144 years ago today, John Ward, obedient servant and Special Indian Agent wrote a forty five page letter regarding "The Navajo Problem."
In beautiful handwriting, with certain s-s that give the impression of f-s, agent Ward outlined several suggestions for managing the Navajo after our return from Hwéeldi.
Bind them on all sides. Enclose them within military posts. Maintain a full company of well mounted militia and employ fifteen Pueblo or "well disposed Navajo Indians" as guides for itinerants and explorers. Pay them. Arm them with proper guns and two horses.
"At least at the commencement of the scheme."
He follows with details.
Details about the 1200 Wild Indians, largely Apache.
Details about Carson's attack on da'ak'eh, requiring three hundred men most of one day to destroy the fields of the Valley de Chelly.
Details about the likelihood of conversion, his recommendation: start with our children. Turn them over to the Catholics and their imposing ceremonies—their peculiar training, and ease at secluded living gives them a certain advantage over other denominations and temperaments.
On page 37 he reaches the question of orphans. "I would here suggest, that orphan children should have the first privilege."
What is the nature of this privilege?
"Many of the captives in question, particularly the grown ones, must now be Orphans, and are perhaps without even any near relatives to take care and provide for them properly. Whilst others are unwilling to go back to the tribe."
By page 39 he's mulling over these circumstances and the fate of these children. What is to be done with them? Turn them over to the first Navajo that claims them? What if these claims are short in coming? What if the Navajo just claim random youth for their own profit and domestic needs—and turn around and enslave them?
Clearly Ward is speaking of mores and motivations he's familiar with, and to a great extent, endorses: "Besides, it is not reasonably to be expected, that any family in the country having any such captives, will be willing to give them up, upon the mere representation of a Navajo Indian; Humanity itself would prevent it."
What is reasonably to be expected?
What is the character of mere representation? By what manipulations does one leave such low and insignificant impressions upon another? Mere representations?
By what means would humanity itself prevent it? Whose humanity is he addressing?
Even if these concerns could be adequately addressed to the satisfaction of this agent, the Peace commission and the Peace commissioner Ward expresses additional concerns, for the safety of the settlers, a sort of question of homeland security. The captives, in their position as slave, would necessarily know a great deal about the families they were owned by, among this knowledge would be intimate details about the people, their style and habit of life, their herds, their preferred grazing practices and locations. This knowledge would make the captives, if returned, a great asset to the Navajo should there be another war, another war for land, or for free movement on the land. These facts, considerable as they are, needed to be addressed by the agent and by the colonial governments (state and federal).
"This question will be a troublesome one until duly settled. The Navajoes will continue to claim their people, and on the other hand, the citizens to refuse to give them up."
Ward's letter is rich and concludes with the promise to deliver the souls of "those remaining unclaimed, in possession of the agent, or unwilling to remain with their people" [if they can even be identified] to "such Christian persons as would be willing to take charge and provide for them properly."
In reading this letter today I cannot help but consider the relevance of reach and Ward's concern that the Navajo would continue to claim their people. It is clear and indisputable that "the citizens" (of New Mexico and the United States) would refuse to give those remaining unclaimed, in possession of the government, or such Christian persons taking charge of them, up for any reason or ransom. But what could alter a person, and disfigure them so completely, that they would become beyond (our) reach, beyond (our) ability to recognize them, and allow us to cut them lose, and surrender their souls to their owners.
This is one question that all natal isolates must answer. It is the same question those who retain possession of their lines must answer also. It is a question of origins. It is a question of relations, bought and sold.
- ► 2009 (13)