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Commemoration sponsored by Miss Navajo Council Inc.

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FARMINGTON — Before Marilyn Help-Hood sang about the Long Walk in the Navajo language, she explained the song's connection to the 1868 treaty between the tribe and the United States government during an event on Thursday at the Farmington Public Library.

"What I'll be saying is that our people suffered greatly, and from the stories that I was told by my grandmothers, they said that starvation was so great that moccasins were taken apart and ate," Help-Hood said about the time in the 1860s when Navajo people were confined at Bosque Redondo, a reservation in eastern New Mexico.

The internment and forced marches carried out by the U.S. military to move the Navajo people from their homeland to Bosque Redondo are known as the Long Walk.

Thursday's event was sponsored by the Miss Navajo Council Inc., a nonprofit organization founded by former Miss Navajo Nation titleholders to promote the preservation of Diné language, culture and tradition.

Help-Hood was Miss Navajo Nation 1977-1978 and is a member of the organization, which held similar events this month in Flagstaff, Arizona, and Gallup.

Geraldine Gamble, treasurer for the organization and Miss Navajo Nation 1989-1990, said the event was intended to promote the importance of tribal sovereignty and recognize the sesquicentennial year for the treaty.

"This was such a unique opportunity that we wanted to extend the celebration of the Treaty of 1868. We wanted to continue the celebration and, if anything, sharing with surrounding communities what this treaty represents and what it stands for," Gamble said.

The event included a 24-minute audio recording of Gallup residents reading the treaty, which consists of 13 articles that acknowledge tribal sovereignty and set conditions between the tribe and the U.S.

The recording was developed by the city of Gallup and Sunny Dooley, the organization's vice president and Miss Navajo Nation 1982-1983. Dooley, who is a renowned storyteller, encouraged audience members to share stories about the Long Walk and to read the treaty.

The Miss Navajo Council started developing the presentation and its purpose in October, Dooley said in an interview after the event.

"It's interesting how many Navajo people have never ever read the treaty. …We wanted them to hear the treaty," she said.

Farmington American Indian Ambassador Nikeisha Kee attended the event with her mother, Jovita Kee. Nikeisha Kee said she saw the treaty when it was at the Navajo Nation Museum in June and the event on Thursday added to her understanding of the document.

"We need to teach more about our culture and history," she said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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