The Night Library* periodically examines titles in our assembled collections, extracting information from the physical attributes of the book itself.
This week we consider a 1968 title entitled Navajoland, USA, 1868-1968, edited by Perry Allen, designed by L. Max Connolly and published in Window Rock, Arizona, by the Navajo Tribe.
The cover carries a screen-printed version of a Navajo sand painting. Meant to be ceremonially scattered soon after its likeness is introduced to the world, the sand painting is by definition fleeting. This is perhaps an odd choice to put on the considerably less ephemeral cover of a book.
Indeed, the very idea of a permanent rendering of Navajo thought on the printed page is fraught. A book produced by the Navajo (also known as the Diné) — regardless of whether it is intended for the community itself or for outsiders — is in its very format accepting the terms of the ruling colonial power, the United States.
As we also explore the content of the book, Navajoland, USA ultimately encourages a vision of the Diné as striving for “progress” in a US context, via US-government-sponsored education, resource extraction and the development of a marketable cultural identity palatable for the tourist market.
The Navajo Nation’s capital stands in Window Rock, Arizona, close to the border with New Mexico. There, the capital — a series of buildings built in the 1930s by the Public Works Administration (PWA), some forms loosely emulating a tradition Hogan – is the home of the Navajo Council that governs the community. A term sometimes (perhaps derisively) used to describe the look of these buildings, “National Park Service Rustic,” might also aptly describe the style of this book, which combines mod-ish typefaces and colors with tourist-booklet-esque photos culled from the Bureau of American Ethnology, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Smithsonian, Arizona Highways Magazine and the US National Archives, among others.
Flanked by the US-American flag and the great seal of the Navajo Nation, in the opening of this book, the presiding Chairman at the time, Raymond Nakai, designates the first hundred years since the submission of the Navajos by General Sherman and the United States army, the signing of the Treaty, and the Long March, as the “Century of Progress.”
The page following Nakai’s statement displays a document in hand-written calligraphy, a Declaration of basic Navajo Human Rights, clearly to be reminiscent of another such declaration.
Then, as now, the Diné did not have a constitution. When running for Chairman in 1966, Nakai had run on a platform that supported the creation of a Navajo Constitution in order to be more self sufficient — though a recent Navajo Times article speculates that he ultimately wanted to implement it to give the Chairman, i.e. himself, more power.
In any case, many Diné community members were also suspicious of the introduction of a written Constitution – as with many other written documents — as it could very well have meant giving more power to the then deeply unpopular US-Government run Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).
Navajoland, USA 1868-1968 is edited by Perry Allen (1927-2003), who by our research looks to have served in World War II among the Navajo Code Talkers, and later as a Tribal Court Judge – often ruling on cases that straddled Diné, federal and Arizona state law.
We deduce from this that he is attempting to bridge the Navajo and US-American worlds by featuring slightly critical historical texts, but also by including information about “traditional” crafts and the Navajo Tribal Fairs (with themes such as, “A PARADE OF PROGRESS,””THE ERA OF RESOURCES DEVELOPMENT,” “THE LONG WALK TO PROGRESS;” or “SEE SCENIC NAVAJOLAND, USA”).
Code talkers themselves were living bridges between the US and Navajo worlds: during World War II, the US Army recruited young Diné and, with the help of a Navajo-speaking former-missionary, developed a cryptographic system for strategic radio communications, employing the inscrutably difficult-for-outsiders Navajo language.
At the time the Diné language hardly had a written element. Though non-Indian missionaries and anthropologists had been attempting for over a century to take down the language, it was only in 1940, in fact, that the BIA commissioned a set of White scholars to develop a standard phonetic system for writing the language. Appearing fully in English and Diné in Navajoland, USA, the 1868 treaty with the United States was translated in 1947, almost eighty years after a fragmented set of tribal leaders had signed it with their X-mark.
The last pages of the book, littered with advertisements from extraction companies, essentially seal the ideological tone of the book. Congratulations and compliments from petroleum, coal, pipeline and mining equipment companies appear alongside ads from the Arizona Public Service Company, Indian jewelry shops and liquor stores, confirming that this book is not so much about an independent, sovereign Navajo land as it is about Navajoland, U.S.A.
*The Night Library promotes the re-wilding of knowledge acquisition and apprehension as well as the establishment of an association conceived for the mutual improvement of like-minded individuals who strive to reclaim human thought and imagination from the standardizing clutches of 21st century technology. Our thematic focus is on covert propaganda, extinct countries, unlikely pairings, piracy, Cold Wars and cultural appropriation.
Sources and Further Reading
- Allen, Perry, ed. Navajoland, U.S.A.: First Hundred Years 1868-1968. Window Rock: The Navajo Tribe, 1968
- Dunbar-Ortiz, Roxanne. An Indigenous People’s History of the United States. Boston: Beacon Press
- McLerran, Jennifer. A New Deal for Native Art: Indian Arts and Federal Policy, 1933-1943. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2009
- Paul, Doris A. The Navajo Code Talkers. Philadelphia: Dorrance & Company, 1973
- Young, Robert W. Written Navajo: A Brief History. Navajo Reading Study Progress Report No. 19. Albuquerque: Bureau of Indian Affairs (Dept of the Interior), 1972
- “50 Years Ago: Nakai – Without chairman veto power, there is no checks and balances,” January 7, 2016
- “50 Years Ago: The modern era of Navajo politics begins”
- “Navajo Seeks Support for Tribal Constitution”
- “NTUA History: 1950s-1960s”
- About Perry Allen
Resources from PRINT: