The Navajo Reservation

The Navajo Reservation

Situated in the northeastern portion of Arizona and in the northwestern part of New Mexico bordering on Colorado and Utah is the Navajo reservation.

Now the largest Indian reservation in the United States, comprising as it does nearly ten million acres, or nearly fifteen thousand square miles.

Being equal in size to the combined areas of Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.

The home of the Navajo Indians has always been considered one of the most arid and barren portions of the Great American Desert.

San Juan County, the Southeastern region of Utah state, is the highly contested land area (The Ancestor's Land) focused upon in this film.

San Juan County, the Southeastern region of Utah state, is the highly contested land area (The Ancestor’s Land) focused upon in this film.

This land area is the central focus of land issue contention between several entities. Among them, the Navajo Nation, Bureau of Land ManagementSan Juan County, Utah Land Trust, the Aneth Chapter, and Montezuma Creek. The rapid development of natural resource exploitation facilitated the removal of the Yellowman family and pressured others to concede their lands to many of these outside entities. Now, the development continues literally today in the discussions proposed by Rep. Rob Bishop (R) of Utah to further develop natural resources in these very areas. For more information, click here.

The link to the San Juan County official website regarding the information available to the public here. It is also known as the Eastern Utah Lands Bill on the same site with additional information available for the public including options to comment here.

Please speak out against the continued resource exploitation and destruction of traditional Navajo lands and natural landscapes of the Utah desert country. Join us in our effort to make our voices heard. Wilderness is not currency and we don’t want Rob Bishop to sale our lands or San Juan County to dissolve the Antiquities Law. Our environment, our Mother Earth, and our cultural, traditional, and spiritual ways of life are not for sale.

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Barre Toelken is one of my great heroes.

Great blog post on Barre Toelken and his work!

Welcome to the Western Folklife Center

By Hal Cannon, Western Folklife Center Founding Director

Barre Toelken is one of my great heroes. It’s more than the fact that he’s an esteemed folklorist who younger folklorists look up to. It’s more than his wonderful books on folklore, or the hundreds of songs he knows. It’s really the way he conducts his life with courage and individuality that makes him a hero.

We had been friendly and sung together, mostly at the yearly Fife Folklore Conference at Utah State University. When I began working in radio I asked to interview him. We ended up having a good conversation and over the years I’ve gone back to him several times for interviews on a variety of subjects.

A few years ago he asked me if I wanted to travel to Navajo country to visit his family.  I began to see another side of Barre as I watched the way…

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Barre Toelken and Academics

Barre Toelken, an American folklorist at Utah State University, has done lengthy research on American and Native American folklore. His academic publishing and research in this field is widely recognized and accomplished. What many do not know is that Barre is also an old family friend of the Yellowman family who have helped him develop his approaches to folklore and the Navajo worldview. Some of Barre’s own life story can be found here.

In this documentary, he talks about his experience and first interactions with the Navajo in Northern Utah. He speaks of his early prospecting days before he become a scholar in which he became lost only to be found by a Navajo family who took him in. This early relationship developed closely with the family over decades demonstrates a different and holistic human approach to how and why academics should be culturally sensitive and adaptable to the needs and requests of the indigenous communities collaborating with scholars. This is also recognized among his peers and colleagues as written in this blog.

His books and works are numerous but among the most notable are:

Some of his writing and publications can be found online as well:

“Beauty Behind Me, Beauty Before Me”

“The Yellowman Tapes, 1966-1997”

“The Heritage Arts Imperative”

Barre is an example of someone who is not native or Navajo but did his best to work and collaborate on equal grounds with the Navajo families and communities he connected with. He has made a great contribution to our story by being a part of it: witnessing the outsiders coming in and exploiting the land for mining and oil, testifying to the removal of the Yellowmans from their homes and having firsthand knowledge of their relative Little Wagon, who was first asked to concede those lands. In addition, he was pressured by folklorists, historians, institutions, and archivists to keep the culturally sensitive data of his Navajo folklore research and ultimately decided to give them back to the family it belongs to. His approach is something that all scholars, academics, and researchers can learn from.

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Previous Film Collaboration

“Powwow 101: A First Nations Documentary” (click here) is the first collaboration between Angelo Baca (director) and Nadine Zacharias (crew member) during his time in the Master’s Degree program called the Native Voices Documentary Program. Co-directed by Luana Ross and Daniel Hart, it is a documentary film program at the University of Washington with the Department of Communication and the American Indian Studies Program that does films from the indigenous perspective.

SYNOPSIS: This documentary follows the First Nations of the University of Washington student group of 2006. It tells the story of their obstacles, trials, and triumphs of being able to put on the annual Spring University of Washington Powwow. Usually held in April every year, this was the first time that the event was threatened to be discontinued and documented on film. It is a critical and honest look at the politics, bureaucracy, and interactions with student groups and the university. A story at once moving and educational that speaks to the challenges of putting on a cultural event for the whole community and lifting our Native youth up to become leaders and teachers of the future.

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Behind the Story

Helen Yellowman, a Navajo elder who does not speak English, and her grandson, Angelo Baca, are the two main characters in this journey film about two Native American people who are traveling across the western United States from Seattle to Navajo country.

Angelo travels back and forth from the University of Washington in Seattle to his home in the Four Corners, the American Southwest, where the edge of the Navajo Nation Reservation and the borders of the four states meet. It is here where Helen lives and has always lived with her family and tribal community, a traditional Navajo woman and elder.

When she decides that she is going back home, he must take her back on this long ride home but it is, for the two of them, a shared experience of two Navajo travelers, young and old, who are blood relatives who take the time to talk, share, tell stories, and relate to the past, present, and future of their family, tribe, land, and country. As they travel, they encounter the traditional lands and territories of the indigenous places and people never forgetting the recent historical traumas and past injustices, echoes of the effects of colonization, assimilation, and acculturation of Western expansion into Indian Country.

She traces back to the old days of when outsiders first came to her country and lands. How she was pushed out by oil companies, uranium miners, community members, and local Mormons to live somewhere else and forced to be a refugee in her own lands. The original land where she lived is now a hotly contested area in the southwest region of Utah state and San Juan County, a place called Montezuma Creek, with various entities vying for resource control.

The film is about making choices in today’s modern and contemporary world about who you are, where you come from, what your place and destiny in the world is, and about returning back to the place that you call “home”. This film is more than about walking in two world but traveling between them, often as much as one can while not forgetting who they are or where they come from. A young Navajo who struggles to maintain his connection with his culture, language, tradition, and family. An elder who has seen the better part of century of changes, independent and traditional in every way. Ultimately, her story is the story of every native community who have endured similar experiences but her hope is still strong that one day, her children and herself can return to the place they have always known as home.


Pumping unit

Click on this image (above) to learn more about the contentious history of the Aneth Oil Fields of Utah

At the same time that the uranium industry in Monument Valley was booming, a second industry, oil, became increasingly prominent in the Aneth-Montezuma Creek area. Starting in 1953, Humble Oil and Shell Oil initiated agreements with the Navajo Tribe and the State of Utah to exploit the rich petroleum reserves locked beneath the Aneth lands. The Texas Company drilled its first well on 16 February 1956 and welcomed a rapid flow of 1,704 barrels per day. Other companies responded immediately; suddenly the tribe found itself administering leases and rentals throughout the northern part of the reservation, known generally as the Four Corners Oil Field.

San Juan County, the Southeastern region of Utah state, is the highly contested land area (The Ancestor's Land) focused upon in this film.

San Juan County, the Southeastern region of Utah state, is the highly contested land area (The Ancestor’s Land) focused upon in this film.

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