Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Unbreakable Code: Stock Reduction

New Mexico and Arizona gained statehood in 1912. Oil was discovered on Navajo lands, bringing more federal involvement in tribal affairs. Toward the end of the 1920s the government became concerned that soil erosion on Navajo lands was the result of overgrazing by Navajo livestock. Government observers linked the silt-runoff problems at nearby Lake Mead and Hoover Dam to the erosion on Navajo grazing lands. President Franklin Roosevelt initiated the Navajo Stock Reduction Program to deal with this problem.

The administration planned to replace traditional sheep herds with fewer hybrid animals that would produce more meat and wool per animal,hoping the stress to the environment would be less since there would be fewer animals on the grazing land. Also, the government would hire Navajo workers to build dams, bridges, and schools to make up for loss of income due to the reduction of their herds.

However, the plan didn't work since there were not enough jobs to make up for the lost income. Instead of gaining more grazing lands by reducing herds, the grasses died and less desirable plants sprung up in their place. In an attempt to protect their herds, each family settled in an area and claimed as much land as possible. Since they no longer moved about constantly and spread grazing over large areas, the result was the overgrazing of nearby grasslands. Government officials began destroying sheep and goats, turning Navajo prosperity into poverty and the Dineh again faced hunger because of government actions. The Navajo consider stock reduction another great tragedy in their history. Only the Long Walk was worse.

Next: School Days

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