Navajo Community and Farmington, New Mexico (2006)
By Nathan Wheeler and Emily Ronald
The Navajo Nation territory covers much of the Four Corners region at the borders of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona. Over the last thirty years, the Navajo, or Dine', have striven to preserve and sustain their cultural traditions, as the population rises to over 250,000. (1) Whether within the Navajo nation itself, or created in collaboration with outside groups, the institutions that have developed stress the importance of the language and worldview of the Navajo when seeking to preserve their culture. One particular town, located on the border of the Navajo Nation in New Mexico, particularly illustrates the challenges and gains of this approach.
Farmington, New Mexico is a border town of about 37,000 people, adjacent to the Navajo Nation and not far from the Jicarilla Apache nation. In 1974, three Navajo men were savagely beaten to death by teenagers from Farmington High School. The teens may have been "Indian rolling", a slang term for abusing homeless Navajo inebriates. Controversy over how widespread "Indian rolling" was and is continues today. The Native American community began holding peaceful protest marches in Farmington throughout the spring of 1974; until the day after the teenagers were sentenced to terms at the New Mexico Boys School. The protest march was denied a permit for that day, and the Sheriff's Posse parade marched instead. Several members of the Coalition for Navajo Liberation found the Sheriff's Posse march offensive, and tried to stop the parade. The meeting between the protesters and the parade turned into a riot, and over 30 people were arrested. (2)
The following year, the U.S. Civil Rights Commission produced a report on the state of affairs in Farmington. The town was reprimanded for the state of interracial relations: a failure on the part of elected officials to assume responsibility for connecting the different populations in Farmington, police prejudice, lack of access to health care, minority underrepresentation in government and business, and economic discrimination were all reported. Farmington had gained the unofficial nickname of "the Selma, Alabama of the Southwest." (3)
Thirty Years Later
In November 2005, the same U.S. Civil Rights Commission produced a report on "Civil Rights for Native Americans, 30 Years Later."
The 'report card' grade had raised to a B-, but only with a great deal of effort. (3) An earlier lawsuit had led to redistricting, which resulted in two Navajo county commissioners, the first in San Juan County. (4) The local political and business leaders were engaged in addressing the issue of racism and discrimination, in contrast to a fairly disinterested and defensive stance in 1974. (3) More Navajo entrepreneurs joined the ranks of local businesses, and two Navajo-owned and operated stores exist in the center of downtown Farmington.(5)
Although changes have been made in Farmington, conflicts and discrimination still exist. Unscrupulous business and lending practices were cited in the report of the Civil Rights Commission as a continuing problem, one that seems to target Native Americans. Allegations of law enforcement bias remain. Many of the institutions of the town seek to become more multicultural, albeit with slow results. Minority representation in the police force had increased since 1974, but Farmington still lacks a Navajo councilman or mayor. The Better Business Bureau and the Chamber of Commerce had implemented programs to improve business and consumer relations, but did not yet have Navajo employees. (3) The Farmington education system was praised, although the nearby Shiprock system was rebuked for a failure to incorporate Navajo culture and values into its curriculum. (3) In many ways, those institutions within Farmington that have been able to integrate the concerns of all the different citizens have been most successful.
One Example: Cooperating on Addiction
One insitution that seems to have overcome the cultural divide is the Totah Behavioral Health Authority (TBHA), a center dedicated to treating chronic substance dependence, especially among the mentally ill homeless population. Totah Behavioral Health Authority uses traditional counseling methods to "promote healthy behavior by creating self-reliance based on an understanding of Dine' origins." Contemporary treatments such as individual and group counseling share time with traditional healing programs such as cedar burning, talking circles, and sweat lodge ceremonies. Providers are trained to speak Native languages and deliver culturally competent care for Native populations. (6) TBHA is primarily aimed at alcoholism, but addresses the increasing problem of meth addiction as well. (7)
The model of TBHA's practices was highly praised in the 2004 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights report, which called it "a program that needs to be greatly expanded and could serve as a model for the nation." The combination of language competency, cultural sensitivity, and traditional healing programs is proving to be effective in treating chronic substance dependency. Equally important is the nature of the collaboration that formed TBHA, including the governments of the Navajo Nation, City of Farmington, San Juan County, and major medical providers in the area. (6)
Parallel Institutions: Education
Within the Navajo Nation, the Navajo community has established two institutions dedicated to the most important means of preserving a culture: educating youth. Navajo Preparatory School
in Farmington offers high school students "a challenging, innovative curriculum in science, math, computers, and other traditional academic subjects...a deep appreciation of the Navajo Language, culture, and history." The curriculum is structured around a fourfold model representing the Navajo structure of the universe. Students live on-campus and can participate in a number of activities and athletics. (8)
Outside of Farmington is Dine' College
, the first Indian-owned community college in the United States. Dine' College awards Associate degrees in "areas important to the social and economic development of the Navajo Nation," and Baccalaureate degrees through the Dine' Teacher Education Program. Many programs focus on preparing students for transfer to four-year institutions, and courses on Navajo language, history, and culture are available. There are multiple campuses through the Navajo Nation, and the recently completed Shiprock campus received awards for architecture. (9) Because they originate from a within a single community, these schools can function "in parallel" to mainstream culture, rather than negotiating the cooperation that institutions such as TBHA have.
Though a great deal of effort remains to overcome discrimination, and the process of preserving cultural traditions is never complete, the institutions created in the last thirty years hold out hope for all those who value the Navajo culture. The work of many people, including the students now at Dine' College and the Navajo Preparatory School, will continue to further the interests of the Navajo people and provide help to others seeking to preserve their own cultures.
1) Discover Navajo: The Official Navajo Nation Visitor Guide.
Published by the Navajo Nation Tourism Department, 2004.
2) Banish, Laura. "1974 Navajo Killings, Riots an Awakening for Area." Farmington Daily Times,
April 21, 2004.
3) New Mexico Advisory Committee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights. "The Farmington Report: Civil Rights for Native Americans, Thirty Years Later."
November, 2004. Retrieved January 31, 2006 from http://www.usccr.gov/pubs/122705_FarmingtonReport.pdf.
4) Banish, Laura. "U.S. Commission on Civil Rights: Navajos Cite Alleged Abuses of Civil Rights." Farmington Daily Times,
May 1, 2004.
5) Banish, Laura. "A New Face on Main Street." Farmington Daily Times,
April 22, 2004.
6) White Paper on Totah Behavioral Health Authority. Appendix C in "The Farmington Report."
7) Chen, Michelle. "'Harm Reduction' Offers Solution to Meth Addiction in Imperfect World." The New Standard
, October 4, 2005.
8) Navajo Preparatory School website.
Retrieved January 31, 2006 from http://www.nps.bia.edu/
9) Dine' College website.
Retrieved January 31, 2006 from http://www.dinecollege.edu.
--Website of the Navajo Nation.
Retrieved January 31, 2006 from http://www.navajo.org.
--The Navajo Times.
Regular newspaper for the Navajo Nation. Retrieved January 31, 2006 from http://www.thenavajotimes.com/.
--Website of the Jicarilla Apache Nation.
Retrieved January 31, 2006 from http://www.jicarillaonline.com/.
--Articles from the Farmington Daily Times noted above were taken from a series titled 'The Broken Circle', which studies Farmington thirty years after the 1974 killings.