Navajo Treaty of 1868

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For the Navajo (Diné) the 1868 Treaty allowed a return to their ancestral homelands (Dinétah) and is an important symbol of Navajo (Diné) sovereignty and what it means to live as Navajo (Diné) people. At a time when the United States was actively and aggressively removing tribal communities to Indian Territory, few Native Nations were able to remain in their homelands. The Navajo (Diné), amazingly, found a way to go home.

Their return to Dinétah, however, was not without challenge or sacrifice. To rebuild and sustain the bounty of their homelands would take dedication and hard work that spanned generations. The maintenance and strengthening of their culture require a commitment to the practices and teachings that come from the lands to which they belong.

Treaty Articles from the 1868 Treaty

By signing the 1868 Treaty, the Navajo (Diné) Nation agreed to cease war against the United States, allow U.S. officials to live within their lands and oversee their obligations to the Navajo (Diné), and permit the construction of railroads through their lands. Yet the Navajo (Diné) people did not cede their inherent rights of sovereignty, and they successfully negotiated to return to their homelands in order to maintain their culture and language.

Article II: The Navajo (Diné) Reservation

The United States agrees that the following district of country, to wit: bounded on the north by the 37th degree of north latitude, south by an east and west line passing through the site of old Fort Defiance… and west by a parallel of longitude about 109' 30' west of Greenwich, provided it embraces the outlet of the Canon-de-Chilly, which canon is to be all included in this reservation, shall be, and the same is hereby, set apart for the use and occupation of the Navajo tribe of Indians… and the United States agrees that no persons except those herein so authorized to do, and except such officers, soldiers, agents, and employees of the government, or of the Indians, … may be authorized to enter upon Indian reservations…
The United States agrees that the land between the 37th degree of north latitude and old Fort Defiance and west of Greenwich, including Canon-de-Chilly, will be set apart for the Navajo reservation. The United States agrees that no one except the people of the Navajo Nation and some officers, soldiers, agents, and employees of the United States government will be allowed to enter the Navajo lands.

Article VI: The Education of Navajo (Diné) Children

In order to insure the civilization of the Indians entering into this treaty, the necessity of education is admitted, especially of such of them as may be settled on said agricultural parts of this reservation, and they therefore pledge themselves to compel their children, male and female, between the ages of six and sixteen years, to attend school; and it is hereby made the duty of the agent for said Indians to see that this stipulation is strictly complied with; and the United States agrees that, for every thirty children… a house shall be provided, and a teacher competent to teach the elementary branches of an English education…
In order to make sure that the Navajo people become “civilized” the United States will oversee the education of Navajo children. This education will specifically teach the Navajo how to settle and farm the lands within the Navajo Nation reservation. Parents must make their children, both boys and girls between the ages of six and sixteen to attend the U.S. government run schools. The United States government’s Indian agent will make sure that all the parents make their children attend the schools. For every thirty children that attend the school the United States will provide a classroom and a teacher who can provide a basic education.

Article IX: What the Navajo (Diné) Gave Up

In consideration of the advantages and benefits conferred by this treaty, and the many pledges of friendship by the United States, the tribes who are parties to this agreement hereby stipulate that they will relinquish all right to occupy any territory outside their reservation… but retain the right to hunt on any unoccupied lands… the said Indians, further expressly agree: [points 2, 4, and 5 have been intentionally left out]:

1st. That they will make no opposition to the construction of railroads…

3rd. That they will not attack any persons at home or Travelling… or disturb any wagon trains, coaches, mules or cattle belonging to the people of the United States…

6th. They will not in future oppose the construction of railroads, wagon roads, mail stations, or other works of utility or necessity which may be ordered or permitted by the laws of the United States; but should such roads or other works be constructed on the lands of their reservation, the Government will pay the tribe whatever amount of damage…

7th. They will make no opposition to the military posts or roads now established, or that may be established…
Considering all of the things the United States is providing in this treaty, the Navajo people must agree that they will not attempt to occupy lands outside the reservation, but shall keep the right to hunt on any traditional and unoccupied lands. The Navajo Nation agree to the following points [points 2, 4, and 5 have been intentionally left out]:

1st. They will allow the U.S. to construct railroads without opposition

3rd .That they will not attack anyone at home near the reservation or traveling west and they agree not to disturb any wagon trains, coaches, mules, or cattle belonging to the people of the United States

6th .They will allow without argument the construction of railroads, wagon roads, mail stations, or other utilities that the United States government might need to build and if the United States needs to construct buildings or roads on the Navajo reservation they will pay the tribe whatever the damage costs. In addition, the Navajo people must agree to follow all the laws of the United States.

7th. Finally, the Navajo people will allow the United States to build military posts and the roads to and from those posts.

Article XI: A Timeline for the Navajo’s (Diné) Return Home

The Navajos also hereby agree that at any time after the signing of these presents they will proceed in such manner… to the reservation herein provided for…
After both parties, the United States and the Navajo Nation, sign this treaty the Navajo must agree to immediately travel to their reservation.

Article XIII: The Reservation as a Permanent Home

The tribe herein named, by their representatives, parties to this treaty, agree to make the reservation herein described their permanent Home… reserving the right to hunt on the lands adjoining the said reservation formerly called theirs…
When the leaders of the Navajo tribe sign this treaty they agree to make the reservation their permanent home, while reserving the right to hunt on all the surrounding traditional hunting lands.

Discussion Questions

  1. What were the Navajo (Diné) willing to give up in order to return home?
  2. To what extent did the Navajo (Diné) have the ability to negotiate on equal grounds with the United States? Why does that matter?
  3. Does a group or person with more power have a responsibility to be fair to other groups or peoples involved? Why or why not?
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