Navajo Sovereignty Day
Many people would be surprised to discover that the United States has many nations within its borders. One of those nations is the Navajo Nation, a sovereign tribe of indigenous people whose nation is located in the southwestern part of the country. Navajo Sovereignty Day, which is on the fourth Monday in April, celebrates the day the Navajo Nation gained its independence from the U.S. government.
An Overview of Navajo Sovereignty
The Navajo Nation was granted sovereignty in 1868 when they signed a treaty with the U.S. government declaring them an independent nation. The Nation covers over 27,000 square miles in northeastern Arizona, southwestern Utah and northwestern New Mexico. The 1868 treaty was signed four years after members of the Navajo tribe had been deported from their lands in Arizona in 1864 and forced to march to New Mexico at gunpoint.
A series of 53 forced marches occurred from the end of August 1864 to the end of 1866. The deportation took place after ongoing hostilities between the Navajo tribe, Spanish settlers and the Army had ravished the tribe and left the rest to either surrender to the Army or be starved out of their homeland. The Navajo that surrendered were forced to march to an area in New Mexico called Bosque Redondo. At least 200 people died during the initial 300-mile journey that lasted for 18 days.
Eventually, 8,000 to 9,000 Navajo were located to an area that extended for 40 square miles, with the population reaching its peak in the spring of 1865 of 9,022 people. There were seven different paths taken for “The Long Walk” by at least 50 different groups. However, when the people began making their way back to the ancestral homeland, the separate groups formed one large group that trailed for 10 miles.
Their ability to return to their homeland was one of the few instances in history of the U.S. government allowing Indians to return from where they came. After the treaty of 1868 was signed by both parties, the Navajo tribe was granted 3.5 million acres, which eventually increased to 16 million acres after a series of other treaties was signed from 1878 to 1991.
The Navajo Nation
The original name for the area governed by the Navajo people was the “Navajo Indian Reservation” and then in 1923, the area was governed by the “Navajo Tribal Council.” Finally, in April 15 1969, the government seal was changed to read the “Navajo Nation,’ which was quickly adopted as the tribal government’s official name.
The Navajo Nation has its own executive, legislature and judiciary branches of government, along with its own law enforcement agencies. The Navajo Nation also consists of their own local and regional governments. The U.S. government still holds plenary power, which means they are still the authority in some manners in Navajo territory, and any despite are handled through negotiations through the Bureau of Indian Affairs, BIA.
National Sovereignty Day
The original date to celebrate their sovereign was April 16, a date that was established in 1985, but it is now recognized on the fourth Monday in April by the closing of all schools and all administrative offices to honor the Navajo Nation and the Navajo People. The reason for the remembrance is that in 1985, the Supreme Court ruled that the Navajo Nation could impose taxes without approval from the U.S. government and that these taxes were separate from state and federal taxes, which helped to solidify the Nation’s independence.
The basis for the Supreme Court ruling was the case of Kerr-McGee versus the Navajo Nation. This lawsuit was brought about by non-tribal businesses who challenged the right of the tribal council to impose a business activity tax and a possessor interest tax. The Navajo Nation was able to successfully argue that the ability to impose taxes not only was theirs because they are a sovereign nation, but it necessary to earn revenue in order to finance governmental operations.
Since the favorable Supreme Court decision, the Navajo Nation has passed a series of taxes, such as the oil and gas severance tax in 1985, the hotel occupancy tax in 1992, the tobacco products tax in 1995, a fuel excise tax in 1999 and a sales tax in 2001. The revenues earned by these imposed taxes are a significant portion of the Navajo Nation’s budget and go into their general fund.
The importance of National Sovereignty Day isn’t lost on the Navajo Nation and it is commemorated by not only the closing of public institutions, but many business organizations close to honor their nation as well. Even though they became an independent nation nearly a century prior to the Supreme Court decision, it was that decision that made it possible for the Navajo Nation to truly be recognized as a separate entity within the borders of the United States.