Published May 5, 2018
ALBUQUERQUE — Shortly after their leaders signed the Treaty of 1868, the Diné people congregated in what it now considered Old Town Albuquerque.
Diminished in numbers and weary from their four-year internment at Bosque Redondo, the Diné found comfort in Albuquerque, where allies offered food, shelter and assistance as the people crossed the Rio Grande and continued on foot to their homeland.
An estimated 11,500 Diné were rounded up and forced to march to Bosque Redondo between 1863 and 1866, Vice President Jonathan Nez said during an April 24 press conference strategically held at Hotel Albuquerque at Old Town. When the Treaty of 1868 guaranteed their freedom, only about 8,000 Diné returned home.
“The reason we’re here today, at Old Town, is because this is where the Navajo people came,” Navajo Nation Vice President Nez said. “They congregated and had fellowship, rejuvenation and revival. The friends of the Navajo fed them here and helped them.”
Branch chiefs hold up signed copies of the proclamation declaring 2018 as the Year of the Treaty. Pictured, from left, are Council Speaker LoRenzo Bates, Vice President Jonathan Nez, President Russell Begaye and Chief Justice JoAnn Jayne.
In February, the chiefs of all three branches of the Navajo Nation signed a proclamation declaring 2018 as the Year of Naaltsoos Sáni’ (Year of the Treaty) and announcing commemorative events to the Navajo people. The April 24 press conference, held to announce the events to the world and invite everyone to join the commemoration, drew journalists from a dozen media outlets, representatives of city and state governments, local and national lawmakers, and private citizens who wanted to learn more about American history.
Leaders also used the conference to launch the Year of Naaltsoos Sáni’ website, http://www.navajotreaty1868.navajo-nsn.gov/, where all events and information can be found.
Vice President Nez on April 24 asked an audience of about 80 people to picture the Diné on their triumphant walk home 150 years ago. The 8,000 individual walkers spanned about 10 miles, he said. Crossing the Rio Grande likely took several days.
“We lost a lot of our people on the way to Bosque Redondo, but not one was lost to violence on the way home,” Vice President Nez said. “Everyone helped each other. Everybody was happy to go home. This was a time of joy.”
By commemorating the treaty, the Navajo people can draw on their ancestors’ strength and help rewrite a history that has been omitted from schools and textbooks. Vice President Nez said he wants to “magnify” the event, not just for the Navajo Nation or for New Mexico, but for the whole world to see.
“We are taught in schools about the Long Walk, about these hardships for the Navajo people,” he said. “We know about Westward Expansion, about what they called the ‘Indian problem,’ and about the lands being taken from indigenous peoples. A lot of times history ends there.”
Through commemorative events and activities, Vice President Nez wants to highlight the 150 years of growth and resilience since the treaty was signed.
“Our ancestors faced almost total annihilation,” he said. “One hundred and fifty years later, we are the most influential indigenous nation in the world. We went from 8,000 to more than 350,000 people. If we magnify our teachings that have lasted through generations, imagine how many people out there can benefit. By doing this, we are advocating for the next 150 years.”
Navajo leaders have worked with the National Archives and Records Administration and the Bosque Redondo Memorial to offer several commemorative events in the coming months. The Nation’s executive, legislative and judicial branches each have events planned.
The highlight of the commemoration is the display of the original treaty at the Navajo Nation Museum for the month of June. The museum will be open seven days per week to accommodate crowds, Museum Director Manny Wheeler said. Admission to the exhibit is free.
Vice President Nez also plans to run the 400 miles from Fort Sumner to Window Rock, arriving at the museum June 1 for the unveiling of the treaty. The route will include educational and cultural stops along the way, including one in Albuquerque’s Old Town to honor the crossing of the Rio Grande. Click here for more information about the run.
On May 31, the Navajo Nation will host a day of prayer in Tse Bonito. Members of all faiths are invited to join as the Nation prays for its people, leaders and the future.
Alan Armijo, director of constituent services for Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller, encouraged everyone along the 400-mile route to support Vice President Nez however they can.
“One hundred and fifty years ago, the Diné people endured the difficulty of the Long Walk and Bosque Redondo,” Armijo said. “The treaty allowed them to go back to their land where they were raised, the land they knew, to worship and to raise their families. Even though this was not a great moment in our history, we need to remember it. By keeping these memories alive, we can make sure these kinds of things don’t happen again.”
Another major event will take place at Bosque Redondo. The memorial recently partnered with Kitty Weaver, a great-grandniece of Col. Samuel F. Tappan, one of the signers of the original treaty. In a trunk of Tappan’s belongings, Weaver discovered a third copy of the treaty—which will be on display at Bosque Redondo in June.
On June 8, the memorial will also host a sneak-peek of its new exhibit, which opens next year, a showcase of traditional foods and a commemorative walk from Bosque Redondo to the village of Fort Sumner. Site Manager Aaron Roth is encouraging all to attend and to share stories of resilience.
“This is an important time for the Navajo people,” he said. “This is an important event for everyone. We hope you will join us to share this history together, to answer any questions that you have, to share a story, to heal. If this is not the right time for you, we understand and respect your wishes. Our ears, our hearts and our minds are open to you always.”
The Bosque Redondo Memorial, located at Fort Sumner, was designed in response to a letter Navajo students left at the site in 1990. In that letter, a group of 17 students asked that the museum “show and tell the true history of the Navajos and the United States military.”
The state of New Mexico responded and began designing a memorial that truthfully acknowledges the site’s history. It opened in 2005. A copy of the 1990 letter can be found here.
President Russell Begaye encourages everyone to view the original treaty at the museum and to consider what it means to the Navajo people—past, present and future.
“The Treaty of 1868 is an important document not just for Navajo, but as a point of reference to understand current relationships between Indian nations and the U.S. government,” he said. “The federal government doesn’t sign treaties with states. It signs treaties with other nations. The language of this treaty recognizes our status as a sovereign nation.”