Across the river

Stranded by its namesake, San Juan Chapter needs a bridge to develop

By Cindy Yurth
Tséyi’ Bureau

(Editor's note: In an effort to chronicle the beauty and diversity of the Navajo Nation, as well as its issues, the Navajo Times has committed to visiting all 110 chapters in alphabetical order. This is the 75th in the series. Some information for this series is taken from the publication "Chapter Images" by Larry Rodgers)

SAN JUAN, N.M., Feb. 27, 2014

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(Times photos - Cindy Yurth)

TOP: San Juan Chapter Vice President Robert C. Begay sits in the cozy living room of his self-designed passive solar house. Begay encourages other chapter residents to build their own distinctive, beautiful homes to make the community more attractive to tourists.

BOTTOM: Morgan Lake, a reservoir for the Four Corners Power Plant (seen in the background), is used by the locals for boating and fishing. The chapter would like to develop the beach area to make it more inviting.

In the old Navajo story of the Separation of the Sexes, a wide, deep river separated the women from the men.

They could only look at each other longingly from the riverbanks.

Today, the San Juan River separates the people of San Juan Chapter from the tantalizing stores and gas stations of Fruitland, N.M., on the other side.

As the crow flies, they are a couple of miles away. But to get there by car involves driving first to Upper Fruitland, where the nearest bridge is located, and coming back around on U.S. 64. It’s about a 20-mile round trip.

Shiprock, in the other direction, is also a good 10 miles away.Chapter Vice President Robert C. Begay -- artist, musician and visionary -- looks out from his self-designed passive solar house and sees a bridge across the San Juan -- the bridge the chapter will someday have, the bridge to development.

San Juan at a Glance

Name: Named for the San Juan River, which forms the chapter's northern border. The Hogback starts in this chapter, but Hogback Chapter (now Tse Daa K'aan) was already taken when this very recent chapter formed in 1982.

Population: About 1,500 according to chapter officials. The 2010 Census did not differentiate between San Juan and Nenahnezad chapters, giving them a combined population of 1,792.

Land area: The boundary with Nenahnezad is not clearly identified, so there is no official estimate of the land area. Residents in the area can choose whether to affiliate with San Juan or Nenahnezad chapter.

Major clans: Many clans are represented here. "If there's a dominant one, it's probably the To'dich'’iniis," said Chapter Vice President Robert C. Begay.

Famous sons: Former Council Delegate George Arthur, now president of the Colorado Water Users Association.

Points of interest: The Hogback, a wrinkle of earth formed 100 million years ago when the North American tectonic plate slid over the Pacific plate.

Issues: Although the chapter is only a few miles away from the businesses and services in Fruitland, N.M., as the crow flies, it is separated from them by the San Juan River. Future plans include a bridge and business development within the chapter.

Assets: With the Four Corners Power Plant and Navajo Coal Mine located on the chapter, and a relatively short commute to Shiprock and Farmington, there are employment opportunities here, although unemployment is still high.

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