Group opposes horse roundups

By Alastair Lee Bitsóí
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, August 29, 2013

Text size: A A A

E lders and medicine people from the Black Mesa region of the reservation known collectively as the Nohaaká Dine, or Earth Surface Holy People, have unanimously passed a resolution opposing the ongoing roundup of close to 800 feral horses.

Despite the fact that the roundups have been organized in accordance with tribal law, the Nohaaká Dine group strongly opposes any further roundups.

They also oppose any and all actions by President Ben Shelly, who supports the roundup of the estimated 75,000 feral horses ravaging the already arid 27,000-square-mile landscape of the reservation, the Navajo Nation, U.S. Department of Interior, and Navajo Department of Agriculture regarding what they call a "mass execution of the horses that have been illegally round-up."

"These governmental entities have not attained our free, prior and informed consent in violation of our rights outlined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples," they wrote. "In addition, these illegal actions violate our Diné Way of Life and our responsibilities as human beings."

Since July 29 and as of Wednesday, a total of 813 feral horses, mules and donkeys from 20 Navajo chapters have been rounded up and detained at a central containment center in Blackhat, N.M. Of the 788 horses, 489 of them are unbranded horses, which lawfully belong to the Navajo Nation, and 299 are branded horses. The rest are mules and donkeys.

The branded ones were either returned to their owners, after being inspected for ownership by the Navajo Department of Resource Enforcement, or sold.

If owners haven't claimed their stray horse within a two-day period, those branded horses are sold and shipped off with the unbranded feral ones to buyers who have Bureau of Indian Affairs clearance to purchase them, said Leonard Butler, department manager for the Department of Resources Development.

These 20 chapters, most in the Chinle Agency, have supporting resolutions in favor of the roundups.

According to their resolution, the Nohaaká Diné insist and recommend the Navajo Nation honor its commitment to the U.N. Declaration on Indigenous Rights and stop the roundups and "mass execution" of the feral horses that they call "sacred/holy horses."

They also would like Shelly to sit down face-to-face with them and work to achieve a consensus with all impacted parties, including the elders, medicine people and Holy People.

"With prayer and song the solution will be revealed and consensus will be achieved for the benefit of our children and all life," the resolution states.

Other recommendations by the 32 elderly and medicine healers include getting their "free, prior and informed consent" and consultation before any further "execution of these horses" and using the Diné way of life and spiritual foundation to create and promote peace and harmony within the various communities and with the horses.

"When we abuse the sacredness of life, we affect all of creation," they said.

Leland Grass, a medicine healer and horse lover, said the Nohaaká Dine are elderly and medicine people who can't read, write or speak English. Two meetings were held on Aug. 23 and Aug. 26 to discuss the recent round-ups, which eventually led to the passage of the resolution.

Grass said Navajos from Black Mesa, Coalmine, Chilchinbeto, Gap-Bodaway, Hard Rock, Kayenta, Kaibeto, Many Farms, Red Lake, Rough Rock, Piñon, Shiprock, Shonto and Tuba City turned out for the meetings.

"This resolution is made from them, at the traditional fireplace of their homes and ceremonial grounds, and gathered by clanship, k'é, and looking forward for a better life for their children," Grass said.

Meanwhile, over the Labor Day weekend, horse roundups are scheduled to occur in the chapters of Lake Valley, N.M., Naschitti, N.M., Red Valley, Ariz., and Steamboat, Ariz.,

"We've had no chapters oppose," Butler said in an Aug. 28 interview with the Navajo Times, adding, "Everyone is pretty much in favor."

Roundups have already occurred in the chapters of Baca/Prewitt, Beclabito, Birdsprings, Black Mesa, Coyote Canyon, Chinle, Ganado, Iyanbito, Klagetoh, Leupp, Nahodishgish, Nageezi, Pinedale, Piñon, Round Rock, Thoreau, Tolani Lake, Tsaile, Whippoorwill and Wide Ruins.

A quick examination of the recent roundup figures, collected by Butler, indicates that Chinle, Round Rock and Whippoorwill had the most feral animals.

Rough Rock had 107 feral horses, with 79 being unbranded and 28 with brands. Chinle had 103 horses – 68 of them unbranded, 31 branded. The chapter also had two branded donkeys and two unbranded donkeys.

As for Whippoorwill, which had a total of 83, there were 31 unbranded horses, 51 branded horses and one unbranded donkey.

Butler added that those feral livestock without brands belong to the nation and are sold "right away" to about two to three buyers. He described the conditions of these horses as underfed, under-watered and lacking nutrients.

"Some are surprisingly in good shape, but it depends on the area they're picked up," Butler added.

For Iyanbito Chapter, which had been reported in local media as possibly passing a resolution against further horse roundups, Butler said as far as he knows no chapters have forwarded such resolutions to him, his ranger unit or the Department of Agriculture.

Even Iyanbito Chapter coordinator Jacynthia Nachiin said a resolution opposing any roundups there hasn't been drafted or occurred yet.

"We didn't pass anything," Nachiin said. "It was just a discussion the community had. We told the community that we're going to do more research before passing."

Roundups will continue until the end of September in chapters with supporting resolutions requesting roundup services.

Contact Alastair L. Bitsóí at 928-871-1141 or email