the Right to Secession
for the Diné (Navajo) Nation
Mark Evans and Charles Davis, Workers' Herald, December 1983
The Diné, or Navajo,* people are an oppressed nation within the borders of the United States. They are not, as Anglo-American chauvinists claim, a "disappearing people" who are being assimilated into Anglo-American society. The Diné population today numbers over 175,000 and is growing rapidly.1 They speak a common and distinct language and have a common and distinct culture characterized by traditional customs and religious beliefs. The perseverance of the Diné culture is demonstrated by the fact that only a small minority have been converted to Christianity, and that Diné Bizaad remains the principal language in the Diné nation. In fact, one-third of the men and half of the women in the Diné labor force do not speak English.2
* The name "Navajo" is derived from a Pueblo term Apaches de Nabahov, meaning "strangers of the cultivated field." The Navajo people call themselves the Diné, meaning "the people," and the nationally conscious among the Diné use the name Diné rather than Navajo in the English language as well.
The Diné people inhabit a definitely delineated territory, the political borders of which have been established by U.S. imperialism as the Navajo Reservation. This reservation occupies a large part of the territory that has been continuously inhabited by the Diné people for hundreds of years. The reservation covers about 25,000 square miles, an area about the size of Costa Rica and El Salvador combined, in the states of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. It is bordered by four mountains that are central to Diné legend: Debentsa or Big Sheep to the north; Delodo to the east; Mt. Taylor to the south; and San Francisco Peak to the west.** The integrity of the Diné nation is spoken to by the fact that nine-tenths of the Diné people live within Diné national territory, despite the low level of economic development and difficulty in obtaining work.
** The territory of the Diné nation is distinct from that of the Chicano nation in the Southwest, which is centered in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado to the east of the Diné nation.
The Diné nation is characterized by a common economic life, as capitalist production relations and modern commerce have been thrust upon the Diné by U.S. imperialism. Within the nation today exist all the major classes which typify capitalist society: the bourgeoisie; the proletariat; and the petty bourgeoisie. Moreover, the Diné nation is tied together by relatively modern means of transportation, communication, and trade. It also has the governmental structures of a bourgeois state. The Diné state, however, is not sovereign; it is subordinate to the colonial administration of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).
The Diné nation's position as an oppressed nation, a nation ravaged by U.S. imperialism, is shown by its economic underdevelopment and the severe poverty suffered by the people. The Diné are among the poorest people in the United States. Eighty-seven percent live at or near the official government poverty level. In 1973, Diné per capita annual income was about $900, roughly the same level as in Brazil. Average U.S. per capita income in 1973 was $4,497, nearly five times the Diné average. Moreover, Diné per capita income has been falling in comparison to the U.S. average. In 1959, it stood at 27.3%, by 1969 it had fallen to 24.1 %, and by 1974 it had fallen to 19%. Because the current economic crisis has hit the Diné harder than most, it is likely that this ratio has fallen even more steeply over the last decade.
Due to malnutrition and disease, the average Diné lifespan is only 45 years, 25 years less than the U.S. average. Infant mortality is twice the U.S. average. There are only half as many doctors per capita as in the U.S. as a whole. In 1975, 80% of Diné homes were judged to be substandard and only 8% had standard indoor plumbing. Over half still do not have electricity. In 1970, the average person in the Diné nation had only completed five years of school.3
This is the legacy that Anglo-American colonization of the Diné people has produced. The Diné territory has been exploited for its abundant mineral resources by U.S. imperialism and the Diné people have been used as a reserve army of cheap labor. The Diné people have endured over a century of abuse, brutality and lynchings carried out by Anglo-American chauvinists and the U.S. police and military forces. Yet despite the poverty, national degradation, and political subjugation, the Diné people have persevered and their national consciousness has not diminished – it has grown.
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