Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

May 23, 2024

The Racism in Farmington: What No One Wants to Remember

Solidarity March in Farmington, New Mexico, on May 18, 2024. Photo by Ryan Vizzions, Censored News.

Solidarity March on Saturday for a Lakota teen whose beaded cap with a feather was taken from her at the high school graduation ceremony in Farmington, New Mexico. Courtesy photo.

The Racism in Farmington: What No One Wants to Remember

By Brenda Norrell, Censored News, Updated May 23, 2024

The Racism in Farmington. It is what no one wants to remember, no one wants to think about. Navajos were tortured and murdered here. Genevieve Jackson, Navajo councilwoman, called it a rite of passage for white teens in Farmington.

"White teenagers consider it a rite of passage. They learn it at home."

The year was 1992, and the marches for justice in the '70s were followed by more hate crimes. Rodney Barker's book, "The Broken Circle," had detailed the tortures and murders of Navajos in this bordertown in 1974, some of the murders, the ones that could be documented.

The U.S. Civil Rights Commission held hearings in Shiprock. 

Unfortunately, I was working as a staff reporter for the Farmington Daily Times. Still, I was able to report on the hearings, and lived in the newspaper's home office next to the Shiprock Chapter House.

It was during this time, after the hearings, that Navajo youths in the back of a pickup truck at a convenience store were brutally beaten by white teenagers who attacked them wielding metal baseball bats. Some Navajo youths had broken bones.

When my article was published, the editor had changed the details of the attack. It was rewritten and the editor made it sound like the Navajo youths deserved to be beaten. I demanded a retraction of the article, and I was fired.

In the years that followed the hate crimes continued. John Redhouse, Dine', pointed out, "In light of the latest incident of police brutality committed against Navajos in Farmington, we can see that nothing has really changed since the 1945 police beating death of former Navajo tribal chairman Deshna Clah Cheschillige."

"Farmington is on Indian land." Dine' elder at Farmington protest in 1974.
Photo by Bob Fitch

The Racism Today

Will the Farmington Daily Times cover the Solidarity March on Saturday? The international newspaper The Guardian published an article yesterday, "U.S. School Apologizes for Cutting Feather from top of Lakota's Graduation Cap."

The Guardian begins this way:

A high school in New Mexico has apologized after a video went viral of staff confiscating the feathered graduation cap of a student before its commencement ceremony.

Farmington high school senior Genesis White Bull, a Hunkpapa Lakota of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, had decorated her graduation cap with traditional Lakota decorations including beadwork and an aópazan, a white feather plume.

“That’s part of our culture, when we reach a milestone in our life, we as Lakotas decorate, do our beadwork and place our plume on them,” White Bull’s mother, Brenda White Bull, told the Tri-City Record in an interview. “I don’t appreciate them taking her plume, taking her beaded hat. That’s all cultural.”

The viral video shows two staff members of the school in Farmington, New Mexico, taking the cap from White Bull while she was seated ahead of her and her fellow students’ graduation ceremony. She was handed a plain cap. -- Guardian Link

Whether the school's "apology" is actually an apology is now debated by Navajos.

Genevieve Jackson said, “Farmington is still living in the 18th and 19th century and blissfully ignoring the laws on respecting cultural acceptance in society. Twenty-five  years later, our border town neighbors still feign ignorance on racial respect and acceptance."

"They still bite the hands that feed them. I encourage our young people to become active on school boards, commissions and in political arenas to bring change to this town," Jackson told Censored News today.

The Newspapers

In 1993, after the attack on the Navajo youths by white teens with baseball bats, and the distortion of the article by Farmington Daily Times, I reported it all to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.

The newspaper was sold after that.

After this, and because of this, Tim Giago, Lakota, asked me to be on the staff of a new newspaper he was creating. The name was Indian Country Today, and the Southwest office was starting up in Scottsdale. From there, we were able to roam the country and write the stories that really mattered. From that office, I was able to join an Indigenous delegation, go to the mountains and jungles of Chiapas, and be in the heart of the struggle with the Zapatistas in 1995.

The racism in Farmington is what no one wants to remember. Still, it is important to document history, so the truth will be known.

The media censorship and bias protected the perpetrators, including police officers and white teenagers from high profile families. The Farmington police chief blamed the influx of oil and gas field workers, who lived in Farmington and worked on the Navajo Nation, for the racist violence.

In the end, hate crimes, like war crimes, are made possible by a willing media.

Protest in Farmington 1974. Photo by Bob Fitch.

Note: Indian Country Today, and Farmington Daily Times, have both been sold several times to new owners through the years.

Read more:

Dine' John Redhouse: 'Fifty Years Ago: Uprising and Resistance'

By John Redhouse, Censored News

U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Denver:

"In April 1974 the bodies of two men, Herman Dodge Benally, 34, of Kirtland and John Earl Harvey, 39, of Fruitland, were found near Farmington, partially burned and bludgeoned. One week later, a third body was discovered, that of 52-year-old male, David Ignacio. All three men were Navajo. On May 1, 1974, three Farmington High School students were charged with the murders.

"Later, it would be alleged that the incident was part of 'Indian Rolling'—the practice of abusing Navajo street inebriates, and that such incidents occurred repeatedly, mostly at the hands of white teenagers.

"The brutality of these crimes provoked an angry outrage and the Native American community started holding protest marches through downtown Farmington denouncing the pervasive racism and bigotry of the community.

"The dismissive attitude of the white community to the indigenous community, long a way of life in Farmington, was abruptly ended. As tensions mounted, much of the white community in Farmington found itself not only ill prepared to deal with the ensuing crisis, but indeed confused, threatened, and frightened."

The Farmington Report: Civil Rights for Native Americans 30 Years Later

Advisory Committee's U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Farmington Report

"A Conflict of Cultures" 188 pages, 1975

Solidarity March, My 18, 2024, Photo by Ryan Vizzions, Censored News.

Solidarity March, May 18, 2024. Photo by Ryan Vizzions

Coalition for Navajo Liberation. Protest in Farmington, NM, 1974. Photo by Bob Fitch.

About the author

Brenda Norrell has been a news reporter in Indian country for 42 years, beginning as a staff reporter for Navajo Times during the 18 years that she lived on the Navajo Nation. She was a correspondent for Lakota Times, Associated Press and USA Today. After serving as a longtime staff reporter for Indian Country Today, she was censored and terminated in 2006, after the newspaper was sold to new owners. She created Censored News to reveal what is being censored in Indian country. She has a master's degree in international health.

Article copyright Brenda Norrell, Censored News

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