“I am amused to see from my window here how busily man has divided and staked off his domain. God must smile at his puny fences running hither and thither everywhere over the land.” – Henry David Thoreau
The Navajo Reservation (Dine’ Bike’yah) covers 27,000 square miles of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. With a population of more than 250,000, it is home to the largest indigenous group of people in the United States. Despite their disinterest in a centralized government, the U.S. asserts plenary control over the reservation.
This control started in 1871, when Congress abolished the practice of treating indigenous tribes as sovereign nations. Sixteen years later this practice was strengthened by the Dawes Severalty Act. The intent of this action was to assimilate all “Indians” into the white culture. This was done by banning polygamy, imposing limits on men’s hair, sending native children to boarding schools, and dissolving tribal ownership of the land. Once these goals were accomplished, an allotment of one-hundred-sixty acres was given to the head of a family unit, thus making the adult owner a citizen of the United States. The remaining seventy-five million acres of tribal land was then released to white settlement.
This treatment was so draconian that the Dawes Act was repealed in 1934 by the Indian Reorganization Act. This legislation allowed the unsettled land to revert back to the tribes, thus revoking the previous provisions. Its design was to improve conditions on the reservations and seventy percent of the tribes welcomed it. Despite the benefit of this reform, the Navajos rejected it. In doing so, they proclaimed their self-determination and cultural autonomy, declaring that they were a nation within a nation.
Long ago near the trees of Mamre at Hebron, west of the Jordan River, there lived a 99-year-old man called Abram [exalted father]. God spoke to Abram, and he made a promise, “No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham [father of many], for I have made you a father of many nations (Genesis 17:1-8).” Years later, while Abraham’s grandson was in Egypt, the promise became flesh, as the family developed into a great nation (Exodus 1:1-7). It continued to grow and in the fullness of time, it produced Jesus, the Messiah (Matthew 1:1-17).
After the Messiah’s death and resurrection, he commanded some of the family to share the story (Matthew 28:16-20). With this story of hope many have been adopted into the family (Ephesians 1:3-10), and it has become a great nation without boundaries (Acts 2:1-12; Revelation 7:9-12). It is indeed a nation within nations. Shall we continue to share the family’s story? Christian, are you up for the task?
“May we be a shining light to the nations,
A shining light to the peoples of the earth;
Till the whole world sees the glory of Your name;
May Your pure light shine thru us!”
Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.