I spent a day with Fabian and Letitia Jensen, both Native Americans residing on the Grey Mountain within the Navajo Nation. I also met Jason, Fabian’s nephew, who showed us around his Hogan that he and his father built from scratch.
The Navajo Nation is a territory covering more than 70,000 square kilometers. This is the largest land area retained by a Native American tribe. They have their own government- executive, legislative, and a judicial system. However, the US Federal Government continues to assert plenary power over all decisions
This is why people from the reservations (res) are at the mercy of the US Federal Government as they “hold the land in trust” for the Navajo people. This means that the people “owns” the land but do not have title over them -they could not sell, mortgage, submit as collateral the land they’re supposed to own. Therefore they do not put much effort in improving their homes because anytime, the government can step in and take them.
Land ownership within the res is understood by families and communities. Houses are miles away from each other and usually traditional houses called “Hogans”, they can be a square, round, or multi-sided (octagon) made usually of stones people dig up from the mountains. These hogans were built to be self-sustaining, insulated and with windows that bring in wind from the outside. They do not have electricity nor water so some of them have solar panels installed and water tanks and water collection systems in place.
Unlike in the Philippines where free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) is obtained before any activity within ancestral domains are made, the USFG can do pretty much everything within the res. In fact, there are easements for coal mining and electric towers which do not in any way benefit the residents of the res. Electricity generated and passing through the lines there all going to California. Moreover, land going up the res is not paved, making it ever harder for the people to go in and out of the res.
Today, members of the nation thrive from livestock, tourism, and traditional arts. But despite their thriving economy, most of them choose to move out of the res which makes it more exacting to pass on their culture and tradition to the next generation.
I used to think that USA was a progressive country. But in terms of promoting the welfare of their IPs, the Philippines does a lot better.
Today was an eye-opening adventure up the mountains. Thank you, Coconino County, for arranging this meeting. Thanks also to ICMA, LCP, YSEALI and US Embassy Manila for this exchange opportunity.
I wish the Jensens good fortune as they start to build up their eco-lodges/ hogans/ BnB/ homestay facility up the res. Wish I could visit them again once they start operating.