Navajo Livestock Reduction

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Navajo Livestock Reduction

The Navajo Livestock Reduction was imposed upon the Navajo Nation by the federal government in the 1930s.[1] During the 1920s and into the 30s, the Federal Government decided that the land of the Navajo Nation could not support the increasingly large flocks of goats and sheep and the herds of cattle and wild horses. Land erosion was observed in many parts of the Nation. Many federal officials concluded that the only solution was to drastically reduce the livestock. In 1933, John Collier was appointed Commissioner of what is now called the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). Agreeing with the analysis of his experts, he decided that the Navajo owned far too many sheep, goats, cattle and horses for the carrying capacity of their reservation. The capacity for sheep was about 500,000 but they owned 2 million of them in 1931; they provided half the cash income for the individual Navajo.[2] Historians have pointed out that the factual foundations used by Washington were quite thin, and dissent was suppressed.[3] Collier acted aggressively: his solution was to launch a program to purchase and remove over half of the livestock, despite the deep cultural ties the Navajo had to their livestock. Women especially were hurt as many lost their only source of income.[4] The program united the Navajo in opposition, but after Collier had opponents arrested they were unable to stop it.[5] Historian Brian Dippie notes that the Indian Rights Association denounced Collier as a 'dictator' and accused him of a "near reign of terror" on the Navajo reservation. Dippie adds that, "He became an object of 'burning hatred' among the very people whose problems so preoccupied him."[6] The long-term result was strong Navajo opposition to Collier's Indian New Deal.[7]

Navajo and sheep[edit]

The government established a quota for different types of livestock on specific areas of the reservation. The reasons given for the policy was overgrazing of the reservation by livestock. The government slaughtered a majority of the livestock to reach the quotas it established, without Navajo agreement. The livestock quota system is still being used today.

Sheep and horses were brought to North America and the South West by the Spanish. By the 18th century, the Navajo had flocks of sheep and herds of horses. Most of these were killed or taken as part of the events leading to the Long Walk. The United States Government and Navajo signed a treaty that returned the Navajo to their traditional lands. One of the 1868 treaty provisions was that each Navajo family was to be given two sheep, one male and one female.

Navajos were good shepherds and increased their livestock over the next 60 years. Not only did their reservation increase in size, but the federal government finally was able to stop raiding and looting of the Navajo by outsiders. The Navajo were able to market their wool both as a raw material and as Navajo rugs. These were some reasons that their sheep population went from 15,000 in the 1870s to 500,000 in the 1920s.

The Navajo's success led to overgrazing. The federal government at first recommended that the numbers of livestock on the reservation be dramatically reduced. This went against many Navajo traditions, not to mention devastated their economy. For example, the Navajos considered their livestock sacred and no different from family. The chairman of the Navajo Tribal Council, Thomas Dodge, tried to present the government's arguments to the people. Because of the strong cultural and economic importance of the livestock, he was unable to sway most of the people.[8] The federal government decided to take action into their own hands and exterminated over 80% of the livestock on the reservation. To Navajos this became known as the Second Long Walk because of the major impact it had on their way of life.


  1. ^ Peter Iverson, "Dine: A History of the Navajos", 2002, University of New Mexico Press, Chapter 5, "our People Cried": 1923-1941.
  2. ^ Peter Iverson (2002). "For Our Navajo People": Diné Letters, Speeches & Petitions, 1900-1960. U of New Mexico Press. p. 250. 
  3. ^ Lawrence A. Kuznar (2008). Reclaiming a Scientific Anthropology. AltaMira Press. p. 141. 
  4. ^ Marsha Weisiger, "Gendered Injustice: Navajo Livestock Reduction in the New Deal Era." Western Historical Quarterly (2007): 437-455. in JSTOR
  5. ^ Richard White, ch 13: "The Navajos become Dependent" (1988). The Roots of Dependency: Subsistence, Environment, and Social Change Among the Choctaws, Pawnees, and Navajos. U of Nebraska Press. pp. 300ff. 
  6. ^ Brian W. Dippie, The Vanishing American: White Attitudes and U.S. Indian Policy (1991) pp 333-36, quote p 335
  7. ^ Donald A. Grinde Jr, "Navajo Opposition to the Indian New Deal." Integrated Education (1981) 19#3-6 pp: 79-87.
  8. ^ Peter Iverson, "Dine: A History of the Navajos", 2002, University of New Mexico Press, pages 147-151

Further reading[edit]

  • Bailey, Garrick and Roberta Bailey. A History of the Navajo: The Reservation Years (1986)
  • Kelly, Lawrence C. The Navajo Indians and Federal Indian Policy (University of Arizona Press, 1974)
  • McPherson, Robert S. The Northern Navajo Frontier 1860-1900 (1988);
  • Navajo Livestock Reduction: A National Disgrace. Navajo Community College, 1974: p. 24.
  • Ortiz, Alfonso, ed. Handbook of North American Indians vol. 10 (1983).
  • Roessel, Ruth, ed. (1974). Navajo Livestock Reduction: A National Disgrace. Tsaile, Arizona: Navajo Community College Press. ISBN 0-912586-18-4. 
  • Spicer, E[dward] H. with John Collier. “Sheepmen and Technicians: A Program of Soil Conservation on the Navajo Indian Reservation.” in Human Problems in Technological Change: A Casebook edited by Edward H. Spicer. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1952. 185-207.
  • White, Richard. (1988) ch 13: "The Navajos become Dependent". The Roots of Dependency: Subsistence, Environment, and Social Change Among the Choctaws, Pawnees, and Navajos. U of Nebraska Press. p. 300.