“Take it or Leave it”

( – promoted by navajo)

This is a short diary and just touches the subject but I wanted to call attention to this issue.  With many court battles over Native American treaties in the US and First Nations treaties in Canada, the process is one of attrition. The battles go on for decades without resolution. And in the meantime, those who could benefit from settlements do not.  

APTN (Aboriginal Peoples Television Network) has the story:

 Unnamed negotiators for First Nations who declined to speak on the record have heard (nothing in writing yet) that the Conservative Harper government is moving to set a deadline for specific claims negotiations.  http://aptn.ca/pages/news/2011…

“I’ve been hearing from not only my own clients, but also from other claims lawyers and negotiators from across the country that something very strange is happening,” Pratt said.

“Apparently from on high, I’m not sure how high, but from on high the direction has been given that all of the claims that are currently in negotiations, where those negotiations began on or before October of 2008, the negotiations are being suspended. Meetings are being cancelled, and the negotiators are telling the First Nations and their advisors that they will be preparing- the federal side will be preparing a ‘take or leave it’ offer.”

This deadline is reportedly October 16th, 2011.

The reasons behind the federal move are likely complex and combine politics with an effort to balance the national books. Several negotiators say they were told that if a First Nation rejects the government’s final offer, the negotiations will be shut down and the only recourse will be to take the claim before the Specific Claims Tribunal. But the tribunal cannot award more than a total of $250 million each year for all the claims it hears. And the legislation phases out the tribunal after 10 years. That means the most the tribunal can award for all specific claims is $2.5 billion.

The balance for contingent liability carried on the nation’s books is approximately $10 billion according to one of the unnamed negotiators, but they estimate the actual amount is nearer $50 billion.

As Canada’s Opposition leader Jack Layton steps down to battle a second cancer, and the decimated Liberal Party is effectively voiceless, this couldn’t come at a worse time. http://www.dailykos.com/story/…

But it not surprising for a government with a long history of just shutting down opposition. In 2007, the Conservatives struck the word “equality” from the Status of Women’s goals and blocked any funding for projects that involved advocacy, lobbying, or research.

This is a government that doesn’t think women, especially feminists, are a constituency it needs to listen to or worry about. The Harper Conservatives simply aren’t paying much attention to women or to other equality-seeking groups such as gays and lesbians, Aboriginal people, or childcare advocates. In short, the attack on Status of Women is part of the same ideological hostility that led to the elimination of the budget for the Law Reform Commission of Canada (which did first-rate research on legal, political and constitutional matters, and published and distributed these for free for citizen use), and for the Court Challenges Program (which funds cases that have important questions of law and which might not otherwise be taken before the courts).

In effect, any group seeking to challenge the status quo or guide the government towards more proactive, progressive policies has been pegged as “against us” rather than “with us,” and the Conservatives are disarming and dismantling them as fast as they can.


The APTN article has an explanation of which types of treaties are affected. There are many types in litigation.  

The Inka Empire

When the Spanish under the leadership of Francisco Pizarro arrived in Peru in 1532, they encountered the Inka empire. With a population of about 8 million people occupying the area from the Ecuador-Colombia border in the north to central Chile in the south, the Inka empire was the largest indigenous empire in the Americas.  

The Inka empire in 1532 was less than a century old. The Quechua-speaking Inka began to coalesce as an identifiable people in the twelfth century in the area around Cuzco. They incorporated religious traditions from the earlier Wari and Tiwanaku civilizations. They began to expand about 1438 and by 1460 had become an empire.

Inka Map

The Inka empire expanded through a combination of military conquest, alliances, and negotiations. As an empire, the Inka ruled an amazing array of different peoples: peoples speaking different languages, inhabiting different environments, and having distinct ethnic traditions and identities. There were often large-scale transfers to conquered populations from one area to another, which broke up the indigenous populations and allowed the Inka to govern them with less resistance.

The Inka used a system of labor-based taxation, known as Mit’a. This enabled them to engage in large-scale building projects. It tied the commoners to the state during parts of the year. During these periods they were fed and supported by the state. In some instances this required travel from the home towns of the workers to distant building sites.

The Inka emphasized the divinity of the living ruler and the royal ancestors. They promulgated the national cult of Viracocha (sun god). At the same time, conquered gods were incorporated into the Inka system.

Royal inheritance was vested in a corporate group of the ruler’s descendents. It was as if the king had not died at all, but his body continued to hold court. This deprived the new ruler of the wealth that he would need to support his own court. Thus the new ruler had to find the resources to support his own court during his life and after. Expansion of the empire provided these resources to the new ruler.

Upon the death of the ruler, a new ruler was chosen for competence from the old ruler’s sons. This has the potential for civil war, which was the situation which the Spanish were able to capitalize on in order to conquer the Inka.  

Stone Work


Architecturally the Inka are best-known for using large stone blocks, often weighing tons, which were carefully fitted without masonry.

Machu Pichu Map

Probably the best-known Inka site is Machu Pichu, which is not really characteristic of their population centers. Machu Pichu was a ceremonial center and a royal palace located in a defensive location. It was constructed about 1460 and used until 1560. It had only a small custodian population during most of the year.

Machu Pichu 1

Machu Pichu 3

Machu Picchu Residence

Machu Picchu Terrace

Photos of Machu Pichu are shown above.

The Inka empire was tied together with an efficient road system. They did not have wheeled vehicles but relied on llamas and human porters to transport goods throughout the empire.

The Inka economic system had two basic levels. First, there was local kin and community based economic production and exchange. At this level there were local styles which were produced for local use. Second, there was a much larger scale production that was heavily centralized and standardized and controlled by the state. This included the production of metal goods-often finely crafted prestige items of gold and silver which the Spanish simply melted down-and textiles.

Inka Textiles

An example of Inka textile work is shown above.

Complex civilizations around the world usually require some form of writing for record-keeping and for long-distance communication. In fact, many archaeologists use the presence of writing as one of the criteria for defining a level of social organization which they would call a civilization. Most archaeologists feel that the Inka did not have a form of writing as Eurocentric scholars understand it. For communication they used a system of knots and strings known as a khipu (quipu). While this has often been interpreted today as being a numeric system and/or a mnemonic system, some of the knots also had non-numeric values and could be used to transmit and record non-numeric messages. At the present time, many researchers are looking at the khipu as a form of writing, or at least proto-writing.


One of the other criteria that archaeologists use for defining a civilization is urbanization. The Inka city of Cusco had a population of about 100,000 people. Cusco was laid out so that different parts of the city represented different conquered areas of the empire.

Nor’Westers and Indians in the Columbia Plateau

The fur trade was an important part of the economic history of North America and incorporated American Indian economies into a larger world economy. Furs were valuable, easily portable, and renewable resources. The prime furs-marten, otter, fox-were sold at high prices in the European and Chinese markets. Of less value, but still profitable, were pelts from buffalo, beaver, muskrat, and squirrel.

Today, the best-known fur trading company, and one of the world’s early transnational corporations, is the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC). HBC was formed in 1670 when Prince Rupert, a duke, three earls, and other nobles subscribed to the Company of Adventurers of England Trading Into Hudson’s Bay. They were granted a royal charter from the English Crown which gave them a monopoly over all lands which drain into Hudson’s Bay.

Many smaller trading companies were frustrated by the HBC monopoly and in 1776 a group of “pedlars” based out of Montreal established a supply base at the western end of Lake Superior to push around the trading territory of the well-established Hudson’s Bay Company. By 1787 they had become the North West Company, an association of enterprising men agreeing among themselves to carry on the fur trade and remain unattached to any other business concern. Known as the Nor’westers, they competed vigorously with the Hudson’s Bay Company until the Crown forced the two companies to merge in 1823.

In general, the practice of the Nor’westers was to travel into fur country, often by canoe, build a trading post, and then wait for Indians to bring their furs which were to be traded for items of European manufacture. Among most Indian nations, trading networks had been traditionally established through kinship. Thus for the Nor’westers to be successful, they had to become a part of the Indian kinship network through adoption and through marriage. While marriage alliances were regarded favorably by the Indians, Christian clergy often discouraged them. However, the traders were motivated by profits rather than prophets and were not overly concerned with converting Indians to Christianity.

One of the trade items which had a great impact on the American Indian cultures was alcohol. Alcohol was, and still is, an ideal trading commodity: it is quickly and easily consumed, it is expensive, and it is addictive. The Nor’westers traded a delightful, but deadly concoction called “high wine.” This was made from a mixture of brandy, dark rum, sweet sherry, tawny port, cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Water would be added according to the circumstances.


In 1793, a mixed group of Indians, voyageurs, Scots traders, and a large dog under the leadership of Alexander MacKenzie set off in a light canoe from the North West Company trading post at Fort Chipewyan to find a water route to the Pacific. The group crossed the mountains,  then travelled down the river to the Pacific Ocean, becoming the first Europeans to cross North America by land.

MacKenzie’s book about this expedition promoted the idea that great wealth could be made in the northwest. His ideas launched the American scramble for the fur trade on the Northern Plains and in the Columbia Plateau.

The Columbia Plateau:

During the first part of the nineteenth century the Nor’westers moved into the Columbia Plateau region of eastern Washington, northern Idaho, and western Montana where they established a series of trading posts: Kootenai Post near present-day Libby, Montana (1808); Kullyspel House on the east shore of Pend Oreille Lake in present-day Idaho (1809); Saleesh House, on the Clark Fork River near present-day Thompson Falls, Montana (1809); and Spokane House in Washington (1810).

In the Plateau area, the nature of trade changed. First, the Plateau tribes had traditionally trapped small fur- bearing animals-mink, martin, fisher-for trade. However, this trapping and the trading was done by the women. When the Canadian fur traders tried to persuade the men to engage in this type of trapping, they were told that this was “women’s work.”

With regard to beaver, the best and most valuable pelts were those taken in the fall and winter. However, this conflicted with the seasonal buffalo hunts on the Plains. From the Indian perspective, obtaining subsistence for the coming year was more important than trading for a few manufactured goods.

In the Plateau, the Nor’westers as well as the HBC traders began to employ trappers to obtain the furs for the European and Chinese markets. They relied on the local tribes to trade not furs, but food and horses. The Indians found that providing the trading posts with salmon was less disruptive to their way of life and dried salmon became a staple food in the trading posts.  

A Trip Down the Columbia River:

The Columbia River, which flows from British Columbia through Washington and Oregon to the Pacific Ocean, was seen by the nineteenth century fur traders-not only the Nor’westers, but also their rivals Hudson’s Bay Company and John Jacob Astor’s Pacific Fur Company-as the highway which opened up the interior and connected it with the European and Chinese markets. Fort Astoria was established near the mouth of the river by the Pacific Fur Company in 1811.

In 1811, a group of Nor’westers under the leadership of David Thompson set off from Kettle Falls, Washington, to travel down the Columbia River. At every fishing camp, Thompson made a point of stopping and introducing himself. He explained:

“My reason for putting ashore and smoking with the Natives, is to make friends with them, against my return, for in descending the current of a large River, we might pass on without much attention to them, but in returning against the current, our progress will be slow and close along the shore, and consequently very much in their power…”

The traders spent their first night with the Sanpoil. Thompson noted that these Indians subsisted mainly on salmon, roots, and berries. They did not have stone or clay pots for storage. They had no forged tools or weapons. Thompson estimates the population of the village at 546.

The next night the fur traders spent with the Nespelem, which Thompson described as prosperous, with many horses. The Nespelem performed a dance to bring the traders luck. After being blocked by Whirlpool Rapids, the Nespelem helped the traders make a two mile portage. The Nespelem reported that there are no beaver in their territory. Thompson noted that the Indians were wearing bracelets and necklaces made from dentalium shells, an indication of trade with coastal tribes. The Nespelem also grew their own tobacco.

Next the traders encountered the Methow who greeted them with a dance. Thompson noted that both the men and women joined in the smoking of the traditional Indian pipes.

The Nor’westers next encountered the Wenatchee, and Thompson noted that one of their lodges was about 80 yards long and that another was about 20 yards long. The village had a population of about 120 people. The Nor’westers noted that many of the Wenatchee wore shells in their noses and sported fine goat-hair blankets.

Near the big bend in the Columbia River, the traders camped with a group of 150 Yakama men.

At the Palouse village of Quosispah at the confluence of the Snake and Columbia Rivers, David Thompson scribbled a few lines on a sheet of paper, hoisted the Union Jack, and claimed the land for Britain.

A few miles down the Columbia River, the North West Company traders met with Cayuse chief Ollicott who showed them the Lewis and Clark medal and the American flag which he had received a few years earlier.

In Washington, David Thompson encountered a party of Nippising and Iroquois on the Columbia River. The Iroquois were Indians whose traditional homes were in Quebec and Ontario, a long distance from the Columbia River. The Indians were journeying to British Columbia to hunt moose and trap beaver. Two of the Iroquois were hired by Thompson.

A Change:

In 1815, the North West Company organized their Columbia Department to exploit the fur resources of the Columbia Plateau. Donald McKenzie was appointed as the leader of this new department. While the company had traditionally gone into Indian country and opened posts for Indian trade, McKenzie decided to change this approach. He felt that the fur trade would be more profitable if the middlemen-the Indians-were eliminated. In order to do this, the Nor’westers were to trap instead of trade. As a result, large numbers of non-Indian trappers-French-Canadian, American, English, Hawaiian-began to invade Indian country and exploit Indian resources with no concern for the Indian ownership of these resources. Also included in the trapping brigades were a number of Iroquois Indians from eastern Canada.

The trapping parties decimated Indian resources in several ways. Not only did they take the fur-bearing animals which were valuable in the foreign markets, but in order to feed themselves, they killed large numbers of deer and elk. In addition, their horses grazed on Indian land and reduced the amount of feed available for Indian horses.

The trapping parties ranged south of the Columbia River into Oregon, Idaho, and Nevada, often trapping all of the game in an area and then moving on. There was little or no concern for sustainability and some of the trappers remarked that their goal was to trap the land bare.

In 1823, the Nor’westers merged with Hudson’s Bay Company and the HBC trappers continued their efforts to trap out all of the fur bearing animals in the Plateau region.  

Ancient America: Book Burning

Writing first appeared in the Maya area about 400 BCE. The Maya developed their writing systems more elaborately than any other group in the Americas. They used writing to establish the sequence of rituals and to glorify the rulers. Writing was used by the elite to order their world.  

Maya Glyph 2

Maya Stela 1


As in other parts of the world, the Maya wrote on stone monuments as a way of recording and glorifying their achievements and their kings. They also created books: the Maya would write on bark paper coated with plaster.

Dresden Codex

Shown above is the Dresden Codex.

Diego de Landa was a Spanish Franciscan monk who was one of the first of his order sent to the Yucatán in Mexico. He arrived in Mexico in 1549 to bring the Catholic faith to the Maya peoples after the Spanish conquest. He became bishop in 1573.

In 1562 he ordered an inquisition after hearing that some Roman Catholic Maya were continuing to worship pagan idols. Several thousand Indians were tortured to obtain “confessions,” and about 200 were killed during the process. As a result, at least 40 Maya codices (books written in Mayan) and 20,000 Maya religious images were burned. De Landa would later defend his actions by claiming that the displaced pagan priests were working to bring the people back to their heathen roots. He claimed that the people were not only worshipping idols, but were also engaging in human sacrifice. With regard to the burning of the Maya codices, the Franciscans felt that the very existence of these books was evidence of satanic practices. De Landa would write:

“We found a large number of books in these characters and, as they contained nothing in which were not to be seen as superstition and lies of the devil, we burned them all, which they (the Maya) regretted to an amazing degree, and which caused them much affliction.”

Diego de Landa catalogued the Maya religion, the Maya language, and the Maya writing system in his book Relación de las cosas de Yucatán. The work was written about 1566. The original copies of his manuscript have been lost and the only versions available today are an abridgement which has undergone several changes by various copyists. The copy which is available today was published about 1660, then re-discovered and published in France in 1862.

While de Landa actively sought to suppress and destroy the aboriginal Maya religion, his Relación de las cosas de Yucatán is considered one of the most complete treatments of Maya religions that has ever been done.

Relación de las cosas de Yucatán has provided a valuable record of the Mayan writing system. In spite of some inaccuracies, it has proved instrumental in the twentieth century decipherment of the Mayan writing system.

The four Maya codices which are known to have escaped de Landa’s destruction are all treatises on astronomy and the calendar. The writing carved into the stone monuments tells about the lives of the rulers, battles, alliances, and the deaths of rulers. While the Maya writing gives us some insights into these ancient civilizations, the writing doesn’t mention anything about commoners, about the lives of the people. While the Maya may have written about commoners in their books, and they may have written poetry and novels, de Landa’s book burning has taken this knowledge from us.  

The Great Debate

The discovery of the Americas presented some difficult problems for the Christian Europeans: the people who lived in the Americas, often called Indians, did not appear in either their sacred books nor in the writings of the Greek historians. Initially, there was a great debate over whether or not American Indians were human. In order to be considered human, from a Christian European perspective, the Indians had to have the ability to reason and a soul which could be saved from eternal damnation through conversion to Christianity. Once the Pope had declared that Indians were human, the Spanish, unlike some of the other European powers, took seriously the humanity of native people. They saw them as a part of the community of God. They recognized that they had certain rights. During the 16th century the Spanish engaged in a number of intellectual debates about the Indians which culminated in the 1550-1551 debate in Valladolid.  

Before Valladolid:  

In 1532, Spanish judge Francisco de Vitoria declared that non-Christians were able to own property and therefore Indians may have title to their land. He also wrote:

“The Spaniards have the right to go to the lands of the Indians, dwell there and carry on trade, so long as they do no harm, and they cannot be prevented by the Indians from doing so.”

Also in 1532, Francisco de Vitoria gave a series of lectures in Spain on “Indians Recently Discovered” in which he pointed out that Indians had reason, law, and their own governments. Indian land rights, according to de Vitoria, cannot be ignored.  

Viewing Indians as human did not mean that the Spanish would stop enslaving them or allowing them to occupy lower levels of Spanish Christian society. In 1537, Pope Paul III, in a papal bull Sublimis Deus, declared that Indians were not to be enslaved nor were they

“to be deprived of their liberty or the possession of their property, even though they be outside of the faith of Jesus Christ.”

The Spanish King, however, disagreed with the bull and confiscated all copies of the bull before it could reach the Americas. He then prevailed upon the Pope to revoke the bull.

In 1542, the Dominican friar Bartolomé de Las Casas published his eyewitness account entitled The Devastation of the Indies in which he chronicled Spanish cruelty against Native Americans in the Caribbean.

In 1544, Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda wrote a Latin dialogue, Democrates secundus, in which he argued that the Spanish wars of conquest in the Americas were just wars. The work was based on renowned medieval authorities, particularly Aristotle. Sepúlveda, using a philosophical approach, concluded that Indians were irrational beings whose inferior condition made them suitable to be slaves. Sepúlveda’s secular arguments were in stark contrast to others of this time who addressed the Indian “problem” in purely theological terms.

In response to Sepúlveda’s Democrates secundus, Las Casas wrote a Latin work, Apologia, which debunked Sepúlveda’s propositions on theological grounds.


In 1550, King Charles, the grandson of Ferdinand and Isabella, called together a group of leading theologians and scholars in Valladolid to determine the criteria by which a just war could be waged against Native Americans. Among the questions which the group was to answer was whether or not Native Americans were capable of self-governance. Some of today’s scholars consider this to be one of the most important debates in history with regard to American Indians.

Bartolomé de Las Casas was a Dominican friar who had been the first resident bishop of Chiapas, Mexico. Among those who entered into the debate about the Indians, he was the only one who had actual first-hand knowledge of them.

Bartolomé de Las Casas presented the idea that Christianity should be spread by kindness and example rather than by the sword. Las Casas felt that Indians should be governed like any other people in Spain. He argued that Jesus had power over all people in the world, including those who had never been exposed to the Christian gospel. According to Las Casas, the Spanish had no right to subject the Indians to slavery or war, but rather, Spain’s role in the Americas should be spiritual rather than economic or political.

Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda supported the Spanish colonists, the Spanish Empire’s right of conquest, and the Spanish right of evangelization in the Americas. Sepúlveda, a philosopher and theologian  who had never been to the Americas and who had never had any personal contact with Indian people, argued that Indians were brutes who could only become the servants of civilized peoples. Philosophically, Sepúlveda made his argument based on natural law philosophy.

According to Sepúlveda, there were four reasons why the Spanish could wage a just war against the Indians: (1) they were barbarians, (2) they committed crimes against natural law, (3) they oppressed and killed the innocent among themselves, and (4) they were infidels who needed to be instructed in the Christian faith. Las Casas countered these arguments by showing that the Indians, who he conceded were ignorant and at a different stage of human development, were no less rational than were Europeans.

One of the questions raised was whether or not American Indians were capable of self-governance. Sepúlveda, using Aristotle’s Book I of Politics, claimed that Indians were natural slaves. Aristotle’s Theory of Natural Slavery put forth the idea that some people born to inferior races were natural slaves and constituted a condition of “animate possession” when held by a superior race. He wrote:

“Those whose condition is such that their function is the use of their bodies and nothing better can be expected of them, those, I say, are slaves of nature. It is better for them to be ruled thus.”

Arguing in favor of a social hierarchy in which the Indians were at the bottom, Sepúlveda wrote:

“You should remember that authority and power are not only of one kind but of several varieties, since in one way and with one kind of law the father commands his children, in another the husband commands his wife, in another the master commands his servants, in another the judge commands the citizens, in another the king commands the peoples and human beings confined to his authority…. Although each jurisdiction may appear different, they all go back to a single principle, as the wise men teach. That is, the perfect should command and rule over the imperfect, the excellent over its opposite….”

Las Casas countered that Sepúlveda’s application of Aristotle’s theory of natural slavery with regard to American Indians was incorrect. Las Casas argued that there were four types of barbarians: (1) those exhibiting cruel and wild behavior that goes against human reason, (2) those lacking a written language to express themselves, (3) those who had no understanding of justice, and (4) those who were non-Christians. Las Casas documented how Indians did not fit into the first three types. While the Indians were barbarians in that they were not Christian, Las Casas argued, this meant only that the Spanish were called to help them, not wage war against them.

The lack of private property among the Aztecs is one of the features that Sepúlveda cited in his argument promoting the natural inferiority of the Indians. He wrote:

“they have established their commonwealth in such a manner that no one individually owns anything, neither a house nor a field that one may dispose of or leave to his heirs in his will, because everything is controlled by their lords, who are incorrectly called kings. They live more at the mercy of their king’s will than of their own. They are the slaves of his will and caprice, and they are not the masters of their fate. The fact that this condition is not the result of coercion but is voluntary and spontaneous is a certain sign of the servile and base spirit of these barbarians.”

He concluded:

“For numerous and grave reasons these barbarians are obligated to accept the rule of the Spaniards according to natural law. For them it ought to be even more advantageous than for the Spaniards, since virtue, humanity, and the true religion are more valuable than gold or silver. And if they refuse our rule, they may be compelled by force of arms to accept it. Such a war is just according to natural law.”

According to Sepúlveda, war against the Indians would prepare the way for the preaching of the faith among them. War was necessary so that missionaries, such as Las Casas, could be successful. Pagans should be Christianized by force. As evidence, Sepúlveda cited the wars of Constantine the Great as a force for the Christianization of the pagan peoples of Europe.

In response, Las Casas asked how God could command his church to kill pagans in war in order to save them from their ignorance. Pagans such as the Indians, Las Casas argued, had to be peacefully converted to Christianity, not violently punished for their ignorance.

The debates in Valladolid did not reach any firm conclusions. Both sides would later claim that their arguments prevailed. However, Spanish authorities suppressed the detailed defense of the humanity of Native Americans prepared by Las Casas. Sepúlveda’s ideas were widely circulated and used as justification for enslaving Indians.

After Valladolid:

Following Valladolid, Sepúlveda continued to champion the cause of the Spanish colonists and of the rights of the Spanish to enslave the Indians. In his writings, he continued to denounce Las Casas. Similarly, Las Casas continued to champion the cause of Indian humanity and to denounce Sepúlveda.

In 1554, Francisco López de Gómara, one of the greatest enemies of Bartolomé de Las Casas, published his Historia general de las Indias (General History of the Indians.) It is evident that López de Gómara, who had never been to the Americas, disliked Indians, as his book was filled with outrageous characterizations of them. In the book he described Indians as the worst people God had ever made and felt that they should be enslaved as they did not deserve liberty.

In 1557 Las Casas made a heated denunciation of the treatment of the Indians by the conquistadores. A member of the Royal Council replied that the Indians were too low in the scale of humanity to be capable of receiving the Christian faith. At one point, Las Casas is reported to have remarked that Indians preferred to go to Hell in order to avoid meeting any Christians.

In 1573, the King of Spain issued “Laws Concerning Discoveries, Pacifications and Settlements Among the Indians” which was an extensive series of laws about exploration, settlement and the treatment of Indians. The new laws did not speak of “conquest,” but rather of the “pacification” of the Indians.

Hopi Migrations

In 1540 Francisco Vásquez de Coronado began his journey north from Mexico seeking the legendary Seven Cities of Cibola. He had with him a force of 330 Spaniards (most of whom were mounted soldiers) and 1,000 native allies. After conquering Zuñi Pueblo, Coronado sent an expedition under the command of Captain Pedro de Tovar to make contact with the Hopi.  The Hopi met the Spaniards at the town of Kawaika-a with coldness. The Hopi were in battle formation and drew a line on the ground with sacred corn pollen telling the Spaniards not to cross it. There was a short battle that was won by the Spaniards. At this time there were an estimated 29,000 Hopi who lived in several well-established villages, many of which were defensively located on mesa tops.  

The designation Hopi comes from a contraction of Hopi-tuh which means “peaceful ones.” While outsiders have often insisted on discussing the Hopi as a tribe, they are a collection of independent, autonomous villages (Pueblos) which are unified by a common language and common cultural traditions. While the Hopi had lived in their villages for several centuries prior to their first encounter with the Spanish (the Hopi village of Oraibi had been established by 1100 CE), their oral histories and the archaeological record tell of many migrations. Some of these oral traditions speak of a migration from the Old World to the New World, a migration made across water rather than across lands.

One of the most important features of Hopi social organization is their clans: matrilineal, named, exogamous, family units. Matrilineal clans mean that each member of Hopi society belongs to a single clan and that clan membership is the mother’s clan.  Being exogamous means that clan members may not marry people from the same clan.

The Hopi migration stories are histories of the Hopi clans. According to Hopi traditions, the clans migrated independently, arriving in the Hopi homelands at different times and from different directions. The clan name often reflects an episode in the clan’s migrations. Each clan has its own stories about its migrations across the Southwest and their arrival at their present villages.

There was often a pattern of settling down, building villages and preparing new fields for their corn and other plants. Then would come another migration. When an area was abandoned, the remains of the Hopi ancestors were left behind. These ancestors are important as the weather patterns-something very important to dry land farmers-are controlled by spirit ancestors.  

Before they began their wanderings, the deity Maasaw gave the Hopi tablets which sealed their covenant with him.  

Upon their emergence from the Underworld at the Sipapu, the Hopi began their search for the homeland promised them by Mockingbird. Each group that left the Sipapu (the sacred entrance to the underworld) was accompanied by an old woman. It was the wisdom of this elder that would be counted on during the long time of wandering. For this reason, Hopi women have always played an important part in village secular and religious life.

The Hopi promised land was to be an area where they would find security from enemies who waged war against them, soil suited to their plants (corn, beans, cotton), an adequate supply of game and, most important, a dependable supply of water. All of these are found in the mesas of northern Arizona where they established their villages.

At first the Hopi all traveled to the east. One group, led by Bahana, went so far east that he could touch his forehead to the Sun. Here they settled and planted their crops. The other Hopi groups spread out in many directions, often pausing for several seasons at certain places. Then they would continue their search for the promised land.

One of the wandering bands of Hopi under the leadership of Matcito found the body of a dead bear near the Little Colorado River. Considering this to be a significant omen, this group became the Bear Clan. Later, a second band of Hopi came upon the bear’s carcass. Since they needed help in carrying their possessions, they cut long straps from the bear’s hide and are thus known as the Strap Clan. Several days later, a third party of Hopi came upon the dead bear, which was now just a skeleton. They found several bluebirds perched on the bones and took this as a sign to name themselves the Bluebird Clan. The fourth group to come upon the bear found a spider with a large web in the center of the skeleton and took the name Spider Clan. The fifth group to find the bear’s skeleton noted that there were now many holes made by moles and became the Mole Clan. Many months later, a sixth Hopi group came upon what remained of the bear. When they examined the skull they found a strange substance in the eye cavities and so they became the Greasy Eye Cavities Clan.

The Bear Clan camped at Kuiwanva and it was here that the god Masau-u, the death god and the patron of all food plants, visited them. The Bear Clan people asked Masau-u if he would give them some of his land and allow them to build their village there. Masau-u then showed them where they could build their village, and today this is the site of Oraibi (also spelled Orayvi). As other clans would later approach the village, they would have to ask the village chief, a member of the Bear Clan, for permission to settle in the village. The Bear Clan chief would always ask them what they could contribute to the village before allowing them to settle there.

The Hopi Snake Clan once settled at Tokoonavi, which is northeast of the Grand Canyon near Navajo Mountain. Tiyo, the son of the village chief, made a boat and journeyed down the Colorado River to the ocean and from there to a small island. After adventures with the snake people (the reason for the Clan’s name), Tiyo returned home. Tiyo and his wife eventually decided to seek a new home and came to Walpi where they asked to be allowed to live.

Like the Snake Clan, the Horn Clan traces its roots to Tokoonavi. After they left this village to search for a site for a permanent home, they came to Lenyanobi which was inhabited by the Flute Clan. The people of the Flute Clan made the Horn Clan welcome and after a while the two people became very closely related. After living at Lenyanobi for a long time, the two clans continued the search for their homeland. Near the Hopi village of Walpi, they built the village of Kwactapahu. When they discovered that the Snake Clan people, which whom they had lived at Tokoonavi, were now living at Walpi, they were made welcome and entered the pueblo.

The Hopi Water clans-Young Corn, Cloud, Tadpole and Frog, Snow, and Rabbitbrush-have an oral history in which they migrated to Hopi country from Palotquopi, a region of red rocks. This area probably lies near the pueblo of Casas Grandes in Chihuahua, Mexico.  As they migrated north, they lived for a while at the Zuñi pueblo of Hawikuh. Eventually, the Snake Clan chief welcomed the Water Clans to Walpi.

The Hopi Katsini and Parrot Clans also have a tradition which tells of a migration from the south, possibly Casas Grandes. As with the Water Clans, there is also some indication that these two clans lived for a while with the Zuni.

The Firewood or Kokop Clans-Coyta, Masau-u, Yucca, Pinyon-have an oral tradition that says they came to the Hopi from villages on the Jemez Plateau in New Mexico. Several other clans-Sun, Moon, Stars, Sun’s Forehead, Eagle, Hawk, Turkey-also have traditions about living in the pueblos of New Mexico.

The Badger Clan wandered for a long time after emerging from the Underworld. They then settled a Kisiu-va in the San Francisco peaks. Here they lived for a time with members of the Katsina Clan. Early in their wanderings, the Badger Clan had established the village of Tuwanacabi, north of the present-day Hopi villages. They then moved to the Oraibi Wash where they built the village of Siu-va. It was at this time that they became interested in the badger and became the Badger Clan. Later they moved to the village of Oraibi.

Glacier National Park: Spiritual Water

Water is a living thing according to many Native American traditions. In some Anishinabe traditions, water symbolizes humility and provides the people with many important lessons regarding life, harmony, and healing. Water is often a part of Native American spiritual practices.  

I recently had the honor of escorting two Kossacks (oke and rfall) a short distance into Glacier National Park, an area which has a spiritual history associated with at least three tribes (Blackfoot, Kootenai, Pend d’Oreille). What follows are simply some photos snapped during this short excursion. Those who follow Native spiritual paths may get a sense of the spirituality of water. Those who follow other paths may simply enjoy the beauty of the park.

Lake McDonald 1

Lake McDonald 2

from bridge

from Apgar

Shown above is Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park.

Upper McDonald 1

Upper McDonald 2

Upper McDonald 3

Shown above is upper McDonald Creek in Glacier National Park.

Moose Area

Shown above is a moose habitat area. In the Anishinabe oral traditions, the place of moose is between the west (which represents death) and north (which represents dreams). Moose is about the nurturing of dreams.

Avalanche Creek 1

Avalanche Creek 2

Avalanche Creek 3

Water Pool

Avalanche Creek 4

Shown above is Avalanche Creek in Glacier National Park.

Water Seep

Shown above is a water seep in an old growth cedar forest.  

Indian Affairs During the Coolidge Administration

With the sudden death of President Warren Harding in 1923, Calvin Coolidge became the 30th President of the United States. While the Harding administration was known for its corruption, Coolidge did not request any resignations. The policies of the Harding administration, particularly with regard to Native Americans was to continue. The administration of Indian Affairs in the United States came under the Department of the Interior, and Hubert Work, initially appointed by Warren Harding, continued as Secretary of the Interior under Coolidge. Charles Burke, who had served as Commissioner of Indian Affairs in the Harding administration, continued to head the Indian Office.  

In 1923, in an effort to increase the suppression of American Indian religious freedom and to assimilate Indians into American society, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs updated the list of Indian offenses-activities for which Indians were to  be punished. The Commissioner suggested that maypole dances be used as a substitute for traditional Indian dances at Indian schools. He was apparently unaware that the maypole dances were survivals of European pagan fertility dances around phallic icons.

Indian Commissioner Charles H. Burke  renewed his campaign against Indian religions in 1924 and declared Indian ceremonies to be obscene and sadistic. He felt that native religions prevented the full assimilation of Indians into American life.

Indian Citizenship:

The most important change in federal Indian policy came about in 1924 when Congress passed, and President Coolidge signed, the Indian Citizenship Act. Giving all Indians citizenship was viewed as a continuation of the government’s efforts to assimilate Indians into mainstream society. There was an expectation that tribal governments would disappear and Indians would become like other immigrants to the United States.

Many of those who promoted Indian citizenship felt that it would give the Indians the freedom to practice their religion under the Bill of Rights and that it would reduce government control over Indian lives. However, the Indian Office (now the Bureau of Indians Affairs) interpreted the granting of citizenship as not affecting its authority over the tribal and individual property of Indians. The Indian Office assumed that they would continue to exert control of Indian lives, property, and resources.

Religious Law:

The United States, with regard to Indian affairs, has functioned as a theocracy in an attempt to force Christian laws on Indian people. Ignoring the possibility of religious freedom for Indians who had been granted citizenship two years before, Congress considered a bill drafted by the Indian Office which would formalize reservation courts of Indian offenses. The bill would prohibit traditional Indian marriages and divorces, giving the superintendents the power to issue marriage licenses. Hearings on the bill showed much opposition, including testimony from tribes who rarely testified before Congress. The hearings demonstrated that the Indian Office had little understanding of or empathy for the rights of Indians.

The Pueblos:

Part of the repressive force of the federal government’s Indian policy focused on the Pueblos in New Mexico. Sunset magazine published an article by John Collier in 1923 in which he stated: “The Pueblos are fighting desperately against quick destruction.” According to Collier, those opposing the New Mexico Pueblos were land grabbing interests and the executive branch of the federal government. He appealed to Americans to use their voice and vote to prevent the continuation of the poor treatment of Indians.

The Council of All the New Mexico Pueblos issued a long response to the government’s attack on their religion in 1924. In this response they asked for

“Perfect toleration of religious sentiment shall be secured, and no inhabitant of this state shall ever be molested in person or property on account of his or her mode of religious worship.”

In 1926, Commissioner of Indian Affairs Charles H. Burke visited Taos Pueblo in New Mexico, told the elders in the tribal council that they were “half animals” because of their pagan religion, and then had the entire governing body of the Pueblo thrown into jail for violating the Indian Office religious crimes codes. Prior to the speech, Burke had told the Indian Office that the Pueblos must rid themselves of their native religion within a year.

In response to the open attempts by the federal government to suppress their religion, the All Indian Pueblo Council met at Santo Domingo Pueblo. The Council had strongly opposed the government’s attempts to eradicate their religion. In response, Indian Commissioner Burke had designated the Council as “unauthorized” and was attempting to replace it with a council which would be controlled by the Indian Office. The All Indian Pueblo Council unanimously voted to continue and to expand their existing Indian-controlled council.  

Five Hopi visited Washington, D.C. and presented four tribal religious dances before an audience of 5,000. The Hopi wished to show people, including Vice President Charles Dawes and two Supreme Court justices, that their ceremonies were not cruel rites.

The Navajo:

While the Constitution refers to Indian tribes as government and the Supreme Court has described tribes as domestic dependent nations, the Coolidge administration, like the administrations which had preceded it, preferred tribal governments which could function as puppet dictatorships loyal not to their own people, but to the federal government and the economic interests which they promoted.

In 1923, the federal government unilaterally replaced the traditional Navajo council of elders with a Grand Council composed of government selected individuals. While the new council was to be composed of delegates elected by each of the six jurisdictions on the reservation, delegates could be appointed if there was no election. The Indian Office could also remove or replace any delegates.

All of the Council were Navajos who had been educated off of the reservation. The Council could meet only in the presence of the Commissioner to the Navajo Tribe. Former Navajo chairman Peter MacDonald has noted:

“For the first time in the history of the Navajo Nation, the idea of a single leader was created. A twelve-member tribal council was established whose representa¬tives were to replace the traditional extended family leaders.”

The new Council, the only Navajo government recognized by the U.S. government, quickly signed leasing permits with a group of mining companies. It was clear that the federal government did not intend to create a self-governing tribe, but one which would negotiate property matters in the best interest of non-Indian businesses. The tribal council was intended to serve the interests of the oil companies.

Chee Dodge, a wealthy stockman, was elected as Chairman. A split soon developed in the council. Dodge, a Catholic, felt that the royalties belonged to all of the Navajo and should be used to buy land for the impoverished Navajo stockmen. Another group, under the leadership of Jacob C. Morgan, a fundamentalist Protestant missionary, felt that traditionalists such as Dodge were not qualified to lead. Under Dodge’s leadership the council gave the Indian agent the power of attorney to negotiate and sign all leases on behalf of the tribe.

Water Rights:

In 1908, Supreme Court in a decision known as the Winters Doctrine had found that Indian water rights dated from the establishment of the reservation and that all water claims after the establishment of reservations were to be subordinate or junior to Indian water rights. Both the federal government and the states ignored this Supreme Court ruling. In 1923 the seven Colorado River Basin states negotiated a compact which divided the river’s water among themselves. The negotiations were chaired by Herbert Hoover. Absent from the negotiations were any of the tribes whose rights would be diminished by this agreement. The tribes had not been invited.


In 1927, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs met with representatives of the Montana Power Company to discuss the development of a hydroelectric site on the Flathead River south of Polson, Montana. An agreement was reached which gave Montana Power the right to generate power. While the dam site is on the Flathead Reservation, no Indians were invited to the meeting.

The agreement was criticized by John Collier who maintained that it violated the 1855 treaty with the Flatheads. Collier also pointed out that the Federal Water Power Act of 1920 promised Indians all royalties from reservation lands and that the agreement with Montana Power only gave the Indians one-third of the royalties. Collier also questioned why the agreement gave non-Indian settlers on the reservation electricity at cost.

Pushing Back:

The American Indian Defense Association (AIDA) was founded in 1923. This was an organization composed primarily of middle to upper class non-Indians which was dedicated to Indian rights. John Collier (who would become Commissioner of Indian Affairs during the Roosevelt administration) served as the organization’s executive secretary. AIDA maintained an office in Washington, D.C. to be able to lobby Congress regarding Indian poverty, the granting of greater cultural and religious freedom for Indians, and recognizing tribal organizations.

Indian Names:

As a part of the process of assimilation promoted by the federal government, Indians were encouraged, and often forced, to assume European-style names. James McGregor reported to Commissioner of Indian Affairs Charles Burke in 1927:

“The ridiculous and uncouth names that many of our Indian young people have is becoming embarrassing, and I am wondering if it is possible to consider changing some of these names to more modern names that will not, at least, be a handicap to the students.”

The recommended solution was to change the Indian names into more conventional European names.

The End:

In 1929, Herbert Hoover was sworn in as President of the United States. His Vice President, Charles Curtis, was Kaw and the descendent of the Osage chief Pawhuska and the Kaw chief White Plume. An Indian jazz band performd at the inauguration. Indian policy continued to focus on the assimilation of American Indians.

Pine Ridge Poster Project Up & Running [Photo Heavy]

Aaron Huey‘s awareness campaign bringing attention to the on going struggle of broken treaties with American Indians is surfacing in Seattle and New York City.  

I’ve collected photos from his Honor the Treaties Facebook Page for you to see the progress. If you have a Facebook account please go there and “like” it.

The installations use the following works of art from Shepard Fairey and his assistant Ernesto Yerena, these screen prints are based on Aaron Huey’s photos of Pine Ridge.


The photos of the poster installations are below the fold.


Pine Ridge Poster Project

Capitol Hill, Seattle

Pine Ridge Poster Project

West Seattle

Pine Ridge Poster Project

At the Georgetown Carnival in Seattle

Pine Ridge Poster Project

3rd Ave S & Main, Downtown Seattle

Pine Ridge Poster Project

200 S. Main St., Seattle

Pine Ridge Poster Project

7th Ave S and S Jackson St., Seattle

Pine Ridge Poster Project


Pine Ridge Poster Project

Oregon & Rainier Ave., Seattle

Pine Ridge Poster Project

12th & First, Seattle



Pine Ridge Poster Project

29th St between 6th and 7th Ave in NYC

Pine Ridge Poster Project

E 33rd and Madison Ave, MANHATTAN

Pine Ridge Poster Project

Mulberry & Houston, Manhattan

Pine Ridge Poster Project

3rd Ave and E 22nd, MANHATTAN

NYC map

Clicking on the map gives you the street addresses. It would be great if we could get more photos of these installations. Send me a PM if you can take photos for us and post them on the Honor the Treaties Facebook Page.

I’m currently putting together a team to do some “wheat pasting” in San Francisco.


Do you have a prominent wall that gets a lot of traffic in your city and could use some wheat pasting?  Tell us in the comments.

Pine Ridge Poster Project

Treaty Holders


Article VI, Clause 2 of the United States Constitution, known as the Supremacy Clause, establishes the U.S. Constitution, U.S. Treaties, and Federal Statutes as “the supreme law of the land.”   We start from the base assumption that few, if any, treaties between the United States and North American Tribes were honored.  The TED talk above outlines one particular case that stands as a symbol for all tribes:  The United States v. Sioux Nation of Indians.  In this history we see a calculated and systematic destruction of a people.  Although the story is of the Lakota and the treaties they signed at Fort Laramie in 1851 and 1868, it is the story of all indigenous people.  The story of this tribe is far from over and “The Black Hills are (still) not for sale.”  Over time this site will grow to become a more complete database of treaties and the treaty issues facing North America Indian tribes.  For more information on contemporary advocacy for Lakota treaty rights, please visit www.oweakuinternational.org

Honor The Treaties

The Search for Cibola

The conquests of the Aztec and Inka empires in the early 1500s brought great wealth to Spain in the form of gold and silver. Inspired by this wealth and driven by greed for even more wealth, many Spanish expeditions set out to find gold and silver which could be easily plundered from other Native civilizations. Legends which told of Native cities with streets of gold and other forms of wealth were often translated by Spanish explorers as reality which awaited them if they persisted. While the locations of these fabled cities and lost civilizations were nebulous at best, this did not stop the Spanish from mounting expeditions to search for them. The consequences of these greed-driven expeditions were often disastrous for the Indian people they encountered.  

In 1533 Diego de Guzmán led an expedition in the present-day state of Sonora searching for the fabled Cities of Cibola. Among the native peoples he encountered were the Yaqui whose chief drew a line in the ground and told the Spaniards not to cross it. The Spanish responded with a cavalry charge and gunfire. While they dispersed the Yaqui, several Spanish and their horses were seriously wounded. The Spanish spent several weeks in the area, scouting and looking for signs of the Seven Cities. They reported that the area was the most populous which they had encountered and they saw many planted fields. They failed to find any cities of gold.

Six years later, Fray Marcos de Niza, a Franciscan adept in native languages, received permission to explore the southwest and to determine if the fabled riches actually existed. Esteván, the black slave who had been with Alvar Núnez Cabeza de Vaca’s trek across Texas, accompanied him.

Near the present-day city of Hermosilla in Sonora, Mexico, the expedition encountered some Pima Bajo who gave them a warm reception and much food. They told the Franciscan of a valley to the north with many large settlements where the people wore cotton (probably the Pima and Opata). In reference to their mica pendants and their pottery made from mica-bearing clay, Fray Marcos de Niza assumed that the Indians were telling him about people to the north who had pendants and vessels made of gold and silver. While the stories of these northern peoples may have contained some grains of truth, the Indians of northern Mexico had now learned to tell the Spanish what they wanted to hear in order to get them to move on. In addition, the Spanish tended to hear only that which reinforced their pre-conceived stereotypes.

While at a Pima village on the Rio Magdalena in Sonora, Mexico, Fray Marcos was told about three other kingdoms: Marata, Acus, and Totonteac. The Pima went to these three kingdoms and to Cibola to trade for turquoise, buffalo hides, and other things. Fray Marcos continued his journey north, into Arizona, encountering many settlements. Along the Salt River, he noted that there were villages every half or quarter league. The irrigated fields reminded him of gardens. He continued to hear stories about Cibola and about Marata. He was told that Marata had been reduced because of warfare with Cibola, but still remained independent. The kingdom of Totoneac (probably the Hohokam) was described to him as the largest of the kingdoms and that its people wore clothing of wool which was obtained from wild sheep.

After hearing the stories about what they believed to be the Seven Cities of Cibola, Fray Marcos sent Esteván with an advance party to investigate. The Spanish followed a well-established trading route that connected northern Mexico with the American Southwest. Esteván reached as far north as Zuñi Pueblo (in New Mexico) where he was killed.

As Fray Marcos continued his journey toward Cibola, he noted that he was traveling on a wide and well-used road that was lined with many shacks used by the people who journeyed to Cibola. Outside of Zuñi, he was told that Esteván had been killed. His Indian escorts refused to travel farther, so Fray Marcos turned back. Before leaving, however, he took possession of Cibola for the Spanish king by erecting a pile of stones with a small cross on top. While Fray Marcos never reached Zuñi, he still described it as being bigger than Mexico City.

The next Spanish expeditions searching for Cibola began in 1540. Francisco Vásquez de Coronado began his journey north from Mexico seeking the Seven Cities of Cibola described by Fray Marcos. He took with him a force of 330 Spaniards (most of whom were mounted soldiers) and 1,000 native allies. The expedition starts with 552 horses and 2 mares. The seven cities proved to be six Zuñi villages: Hawiku, Kianawa, Kwakina, Halona, Matsaki, and Kiakima.  While Coronado marveled at the Zuñi houses, he commented:

“I do not think that they have the judgment and intelligence needed to be able to build these houses in the way in which they are built, for most of them are entirely naked.”

The Spanish arrived at Hawiku at the culmination of the summer solstice ceremony. The Zuñi priests drew a line of white cornmeal across the ground to inform the Spanish that they were not to enter the village. The Spanish ignored the warning. The Zuñi met the Spanish explorers with hostility, attacking them before they were in sight of Hawiku. Using signal fires, the Zuñi signaled the Spanish presence to others in the region. The Spanish, needing food desperately, attacked the village and after fierce fighting managed to capture it. The battle took about an hour, during which time Coronado sustained several wounds. However, the pueblo and its valuable food stores fell to the Spanish. The Zuñi fled to their stronghold on Thunder Mountain.  

Coronado had originally planned to rendezvous with a second Spanish expedition which was coming by water to the Colorado River area. Coronado sent an expedition under the command of Captain Pedro de Tovar to make contact with the Hopi who had a tradition of trading with the Indian nations of the Colorado River area. The Hopi met the Spaniards at the town of Kawaika-a with coldness. The Hopi were in battle formation and, like the Zuni, drew a line on the ground with sacred corn pollen telling the Spaniards not to cross it. There was a short battle that was won by the Spaniards.

Following reports of a large river to the west of the Hopi, the Spanish sent a dozen riders to find the Colorado River. The Spanish reached the Grand Canyon.

Traveling east, the Spanish forces encountered the pueblo of Acoma. This town, built on top of a mesa, was described as a fortress. After leaving Acoma, the Spanish crossed the Rio Grande to Tiguex where they were cordially received. Here they were taken to Pecos (which the Spanish call Cicúye), a town of 2,000 people that was an important trading center with the Indians of the Great Plains. The Tiguex captured a number of Spanish horses and killed them, which resulted in a Spanish attack on the town in which the Spanish gave no quarter. Even though some Indians attempted to surrender, giving the sign of the cross, they were burned at the stake.

In their conquest of Pecos, the Spanish acquired two Indian “slaves” – men who had been captured in battle by the warriors from Pecos. One of these was an Indian called “the Turk” who described the country of Quivira which lay to the northeast and was said to be so filled with gold that even common table service was made of gold and silver. The Turk was one of history’s most accomplished liars. He was a Pawnee or Wichita trader, fluent in several languages, whose primary goal was to get home. Once he understood what the Spanish desired, he spun a story filled with gold and silver to entice them to take him closer to his home.

The other 1540 Spanish expedition was led by Hernando de Alarcón who sailed up the Gulf of California looking for the great river that would take him to Cibola. He found a river whose waters were reddish and so he named it the Colorado. The Spanish went upstream in two launches and met the Cocopa. A peaceful trading relationship was established. The Cocopa village had a population of more than 1,000. The Spanish found some indications of tuberculosis among the Indians.

Hernando de Alarcón askd an Indian on the lower Colorado River to write down on a chart as much as he knew about the river and the people who lived near it. This was one of the earliest recorded accounts of Indians making maps for Europeans. On their way up the Colorado river, the Spanish often met with stiff resistance from Indians who viewed Alarcón as a sorcerer because he claimed to have been sent by the Sun and because of his demonstrations of the use of gunpowder.At a site near present-day Yuma, Alarcón erected a large cross and left letters for Coronado. The two Spanish expeditions failed to meet.

In the meantime, Francisco Vásquez de Coronado spent the winter of 1541 at the Tiguex Pueblo of Arenal on the Upper Rio Grande River, forcing the Indians out of the village and demanding that they provide the Spanish with corn and blankets. The Spanish noted that the men of the pueblo spun and wove and that the most usual textile fiber was cotton.

In the spring, they set out to find Quivira. As a guide, the Spanish took with them the Turk (they called him this because of his turban-like Pawnee headgear). Also travelling with them was a Wichita captive named Sopete. The expedition got lost on the Great Plains, and they became the first Europeans to encounter the great herds of buffalo. They were found by Lipan Apaches who told them of other settlements in the area. Next they came in contact with some Caddo buffalo hunters who they called Teyas.  Finally they arrived at Quivira where they found only the thatched beehive huts of the Kansa.

When Coronado’s expedition returned to New Mexico from their journey onto the Great Plains, they attacked a rebellious Tiguex mountain stronghold. The Spanish lost 17 soldiers, mostly to poisoned arrows.

The Spanish expeditions failed to find the gold and silver which were described in their fantasies. In their wake they left a legacy of death, destruction, and brutality. While the failure of these expeditions should have ended the belief in fabled cities and lost empires, the stories continued with believers wanting them to be real. Reality does not seem to be convincing to those who fervently want to believe. Nearly five centuries later there are still those who are convinced that these cities exist.  

Keresan Pueblo Migrations

When the Spanish first began to explore the area which would later be known as New Mexico, they encountered well-established Indian agricultural villages. Collectively, the Spanish referred to these people as Pueblos (Spanish for village). While the Pueblos share some common features of material culture, such as the architecture of their permanent villages, they are culturally distinct from one another. In New Mexico, the various Pueblo languages belong to three different language families: Keresan, Tanoan, and Zunian.

Linguistically, the Keresan language family is divided into two groups: Eastern, which includes Cochiti, San Felipe, Santa Ana, Santo Domingo, and Zia; and Western, which includes Laguna and Acoma. Some researchers, such as Alfonso Ortiz, feel that there is a linguistic connection between Keresan and the languages of the Caribbean.  

Santa Ana:

Often ignoring the cultural distinctions of the different Pueblos, the Spanish often renamed the Indian villages in honor of Catholic saints. Thus the Keresan-speaking Tamaya were given the name Santa Ana (St. Ann) by the Spanish in 1598.

According to the oral tradition of the people of Santa Ana (Tamaya), the people first emerged from the underworld at a place north and west of their present location. When they came into this world, they would travel over the earth to find the place that would suit them the best. Here they would make their homes. The people traveled for a long time and passed through many fine lands. They paused when they were hungry to gather the nourishment which the earth provided for them. Then they would continue their journey.

The Tamaya first settled at a place called Kashe K’atreti (White House). It was here that they set up a larger system of government. Here they established the foundations of their way of life in the upper world. This was not, however, their final destination, and so they moved, traveling south and east. They reached the eastern slope of the Sandía Mountains and established the village of Paak’u in a high valley west of the San Pedro Arroyo. They lived in Paak’u for more than a century.

When the people reached Paak’u, they divided into two groups. One of these groups traveled through the Río Grande Valley where they established a small village near the present-day San Felipe Pueblo. They were there only a short time before they journeyed north and west where they settled near the present-day pueblo of Zia. They left this village and traveled west and built another village near the present-day pueblo of Jemez. After the Navajo arrived in the region, the people were forced to flee this village and moved to the top of a mesa. Eventually they journeyed again, settling for a while near Acoma Pueblo. Then they built a village near the modern town of Socorro.

They eventually returned to rejoin the people of Paak’u and then established a series of small farming villages along the Río Grande River. Their journey, however, was not over. From here they traveled north, and, after centuries of travel, their journey ended. Beside the river and beneath a broad mesa, the people found the land which was just right for them, in accordance with the instructions given to their ancestors. Here was their home.



Acoma Pueblo takes its name from the Keresan term Akome which means “people of the white rock.”

Acoma Ansel Adams

Shown above is an Ansel Adams photograph of Acoma.

Acoma 1846

Shown above is an 1846 drawing of Acoma.

The oral tradition of Acoma tells that the people came out from the underworld at a place to the north. At this place there was a lake with an island and on this island there was a house. It was here that the katsinas came and brought many gifts to the people. They taught the people how to use these gifts. The katsinas danced in the plaza and the people were happy. After a time, the people decided that it was time for them to leave this place: the place was so precious that they feared they might defile it. They travelled south to a place called Kacikatcuria (White House). Here they called the katsinas to dance for them and they prepared the prayersticks and made the proper offerings.

One evening, after the katsinas had danced for them and then left, one man did a comic imitation of the katsina dances. He exaggerated the movements and this comic imitation caused great merriment among the people. However, one katsina had remained behind and witnessed the parody. As a result, the katsinas made war against the village. After the battle, only a few people were left alive and they were told that they would never see the katsinas again. They were told that if they wanted the katsinas to come to their village, then they must dress like the katsinas and pray was they had been taught. There was, however, conflict over whether or not it was appropriate to impersonate the katsinas and this caused some groups to migrate to new locations and to speak different languages.

One group of people decided to go to the south where they will be able to raise parrots. They were looking for a place called Aako. They would know this place because there would be a good echo. Just to the east of present-day Acoma, they found Aako. Here the people once again divided, with some continuing south and others staying to establish the pueblo of Acoma. Here they impersonated the katsinas and danced in the plaza. Their prayers for rain were answered and the people knew that the ceremony was powerful.


Cochiti oral tradition tells that the origin of the people on the earth began with their emergence from the underground through the sipapu. They began their life on earth living at White House, located far to the north. Here they lived with all of the people of the world. They then began a series of journeys or travels during which time they encountered a number of spiritual beings, animal helpers, and culture heroes. At one time, in the more recent past, they lived at Fijoles Cañon along with some other Pueblo groups.  



Shown above is a photo of a Cochiti woman by Edward Curtis.

Pueblo Migrations:

The various culturally distinct Pueblos have lived and farmed in New Mexico and Arizona for thousands of years. Their villages made of stone and adobe brick amazed the first Europeans who visited them and continue to impress today’s tourists. Still, the oral histories of the Pueblos and the archaeological record show that the people made many migrations prior to settling in their current locations.  This essay has looked at only three of the Keresan-speaking Pueblos. The oral traditions of the other Pueblos, including the Uto-Aztecan-speaking Hopi and the Tanoan-speaking Pueblos, also tell of migrations.

Some archaeologists and tribal oral historians feel that the references to “White House” in the Kersesan stories may refer to the great houses (large multi-story complexes) of Chaco Canyon.

A Friend to the English in 17th Century Connecticut

In 1842, the monument for Mohegan leader Uncas was completed in Norwich, Connecticut. Historian William Leete Stone traveled from New York City to speak at the unveiling. Stone told people that Uncas

“was the white man’s friend, at a period when the friendship even of savage royalty was most welcome.”

He also said of Uncas:

“In a different hemisphere, and belonging to another race, he might have been at least a Turenne, a Marlborough, or a Wellington, if not a Gustavas, a Kosciusko or a Washington.”

In his speech, Stone showed no awareness that the Mohegan people still existed. For Stone and most of the non-Indians living in New England, the Mohegans and other Indians who had once inhabited the area were extinct. Uncas, to them, was simply an actor in a colorful story from the past.  

Shortly after the monument had been dedicated, John Uncas, the last male descendent of Mohegan leader Uncas, died and was buried next to the Uncas Monument. The local newspaper reported his death as “The Last of the Mohegans.” According to the newspaper:

“The passing away of a whole tribe of men, once the free, dauntless lords of the soil, is certainly well-calculated to awaken sensibility; and the contemplation of the oppression and wrongs under which they have dwindled away, and finally perished, naturally excites painful emotions.”

The editorial concluded:

“we are not necessarily responsible…for the extinction of the Indian race, though we may well blush at the remembrance of the wrong and outrage they have suffered at our hands.”

Uncas first appears in the European historic record in 1633. At this time, following internal dissension, a group of 2,000 Indians under the leadership of Uncas left the Pequot in Connecticut and formed a separate nation known as the Mohegan. The focus of the internal dispute was trade: the Pequot sachem Sassacus favored trading only with the Dutch, while his son-in-law Uncas favored trade with the English.

With the death of Pequot paramount sachem Tatobem at the hands of the Dutch in 1634, Sassacus became the new paramount sachem. Sassacus was generally a weaker and less effective leader and the Mohegan sachem Uncas began to contest the Pequot authority over his tribe.

In 1637, Uncas, the leader of the Mohegan, and 70 warriors traveled to Hartford eager to join the English in a war of retaliation against the Pequot. Uncas hinted to the English that the Pequot were planning to attack more English settlements. The English viewed the Pequot as the “Children of Satan.”

English troops, supported by the Mohegan as well as some Narragansett and Niantic attacked the Pequot village of Mystic. Here they found primarily women and children.  In less than an hour an estimated 700 Pequot were killed-burned, shot, or slashed to death-and 200 fled to the neighboring Narragansett, where they were seized by the English and the women and children sold into slavery in the West Indies. This broke the Pequot hegemony over the region.

In 1638, the sachems of the Narragansett (Miantonomi) and Mohegan (Uncas) were summoned to meet with the English at Hartford. Miantonomi and Uncas intensely disliked each other. They both had accused each other of dealing falsely with the English and with plotting against the English. When Miantonomi, at the urging of the English, invited Uncas to eat with him, Uncas refused.

When the English asked Uncas to provide them with a list of the names of the Pequot living among his people, Uncas simply told them that he did not know their names. The English knew that Uncas had incorporated Pequot survivors into Mohegan communities. They also knew that he encouraged these Pequot to continue their raids against the Narragansett.  

The two Indian nations agreed to end the enmity between them. The treaty of peace was dictated to them by the English. If one tribe wronged the other, they agreed not to seek revenge, but to appeal to the English. They also agreed not to shelter any enemies of the English. In this way the English sought to establish control over Indian affairs. It established a relationship between the governor of Connecticut and the sachems similar to that between a superior and inferior sachem.

In 1638, Mohegan sachem Uncas married one of the widows of the Pequot sachem Tatobem. At this time, Uncas had several wives-six or seven-most of whom were women of high status. His marriages to these women helped him legitimize his claim to lead the Pequot and their former tributaries. They also helped him to construct a new native political entity upon the ruins of Tatobem’s chiefdom.

In 1639, Mohegan sachem Uncas informed the English that a number of Pequot had settled along the banks of the Pawcatuck River. The Pequot in this area, according Uncas, were tributaries of the Niantic and had returned to this area with the support of Ninigret, a close ally of the Narragansett sachem Miantonomi.

The English magistrates appointed John Mason to lead a party of 40 men to destroy the Pequot wigwams and to harvest their corn. Uncas and 120 of his warriors joined the expedition. At the approach of the English-Mohegan war party, the Pequot fled. As Uncas and his warriors were gathering corn from the abandoned wigwams, a party of about 60 Pequot warriors attacked them. Uncas, however, had anticipated the attack and so his warriors were prepared. They captured seven Pequot warriors.

The next morning, the English and Mohegan awoke to find a war party of about 300 Niantic and Narragansett warriors across the river from them. The Narragansett tell them:

“The Pequots who live here are good men and we will certainly fight for them and protect them.”

However, the Niantic and Narragansett had no interest in fighting the English and wished to engage in battle only with Uncas and his warriors. Mason set fire to the village and then departed with Uncas. The Niantic and Narragansett, not wishing to start a fight with the English, simply watched.

In 1640, Mohegan sachem Uncas married the daughter of Sebequanash, the Hammonasset leader called the Squaw Sachem by the English. This marriage gave Uncas some claim to the Hammonasetts’ land, which lay along the coast between the Connecticut River and present-day Guilford. He promptly sold these lands to the English.

In 1640, Uncas also gave most of his people’s lands to the governor and magistrates of Connecticut.

In 1643, Uncas and a group of his warriors were attacked as they paddled down the Connecticut River. The attack was led by the Narragansett sachem Sequassen, who was a close friend of Miantonomi. Uncas responded to the attack by leading a war party against Sequassen’s village. The Mohegan killed several enemy warriors and, copying the scorched-earth tactics of the English, they then burned the village.

Miantonomi then asked the English if they would be offended if he went to war against Uncas. The English informed him that if Uncas had wronged him or his friends, then he would be free to take his own course. However, Uncas informed the English of Miantonomi’s treachery toward them and the English withdrew their endorsement of Miantonomi’s plan to attack Uncas.

Miantonomi assembled a force of about 1,000 warriors to attack the Mohegan village of Shantok. Uncas assembled about 400 warriors and met Miantonomi’s warriors about four miles from the village. Uncas then called for a conference with Miantonomi. This was the first time the two sachems had spoken to each other since the signing of the Hartford Treaty, five years before. Uncas challenged Miantonomi to personal combat, but Miantonomi refused. At this time, Uncas suddenly dropped to the ground and his warriors, at this signal, let fly a shower of arrows upon the Narragansett warriors. As a result, the larger force of Narragansett warriors, taken by surprise, fled and was pursued by the Mohegan warriors. Thirty Narragansett warriors were killed.

Miantonomi was captured by the Mohegan sachem Tantaquidgeon and was taken to the Mohegan town of Shantok. While Uncas received presents from the Narragansett for the release of Miantonomi, Uncas delivered his prisoner to the English authorities.  At the meeting of the United Colonies Miantonomi was accused of violating the Treaty of Hartford and of plotting against English. Unable to legally execute Miantonomi, the colonists asked the Mohegan to execute him with an English witness. Following his execution, he was buried in a solitary grave rather than in the communal cemetery. The Mohegan then became the dominant Indian nation in southern New England.

In 1645, the Narragansett under the leadership of Pessicus invaded Mohegan country. The first attack against the Mohegan was against a seasonal camp in which six Mohegan men and five women were killed. Pessicus called upon his allies to join him in his war against Uncas and the Mohegan. Uncas appealed to the English for help. Among those joining the Narragansett were the Niantic under the leadership of Ninigret and some groups from Long Island. In addition, some Pequot who had been tributaries of Uncas shifted their allegiance to the Narragansett as they were promised wampum.

Many Mohegan took refuge in Shantok Fort. The Mohegan were losing the war and had no place to go.  Pessicus simply needed to wait until the Mohegan ran out of food. No one knows exactly how long the siege lasted. The English managed to reach the fort and provide Uncas with supplies.

Faced with English opposition, and knowing the English reputation for total destruction in warfare, Pessicus went to Boston to negotiate his way out of war. With the threat of war against the English, the Narragansett and Niantic signed a coercive and humiliating treaty of peace. In the treaty they agreed to perpetual peace with both the English colonies and the Mohegan under Uncas.

In 1646, the English began laying out a settlement at Nameag in the Pequot county. Mohegan sachem Uncas welcomed the English as an ally. The English, however, cultivated a friendship with Robin Cassacinamon, the leader of the Nameag colony. Cassascinamon saw an alliance with the English as a way of freeing himself from the control of Uncas.

Since the English were short of food, they asked Robin Cassacinamon and Wequash Cook, the sachem of the Pequot community of Pawcatuck, to hunt for them on the east side of the Thames River. However, Uncas regarded these lands as his through a marriage to a Pequot woman. He assembled a party of 300 warriors and ambushed the hunting party. The Pequot fled and were pursued by Uncas. At Nameag, the Mohegan warriors plundered the Pequot wigwams, destroyed them, and then humiliated the Pequot warriors by cutting their hair. No one was killed. Uncas succeeded in punishing Cassacinamon for trespassing into Mohegan hunting territories. He also demonstrated to the Pequot that it was he, and not the English, to whom they must look for protection and security.

Through his alliance with the English colonists, Uncas managed to maintain his tribe in a powerful position with regard to other tribes in the area. During King Philip’s War of 1675-1676, Uncas allied himself with the English against Philip and his son Oneco went into battle with the English. In spite of his friendship with the English, however, Uncas discouraged his people from converting to Christianity.

Uncas died about 1682. It is estimated that he was about 76 years old at the time of his death. The character of Uncas in James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans is a fictionalized version of the Mohegan leader.

The Puget Sound War

In 1855, concerned about a potential Indian uprising, American settlers in the Puget Sound area of Washington formed four companies of soldiers. One of these companies, Eaton’s Rangers, attempted to apprehend Nisqually chief Leschi. Leschi and his brother Quiemuth were peacefully cultivating their wheat fields when the Rangers moved in. Warned of the Rangers’ approach, Leschi and Quiemuth fled their homes. This action by the Rangers against peaceful Indians started the Puget Sound War. Following this initial incident, the Rangers then roamed the country harassing peaceful Indians.  

Nisqually warriors under the leadership of Leschi attacked the Americans in the White River Valley. They were careful to attack only the American volunteers. They made it known to the American settlers that they were protesting Stevens’ treaties. In the words of one settler:

“The Indians sent us word not to be afraid-that they would not harm us.”

At White River, two American families were warned that the Indians were coming. The families, some of whom were members of the volunteer companies, stayed and were attacked. Nine people were killed, but the warriors took the children-two boys and a girl-and delivered them unharmed to an American steamer at Point Elliot.

The Americans responded to the White River “massacre” by herding 4,000 peaceful Indians to Fox Island so that they could be carefully watched. Many of the captives died from inadequate food and shelter.

Leschi attempted to draw all of the tribes of Western Washington into a general war against the Americans, but his coalition of Nisqually and Puyallup warriors never numbered more than a few hundred.

The Indian tribes in the southwestern portion of the territory were in close communication with Nisqually, Klickatat, and Yakama warriors. While these tribes had no tradition of warfare, but tended to be business-oriented (i.e. traders), the Americans were fearful that they would join the Indian uprisings. Americans with rifles began to raid the peaceful Indian villages, disarming the Indians, and placing them under surveillance. Some of the Indians-Upper and Lower Chehalis-were herded together on Sidney Ford’s farm near Steilacoom; some of the coastal Indians, including the Cowlitz, were placed in a “local reservation” on the Chehalis River; and the Chinook were placed inland at Fort Vancouver. The Indians were crowded together, denied access to adequate food, and stripped of their personal property. The southwestern tribes were held captive for almost two years during the Puget Sound War.

In 1856, Governor Isaac I. Stevens, responding to the Indian war led by Leschi, called for the extermination of all “hostile” Indians. In response to the Governor’s call for extermination, a small group of about 100 Duwamish, Taitnapam, Puyallup, Nisqually, and Suquamish warriors attacked the community of Seattle. The attack resulted in two American deaths and no Indian deaths. Some described it as a “half-hearted” affair.

Encouraged by Stevens’ call for extermination, American volunteers began to hunt down peaceful Indians. At the Nisqually River, the Washington Mounted Rifles under the command of H.J.G. Maxon murdered a group of 30 Indians who had gathered to fish. Nearly all of the Indians were women and children.

Governor Stevens detained people who were opposed to his war against the Indians. When the Chief Justice of the Territory issued a writ of habeas corpus for the release of these opponents, the Governor simply declared martial law:

“Whereas, in the prosecution of the Indian war, circumstances have existed affording such grave cause of suspicion, such that certain evil disposed persons of Pierce county have given aid and comfort to the enemy, that they have been placed under arrest, and ordered to be tried by a military commission; and whereas, efforts are now being made to withdraw, by civil process, these persons from the purview of the said commission.”

With these words, the Governor suspended the functions of all civil officers in the county.

Wishing to put an end to the bloodshed, Leschi sent his brother Quiemuth as an emissary to the Governor to indicate his willingness to surrender. Quiemuth was murdered in the Governor’s office. While the murderer was arrested, he was not brought to trial as none of the Americans would testify against him.

Stevens renewed his calls for the Indian leaders’ heads and offered a reward. In response, Sluggia, Leschi’s nephew, revealed his uncle’s location in exchange for 50 blankets.  Subsequently, Leschi was captured by the Americans.

As a result of this brief war in which the Indian warriors demonstrated impressive powers, the Americans met with the Indians at Fox Island. The Indians told the Americans of their dissatisfaction with the 1855 treaties and the Americans promised to give them larger tracts with ground for horses.

For his leadership in the war against Washington colonists, Nisqually chief Leschi was tried in an American court. Despite testimony that Leschi was seen by reliable witnesses at an entirely different location at the time of the specific crimes of which he was accused and couldn’t have committed them, he was found guilty of murder. In 1858 he was hung.

From the American viewpoint, the trial showed their superiority and authority over the Indians and their sense of fairness. Indians, however, were baffled by the American response to murder. Among the Indian nations of Western Washington, homicides were not viewed as crimes that imperiled the public order. Homicides were seen as injuries to and by individuals and their families. The adjudication of homicide, therefore, involved these families and making restitution for the deaths. This was often called “covering the dead” and involved payments from one family to another. Justice was about healing, not punishment.

The First U.S. Treaties with the Navajo

In 1846, the United States took control of New Mexico and Arizona. The United States Army under the leadership of General Stephen Watts Kearny occupied the territory which had been acquired from Mexico. One of the major priorities of the new regime was to “pacify” the Navajo who had been raiding against the Spanish settlements in the area. However, instead of bringing peace, federal government actions often brought increased warfare. The American army made it clear that they intended to side with the European settlers without examining the causes for the hostilities. The army refused to recognize that the Indians had often been the victims of unfriendly European settlers.  

In an 1846 letter to Indian Commissioner William Mediall, Charles Bent, an Indian trader, described the Navajo as

“an industrious, intelligent and warlike tribe of Indians who cultivate the soil and raise sufficient grain for their own consumption and a variety of fruits.”

He also noted that they manufactured blankets and woolen goods. Other traders during this time observed that Navajo blankets were coveted trade items among other Indians, such as the Cheyenne.  

When the Navajo leader Narbona first heard about the new American regime, he decided to travel to Santa Fe to obtain firsthand information about these new soldiers. He took with him only a few of his older councilors and traveled at night. Near Santa Fe they remained hidden from the soldiers so that they could safely watch the activities without being discovered. After observing the soldiers, they returned home without making any contact with the Americans. On the journey home, all agreed that Navajo warriors would be unable to defeat the American soldiers. They decided that it would be well to establish friendship with the Americans.

The first treaty council between the United States and the Navajo was held to negotiate the Bear Springs (Ojo del Oso) Treaty. Navajo leaders Narbona, Zarzilla (Long Earrings), and José Largo met with an American force of 350 soldiers. The eighty-year-old Narbona was suffering from an attack of influenza and was brought to the council on a litter slung between two horses. As was typical with American negotiations with Indians, the Americans had no concept of Navajo government. The Americans assumed that all people who spoke some dialect of Navajo must belong to a single political entity ruled by an authoritative dictator or monarch. They did not understand that the Navajo were really numerous independent, autonomous bands. Before the American troops had returned to the Rio Grande, the Navajo were again raiding near Albuquerque. These bands, not represented at the council, were unaware of the treaty, and, if they had been aware of it, would not have viewed it as binding them. The Treaty of Bear Springs was never ratified by the U.S. Senate.

In 1848, several Navajo leaders and the United States signed the Newby Treaty. The following year, when it became evident that the treaty was not working, the Americans, under the leadership of Lieutenant Colonel John M. Washington, sent an expedition to negotiate another treaty at Canyon de Chelly. While on the way to Canyon de Chelly, the Americans met several Navajo leaders in the Chuska Valley. The Americans held council with Navajo leaders Narbona, Achuletta, and José Largo. The Navajo leaders were asked to attend a council to sign a treaty with the United States. Narbona and José Largo indicated that they would not be able to attend and designated Armijo and Pedro José to attend in their place.

As the Navajo leaders were leaving, there was a dispute over an allegedly stolen horse in which the Americans told them that they must turn over one of the best horses. The skirmish with the Americans resulted in the immediate death of 16 or 17 Navajo, with several others dying later from wounds received in the battle. The elderly chief Narbona was mortally wounded but lived long enough to return to his hogan and say goodbye to his family. Narbona was probably the most respected Navajo leader at this time and had tried valiantly to establish peace between the Navajo and the United States.

In 1849, four Navajo medicine men made the sacred journey to Tohe-ha-glee (Meeting Place of Waters) to consult with the Page of Prophecy. After making the proper offerings, they read the marks in the sand which are the messages from the Holy People. The marks indicated a journey to a distant place. Other marks indicated many burials.

In the same year, the blind Navajo prophet Bineah-uhtin, a medicine man who saw with his mind, attended a War Chant where he came into contact with some young Navajo warriors. He told them:

“The day will come when your enemies will drive you out of your homeland, and you will go to a barren country where the corn will not grow and your sheep will eat poison weeds and die. Many of your people will starve, and others will be killed so that only a few will survive, and in all these wide cornfields there will be nothing alive excepting the coyotes and the crows.”

In 1851, the army established Fort Defiance (called Hell’s Hollow by the soldiers) for the express purpose of subduing the Navajo. While the American Indian agent was encouraging peaceful relations with the Navajo, the military was pushing for confrontation.

Fort Defiance

Congress appropriated $30,000 in 1854 for the purpose of negotiating treaties with the Apache, Navajo, and Ute in New Mexico. The Commissioner of Indian Affairs felt that the solution to the Indian “problem” was to extend the reservation concept into New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah.

In 1855, at Laguna Negra, New Mexico, a treaty council was held with the Navajo. About twenty chiefs were in attendance and Zarcillos Largos (Long Earrings) spoke for them. In the midst of the conference Zarcillos Largos told the Americans that he had grown too old to lead his people and he asked the Navajo headmen to select another to speak for him. Manuelito was selected as the new leader. The Americans promised the Navajo a reservation and annuity payments. Twenty-seven Navajo chiefs made their marks on the treaty and received presents. The Senate, balking at the monetary cost, refused to ratify the treaty.

In 1858, Navajo leader Manuelito pastured his horses and cattle in the army hay camp at Fort Defiance. Army troops then slaughtered 48 head of his cattle. The Navajo, in response, killed the black slave of an army officer. This began a new series of wars between the Navajo and the Americans.

In 1858, the American army imposed a new treaty on fifteen Navajo headmen at Fort Defiance. The Americans blamed the Navajo for the conflict and exacted a number of concessions from them. However, neither side was prepared to honor the treaty. Relations continued to deteriorate.

In 1861, a group of Navajo were having a peaceful horse race with soldiers at Fort Fauntleroy when the soldiers massacred 15 Navajo, including women and children. The incident started when the Navajo accused the officers of cheating. As a result, relations with the Navajo become strained and the only Navajo who remained at the post were the mistresses of some of the officers. The commanding officer then sent these women as emissaries to the Navajo. Army officials were willing to exploit the sexual relations between Navajo women and army officers in moments of crisis.

In 1861, a large Navajo war party under the leadership of Manuelito and Barboncito attacked Fort Defiance and nearly overran it.  

In 1863, General Carleton issued an ultimatum to the Navajo: they were to peacefully transfer to the reservation at Bosque Redondo or be treated as hostile. Colonel Kit Carson began to wage a “scorched earth” campaign against the Navajo. The plan, devised by General Carleton, called for all male Navajo to surrender or be shot. This resulted in the Navajo Long Walk, their imprisonment, and having the Treaty of Bosque Redondo forced upon them in 1868.

Navajo Long Walk