150-Year-Old Navajo Treaty Displayed On Navajo Land For First Time On Anniversary

Published: Friday, June 1, 2018 - 10:44am
Updated: Friday, June 1, 2018 - 3:23pm
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Today marks the 150th anniversary of the Treaty of Bosque Redondo. On June 1, 1868, the Navajo Nation and the U.S. government signed the historic treaty and ended the imprisonment of more than 10,000 Navajo people in eastern New Mexico.

The treaty allowed them to return to their homeland after the Long Walk, in which the federal government forced them to walk 300 miles east, where they were imprisoned.

It marks an important moment of triumph for the Navajo people and now, that moment will be celebrated again as the 150-year-old treaty is displayed for the first time on Navajo land, starting today.

Shondiin Silversmith with azcentral.com wrote about the historic event and spoke with The Show.


LAUREN GILGER: Today marks the 150th anniversary of the Treaty of Bosque Redondo. On June 1, 1868, the Navajo Nation and the U.S. government signed the historic treaty and ended the imprisonment of more than 10,000 Navajo people in eastern New Mexico. The treaty allowed for them to return to their homeland after what's called the Long Walk, in which the federal government forced them to walk 300 miles east, where they were then imprisoned. So it marks an important moment of triumph for the Navajo people and now that moment will be celebrated again as the 150-year-old treaty is displayed for the first time on Navajo land, starting today. Shondiin Silversmith with azcentral.com wrote about the historic event and I spoke with her more about it.

SHONDIIN SILVERSMITH: The Treaty of 1868 was signed on June 1, so 150 years ago today. It was signed between the Navajo people and the U.S. government, and it was signed five years after the federal government evicted more than 10,000 Navajos from their ancestral homeland and force-marched them 300 miles east to an area near Bosque Redondo in eastern New Mexico.

GILGER: That's known as the Long Walk, right?

SILVERSMITH: Yes, that's a period known as the Long Walk and among Navajo people, it's kind of a really sensitive and important topic to talk about but we always — well for me, at least, the way that I learned about it is it's always something that you talk about with caution because that was a really brutal time for the Navajo people. They were force-marched over 300 miles away from their homeland, and then they had to do that walk again to go all the way back. So there was women, children, elderly people, all forced in that march during a hard period of time.

GILGER: And this treaty allowed the Navajo people to return back, to make that long walk back again, right? And it also established the reservation. Can you tell us how it is that the treaty came about?

SILVERSMITH: So that was not an accident. So, according to Evangeline Parsons Yazzie, who is a professor at Northern Arizona University, it was negotiated. The Navajo leaders made sure during treaty negotiations that land was a part of it and their homeland was a part of it. They wanted to be able to go back to what is now the Navajo Nation, known as "Dinétah," it's our homeland, because for the Navajo people our homeland rests between four sacred mountains. That is where we are established, that is where our creators put us, and that is where we are most protected.

GILGER: And this land, like you said, was really important so it was important that land was part of it. Was this considered a positive thing at the time?

SILVERSMITH: Yes. I think that is what is one of the big things that came out of this treaty. It emancipated the Navajo people from being prisoners at Bosque Redondo and as part of that emancipation, they got to go back home. Not a lot of indigenous communities or indigenous nations got to do that during that time, and the Navajo Nation is the largest Native American nation in the country, and they got to go back home to the land that was their ancestral homeland, where they believe that the Creator put them.

GILGER: So now this treaty is going to be displayed for the first time on the Navajo Nation. Tell us about that. Where?

SILVERSMITH: Yes. So the treaty will be on a month-long exhibit at the Navajo Nation Museum. So it will be on display until June 30. This is the first time in history that the treaty will be on the Navajo Nation. This is actually the second time it'll be in the state of Arizona. The first time it was in Arizona was back in 1998, when it was on a year-long exhibit at Northern Arizona University. So it's interesting because Evangeline Parsons Yazzie is one of the professors who brought the treaty back to Arizona in 1998. And when I was having a discussion with her about this story, she had a lot of really interesting things to say about it because she's seen the treaty before and as for me, as a diné woman, I've never seen the treaty before but she talks about how it has this powerful effect on Navajo people who actually get to see it and she said that was one of the most enjoyable things about bringing the treaty back because as Navajo people, we see it as a living document. It's something that brought us home. It's called, in Navajo, it's called the "Naal Tsoos Sani” which means "the old paper" and the Navajo people believe that it is this living document that takes care of us and has the power to bring us home, which it did!

GILGER: Yeah. So this is a really significant thing that it will be on Navajo land. Are you going to go see it?

SILVERSMITH: I am! I am. I look forward to seeing it before the month's up.

GILGER: That is Shondiin Silversmith, a producer for azcentral who recently wrote about the 150th anniversary of the Bosque Redondo Treaty. Shondiin, thank you so much for coming on The Show this morning. 

SILVERSMITH: Thank you.

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