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WHAT ARE THE NAVAJO NATION’S RESOURCES?:
Diné Bikéyah is endowed with vast reserves of coal, uranium, oil, and natural gas. In fact the Navajo Nation government was first created to help with the leasing of lands to resource extraction companies. Peabody Coal Company, Chevron Mining, BHP Billiton, and the Pittsburg & Midway Coal are some major non-Navajo owned companies that have all mined coal on the Navajo Nation. However, with the historic purchase of the Navajo Mine, which was a BHP Billiton coal mine just east of Tsé Bit’a’í (Shiprock), and with the creation of the Navajo Transitional Energy Company, the Navajo Nation is on the verge of becoming the first tribal operated mine in the United States. The Navajo Nation Division of Natural Resources staff work cooperatively to address mining, mineral, water and related issues with various entities who are operating on our reservation as well as companies who want to establish and operate a potential business on the Navajo Nation. The Division is exploring alternative resources to help sustain the Navajo Nation economy while it continues to preserve and protect its natural resources for future generations.
Tsikeehi or forests are located primarily in the high elevations of the Navajo Nation. Forests have provided firewood, building materials, ceremonial artifacts, rangeland, and many other uses for the Dine. The Navajo Nation is home to the Navajo Nation forest, which covers the Fort Defiance Plateau, Ch’ooshgai (Chuska) Mountain Range, and Carrizo Mountains. The Navajo Nation has 523,000 acres of ponderosa pine and douglas fur forest and 4.5 million acres of piñon pine and juniper forest. The Navajo Forestry Department manages approximately 597,000 acres of commercial forest and approximately 4.9 million acres of woodlands.
The Navajo Nation experiences many sunny and windy days throughout the year. To explore these sustainable resources, the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority created the Navajo Nation Renewable Energy Program, which has identified potential wind and solar energy projects. Potential sites for large-utility-scale wind energy projects include the Boquillas Ranch, Gray Mountain, and Black Mesa. Potential sites for solar energy include reclaimed mine sites, chapter initiatives and non-trust tribal held lands such as Boquillas Ranch.
Wildlife & Flora
The Navajo Nation takes pride in being home to some of the most diverse wildlife and flora in North America. Many animals can be found in Navajo creation stories with Coyote probably being the most prominent who plays different roles in creation, from a trickster to savior. Major game animals such as Rocky Mountain Elk, Mule Deer, Pronghorn Antelope and Desert Big Horn Sheep live here, as well as high desert critters such as Sagebrush Lizards, Jack Rabbits, Kangaroo Rats, and Black Tailed Prairie Dogs. Many predators, which includes Bobcats, Coyotes, Black Bears, and Mountain Lions also roam here. From above, Peregrine Falcons, Golden Eagles, California Condors, and Swainson’s Hawks patrol the skies, while during the fall and spring many migratory birds pass on through. And if you’re lucky, you may just see an endangered species of the Navajo Nation such as the Black Footed Ferret, Yellow Billed Cuckoo, Bald Eagle, or the Northern Leopard Frog. You may also enjoy some Trout, Catfish, and Bass fishing here. And don’t forget the great amount of flora to witness in the Navajo Nation’s various ecosystems. With such contrasting landscape and elevation changes, it’s no wonder why there is such a contrasting change with the wildlife and flora to be seen. To help study, manage, and protect our wildlife and flora, the Navajo Nation Department of Fish & Wildlife has organized itself to do this with their five teams: Management & Research, Wildlife Law Enforcement, Natural Heritage Program, Animal Control and the Navajo Zoo. A more detailed lists of the wildlife and flora can also found at the Navajo Nation Department of Fish & Wildlife’s website.
Parks and Recreation
The Navajo Nation’s spectacular parks and monuments are managed by the Navajo Parks and Recreation Department. Some of the most scenic places located within the boundaries of the Navajo Nation include Monument Valley, Canyon De Chelly National Monument, Antelope Canyon, Grand Falls, Rainbow Bridge, Four Corners, Shiprock, Window Rock and the Little Colorado River Navajo Tribal Park. Established in 1964, Navajo Parks and Recreation directly manages and protects the following tribal parks and monuments: The Little Colorado River Navajo Tribal Park, Lake Powell Navajo Tribal Park, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Four Corners Monument, and Window Rock Navajo Tribal Park. Additionally, Parks and Recreation assists the U.S. National Park Service with the management of Canyon De Chelly National Monument. These parks and monuments are tangible entities and help represent the beautiful history of the Navajo Nation.
“Water is Life,” is a term many Navajo people know of. Without water, farming, raising livestock, and growing a family in the past would not have been possible. Throughout the Navajo Nation, many communities were established and grew because of the water available to them. And many communities have Navajo names for them which describes the water there. The Colorado River, San Juan River, Rio Puerco, and the Little Colorado River are some of the major water ways that go through or abound to the Navajo Nation. Although Lake Powell is not on the Navajo Nation, more than 2,000 miles of southern shoreline are located on the Navajo Nation. A few of the mountain and lower elevation lakes water levels though vary greatly throughout the year, with some drying up, depending on the precipitation received during the winter and summer months. The estimated annual average precipitation for the Navajo Nation is around 10 inches. In terms of farming, the Navajo Nation possesses 1.4 million acres suitable for water irrigation. The C-Aquifer, N-Aquifer, and D-Aquifer are major underground water sources of the Navajo Nation. To help manage, study, and regulate these various water resources, the Department of Water Resources has organized four teams: Technical, Construction, & Operations Branch; Safety of Dams Branch; Water Management Branch; and the Water Code Administration. Additionally, the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority is the primary infrastructure developer for many residential and commercial water users.
Horses, cattle, and especially sheep have been vital to the existence and economy of the Navajo people. Within the Navajo Nation, there are 23 grazing districts. Out of 110 Chapters, 78 of them have a grazing official or District Grazing Committee Member. There also exists 20 Land Board Members from Districts 15, 16, and 17. In addition, the Navajo Nation owns 28 ranch units located nearby the Navajo Nation in the state lands of Arizona and New Mexico, which they acquired through acquisition. These lands are made up of fee patent lands, trust lands, allotted lands, BLM Leased Lands, State Leased Lands and other forms of land and are leased out to Navajo stock owners through a bidding system. Navajo Nation trust lands and the leased ranch units are administered by the Navajo Nation Department of Agriculture through their Grazing Management Branch and their Tribal Ranch Program.
Foods grown from farming by Navajo people not only feed the people and provide materials for traditional ceremonies and prayers, but are central to Dine’ existence and our philosophies of Siah Nageh Bikeh Hozho and Nizhonigo Iina. In the creation stories of the Navajo people, many deities of corn helped guide the people. And corn pollen is used in every prayer or blessing of a Navajo person who adheres to Navajo traditions and ceremonies. Some of the best farming lands in the Navajo Nation are found in canyons or near washes, where water seeping from the rocks and shaded streams are either irrigated or naturally flow into fields of corn, squash, and watermelon. Fruit tree orchards, such as peaches, apricots, and apples can also be found in many canyon farms. Farming methods employed by Navajo people include traditional dry land farming where planting sticks are used, plowing and irrigation farming, and tilling and drip system gardening. The Navajo Nation government has also created its own farming tribal enterprise known as Navajo Agricultural Products Industry (NAPI), which sells its products under the brand name “Navajo Pride,” and is one of the largest industrial sized commercial farms in the Southwest area. At the chapter level, if a farm board is present, there are three members elected by the people of the chapter. If a farm board consists of several chapters or districts, a member-chapter will have one farm board representative. The farm board is responsible for oversight of the farm lands of the farm projects. At the Navajo Nation government level, there are 43 farm board representatives. They address various grazing-related issues and serve as an intermediary to the Resource and Development Committee in addition to working closing with the Navajo Nation Department of Agriculture.
The PEOPLE and CULTURE
The most important resource of the Navajo Nation are the People. According to Navajo creation, the holy people were the first here. They traveled from four (some stories mention five) worlds and finally emerged into this world, the glittering world through Dinetah – a very sacred place near Durango, Colorado. Four sacred mountains were created as a boundary for the holy people to live in. Four original clans or people were then created by Changing Woman who had them inhabit Dine Bikeyah and over time, these original clans incorporated other clans or people into Dine’ society. To receive recognition as a Navajo today, one has to have a blood quantum of at least one quarter Navajo. The Navajo Nation is the largest American Indian tribe by blood quantum in the United States, with more than 332,000 enrolled members. The actual population though that lives within the borders of the Navajo Nation is around 173,000. One of the largest population groups within the Navajo Nation are the youth, from newborns to high school teenagers, however one of the Nations smallest population groups are the ages between 19 and 30. More than 50 percent of the Navajo Nation are 25 years old and younger. Many young Navajo adult aged people are leaving the boundaries of the Navajo Nation and each year that age range extends. Poverty, housing, jobs, military enlistment, education and various other reasons or opportunities are just some of the reasons why many young Navajo adult people end up leaving their homes on the Navajo Nation for a period of time or forever.
This common and ever growing significant trend on the Navajo Nation is a major loss of human resource, culture, and innovation. And even though there are still people, mainly those who are elderly now, who have never left the Navajo Nation, who only speak Navajo, and who have the knowledge of many traditions and ceremonies, many of their children and especially grandchildren may not have the time to learn from them because they may be far away. This can lead to some families having a gap in the Indigenous traditional Navajo ceremonies, language, and culture. Thus accelerating the change that takes place within Navajo society and culture.
The Navajo Nation Museum is a great venue for the Navajo people and visitors to learn about early Navajo history as well as enrich their knowledge about present day Navajo culture. Additionally, the Historic Preservation Department has a cultural component to address cultural issues such as the protection of sacred sites, sacred ceremonial instruments and cultural resource management.
There are efforts underway to establish an integrated cultural resource management strategy to address a variety of issues pertaining to the natural resources on the Navajo Nation.
Through perilous journeys and historical events, the Navajo people continue to strive for the betterment of our nation and to achieve progress for future generations. From one generation to the next, the Dine’ have exemplified their courage, wisdom, and steadfast determination to succeed in life. Whether it’s being a silver-smith, a veteran who sacrificed his or her life to protect our sacred land, graduating from college with high honors, becoming a prestigious leader, or helping to preserve our language and traditional Navajo values and ceremonies, the Navajo Nation is striving to sustain as a successful people. With the concerted efforts to preserve the Navajo language and its natural resources, the Navajo people will continue to survive and prosper as a great nation.