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Navajo-U.S. Treaty of 1868 exhibit draws large crowd
Some visitors waited hours to see historic document
WINDOW ROCK, Arizona — Two years of negotiations between officials of the Navajo Nation Museum and the National Archives and Records Administration generated their final results today when an exhibit displaying the treaty between the tribe and the United States opened here.
This is the first time the original treaty between the two nations has been taken from the National Archives in Washington, D.C., and loaned to the Navajo Nation.
The 20-page document, signed on June 1, 1868, acknowledged Navajo tribal sovereignty, established tribal land within the four sacred mountains, and set conditions between the tribe and the U.S. government.
In addition, it emancipated Navajos who had been interned at Bosque Redondo after hundreds were forcibly removed from their homeland to the area in eastern New Mexico as part of what became known in Navajo culture as "the Long Walk."
Although the Navajo ancestors faced hardship, loss and uncertainty during their stay at Hwééldi — the Navajo word for the internment area and a place tribal elders advised their descendants not to return to — many tribal members were waiting today when the document was displayed for the public.
Given the treaty's complicated role in tribal history, signs were posted at the museum's entryway and the exhibit hall stating a ceremony had been conducted "to shield the people."
Marlon Murphy left his home in Sanders, Arizona, to arrive by 8 a.m. to stand outside the museum and waited to view Naaltsoos Sání — the Navajo word for the treaty that means "the old paper."
Murphy is a descendant of Tall Woman, a sister to Manuelito, who was among the Navajo leaders to approve the treaty. The X placed by Manuelito on the document is accompanied by the words, "his mark."
"I wanted to come over here and see his name and see how resilient we are today," Murphy said.
Across from where Murphy stood was a large tent, where tribal, federal and state officials delivered remarks as part of the opening event.
Manuelito Wheeler, the museum director, gave a tour to media members before the doors to the exhibit opened to the public.
"Navajo Nation Museum staff did a month and a half's work that would usually take four months. Staff have been working 21 days straight," Wheeler said.
The exhibit starts in a circular room that contains a panel that provides information about the Long Walk in Navajo and English.
Above the doorway that visitors walk through to observe the rest of the exhibit are the words, "1,000,000 footsteps. Their steps became our steps."
Wheeler said museum staff members developed the exhibit to be interactive and informative.
Maps show the routes Navajos walked from their homeland to Bosque Redondo. One of the interactive visitor displays asks, "Do you know someone who went on the Long Walk?"
The two-way flow of information was part of the exhibit's original concept and provided a response to a request by the National Archives for the museum staff to incorporate education into the visitor experience, Wheeler said.
Prior to the month-long treaty exhibit, the museum displayed a replica as part of a permanent exhibit.
"It's night and day to know that we have the actual document. … It definitely comes with the presence," Wheeler said.
The pages that comprise the treaty are protected inside glass cases built by tribal members and located inside a room protected by security guards.
In addition to the treaty, the 1868 consent to ratification by the U.S. Senate and the ratification of the treaty signed by President Andrew Johnson on Aug. 12, 1868, are on display.
Among the first people to cross the museum lobby and enter the exhibit hall today were St. Michaels, Arizona, resident Roxie June and her daughter and son. June is originally from Pine Springs, a mountainous area near Oak Springs in Arizona.
While her family does not have stories about removal under the Long Walk, she has heard narratives about people hiding in the canyon in Pine Springs to avoid capture by the U.S. Army.
She added the treaty prevented the relocation of tribal members to Oklahoma. She said tribal leaders discussed the treaty before giving their consent.
"To me, it's powerful. It's a tool our ancestors used to help the people. It's something that we can use to advocate for our rights," June said about the treaty.
Gallup resident Simone Jones walked with a group this morning from the Navajo Division of Transportation building in Tsé Bonito to the museum as part of the opening event.
Jones and 10 coworkers ran up to 3 miles each between Gallup and Window Rock on Thursday as a running series that was established to recognize the sesquicentennial year of the treaty concluded its final stage after starting May 14 in Fort Sumner.
Wearing a turquoise "Running for Resilience" T-shirt, Jones could not contain her excitement over being part of history, despite waiting hours for the doors to the exhibit to open.
"The treaty is evidence of the nation-to-nation relationship," she said.
There is no charge for admission to the museum. The treaty will remain on display until June 30, and the museum will be open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.