Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye reads the text of the original Treaty of 1868.
Published June 2, 2018
WINDOW ROCK — One hundred and 50 years ago, leaders from the United States and the Navajo Nation etched their signatures on a treaty that reunited the Navajo people with their homeland in the desert Southwest.
Written on paper torn from an Army ledger book, the Treaty of 1868 ended the forced exile of the Navajo people and their incarceration at Bosque Redondo, a camp at New Mexico’s Fort Sumner where more than 10,000 Navajo were interned.
Representatives from all three branches of the Navajo Nation government cut a ribbon to officially open the Naaltsoos Sáni exhibit at the Navajo Nation Museum.
Between 1863 and 1866, the U.S. Army forced the Navajo to walk as far as 400 miles from their homes to the camp, where they struggled to survive. The U.S. then sent Gen. William T. Sherman to convince the Navajo to move to “Indian Territory” in Oklahoma, but the Navajo instead negotiated a treaty that allowed them to return home.
This treaty, signed June 1, 1868, at Fort Sumner, guaranteed the Navajo a reservation in Arizona and New Mexico (since then, the Navajo land base has expanded to include portions of Utah and Colorado). Diminished in number and weakened by four years of hunger and hardship, the Navajo began the long journey home.
Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye and Chief Justice JoAnn Jayne view the original Treaty of 1868.
To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the treaty, the Navajo Nation and the National Archives and Records Administration have collaborated to bring the original treaty to the Navajo Nation Museum, where it will be on display for the month of June. The exhibit, which marks the first time the treaty is displayed in the Navajo museum, officially opened today.
It took more than two years of planning to bring the treaty to the Navajo Nation. The journey marks only the second time an original treaty has gone back to its homeland.
“As the guardians of this precious document, we at the National Archives are honored to share this original treaty with the Navajo people in their capital city,” said Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero.
The chiefs of all three branches of the Navajo government in February signed a proclamation declaring 2018 as the Year of Naaltsoos Sáni’ (Year of the Treaty). By commemorating the treaty, the Navajo people can draw on their ancestors’ strength and help rewrite a history that has been omitted from textbooks, Vice President Jonathan Nez said.
“We are taught in schools about Westward Expansion, about the lands being taken from America’s indigenous people, but a lot of times, history lessons end there,” Vice President Nez said “Our ancestors faced almost total annihilation, but we survived. We grew from 8,000 to more than 350,000 people. One hundred and fifty years later, we are one of the most influential indigenous nations in the world.”
In conjunction with the treaty exhibit, the Navajo Nation has planned a series of commemorative events to take place throughout the month of June. These events kick off today with a ceremony officially opening the exhibit. The museum will be open seven days per week in June to accommodate crowds. Admission is free.
Today, Vice President Nez also completed a 400-mile run from Fort Sumner. The run, which began May 14, and included educational and cultural stops along the way, served as a reminder of Navajo strength and resilience—past, present and future.
“This is a commemoration, not a celebration,” Vice President Nez said. “As we look back at the last 150 years, we want to highlight who we are today: our language, our culture, our way of life, and the resilience we inherited from our ancestors.”
President Russell Begaye has encouraged everyone to read the treaty this year and to reflect on its meaning. The document sets forth a binding agreement between the Navajo Nation and the United States.
“The federal government doesn’t sign treaties with states,” President Begaye said. “It signs treaties with other governments. The Treaty of 1868 recognized our sovereignty and set the foundation for the Navajo to become one of the strongest and most recognizable indigenous nations in the world.”
President Begaye wants the treaty to become a tool to address a legacy of misrepresentation stemming from the eras of Westward Expansion and Indian removal.
“One of the most common myths is that the Navajo were conquered,” he said. “This year, we want to correct the misleading information. We want to tell our story. We survived, we thrived and we’re stronger than ever.”
For a full calendar of events, please visit