Canyon de Chelly
Administrative History
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Not long after the original establishment of the monument, an error in the boundary description was noted. Range 5 West had been omitted, throwing off the locations along the east-west axis and leaving most of the side canyons especially Canyon del Muerto and Monument Canyon, largely outside the monument. [1] In order to correct this situation and because of uncertainty as to the accuracy of the townships surveyed in 1870 on the old Navajo Prime Meridian, it was proposed that a new description be proclaimed based on the terrain itself. The most obvious topographic features were the canyons, all of which would be included in the new description. All land within one half mile of the canyon rims would be shown, despite an objection by one engineer that in places the rims would be difficult to define. [2] A survey was needed to locate the western boundary before development of a headquarters area could begin, [3] but this was postponed until the new boundary could be obtained. [4]

It was concluded that new legislation would be necessary and the General Land Office drafted a new description for a boundary based on the topography. [5] F. A. Kittredge, chief engineer for the Park Service, felt that the new description did not adequately provide for a headquarters area at the mouth of the canyon, [6] but it was felt that changing the description as suggested by Kittredge would extend the boundary into another township and make it too different from the boundary and acreage described in the original legislation and proclamation. [7]

A more serious problem at the time was whether Navajo tribal approval would be required by the change. The Director wrote the Commissioner of Indian Affairs for his opinion on the matter. [8] The Commissioner opined that the land description in the original bill had been presented to the tribal council in terms of "the main canyons and the smaller ones tributary thereto" and that because this was merely corrective legislation it would not be necessary to resubmit the matter to the council. [9]

In the meantime a bill had been introduced into the Senate by Senator Hayden on December 8. [10] An identical bill was introduced in the House by Congressman Douglas on December 29. [11] Both bills were intended to amend the original boundary, and the new description read as follows:

All lands in Del Muerto, De Chelly, and Monument Canyons, and the canyons tributary thereto, and the lands within one-half mile of the rims of the said canyons, situated in unsurveyed townships 4 and 5 north, range 7 west; townships 4, 5, and 6 north, range 8 west; townships 4 and 5 north, range 9 west; and in surveyed townships 4 and 5 north, range 6 west; townships 3, 6 and 7 north, range 7 west; township 6 north, range 9 west, and township 5 north, range 10 west, embracing about eighty-three thousand eight hundred and forty acres, all of the Navajo meridian, in Arizona. [12]

The Secretary of the Interior submitted to both houses a copy of a joint memorandum from the Director and the Commissioner explaining the need for the new legislation and recommending favorable consideration. [13] The House bill was passed on February 20 and sent to the Senate, [14] where it was approved 5 days later. [15] It was signed by the President on March 1, [16] and the proclamation establishing the new boundary was signed on March 3. [17]

The necessity of surveying the western boundary of the monument had not been forgotten. In fact the matter had been given some priority, and even before the proclamation was signed, Frank Pinkley, superintendent of Southwestern National Monuments, had been instructed to contact the Phoenix field office of the General Land Office about carrying out the survey as had been arranged in Washington. Assistant Director Demaray described the work he wanted done in the following terms:

The thought behind the discussion here in the Washington Office was that instead of surveying a township line, pick out the boundary line in the field and actually locate the nearest section line, this section line to be monumented and become the actual west boundary of Canyon de Chelly National Monument. [18]

Pinkley reported that he would contact the land office as soon as possible, but that bad weather would delay the actual field work. [19] When finally completed, the survey plat showed the south and west boundaries of Section 15, T5N, R10W, [20] the west line of Section 15 apparently being considered the western edge of the monument.

A Canyon de Chelly Chapter, the local level of community organization among the Navajos, was organized in the spring of 1934, and one of its first official acts was to pass a resolution giving local approval to the Park Service's presence:

We the Navajo Indians of Canyon De Chelly National Park, as a Chapter Organization do consent and welcome the Government to make any kind of improvements in our Park. Trails, roads, soil erosion, range control and improve our ruins (we agree to cooperate fully). We as a Chapter organization authorize our Chapter officer to sign this agreement as our representatives.

/s/ Hosteen Tonah

/s/ Jake Brown
Vice President

/s/ Dannie Bia

/s/ Tom Allen
Chapter adviser [21]

While it would appear that the new national monument was well established with adequate boundaries, the higher levels of tribal government and the Bureau of Indian Affairs were having second thoughts about the advisability of having the National Park Service on the reservation. This change in attitude was apparently stimulated by the new Commissioner of Indian Affairs, John Collier. In July the Navajo Tribal Council passed a resolution [22] asking for the return of all National Park Service lands within the reservation. [23] In a follow-up memorandum to the Secretary of the Interior, Collier requested that custody of Canyon de Chelly be returned to the Navajo tribe. Acting Director Demaray, responding to a memorandum from the Secretary on the matter, explained Park Service plans for the area and concluded:

It is submitted that the National Park Service is the proper agency to protect and interpret archaeological areas such as that at Canyon de Chelly. It is felt that the rights of all American citizens in these areas transcend those of any individual or group of individuals, just as in other cases where the Nation, by action of The Congress or of the Executive, has set aside sites because of their national scenic, historic, or scientific importance.

It is recommended that no effort be made to amend the Canyon de Chelly Act to return the area to the custody of the Navajo Tribe as suggested in Mr. Collier's memorandum which is returned herewith in accordance with your instructions. [24]

Secretary Harold Ickes wrote former Director Albright asking his opinion in the controversy. Albright emphasized the care that the Service had taken in securing Navajo approval of the monument and his view that the tribe would not be able to provide adequate protection and visitor services. He strongly opposed any removal of the area from National Park Service jurisdiction. [25]

Collier did not give up easily, however. At a conference between the Service and the Bureau in September, after advocating complete Indian management of the monument, he

expressed the feeling that the Canyon de Chelly matter was "railroaded" not by the Park Service but by former Indian Service officials, and that the tribe's views were not adequately presented in Washington. The Indians, he said, feel that way and he also indicated that the Indians thought too many visitors would be fatal to their well being. [26]

Ickes apparently made a decision in favor of the Park Service and the rivalry was passed on to bureaucratic disputes in the field, as detailed later; the issue of the monument itself, however, was to surface again very shortly.

In the meantime, concern again arose over the precise western boundary of the monument. The Park Service engineers, using the General Land Office survey, prepared a new map. Basing their opinion on the new boundary description, they concluded that the monument did not extend beyond the mouth of Canyon de Chelly, about one-half mile northeast of Thunderbird Ranch, and that both the Thunderbird Ranch as a putative concessioner and the proposed monument headquarters were outside the monument area. A. W. Burney, the acting chief engineer, recommended that steps be taken either to acquire the land needed or to make an agreement with the Bureau of Indian Affairs for its use. [27] Cozy McSparron, now full owner of the Thunderbird, was refusing to renew his concessioner permit and Pinkley feared, due to the uncertainty of his being within the monument boundaries, that there was little the Service could do about it. [28]

I hope that this Office will be given an opportunity to consider and comment on any bill, sponsored by your Service, and relating to lands within Indian reservations. You are aware, I know, of the resolution passed in July, 1934, by the Navajo Tribal Council, urging the Secretary of the Interior "to take immediate steps to have the National Park Service relinquish any rights that they may have acquired to any of our areas." Under the circumstances, I feel strongly that any plans for the Canyon de Chelly should also be brought to the personal notice of the Secretary. [33]

Work had gone ahead on the headquarters and the concessioner contracts in spite of the uncertainties in Washington, and the matter was forgotten for a while. The Bureau of Indian Affairs continued its efforts to develop a case for the return of the monument to its jurisdiction. J. M. Stewart, Director of Lands for the Bureau, addressed a memorandum to Collier early in 1936 in which he argued that the Park Service would be building roads all over the reservation from its surrounding areas to connect them with Canyon de Chelly, thereby bringing in great numbers of tourists who would disturb and exploit the Navajos. He further stated that a number of Navajos had talked to him about the return of the area, citing various reasons but being principally concerned with the canyon's sacred character. Assistant Commissioner William Zimmerman, Jr., endorsed the memo. [34]

Stewart's memorandum and another from Collier supporting Stewart's ideas [35] were sent to Pinkley for comment. After briefly summarizing the history of the establishment of Canyon de Chelly National Monument with emphasis on the earlier tribal council approvals, Pinkley, implying that he had been present when the more recent resolution had been passed asking the return of Park Service areas within the Navajo Reservation or at least had access to firsthand information regarding the council session, stated that the resolution had been "railroaded through" and that the support for return of the area was based on a desire to operate it for profit rather than motivated by a concern for its sacred qualities. [36] He argued that tourists were certain to increase in numbers regardless of developments at the canyon and that the Park Service was far better qualified than the tribe to control them and provide them with services. [37]

A. E. Demaray, acting director, replied to the Secretary. The first draft of his memorandum, unsigned and dated May 11, is strongly worded and based in large part on Pinkley's report. [38] A Navajo delegation was expected in Washington soon [39] and the Secretary was pressing for a reply to the questions raised by Collier. [40] Demaray took time to consider his response, however, and the first draft was apparently never sent. The next day he drafted a shorter and more conciliatory text in which he argued that the objectives of the National Park Service and the Bureau of Indian Affairs were not necessarily in conflict and that both had legitimate interests in the area. He gave special emphasis to the importance of the archeological remains and the policy of the Service to respect the Indians' rights and cooperate with the Bureau. [41] The Bureau's attempt to regain control of de Chelly was considered sufficiently threatening that it became a factor even in dealings with the concessioner. [42] Secretary Ickes had already made his decision, however, having written Collier upon his receipt of Demaray's views that "it seems to me that the position of the National Park Service with reference to Canyon de Chelly has much to commend it." [43]

Nothing more seems to have been done for several years. The Park Service and the BIA learned to live with each other and the western boundary question was ignored. Precisely why the matter was again taken up in 1941 is not clear, except that the marking of a boundary on the ground "was desireable from an administrative standpoint." This time, however, the two agencies were willing to work together; the higher levels of the bureaucracy supported the effort and delegations of both agencies met on September 29 at Chinle. Custodian Wyatt and Charles A. Richey, assistant superintendent of Southwestern Monuments, were present on behalf of the Park Service. Representing the Bureau of Indian Affairs were Willard Brimhall, district supervisor; Paul Philips, head of the planning section; and W. Berry, head of the engineering section. The Navajo tribe was not represented. The brief summary available of their discussions is quoted in full because it was the basis upon which the boundary question was settled:

It was explained to Navajo Service representatives that the proposed boundary establishment would make no changes in the present land use, but was desireable from an administrative standpoint in connection with visitation, operation and maintenance, and would clarify our position concerning the public operator /concessioner/ and the expenditure of maintenance and operation funds. When this matter was clearly understood by them, they advised that they would be quite willing to accept a location which would be satisfactory to us. They did mention, however, that they saw little reason for enlarging the area as it is now interpreted. It was pointed out that we had no desire to take in additional lands here, and that the main purpose was to clarify the intent of the original proclamation and outline a boundary which would be easy to identify. They seemed somewhat concerned about whether we might desire fencing our boundaries at some future date. In reply to this question, it was pointed out that there would be no advantage to the Service in fencing off a small strip along the rim, that it would be expensive and undesirable in appearance from our standpoint. It was mentioned, however, that we might desire to fence off a small piece around our development, to exclude stock from the vicinity of buildings; they were quite agreeable to this minor fencing should it be necessary. Should this be undertaken at some future date, the matter should be referred to the Navajo Service before it is started.

In the course of defining the boundary and afterwards, a few other matters were also discussed:

Representatives of the Navajo Service pointed out that it would be helpful to them to have the entire boundary marked, since it would establish a definite line around the rims of the canyons and give them definite points to tie to in connection with locations, issuing permits, etc. They stated that they did not wish to have any woodcutting done along the rims of the canyons.

It appears that it would be desirable to establish the boundary lines for the entire area at this time since a proclamation will be required to set forth the new boundaries as soon as they are surveyed. The boundaries of the remaining portion of the monument on the south, east and north were discussed with the Navajo /Service/ representatives, and they agree to the general metes and bounds lines as outlined on the above-mentioned geological survey print recommended by the General Land Office. It was generally agreed, however, that it would be desirable to eliminate some of the odd angles and shapes, and conform the boundary line to known topographic features so that it could be easily identified. This line as surveyed is to be marked at angle points, every mile and half-mile point, the markers to be permanent points established at the locations mentioned.

Out of courtesy to the Navajo Service it is suggested that they be notified when the survey is started so that they can make suggestions concerning the exact location of the boundary as generally shown on the USGS print.

.   .   .    .   .

It would be practically impossible to move the line farther west to include Mr. Garcia's buildings, since they are adjacent to the extensive development of the Indian Irrigation Service. Furthermore, the Navajo Service now plans a low dam across the de Chelly Wash a few hundred feet west of the proposed boundary line. This makes it almost. mandatory that we exclude this proposed development from the monument. . . . [44]

Initial approval by Superintendent E. Reeseman ("Sy") Fryer and the acting superintendent of Southwestern Monuments was reported for the boundary described by Richey, Fryer altering the field agreement slightly by asking that only this part of the boundary be marked on the ground. [45] There were subsequent changes in the boundary description, although it is not clear who made them. In any case, on March 5, 1942, National Park Service Director Newton B. Drury and John Collier submitted a joint memorandum to the Secretary announcing their agreement on a new boundary description, expressing their opinion that their actions were "properly within the meaning" of the act and proclamation establishing the monument so that new legislation was unnecessary, and requesting departmental approval. On May 25, 1942, E. K. Burlew, First Assistant Secretary, approved the agreement and an attached description that read:

Beginning at section corner common to sections 15, 16, 21 and 22, Township 5, Range 10 West; thence northerly to section corner common to sections 9, 10, 15 and 16; thence easterly to one-quarter corner between sections 10 and 15; thence northerly to the center of section 10; thence easterly to one-quarter corner between sections 10 and 11: thence northerly to section corner common to sections 2, 3, 10 and 11; thence easterly along the south line of sections 2 and 1 to the southeast corner of section 1. Beginning again at section corner common to sections 15, 16, 21 and 22; thence southerly to one-quarter corner between sections 21 and 22; thence easterly to the center of section 22; thence southerly to one-quarter corner between sections 22 and 27; thence easterly to one-quarter corner between sections 23 and 26; thence southerly to the center of section 26; thence easterly to the center of section 25; thence southerly to one-quarter corner between sections 25 and 26; thence easterly to the southeast corner of section 25. [46]

Thus shortly after the beginning of World War II the National Park Service and the Bureau of Indian Affairs had worked out their major differences and the future of Canyon de Chelly National Monument seemed assured. Navajo participation in the various agreements had been limited, and in many cases Navajo opinion seems to have reflected the opinions of whites, officials or otherwise, who were involved in the actions taken. In two cases opponents of Navajo Tribal Council resolutions accused the other side of having "railroaded" the matters concerned through the council. The only apparently independent action by Navajos was suspect as having been unduly influenced by white traders, and at least two Bureau officials who dealt with Park Service matters tried to get positions in the "opposing" agency. One of these was Tom Allen, who signed the Canyon de Chelly Chapter welcoming resolution as "chapter adviser" [47] and who was then contending for appointment as custodian at the new monument. [48] The other was Willard Brimhall, who helped negotiate the western boundary agreement [49] and who, at an earlier date, had applied for a similar position. [50]

The Navajos certainly did not lack their own opinions regarding these issues, but such data as exist suggest that they also differed among themselves. Thus any white desiring a Navajo opinion supporting his own position had only to search until he found those Navajos who already had come to similar conclusions. The assertion that the opinions of certain selected Navajos represented tribal views when arguing a case before a white audience and the presentation of one's own views as those of "Washindon" to Navajo audiences were certainly methods utilized to advance various ideas. Whites were not sufficiently knowledgeable about the traditional Navajo political process to discern whether or not the Navajo attitudes reported were fully accepted by the people most immediately concerned, nor were they able to allow the time needed for a true Navajo concensus to develop. Navajo cultural flexibility was such that even under the pressures of the Federal bureaucracy they could and did take actions that established policy, but conflict between local and tribal interests is clearly a feature of Navajo decision-making even during this period. While the tribal council was approving the establishment of the monument, a strong movement was underway in the canyon area opposing the idea. When the council later was trying to retract its earlier resolution, the newly formed local chapter welcomed the Park Service and appeared desirous of some potential programs that the Bureau of Indian Affairs under Collier did not favor and that may have been equally in disfavor with some council members.

Many Navajo statements, those recorded by whites particularly, seem to reflect quite strongly the opinions of the whites who reported them. For this reason, it is not entirely certain that the Navajo reasons for taking one position or another are adequately represented in the documentation. While Collier opposed roads and some Navajos seem to have supported his resistance to the monument because they also opposed road building, Collier's objections appear to have had a somewhat different basis than those held by the Navajos. The Commissioner feared that improved roads would lead to exploitation of the Navajos by whites, while those Navajos who objected to new roads seem to have done so because of a desire for privacy. On the other hand, local Navajos were apparently eager to have better access both within their own community and to the outside world, and a constant theme in their requests for Park Service assistance and in their complaints about Park Service failures has been that of roads and trails. Although the documented arguments and agreements of the time show only that the Park Service was granted the right to build such roads and trails as might be needed for handling visitation, Navajos have regularly cited an understanding that the Service was obligated to build or improve these access routes. For example, in 1958 a Navajo informant told Mary Shepardson that "The Government told them they would make three or four trails up to the rim like the White House Trail. That's why they let them come in." [51] Similar statements, sometimes mentioning roads as well as trails (the two not being routinely distinguished in Navajo), are frequently heard by Park Service personnel at Canyon de Chelly.

The Navajos at Canyon de Chelly have apparently also found themselves caught in the classic dilemma that faces the Park Service in all its areas, that of the conflict between preservation and use. The protection of sacred localities to preserve their holy character is a real and continuing motivation, as the concern for Spider Rock detailed later illustrates. On the other hand, the vast majority of the people in the tribe have very low incomes by white standards and while Collier was worrying about white exploitation of the Navajos, the Navajos seem to have been looking forward to exploiting the tourist trade. Early Navajo expectations were probably limited to supplying horses and perhaps guide service to the visitors, with some increase in craft sales anticipated. The potential for jobs implicit in planned park development was certainly realized at a relatively early date, although just how soon this became a motivating factor is quite unclear in the record. The Collier era quickly expanded their horizons in regard to Navajo opportunities, and the question now is no longer the limitations of Navajo aspirations, but the limitations of their resources for accomplishing their desires. The influence of opposing policies of preservation and use is expected to be a recurring factor in the diversity of Navajo opinion in regard to the management of the canyons, just as it has been within the National Park Service.

The general climate of Navajo-white relations throughout the period of the creation and change of the monument boundaries should be considered. The problem of overgrazing was becoming steadily more serious during this time. The early method of range management had consisted simply of making additions to the reservation as the population of the tribe and the herds increased. This method came to a virtual end during the Collier administration, although the Navajo aim to gain control of more of the land they had occupied in the historic past did not cease. With a relatively static land base, the methods next employed were erosion control and stock reduction. The Navajo public opposed stock reduction and Navajo resistance necessitated the Bureau's use of increasingly harsh methods to impose this policy, which further alienated the tribe and the Bureau. Early in his administration Collier had used tribal council support to oppose Park Service programs within Navajo country. Toward the end of his incumbency the stock reduction issue had so colored every aspect of Navajo-Government relations that Collier approved the delineation of the western monument boundary without any apparent concern over what Navajo opinion might have been. The Collier era marked the peak of white domination of Navajo affairs, however. Increasingly in the future Navajo opinion, in all its bewildering complexity, would become an unavoidable factor in all programs concerning Navajo country. [52]

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Last Updated: 08-Mar-2004