The Failure of Technology & the Survival
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Morales, Laurel. “Navajo President Begaye a Watchdog for his People.” Fronteras.
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Morales, Laurel. “Russell Begaye Sworn In as Navajo Nation President.” Arizona
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Pevar, Stephen L. The Rights of Indians and Tribes. New York: Oxford University
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Smith, Dean Howard. Modern Tribal Development: Paths to Self-Sufficiency and
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Smith, Linda Tuhiwai. Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous People.
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misconceptions about Navajo food

Written as extra credit for Mr. Vecenti’s NIS 226 Navajo Nation Government class.

Last Saturday, June 4, I was about to do a presentation in Window Rock to the Navajo Nation Youth Council. I had received an invitation from a fellow member of Generation Indigenous, Triston Black, who that morning was elected as President of the Youth Council. My presentation was a proposal to start a Navajo Youth Working Group on Climate that will be modeled off of the EPA National group I’m a member of and which can be used to provide feedback directly to National environmental policies and programs. Food sovereignty was one of the bullets in my many topics the group could discuss and research. Before I managed to give my presentation, Vice President Jonathan Nez stepped into the room to discuss food sovereignty and the importance of gardening. He invited us to his Vice Presidential house after our meeting for a cookout and to see his demonstration.

I carpooled over to the event with my friend Chris Brown, a graduate of Yale University who came back home to work in the health programs with COPE. Chris was telling me some of the gardening initiatives he has been a part of with COPE. I knew COPE was involved in food sovereignty topics, having gone to a conference in the fall at the Tribal Museum, but I hadn’t realized to what extent they were promoting the same ideas. I told him about the AISES initiative I was helping write grants for, a collaborative community garden project through Navajo Department of Agriculture at the Navajo Nation Fairgrounds. Apparently my group isn’t the only one talking about using that space for a community program. However, the project is stalled to the point that we are only doing periodic demonstrations and plantings at the Ag building while we await approval for in-kind surveying services on the garden site.

When we got to Mr. Nez’s house, we were asked to sit with our food and listen to a number of speakers representing different groups. Mr. Nez again addressed us, stressing the importance of family building through gardening, of eating healthy, organic, non-GMO foods, and of buying and selling Navajo-produced rather than importing. He proposed many adjustments to the system. One of the women in the gathering told me she had helped push the “Junk Food Tax” through in recent years. Everything they said I agree with, yet I couldn’t help but notice the sugary Brisk teas and sodas, bottled water, bags of chips, pizza, and mutton stew. At least there were vegetable trays and someone cut a watermelon, but all of the food came with Basha’s bags and labels. I’ve shopped at Basha’s before and know how limited the green section is, let alone the organic, and most certainly let alone the non-GMO section. I found it mildly hypocritical to preach one thing while eating another. I mentioned to Mr. Nez the La Montanita Co-op in Gallup, a place that sells local, organic, non-GMO food – and a lot of vegan products – in a crammed store. He had never heard of it, but Chris had and he told him the directions.

When we were done eating, we learned that it was time for us to do the next plots. We were shown how to plant a “Lasagna Style” garden. Although we were all in nice clothes (and someone even had on heels), we picked up the tools and began digging shovel-deep. In sections, we removed dirt, piled in the lasagna ingredients, then moved the dirt from the next section onto the top of the first, continuing until the whole row was completed. The layers included laying down cardboard and wetting it, then adding various mixtures of straw, manure, pine needles, compost, and these mysterious handfuls of ash and what they referred to as “protein” to make the soil rich. Mr. Nez stressed how wonderful the soil is on the Navajo Nation and how we need to be growing crops. I wondered how many kinds of crops he’s tried growing in the sandy, alkaline soil…where any moisture gets whisked away immediately. This environment definitely requires certain crops that know how to thrive here.

As we completed the lasagna garden and planted kale, melon, and other seeds in the beds, Mr. Nez showed us the various holes being dug to the west of the garden. These holes were in a square array with a few feet of separation between holes. They were layering these holes in the same way. He explained this is where the corn, squash, and beans were being planted in a Three Sisters style garden. He then helped cleaned up the area, and I noticed that some of the workers were throwing their watermelon rinds into the lasagna layers. However, Mr. Nez was collecting all of the trash and throwing it into the same bin. Someone noticed that their recycling bin had become a trash bin, so people worked to separate again. Before we left, with seed samples provided by Tolani Lake, I asked Mr. Nez if he had spoken to the Department of Agriculture. I told him about the demonstrations there and how they have an enormous list of programs doing this kind of work. He said he wants to see it at schools and in more communities; I asked if he had talked to Carole Palmer because she has been a part of starting many of these gardens at schools all across the Reservation, and she knows dozens of other organizations doing the same. He didn’t seem like he knew what I was talking about.

This morning, I saw Chris’s picture on the Native News Online feed and realized our gardening day has been published on the national media. I glanced through the article and saw, yet again, the mentioning of a Three Sisters garden and how Mr. Nez has this new vision for the Navajo people. While I absolutely agree with his vision – about wanting to control the food system, getting Navajo produce in the Basha’s stores, fighting diabetes and obesity through a more traditional diet, etc., I couldn’t help but be frustrated on many levels. I am definitely impressed with how active Mr. Nez is and how he has popped into more than one of my meetings in the several months that I’ve lived in the Window Rock area. He is constantly on the move. I believe he does leave a positive impression with the youth. I also believe he is hasty to push his programs without doing his research, and I had a long conversation with people in already-existing organizations who reiterating everything I had thought.

I learned that Mr. Nez was already offered a list of all of these community projects in existence, but he either didn’t look at the list or refused to take it when it was offered. He has this attitude like people aren’t already doing this work whereas the work is being done, we just need help from someone like him to expose the work and support it. One of the largest problems with these projects is they tend to die. There is motivation for only so long, but keeping a project sustained is the issue. It’s more of a lifestyle change and less of a project fad to make these initiatives last. Another huge issue I see is this disconnect; for example, Mr. Nez preaching about very specific foods, then serving another. Or how he was throwing away watermelon rinds in the very same garden he was promoting compost. How else do nutrients get back into the soil if we don’t promote it? Fix nitrate all you want with crop types and rotations, but soil depletion is still a real thing.

Most significantly for the Navajo people, the types of foods and styles of gardening is something that is clashing significantly. Even in Mr. Nez’s garden, his use of the Three Sisters model is infuriating to many traditional farmers and educators. I have seen this model planted in schools as well and have been asked to dispel this myth. This style of gardening is specifically Iroquoian. While many tribes used companion planting, Three Sisters very distinctly refers to the New York region of the country – quite the opposite to where we were here in Arizona. You know this is true because even the various seals used within Navajoland demonstrate the four sacred crops. Yes, corn, beans, and squash – of varieties native to this region – are part of those crops. But tobacco is being left completely out of the picture. To me, that’s almost sacrilegious to leave ceremonial tobacco out of traditional planting initiatives on Dine Bikeyah.

To follow this last point, planting corn in a square is also something completely foreign to the southwest. The Hopi are known to have planted their corn in spirals. There was also the importance of where you plant, and before land ownership was a practiced thing on the Navajo Reservation, crops could be planted where they best thrived rather than wherever a particular owner of a plot of land could arrange to have a garden. This included planting corn in areas known to flood, or also planting peaches in canyons such as in Canyon de Chelly where the walls protect the trees from the awful winds this area is prone to, particularly in the spring.

Finally, there are a few conversations I don’t hear being discussed enough when it comes to food. I feel like so many demonstrations happen for planting, but how many happen after the planting is done? How many harvesting, canning, or seed-saving talks are given? Will Mr. Nez be doing this as well? And, most importantly to me, what about the Navajo traditional plants? This includes knowing the names in Navajo of the plants (which we were not given at the demonstration) and knowing the traditional medicinal plants. When I give my talk at the Chinle Science Camp this coming Monday, I will be stressing these exact points. Most importantly, I will try to instill in the kids the need to view food as medicine, and vice versa. Some plants are more clearly for caloric or nutritional purposes than for healing, but there are places where the two completely overlap. And realizing mutton, frybread, and certain other dishes are not in fact Navajo in the genuine ethnic sense I think is important to reconsider how the diet here has changed so rapidly.

I don’t mean to undermine the efforts Mr. Nez is making because I know how easy it could be to just sit there as the Vice President and not engage with the community. He obviously is very active in the community. I just wish he would listen more to the community, to the projects we have going, and to the experience we have before trying to promote a “new thing” that is in fact very old and popular. With his help, however, we could potentially really turn around a lot of projects, unite the community, and dispel many of these myths and bad practices I have mentioned. I will continue to reach out to him about the activities already happening, whether through the youth or not, and hopefully there will be a change for the future of Navajo food sovereignty.

Your Privilege is Showing: How Climate Change Movements Miss the Point

Let’s cut to the chase: The current climate change movement, on both a national and international level, is an excellent cause with a plethora of misguided notions.  Not a piece you were probably expecting to come from a 2016 COP22 Youth Delegate candidate.  But it’s a piece that has to be said, and it has to be said now.

Before we continue blasting the world with our thoughts about environmental and social injustices, before we unite across state lines and borders to commit ourselves to challenges of the best intentions, we need to realize the lenses on our own faces.  We need to become familiar with the privileges we have that give us a voice.  We need to be aware of the hypocrisy of our actions, and how some of our actions actually silence those who, for whatever cause, have a limited participation.  With so much of our advocacy moving into cyberspace, we must acknowledge how many off-the-grid victims of climate change are left out of the conversation.  We use globalization as a strength, but isn’t globalization also our biggest enemy?

Many of us have privileges for different reasons, and if you’re reading this right now you already have one: internet access.  It’s so crucial for us as individuals to understand what privilege is and also for us to acknowledge it.  In order to make any true social change, understanding privilege and power is key to success.  These privileges are things we have access to in our lives that are in fact luxuries.  They might even be social classes or citizenships we were born into that were simply a roll of the dice.  Yet these privileges affect us both passively and actively.

When privilege affects us passively, it may be because, e.g., we do not experience discrimination or struggle financially day-to-day.  A lack of discrimination, or a lack of financial difficulty, therefore becomes our accepted norm.  In fact, it might not even occur to us how many privileges we have because we haven’t experienced a lack of that privilege.  On the other hand, privilege affects us actively when it creates a lens through which we see the world.  We have a certain idea of how life “should” be, usually based on our norms, and we end up transposing our ideas cross-culturally without even realizing it.  It’s sometimes hard to see a lens when we don’t even realize we are wearing it.  (Click here to read more about how I think our cultural lenses affect our conversations with “developing”, “impoverished”, and even indigenous communities in an interview by Chloe Maxmin.)

Today, we live in a global economy.  Our actions, more than ever, have a rippling effect that touches even the most remote face that we will never get to see or know.  This is so evident to those passionate about climate change and carbon emissions.  We understand the earth is one being, that the trees are its lungs, and that water is a sacred, shared source.  Our days move in a rhythm with the same fiery, gaseous, and extinguishable sphere in the sky.  Even before the internet, we were synchronized in this way.  Our existence, whether spontaneous or planned, relied on this synchronization in order to come into being.  Yet we are weaving that interconnectivity even closer to the point of complete interdependence.

So how does this globalization affect the movement against climate change?  The more and more we become interdependent in our global economy, the more and more we rely on international movements to address global changes.  Carbon emissions is at the forefront of this struggle.  However, we can’t help but be hypocrites; for, as we strive to resolve shared issues from globalization – like carbon emissions – through international efforts and coordination, we are in fact reinforcing the same principles we are trying to defeat.  We look to international leaders, we rally the people from every corner of the globe, we use the effective global communication tool known as social media, we buy cotton shirts in support from unknown material and labor sources, and we hop on a jet plane to get us everywhere in between.  In this way, we become hypocrites – and we exclude those without the same privilege as ourselves from the conversation.

Social justice and environmental justice are not mutually exclusive things.  In fact, our Western lens tends to separate all things that should not be separated.  To think that human rights can be preserved without addressing environmental protection is a foolish notion that will destroy us if we cannot separate ourselves from it.  Yet as the culture of modern, Western society strives increasingly to separate the two, the inseparability between indigenous communities and the protection of their natural resources become evermore clear.  Our disconnect from where our food comes from, who makes our clothes, and even our cultural values translates into a disconnect from humanity and social justice.

When we operate with this disconnect, we risk framing our actions and the reasons why we do them in a way that limits how people feel they can participate.  This circles back to privilege and to having an expected vision of what life should be like.  It’s easy to make a movement where you encourage people to shower only 1 minute a day, ride their bike instead of drive to work, and buy only locally-sourced, organic foods.  Well, there are many places in the world where the population cannot participate in such a movement.  And it doesn’t have to be a remote corner; sometimes it’s in the American backyard.  Even where I live on the Navajo Reservation, many people don’t have running water so they can’t reduce shower time; they might hitch-hike to work, but they can’t bike clear to the border cities where the work and the bus routes only connect major towns a few times a day; and we live in a “food desert” where some folks don’t have electricity for refrigeration, so the choice is usually between a bag of chips or canned conventional food.  Yet it’s undeniable that the Navajo Nation is feeling the effects of climate change.  In some ways, these changes are contributing to the food desert effect.  So how can these exceptions be inclusions?

My example is just one of many, and it’s something I’ve thought about more and more as I’ve traveled.  So often the people being affected the most by climate change are the same people who don’t live with the luxuries that we “cut back on” here and there to “reduce” our impacts.  Of course, it isn’t just about how we rally ourselves socially and who is or isn’t included in social media movements.  It’s also about who is making the decisions on how we live and our health.  The policy-makers who separate themselves from the rallying public and who negotiate behind closed doors are making decisions that will affect the health and prosperity of literally every being in the world.  Talk about privilege, and talk about power.

Another example that I think really embodies the same concept of limited participation actually has to do with public art.  Public art is such a powerful tool of communication, a wordless language that transcends boundaries and delivers messages of varying complexity.  But public art can also be incredibly exclusive.  In the United States, public art is too often used as a tourist statement to encourage people to visit and come into an area.  Sure, it might positively impact local business, but the art the movement introduces is static pieces that live among the unintended audience.  The art isn’t meant to necessarily do anything for the citizens in the area, and it especially tends to exclude certain citizens like the homeless.

A classic example of how public art can be exclusive is the Fremont Troll of Seattle.  The bridge where this art piece is now used to house sleeping homeless people and some alleged drug activity.  As a way to “creatively address” this “problem”, the “public” united to install the Fremont Troll.  On the surface, it looks like a nice idea; but really, the statue displaces the “problem” rather than addresses it – and it most certainly alienates the people the art is actively targeting.  It simply strengthens and widens that social divide/gap.  It reinforces the already present issue that homeless people are not viewed as citizens, as part of the public.  The alternative?  Public art that is in fact a fluid space, inviting participation from the community.  Urban peace gardens are an example of this.  They serve as educational platforms open to any human and they rely on the community’s efforts to keep the installations running after the artists have created them.

If we really want to make a difference on the climate change front, we have to be aware of how we limit participation.  Maybe we are limiting others, and maybe policy-makers are the ones limiting us.  Regardless, we have to avoid reinforcing these gaps by building a Fremont Troll and to instead create a change that runs deeper than just a bandage on a communal wound.  We have to actively seek voices and participation from all demographics and situations, in spite of the nature of the movement and because of the movement itself.  Movements that look to include all kinds of experiences, and which add real perspective to privilege in every form it takes, it’s those movements that are more like the education tool of the urban peace gardens.  They work to include every story into the need for change. 

Ironically, Chloe’s blog also touches on this issue, describing her experience between “us” and “them” while participating in COP21.

As I mentioned briefly when addressing privilege, the methods we have to have access to in order to participate – such as transportation, cell phones, and social media – are also methods that reinforce our hypocrisy.  The most obvious is when we have to take a plane or a car to a conference on climate change, or to promote having Zero emissions by 2050.  But some of them aren’t as obvious, and not acknowledging them weakens every effort we could dream of making to combat a changing climate.  Do you know the environmental and social consequences of your cell phone?  Of the coffee you drink?  The clothes you wear?  The manufactured bike you ride?  The alternative energy you promote?

While I admire the #ZeroBy2050 movement from the COP21 Youth Delegates last year in Paris, I think it is also a good example of how we tend to really miss the point.  Yes, zero emissions is an amazing concept.  But there are numerous flaws.  Perhaps the biggest offender is the support of renewable energy.  During the #ZeroBy2050 movement at COP21, the participants were fighting to get language entered into the Paris Agreement that would call for the complete phasing out of carbon emissions by 2050.  Similar to the Break Free campaign, which aims to abandon fossil fuels completely, this movement vehemently promotes “clean energy” in place of emissions-generating operations.

I’m a Masters candidate in Mechanical Engineering for the purpose of studying alternative energy, what goes into the systems, and how they have yet to improve.  I am in this field solely for the purpose of understanding the technologies and what we are actually promoting.  One of the biggest flaws of these alleged “clean energy” sources: they depend enormously on the mining industry.  I’ve experienced across so many different organizations and communities this diehard approach to going “alternative” without having seriously considered that the “alternative” is not “clean”.  True, renewable sources will last us longer, but the current technologies we have leave us tied to mining, no matter how much we want to keep it all “in the ground”.  And it’s not just the metals and rare earth materials that go into fuel cells/solar panels and wind turbines, it’s also the metals and chemicals in our painted bikes and modes of transportation and the gold in the circuitry of all our electronic devices.

Yet, the more you think about it, our world works in a balance.  That’s part of what we are fighting for, right?  To maintain the atmospheric balance.  To reverse rapid changes we have made since the Industrial Revolution to which Nature is struggling to adapt.  But we can’t completely eliminate carbon emissions.  It sounds radical to say, but carbon emissions are also part of the balance.  When we say “carbon emissions”, we simply mean “carbon dioxide” – a key component to the atmosphere.  Too much of it can have serious ramifications.  For example, too much CO2 in the atmosphere heats the earth during radiation.  It also causes an imbalance in calcium carbonate precipitation in the ocean water, leading to the acidification of the ocean and the dying of coral reefs.  (Read my term paper on this topic here.)  But the same can be said if we dramatically reverse and completely eliminate carbon emissions.  We have to be careful that we don’t promote the idea that no carbon dioxide equals a healthy planet.  Rather, we have to find a way to strike a balance.

Saying we will not burn fuels that create carbon emissions also means we must strike down every effort to promote biomass energy.  Why?  While burning coal, oil, and gas does produce far more emissions, burning woody mass is not “clean” either.  Here in the southwest, biomass offers an alternative to fossil fuels that also has an alarming abundance.  When we get forest fires, they tend to rage for long distances at greater intensities.  The tendency is to fight them, yet forest fires are crucial to the ecosystem here.  Certain seeds only open when burned, generating young trees.  Fires create breaks that keep disease from spreading across entire forests.  Climate change, sadly, is having a negative impact on the natural phenomenon of these fires as well.  All of these factors result in crown fires that lick up the dense, dry, unburned undergrowth and fuel the intensity of the flames.  Encouraging people to burn this undergrowth through biomass projects would help reverse our negative impacts on the natural cycle of fires, but, of course, it would technically produce carbon emissions.

My mom always talks about diet by saying “Everything in moderation.  You can have too much of any thing, even if it’s good for you.”  I think our attitude about climate change and natural phenomenon should be like that too.  Not nonchalant, but in a way that accepts there are meant to be periods of drought, there are meant to be periods of flood – as long as it’s the way of the world deciding what happens and not humanity’s greed that is causing the changes.  I think this perspective is really important and grounding if we want to seriously make a difference.

When I was younger, I used to be zealous about changing light bulbs. Then my focus shifted to changing the systems that determine how we use energy, because, as the saying goes, “we need system change, not climate change.” As a youth delegate to COP21—the international climate-change conference in Paris last December—I witnessed the most sophisticated political skills the world has to offer focus on one goal: to change the fundamental components of our energy systems. They failed. In Paris, I learned that there is an even deeper level of change required to prevent climate catastrophe. It’s not system change—it’s human change.

-Chloe Maxmin, In 2016, No More Human-As-Usual

It really is human attitude and perspective that is the underlying, root cause of so much turmoil in our world today.  It is a disconnect from the clothes we wear, the food we eat, and the social/environmental impacts of getting those products to our hands.  We can’t fully depend on policies to govern how we rule ourselves.  As Chloe says, the change for humanity and the health of the world has to come from within.

I don’t have the solutions.  In fact, I go through days of doubt when I’m convinced there is no solution.  But what I can say is self-awareness is at the core of this movement.  For the collective human body to make a change, that change has to come from within the individuals.  To create this change and self-awareness, we have to acknowledge where we do and don’t have privilege; we have understand the implications of everything we do, purchase, and consume; we have to be aware of the lenses we have.  We have to include, not exclude.  We have to share stories alongside facts, because it is the facts the policy-makers want to see and it is the stories the people want to hear.  And always, always, always, we have to keep an open and honest perspective.
To see how these topics have surfaced in my own global challenges, and how I’ve questioned “What does solidarity look like in the eyes of climate change?”, click here to read my experience in Nicaragua from May 2016.
FullSizeRender (1)
A repost of a watercolor I did after being inspired by the street art in Nicaragua.  Read my post on my trip to Nicaragua for more information.

Navajo Philosophy – Term Paper


Climate Changing without Hozho

Kayla DeVault


NIS371: Navajo Philosophy

Mr. Avery Denny



Navajo Philosophy, through the wisdom of the Holy People and the ancient practices of generations of survivors, presents an intricate system of balance (Hozho) that is necessary for the preservation of society, economy, culture, and the environment.  Humans are merely a part of the greater world web, and the ecosystems in the world rely on the responsible participation of all beings – including humans.  Navajo Philosophy’s Hozho concept promotes a balance and good etiquette in terms of land stewardship.  However, in the modern world, an increase in global attitudes and practices that do not conform to the idealism of “Hozho” have resulted in a world devastated by a changing climate.  In this paper, the evident effects of climate change on the Caribbean reefs of San Salvador Island will be analyzed, followed by a reflection on climate change in the Navajo traditional homeland.



            When I first began my classes this Spring Semester, I found myself struggling with a lot of feelings and responsibilities.  Throughout the semester, I faced more and more challenges; but I handled them with increasing strategy.  I believe my coinciding Navajo Philosophy course and Navajo Rug Weaving fine arts class literally wove themselves together as the course went on to give me perspective on my struggles and how to deal with them.  The thinking and planning that went into my weaving made me reevaluate the thinking and planning that went into my decision-making, my future possibilities, and even the way I conduct myself in conversation with other people.  My frustrations with the loom were checked by the need to stay calm and not criticize my work and myself.  All of these concepts lead to the completion of my rug this week, a rug that is not perfect but that reminds me of how much I learned and struggled and still managed to complete without giving up.

The reminder that Navajo Philosophy emphasizes a balance of the good with the evil helped me accept my undeveloped skills with the realization that I had taken on a complex design and still managed to complete it.  It helped me overcome my perfectionism and harsh self-criticism in many ways.  The weaving also gave me time to think and reflect on the teachings of my various classes.  A lot of this thinking revolved around Navajo Philosophy concepts – about what is balance and how it affects us more than just mentally.  I reflected frequently on land stewardship as part of this balance, how Navajo Philosophy is less stressed in modern society and how good land stewardship practices are essentially absent from traditional Western societies.  With this perspective, I considered how the loss of indigenous connection to a traditional land base can result in an imbalance and the ultimate destruction of an ancient ecosystem.  That is why I have chosen to analyze my past climate change research on San Salvador Island and relate it to Dine Bikeyah.

San Salvador Island

            During my senior year in undergraduate studies at Case Western Reserve University, I conducted research under the State University of New York – Brockport College abroad program.  We spent a semester in a Biology/Geology course that focused on the Caribbean ecosystem, then flew to San Salvador Island, the Bahamas, to conduct intensive field research at the Gerace Research Center, an old American Naval base.  The field research lasted ten long days and consisted of the exploration of patch coral reef systems, the continental shelf, marine caves, interior marshes, and the various types of underwater environments (from shallow, to sand flats, and beyond).  We kept journals to document the trips, the organisms encountered, and the weather data for each day.  We also collected data on hard coral cover and parrotfish populations that was then added to several decades of data collected at the same patch reef systems by previous classes.

My experience on San Salvador Island was life-changing.  I frequently present my research finding to tribal colleges and students around the country because of how much the experience moved me.  Scientists often describe the underwater world as being one of the oldest ecosystems living on our planet.  It is millions of years old, and evolutionists argue it is the origin of all land life – the reason why humans have webs between their fingers and why the fluid of the amniotic sac is of the same salinity as ocean water.  Yet, as a Shawnee woman, I also recognize the Atlantic Ocean as one interpretation of our Creation story.  Even stories of Turtle Island in other cultures reflect the importance of water to the first stories of their peoples.  In other words, this ecosystem has stood the ultimate test of time…until now.

When my professor first started collecting data in the early 1990s, the coral reefs on San Salvador Island were, relatively speaking, thriving.  In 2013, we discovered a significant decrease in all measures of biodiversity.  Coral was becoming bleached, algae was consuming the available nutrients, light, and space, and fish populations were suffering.  Not only that, but tourists had devastated the island and even inflicted damaged on our fenced-off research areas in the middle of our research collection process.  Shrimping boats scoured the famous 1-mile drop of the continental shelf and poached adolescent conch shells littered the beach, the adults being so scarce that the immature flesh is now being illegally harvested.

San Salvador Island used to be the home to a people related to the Taino tribe.  In fact, the island we were on is arguably the first island Columbus reached in 1492.  Within 30 to 50 years, colonizers managed to enslave and completely remove the tribal people from the island, selling them for next-to-nothing prices until they found the value in their ability to dive for conches and other seafood.  Conches were always a part of their traditional diet, but they had practiced an intuitive balance that respected the ebb and flow of the natural world they were ingrained to interpret and respect.  Now that invaders without respect for the land and their ways had come into the picture, the island was devastated and exploited, its population completely replaced by African slaves once the original inhabitants died from disease or were removed altogether.

Today, the island remains in turmoil, but its destruction is accelerated on a more global level.  While we studied the populations that were disappearing on the island, we also learned about calcium carbonate precipitation.  Calcium carbonate is the compound that is used to make fish bones, shellfish shells, and coral structures.  It is the literal backbone of ocean life.  However, calcium carbonate only precipitates into water under certain conditions.  With an increase of carbon emissions into the atmosphere, an imbalance is created of hydroxide (OH-), resulting in the acidification of the water.  Simultaneously, the heat that usually radiates back into space is blocked by a change in the atmosphere and reflected into the ground and water surfaces, very slightly increasing the temperature of oceans.  Finally, the imbalance of compounds in the water, altered by slowed precipitation, causes the formation of calcium carbonate to be scarce.  Organisms therefore struggle to find the nutrients needed to grow.  In some cases, they are simply never born at all.  The emissions from human activity around the world since the Industrial Revolution have completely broken the balance of this precipitation process.  The result is a coral reef system that is expected to be extinct as early as 2050.  In other words, an ecosystem as old as life on earth will be completely destroyed by humanity during the course of my lifetime.


Hozho in the Southwest

            Maybe the Taino people of present-day San Salvador Island had a name for their practices that lead to a balanced ecosystem of their island.  From a Navajo perspective, however, their intuitive way of life could be described as the implementation of Hozho.  Conch populations, coral reefs, and the occasional sea turtle were witnessed by my classmates on our trip because of the practices those people had maintained on that island for the history of their existence.  If they had not practiced such a balanced lifestyle, perhaps those creatures would not have existed even as Columbus landed in the 15th century.  So how can this apply to the southwest?

The southwest is plagued by a very interesting and incredibly intricate number of climate changing factors.  First of all, it is a desert area of varied aridity.  Specifically in reference to Navajoland, this semi-arid desert lacks significant rainfall but is not immune to rain, snow, or the melting of snow in the surrounding mountainous regions.  High winds also tear across the region, and both the El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and its counterpart La Nina bring varying cycles of precipitation.  It is always important to remember that the southwest may go through periods of droughts, but that these droughts are part of a regular cycle.  The question more becomes how often and how intense are these droughts, and what other factors are involved that drive more devastating impacts on the region?

A lot of focus in the southwest is placed on what are called Hadley cells.  Hadley cells are essentially the life cycles of evaporated water.  These cells appear on either side of the equator, the part of the world that receives the most heat and therefore which produces the most evaporated surface water.  This water is brought into the sky and drifts away from the equator until its energy is dissipated.  The effect of this dissipation causes a wet zone bordered by a dry region from which additional moisture is drawn during the precipitation process.  However, as global temperatures are increasing on the surface (as previously mentioned), the thermodynamic energy of these cells increase, resulting in greater storms and expanding Hadley cells.  Scientists are now watching these cells migrate and expect the Sonoran desert to soon consume Tucson and later Socorro, New Mexico as it proceeds northward under current atmospheric trends.

Yet, as you move into the regions of Dine Bikeyah, some of the greatest concerns become the dust and the erosion.  Dust storms form, sand dunes migrate across roads and against fences, and washes cut deeper and deeper each season.  An unseen factor in the equation?  Dust that lands on the snowcaps of the mountains, which is also referred to as albedo, inevitably darkens the surface against the heat of the sun, causing a premature thawing of those snowcaps and therefore completely destroying the thaw cycle and delivery of water to receiving watersheds during the course of a year.  This alteration in delivery changes the growing season of many plants.  The changing of growing seasons also affects the feeding schedule of livestock, and livestock has become an arguably more modern center to Navajo tradition.

The changes of a growing season can cause herds to starve when the supply is low, or cause horses to founder when the supply is high.  Regardless, livestock on the Navajo Nation scramble on open-grazing areas to overgraze on erosion-preventing plants.  In some cases, they are attracted to newly reseeded construction projects and become a hazard to motorists in the area.  Regardless, the increasing population of free-roaming animals contributes to the consumption of erosion-battling plants, the turning-up of soils by hooves, and even the distribution of undigested seeds that spread troublesome plants like mesquite across far distances.  The most troubling part?  Livestock on the Navajo Nation is a more newly introduced tradition, yet it is already contributing significantly to the loss if hozho in the natural ways of the land.

I remember one of the first Leading the Way editions that I bought when I moved to Window Rock described the need to harvest only a portion of a yucca root.  This is an example of Hozho in good ecosystem practice.  However, a short walk around a part of the Navajo Reservation will likely uncover washes with open dumps, broken bottles along the side of the road, and livestock wandering aimlessly and unclaimed to find any amount of available vegetation to consume.  The result is increasing amounts of contamination, pollution, and erosion.  Navajo Philosophy requires a high amount of accountability for considering how to make decisions in life, yet the problems of climate change on the Navajo Nation indicate a departure from that accountability and those practices.  Additionally, resources are being exploited for greed accelerated by monetary greed, and there is little to no consideration for the health of the environment or people affected.  In these ways, hozho is collapsing and it is not unrealistic to say the future of the Navajo ecosystem will one day resemble the fate of San Salvador Island.



Navajo Philosophy requires certain elements for good governance.  This includes equity, equality, focus on the issues at hand, shared information, accountability, sustainability, assessment, and self-interest – the components we were presented with during our NIS371 course.  Yet, all of the components contributing to climate change and poor land stewardship demonstrate a severe lacking in some – if not all – of these areas.  Regardless of geographical location, the interruption of long-practiced methods by indigenous communities to maintain balance in their respective environments results in a rapid degradation of that system.  This inherent knowledge can be viewed as a part of the epistemology of that culture.  Now it is the responsibility of policy-makers and influencers to understand the lack of hozho in modern practices and implement changes that will restore a healthy balance to Dine Bikeyah and prevent a re-creation of San Salvador Island.

on Diné Family Day: why i hate Thanksgiving

I live on the Navajo Reservation, work for the Navajo Nation government, and have today off because today is Diné Family Day.

Operative word here: FAMILY

In the words of my boss this Wednesday, before President Begaye ordered a half-day of work, “Have a good Thanksgiving…and have a good Family Day.  Be with your family that day.  Or whoever is your friends, if you are alone.”  I know he was probably directed that last bit towards me, as I had told him I would have to spend the holidays with my friends in Saint Michaels.  But, regardless, I wouldn’t be spending the time in a store.

This time of year, I never know what we’re really celebrating anymore.  The October, November, and December months are jam-packed with holidays, but the spotlight is on sales, buying things, and handing out candy and change to the Goodwill.  Admittedly, Halloween and Christmas are my favorite holidays – but they’re my favorite on account of the atmosphere, the changing weather patterns, the music and creativity…

What is Thanksgiving
is, of course, a controversial topic.  It’s supposed to memorialize the exchange between one group of English and one group of Wampanoag.  However, 55 years after the exchange, the residents of Massachusetts began massacring the very peoples that had saved their lives, launching Turtle Island into the start of hundreds of years of genocidal policy…which still continue today in various discreet forms.


We are supposed to be thankful for what we have…while remembering what was stolen to get here?

My dad texted me yesterday, “I hope you’re in an area that understands the true meaning of the holiday…who respects Mother Earth”.  I would like to think that’s true, but I also see how much the kitschy, off-the-rez border town lifestyle has consumed my neighbors.  It’s like when I lived in France: we all flocked to Camaïeu, craving a piece of affordable French fashion only to find our French peers seeking the exotic American styles that they thought were in vogue.

And that brings me to an enormous hypocrisy in our “American culture”:

  • We insist we have to be thankful for what we have, but we don’t always understand what it took – or what we took – to have it.
  • We rally against large corporations, forming unions, and spew hatred against the 1% that controls so much of our money, yet we are obsessive consumers willing to feed our money at the drop of a hat into these monopolies that are utilizing a foreign workforce.
  • We want to be grateful and equal, but we also want to have the one-up on those around us, we want to have a taste of anything that someone else is able to have, and we don’t think about the greater consequences behind our actions.

The Meat & Grocery Store Culture
Thanksgiving was about survival.  It was about learning how to manage with what you have, how to farm and harvest.  Today, rather than throwing together humble plates of maize, squash, beans, root vegetables, and maybe some venison or fowl… Today, we joke about how much we over-ate, all of the turkey we spent hours preparing, the dozens of lavish dishes….but is it really that funny?


One depressing reality of American gluttony is that our meat culture is, literally, destroying the planet.  A solid 51% of global emissions are caused by animal husbandry, a number that you feed into every time you purchase a meat, dairy, or egg-based product.  So forget turning off the lights or cutting your shower short – if you eat a burger, you’re causing way more damage than that will ever reverse.

During the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, 300 million turkeys are slaughtered for centerpieces.  I’m not saying that because you should be vegetarian! or something.  I’m saying that because I’m an environmentalist, concerned about sustainability, about ethical practices, and about what we are putting into our bodies.  Peta is an over-aggressive organization, but all it takes is a short video to understand that ethical animal husbandry in the industrial food world simply does not exist.  But there are other factors that should make anyone cringe.

While most turkeys live in the wild to be a decade or so old, the ones raised on farms are sent to the slaughterhouse at about 5 to 6 months.  This is only possible because of the chemicals and hormones injected into the poults (baby turkeys) cause unnatural growth side effects.  To demonstrate the changes in the industry, consider this: In 1970, the average turkey raised for meat weighed 17 pounds.  Today, he/she weighs 28 pounds, resulting in many animals with broken legs and distorted bodies because, well that’s just not natural and their bodies can’t keep up.



But meat isn’t the only thing that I find upsetting about our destructive society.  It’s also the produce we buy.  Arguments for organic and non-GMO products aside, we have a collective insatiable palate.  We’ve tasted the exotic coconuts and pomegranates, we crave watermelon in the winter, and it doesn’t matter where we live….we will eat it because, well, this is America dammit and it’s our Constitutional right!

We are so out-of-touch with the origins of our food, with the real world consequences of our choices.  We want to fight against raising taxes, emission regulations, and whatever else…but we will freely reap the benefits of having access to a global economy without once batting an eyelash at the problems this gluttony causes us.  We would rather not think about how the dishes we cooked use out-of-season vegetables and fruits, shipped to Minnesota from Mexico and Peru.


But why is being apathetic considered the norm??

Insert cries of: Shop local!  Shop small!  Shop seasonal!  Shop Organic!  Shop non-GMO!  Keep the integrity of our food and protect the livelihood of our farmers worldwide!

The Must-Have Culture
Piggy-backing off of the must-have culture of our food ethics is the must-have culture of our consumerism in general.  Rather than retaining DIY skills in big cities – with the exception of trendy Pinterest boards and “projects” – we are obsessed with the luxury of having whatever we want whenever we want it.  But that all comes with a cost.  That cost may not be one we see as we pull the credit card from our wallet; but it is a cost that will have more consequences than monetary if we don’t change our ways.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.  Take only what you need.  Unless you’re on a shopping spree.

We buy new things all the time.  We buy plastic things all the time.  Antiques become talking pieces.  Convenience becomes the norm.  Anything that takes any more effort because this baffling topic, like You seriously don’t have a microwave?  You don’t have television??  You AIR DRY your clothes?  HOW DO YOU LIVE??

Yeah, I get those all of the time.  My internal response: How do you live with your conscience, or do you not have one?


I’m not trying to be negative or cynical; I’m just trying to be the voice of logic that too few people are choosing to listen to.  When we become a must-have culture, we are jeopardizing so many freedoms.  We will stand up and rally for our freedoms, but we are simultaneously throwing them away.

When you fall into these Black Friday sales, you are abandoning your values.  You are abandoning your families, and supporting the large corporations who take family time away from their workers.  You are feeding into the monopolies.  You are supporting the manufacture of products outside for the US which, in turn, takes away from American jobs and supports foreign employment systems that treat humans as less than what they are.

We might be willing to throw a dollar or two into the Salvation Army pot come the holidays, probably out of guilt, but we are neglecting the amount of damage we are creating by our hypocritical consumer practices.  No dollar will fix that; only a revolution in our spending practices can.

Don’t Shop on Black Friday: State Parks are Offering Free Admission

Yes, it’s that bad.  Even State Parks that have historically suffered to make ends meet are now offering free admission to get your hypocritical asses out of the chain stores.


Maybe you don’t see how this will affect your lifetime.  But it will affect the lifetime of your descendants.  And anyone who cares about his or her children should care about the children of his or her children, and so forth.  It’s the same damn thing.

Yesterday, I made organic, vegan dishes for me and my friends.  Today, I will not enter a store but will instead do homework and work on xeriscaping my lawn.  What we do may not be perfect, but actively trying is a start.

What will you do (or refuse to do) to show that you care?