50 Years Ago: New bus tours, Diné guides to boost tourism

Officials for the Navajo Nation Tourism Office have joined forces with the tribe’s parks department and Navajo Community College to create a unique experience for visitors to the reservation.

For the first time, the tribe will be offering its own tours of the reservation with Navajo-guided buses. The tours, which last from one to five days, will begin on July 15.

Preparation for the tours have been going on since January when the tourism office began a search for Navajos willing to take extensive courses in culture, history and geography. All of this is being handled by NCC.

Chairman Raymond Nakai said this is being done to make the reservation tourism friendly and to make sure that when visitors come they get the Navajo story directly from Navajos and not from Anglos who promote the federal view of tribal history.

Ironically, the program is being paid for through a federal economic development grant. The grant provides for the rental of buses, the training of tour guides and drivers.

A total of 18 young Navajos are now taking a two-week course at the college being taught the basics of Navajo culture as well as answers to commonly asked questions by tourists.

No sir, Navajos do not live in teepees. No, Navajos never conducted raids on off-reservation communities but they did go to war at times with other tribes and did conduct raids into Mexico.

The idea, said Nakai, is to clear up a lot of misconceptions non-Indians have acquired over the years watching Western movies and television series.

On Tuesday, the group spent a day at the Navajo Tribal Museum where its director, Martin Link, showed the various exhibits. He also talked of his experiences with tourists who come to the museum.

One of the problems the tour guides will face, he said, is that a lot of the visitors come here feeling they already know a lot about the tribe or Indian people in general and have a hard time changing some of their views.

There are also plans for the guides to spend a day talking to Navajo weavers, potters and silversmiths to learn some of their stories.

The tours will all begin in Gallup and go to places like Window Rock, Hubbelll’s Trading Post, Canyon de Chelly and Monument Valley.

In other news, Dick Hardwick, the editor of the Navajo Times, said this week that the paper’s decision the year before to stop printing classified advertisements from people in cities like Los Angeles, looking for young Navajo women to be nannies or house servants, was a good one.

“We have heard too many stories of young Navajo girls being hired for low pay and then being treated like slaves by their employers,” said Hardwick.

He said once the girls are hired, they are usually provided living quarters with the family and are then cut off from their own family and friends. Many of them get no days off and are expected to work 10 hours or more a day.

He said he had not heard of any cases where the ads are used by people in the sex trade but added he would not be surprised.

Back in the mid 60s, the Times was getting requests almost every week from off-reservation families looking for a young Navajo girl to hire but nowadays the number of requests has dwindled to one every month or so.

He urged border newspapers that are continuing to take the ads to stop as well.

He said he was also taking a look at the paper’s policy of printing letters from non-Indian men looking to become a pen pal with young Navajos.

“I haven’t heard any complaints about that but I am getting concerned about how it looks,” he said.

He stressed that he was not putting in the same category those letters coming from Navajos in the military who are serving overseas and are looking for pen pals.

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About The Author

Bill Donovan

Bill Donovan has been writing about the Navajo Nation government since 1971 and for the Navajo Times since 1976. He is currently semi-retired and is living in Torrance, California, and continues to report for the Navajo Times.