The Daily Times recently published a three-part series on the history of trading posts on the Navajo Nation and the viability of the trading industry in today's economy.
The stories explored the sometimes tumultuous relationship between American Indian artists and Anglo traders, but they also uncovered deep relationships between the two cultures that continue today.
Looking to the past can be an educational or nostalgic experience. It also can help people learn from past errors.
Trading posts, though never perfect, provided a way for early settlers to make a living and for American Indians to get necessities to live and progress in a modern world.
Traders often learned the language and endured long periods of isolation on the reservation before automobiles became popular. Some made profits, but others struggled for years to make ends meet.
American Indians used the posts to sell their wares and trade livestock and handicrafts for groceries, hardware and other basic necessities.
The relationships worked because each party had something to offer the other, and because there was a mutual trust and respect that most times preceded profits.
Both groups are nostalgic for the trading post era, which lasted from the late 1860s through the early 1970s when federal regulations forced most traders off the reservation.
Traders and American Indians remember those days with fondness: the smell of saddle leather, the taste of ice cold soda or the long hours spent catching up on news from the outside world.
Much about those relationships — the give and take that came hand-in-hand with trading and doing business on credit — is relevant today. As trading posts have gone by the wayside, some of that mutual respect has disappeared.
Many cultures coexist here in the Farmington area, and much can be learned about living together by studying past successes and failures.
The trading post era is an important part of history that should not be forgotten.