Sunday, July 14, 2024

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Letters | Tribes are citizens of United States, too

Tribes are citizens of United States, too

The Secretarial Public Land Order 7923 involving the Navajo checkerboard district, and areas beyond, has been garnering public reaction since it went into effect. That’s a good thing, because it is never too late to reverse any Order if enough people speak up about it.

Land orders are administrative proclamations. They are important and can have great effect, but they are discretionary, and they are not the equivalent of laws of Congress, or Presidential Executive Orders. Secretarial Public Land Orders can be nullified or rescinded more easily.

The 7923 Order, which went into effect on June 7, provides only a vaguely stated purpose: “to protect these public lands and the greater connected landscape with a rich Puebloan, Tribal Nation, and cultural legacy.” Because that is such a broad, sweeping statement, it is hard to argue with it, and also hard to see why it was necessary in the first place. Federal Register notices and the preambles of major federal proclamations normally provide more specificity about their purpose, but this one didn’t.

The Order does not mention any health or environmental concerns. It only mentions the “rich cultural legacy” of 336,404.42 acres surrounding Chaco Canyon National Historical Park. The Order does not lay out whose cultural legacies need to be protected. It does not mention any federally recognized tribes by name, or any non-recognized Native entities. It does not mention non-Native cultural legacies either – there must be some within those 336,404 acres.

Tellingly, the Order does not use the recently coined phrase “Ancestral Pueblo” at all but refers to the Chaco district’s “Puebloan” legacy, which has a different connotation. But the most peculiar thing about the Order is that it never mentions the Navajo checkerboard area by name. That’s where the protests and the road blockage took place on July 9, soon after the Order was published, and the Interior Secretary made a beeline to Chaco to spike the ball with a spectacular background photo op. (She was turned back and had to spike the ball in Albuquerque instead).

The Order lumps the flashpoint allotment area into what it calls “Tribal Nation”, a term perhaps used as a catchall so that no present or future tribal nation is excluded from the purview of the Order. I don’t know if “Tribal Nation” could also include non- recognized tribal entities, or Native communities who might seek federal recognition at some point in the next 20 years, but we can probably assume that they were thrown in as well. The beneficiaries of the Order seem to be anyone with a cultural legacy within the 336,404-acre area.

So, we are now all one big, protected family under the largesse of Secretary Haaland’s sweeping and benevolent proclamation. Isn’t that a good thing? Well, maybe not, if you are one of the families facing a loss of potential income from lease rights that you always thought were yours and would always be there.

That’s a lot of children and grandchildren you were planning to raise, and kids put through college with income that you were counting on. That’s a lot of goods and services you would need just to scrape by. Are the Navajo families in the eastern checkerboard area being left to fend for themselves as this autocratic Order goes into effect? Do all of the tourists who flock to Chaco at their leisure even notice, much less care about those families? Nobody wants to spoil the tourists’ perfect experience on their drive to Chaco, but hey – some people gotta eat too.

The terms oral history and oral tradition came up in some of the comments posted in the Navajo Times. Of course, all cultures throughout the world possess oral history and oral tradition. Anyone can browse the subject of Greek Mythology for a reminder of that. The question is not that oral history and oral tradition exist, or how well documented they are. The question most germane to the land Order is how oral tradition would fare in the courts. If the Order winds up in litigation, we might get to see how a court entertains and dispenses with oral tradition.

I know nothing about the oil and gas industry, and I don’t much care about it. My interest is defending people from autocratic fiats that are based on vague, ill-defined, or even specious propositions of need. All people have rights that must be respected, everywhere. If the Secretary has deemed that the rights of Navajo families are subordinate to something, those families should know what they are being subordinated to, exactly. If the Secretary has deemed that Navajo rights are expendable, they have the right to know why they are expendable, in clear, unambiguous terms.

To me, this is the crux of the matter and what is most at stake, and it is also how I understand the government-to-government trust relationship is defined. I am not a tribal member, but I am a fellow taxpayer whose taxes support the Department of the Interior and its Cabinet Secretary. It is incumbent on all of us as responsible citizens to check in on these guys from time to time and watch what they are doing to protect the rights of all US citizens.

For those who may not know (a surprising number of people don’t!), members of federally recognized tribes are all US citizens too, with the same rights as anyone. And that includes the right to petition the government, and to challenge the actions of its authorized agents in court if necessary.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment.

David Siegel
Retired Department of the Interior archeologist

Students with VI/blindness enjoy summer camp

Imagine being a 12-year-old child with a visual impairment (VI). You don’t get to participate during PE classes, you are told to sit on the bench “for your safety.” But you need exercise and physical activity just like your sighted peers. Camp Abilities Four Corner is a sports and recreation camp for blind and VI youth held in northern Arizona. We are excited to report that we just completed an extremely successful second year of our Camp, June 12-17, 2023.

Five students with VI/blindness attended camp this year, based at the Cameron Trading Post. All student athletes participated in bowling, basketball, blind soccer, Taiko drumming, yoga, disc golf, rock climbing and boxing at a gym. Our hikes included a slot canyon near Page with Native guides, several hikes around Flagstaff, along the Little Colorado River, and the Bright Angel Trail at the Grand Canyon.
We were given the extraordinary opportunity to get out and play Hole #13 at the Lake Powell National Golf Course, buffeted by wind and pelted with rain as we got to the green! Our athletes loved it! Everyone had fun getting wet during our water games at Thorpe Park in Flagstaff.

Athletes not only got a chance to participate in these activities, they also learned about modifications to a variety of sports which will allow them to participate more fully back home. Each athlete’s coach sent home suggestions with strategies to increase the student’s access to sport and recreational activities in the future.

Thanks to all sponsors, donors, coaches, instructors, and behind-the-scenes staff, for making our second camp a resounding success. Check out our website or Facebook page for fabulous photos.

Next year’s dates are confirmed: June 10-15, 2024. If you know of a child who is interested in attending, please go to our website at, and complete the Interest Form under the Student Registration tab and email it back to us. We are hoping to double the number of athletes we serve next year. Thank you.

Email:, website:, Facebook: CampAbilitiesFourCorners

Vicki Numkena
President of Visually Impaired and Blind Athletes of Northern Arizona
Dolores, Colo.


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