Administrative History
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The Memorandum of Agreement at Navajo National Monument formalized a longstanding pattern of interaction between the park and the people of the Shonto region. After the beginning of development at the park and the change in the Navajo economy as a result of the stock reduction programs of the 1930s, the ties between area Navajos and the Park Service became stronger. A symbiotic relationship developed, in which Navajos gained economically from the park, which in turned received the benefits of Navajo labor as well as the ability to offer visitors a picture of Navajo life.

The ties long preceded the Memorandum of Agreement signed in 1962. John and Louisa Wade Wetherill had initiated the close relationship. As traders in Navajoland, they earned the trust of the people of the area. Louisa Wade Wetherill became particularly interested in the Navajo people and their culture. Fluent in their language, she became an expert on Navajo culture. In the living room of the Wetherill trading post in Kayenta, John Wetherill discussed the prehistory of the Southwest, while Louisa Wade Wetherill held forth on the Navajo. Even her children knew not to contradict her on this subject. [1]

After the Park Service began full-time administration of the monument, there were significant attempts to portray Navajo life and culture at the monument. Exhibits reflecting Navajo themes were common, inspiring positive responses from visitors. In 1952, Superintendent John J. Aubuchon reported that the Navajo exhibit in the corner of the contact station was extremely popular. John Cook recalled an emphasis on Navajos in the interpretation programs of the monument in the late 1950s and early 1960s, something augmented by the presence of Navajo seasonal employees and rangers. Trained in anthropology, Art White was knowledgeable in the ways of the Navajo people. His tenure at the monument allowed him to pursue this interest. [2]

The Park Service also followed liberal policies towards the Navajo. Long before the Native American Religious Freedom Act of 1977 made the practice into law, Navajo medicine men came into the monument to collect plants for healing and ceremonial use. The Park Service allowed them access as a courtesy, with superintendents from James W. Brewer to Frank Hastings acknowledging the importance of religious practices to area people. This kind of cooperative arrangement served as a model for later efforts between the Park Service and Native Americans at other park areas. [3]

By 1962, a pattern of inclusion at the monument had developed. The Navajo people in the vicinity of the monument had become partners in the park. They made up a significant portion of its labor force, recognized the park as a source of economic support, and generally and loosely supported its objectives. The monument and its staff were able to reciprocate by offering the accouterments of modern society to the people of the region. Bob Black used the road grader to grade the road to Shonto on a regular basis; in the winter, the park's snowplow could be found plowing the way to various hogans in the region. In reality, Navajo National Monument was three small islands among the Navajo. In a harsh land, cooperation and adaptation assured the survival of all. [4]

The Memorandum of Agreement created a formal structure that defined the responsibilities of both the Park Service and the Navajo Nation. In exchange for the use of 240 acres of Navajo land on the rim of Betatakin Canyon, the Navajo Nation acquired specific privileges at the monument. One of the most important of these was control of an approximately 450-square foot area in which crafts, pottery, and other gift items could be sold. This assured an economic relationship between the park and the Navajo that transcended the employer-employee pattern typical before the agreement. Navajos developed a proprietary interest in the park.

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Last Updated: 28-Aug-2006