The Effects of the Glen Canyon Dam on the Navajo Indians


During the planning for the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam, the Government finally decided that Page, Arizona was the ideal location for the dam. From the Government’s viewpoint the land was virtually uninhabited. In actuality, however, the cite for the dam was located in a Navajo Reservation. Without much consideration, the Government enacted a land exchange with the Navajos so the dam could be constructed at the chosen site. As the plans continued to go as scheduled the time came to begin construction and many Navajo Native Americans were hired for the job. These Natives, along with the other workers, were exploited and had to endure horrific conditions many times risking their lives. However, it wasn't until after the construction of the dam when the dam imposed on the lives of many Native Americans. One of the first cultural effects of the dam was due to the ecological changes that occured in the Colorado river. This inhibited many families from attaining food like they had in the past. Their methods of herding and farming were revised in order to adapt to the changing ecosystems. Living simply within the natural limits of the land, is what the Navajo nation was used to, and more importantly wanted. However, the dam caused many environmental changes that forced the Navajos to alter their way of living.

Obstructing Religious Freedom

The most striking cultural affect of the Glen Canyon Dam deals with the sacred Rainbow Bridge. This National monument, deemed on the great wonders of the world, has tremendous religious value to the Navajo Nation. Prior to the construction of the dam, the Rainbow bridge was isolated and visited by few non Native American tourists. However after the dam, and the subsequent formation of Lake Powell, there exists an easy and convenient access to the Monument. The Bureau of Reclamation and the Director of National Park Services both operate boats on the lake, to transport tourists back and forth from the bridge. In 1974, several Navajo tribal members filed a suit against the Secretary of the Interior, the Commissioner of Bureau of Reclamation and the Director of the National Parks services. The court case, Badoni vs. Higginson, illustrates the severe cultural conflict that was heightened with the presence of the dam. The Navajo members who filed suit were several medicine men who practice “spiritual healing.” The two major claims that these men made, articulate the astounding affects the dam has had on Navajo life. First, the operation of the dam violated first amendment rights explicit in the establishment clause, in two ways. They stated that the impounding of water to form lake Powell not only drowned several gods, but denied Navajos access to a prayer spot sacred to them. Also, by allowing tourists at Rainbow Bridge, the government permitted desecration of the sacred nature of the site and overall denied the plaintiffs the right to conduct religious ceremonies at the spot. The second claim was that environmental impact has had adversely affected Navajo life and culture.

Due to the complicated nature of Federal court cases, there are many aspects of the case that we are neglecting. One aspect which is worthy of mentioning is that the court came to the conclusion that the economic interest the Government has in the Rainbow Bridge outweighs the plaintiffs religious interests of the monument. Outrageous as this may seem, many time throughout history it is the economic interest of the Federal Government that directs, controls and determines the outcome of many circumstances.

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