|Shiprock circa 1914|
Relationship to Land Concepts
By Duane 'Chili' Yazzie
There are two concepts of relationship to land, one is the belief that one can own the land, by whatever rationale, with a piece of paper to ‘prove’ land ownership. Land deeds, permits and leases are based on american law.
The roots of Navajo government and the laws that talk about land relationship stem to 1923 when the federal government imposed a foreign way of governance on us with strange ideas of land ownership. The new government was formed, so a lease could be given to an oilman to develop oil in the Shiprock area. We did not consent to be governed by this foreign system; it was forced on us.
The venerated Treaty of 1868 was Xed by our Tribal headmen so the people could come home. There will always be the question of whether our Chiefs knew and understood the language and intent of the Treaty. Nonetheless the Treaty was signed, with it came the imposition of foreign concepts of land relationship. Our ancestors were perplexed wondering how one could own land with land boundaries.
In 1848, Spain was pushed back down into Mexico, conceding lands it had claimed from the southwest US into the northwest. How did Spain come to think they ‘owned’ all this land? In 1493 after Columbus sailed back to Spain, the Pope gifted to Spain all of the Western Hemisphere. This authorized and “made legal” the Great Intrusion and the Doctrine of Discovery. Modern american law carry on certain principles of the Doctrine of Discovery, thus validating it. How legal or moral can all this be if we the original landlords had no say? In this foreign land relationship context, the land was stolen from us.
The other concept is Land Belonging that is rooted to our aboriginal beginnings; we were made as the child of our Earth Mother and the Great Creator Father; this intrinsic relationship remains a sacred and spiritual reality. In this understanding, the land is not a commodity that can be ‘owned’. Our concept is of belonging; ‘we belong to the Earth and the Earth belongs to us’, as a mother and child belong to each other. That bond, that reality cannot be broken or changed, no matter the circumstance. The stolen children in our Indigenous history always belonged to their birth mother, no matter how many hundreds of miles away they were taken, the children and their mothers belong to each other, forever.
The reality of, we belonging to our Earth Mother and the Earth Mother belonging to us is not altered by Navajo or american law. It is not possible. This is our understanding, our belief. The person or government that thinks otherwise and takes action to intrude on this relationship and harm our Earth Mother is wrong. We, the Water Protectors and Earth Defenders are not wrong in defending our Earth Mother. Our position is absolute.