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7.6 Southwestern Tribes

In 1918-1919 virulent influenza epidemics killed tens of thousands of Indians in Arizona, New Mexico and the Rocky Mountain states. The US government offered little or no medical assistance as Indian health services had been curtailed for the war effort.

In 1922 oil was discovered on Navajo reservations. A 2Business Council” was created to sign leases and this was not done in the Indian interests.

The first Pueblo confederation, the All-Pueblo Council, was formed in 1922 in response to the bad treatment of Pueblo lands by the secretary of the Interior. Since the revolt of 1860 there had not been any unified Pueblo political entity. Twenty Pueblos organised to defend themselves against a Senate bill that would have given non-Indians the right to Pueblo lands and water. Reformist organizations in New Mexico which included wealthy New Yorkers joined the All-Pueblo Council and they defeated the bill. This campaign produced a new generation of Indian activists and whites engaged in Indian policy reform. It finally led to the approval of the Pueblo lands Act and the Indian Reorganisation Act of 1934.

In 1923, the US government supported the creation of a more representative Navajo tribal council for purpose of mineral leasing. The members of the new “Navajo tribal council” were to be representatives of a much larger area. This new council authorized the department of the interior to negotiate all future oil and gas leases.

In 1930 a US Investigation Committee confirmed the systematic kidnapping of Navajo children to put them in boarding schools

In 1932-1936 more than 250,000 Navajo sheep and goats were destroyed by federal agents under the stock reduction policy although they were important to their economy. Although most of the animals were owned by Indian women, only Indian men were allowed to participate in the consultation meetings. Initially the Indians were paid for the sheep and goats which were sold on the market. But logistics soon broke down and the animals were killed and let to rot on the spot.

In 1937 the Navajo Tribal Council was formed. The Navajo reservation was known to hold large reserve of oil, coal and natural gas. A catholic priest who spoke Navajo toured the reservation speaking to about 250 headmen. He chose 70 among them to be members of the Council.

In 1942 more than 400 Navajo were recruited to serve in a special code unit. In fact they were talking in their own language and the Japanese could not translate it.

In 1948 the Arizona Indians won the right to vote following suit the found that disenfranchisement was illegal.

Rich deposits of uranium were found on the Navajo reservation in Arizona and New Mexico. Navajo miners were put to work with any training nor any information concerning the heal danger of such activity. They worked in unventilated mines and drank radioactive water. Many became ill and to avoid problems to the owners they were quickly dismissed.

In 1962 New Mexico Indians finally gained the right to vote in local elections. The court rejected the state’s arguments that Indians living on reservations or in the pueblos were not technically state residents.

I 1965 33,000 Native people of California received $900 each in compensation for ceded lands that represented two-thirds of the entire state. In total the agreement was that the Indians would receive 29 million dollars for 64 millions of lands, about 47 cents an acre.

In 1970 President Nixon signed a bill recognizing the return of Blue Lake to the Taos Indians.

In 1971 62 traditional Hopi religious leaders represented by the Native American Rights Fund sued to stop the striping mining on the Hopi reservation. They said that this was illegal and against former agreements.

In 1974 Congress passed the Hopi Land Settlement Act (also called the Navajo Relocation Act) that in the end forced the relocation of about 12,000 Navajo who lived over the coal deposits in the Hopi-Navajo Joint Use area. It was the biggest relocation since he 1800s.

In 1979 the government admitted that Navajo uranium miners were contaminated while working or living near the uranium mines in New Mexico with the result that many died of lung cancer, an illness that was unknown there before World War II. Miners were badly treated in the mines –no ventilation for example- and the residues were piled outside without any protection so that radioactive dust floated in the air over the towns and villages for years.

In 1990 Congress passed a compensation bill for the Navajo uranium miners recognizing the government responsibility for the conditions under which these Indian miners were forced to work. More than one thousand miners’ families applied but less than one third received compensation due to bureaucratic requirements (such as pay stubs from 20 years earlier).

In 1995 the Mescalero Apache agreed to let the federal government to build a nuclear-waste storage on their lands. More than 50 tribes were approached but all but one refused the multi-million dollars project. The New Mexico governor opposed the project due to health and safety concerns for New Mexico residents.