Tuesday, February 28, 2006

My Initial Navajo Education

Of the many wonderful places I visited in my 12 days exploring the American Southwest, the most enlightening times were the days I spent with my wife and son in the sprawling Navajo Nation, centered in Northeast Arizona. We stayed for a few days in the small towns of Chinle and Window Rock – the latter is the capital of the Navajo Nation – and had many memorable experiences.

My eight-year-old son had the amazing opportunity to play with two young Navajo boys he befriended on the floor of Canyon de Chelly and to make the arduous climb back to the top of the canyon using his new friends’ well-worn shortcuts up the side of some pretty scary-looking rock formations. (I may have sprouted a few gray hairs after watching some of the climbs, but my son enjoyed the experience of a lifetime and appeared in very capable hands.)

It was also inspiring and fascinating to learn about the Navajo “Code Talkers” who took unbelievable risks in World War II to provide an unbreakable method of communication that was indecipherable to our enemies at the time.

But the highlight for me was getting to visit the Window Rock offices of Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley and getting a tour of the headquarters by his gracious staff. I got to meet George Hardeen, Communications Director for the Navajo Nation, and had an interesting discussion on the negative influence coming out of Washington in a push to mine uranium on Navajo land. The Navajo have banned uranium mining on their land and are currently locked in a battle with the Bush administration and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to uphold that law.

Uranium had been mined on the massive reservation for 40 years starting in the 1940s, leaving the Navajos with little more than radiation sickness and contaminated, abandoned mines.

It was a real eye opener seeing how these proud people are struggling against the current administration. I’ll be in touch with Mr. Hardeen and will follow the extensive lobbying of President Shirley on Capitol Hill in the coming months.

Just when you think you’ve heard it all about the Bush administration, you find out something new. Stay tuned…