Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

October 15, 2013

Dine' Medicine People: Horse Nation should be respected without outside intervention

Jones Benally and son Clayson Benally

Dine’ Traditional Leaders express concern that Navajo Nation agreement to stop horse slaughter, while a step in the right direction, may not adequately address Indigenous rights and deeply held Spiritual beliefs

Statement by Nohooka Dine
Censored News
KAYENTA, Ariz. -- For months, Dine’ (Navajo) elders and medicine people have been reaching out to Ben Shelly, President of the Navajo Nation, to stop the roundup, sale and slaughtering of horses. 

Opposition to the roundups was based on the importance of horses to Dine’ culture, spirituality and society. 
Nohooká Dine’, represented by Leland Grass, appeared in parades and at fairs throughout the Navajo Nation to make their opposition to the inhumane treatment of horses known and to bring attention to how this issue threatens Dine’ subsistence rights. 
The Nohooka’ Dine were subsequently joined by the Dine’ Hataalii Association – the largest recognized association of traditional Dine’ Medicine People on the Navajo Nation – which passed a resolution in September opposing the roundup, sale and slaughtering of horses. Even a number of Navajo Nation Chapters came out in opposition to the roundups and refused to participate in the Navajo Nation program. Notwithstanding the protestations of the Dine’ Hataalii Association, traditional Dine’ people and others, President Shelly and his administration continued to roundup horses for slaughter.

In this context, many elders, medicine people and traditional people welcomed the announcement last week that President Shelly reversed his position on horse slaughter. The reports indicated that Shelly entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with former Governor of New Mexico, Bill Richardson to stop the roundup and slaughter. 

While these same elders and traditional leaders approved of the announcement, many were concerned that it took the outside intervention of Governor Richardson and Robert Redford to get Shelly to reverse course. 
The elders and medicine people have also expressed concern that this attempt at livestock reduction would soon extend to cattle, sheep and other livestock. These traditional leaders request to be included as a party to discussions on how the livestock reduction issue, in its entirety, should be addressed going forward. It is important that future discussions pertaining to MOU’s and livestock reduction involve representatives from the Nohooká Dine’, the Dine’ Hataalii Association and the Elders and Medicine People of the Dine’.

According to Leland Grass of the Nohooka’ Dine’, “horses are not only a symbol of the Dine’ people, The Great Horse Nation is a part of the Great Covenant, as a supernatural being, it possesses incredible power, it is inextricably tied to our spiritual way of life and our cultural traditions.” 

Further, according to Grass, “Our concern is the horse issue is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the Department of Interior and Navajo Nation’s overall livestock reduction plans. Every Dine’ person needs to be aware that the actions of the Navajo Nation Council, President Ben Shelly and Department of Interior could be jeopardizing our subsistence rights without our free, prior and informed consent.” Representatives of the Dine’ Hataalii Association expressed similar concerns.

According to Dr. Anthony Lee, the President of the Dine’ Hataalii Association and Leland Grass, “hopefully, we will have a place at the table so that we can ensure and allow our elders and medicine people to express that horses should be cared for with dignity and respect.” Dr. Lee also expressed, the horses are actually gifts coming from the domain and home of Father Sun. More specifically, the colored horses bring life blessings to the Dine’ people during the spring, fall, autumn, and winter months. In return, we should render offerings for horses during the four seasons. This is the proper Dine’ traditional protocol.

For More Information:

Leland Grass, Nohooká Dine’,

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