Livestock tradition endures
Padres Mesa cowboys and New Lands ranchers crack jokes and tease one another before a cattle drive. Ranching is a common bond throughout the community.
The New Lands settlements are located within 352,000 acres of ranchland carpeted with tall grass, sagebrush and squatty conifers. The 14 range communities were intended to be similar to the living arrangements that Navajo families left behind in the disputed land.
Residents complain that the federal Office of Navajo and Hopi Indian Relocation limits the number of livestock each family can keep. Padres Mesa cowboys teach locals the best practices in agriculture, including breed selection for highest market value, low stress animal handling and sustainable range management.
Padres Mesa Ranch is helping Navajos to earn a living from ranching and pass the agricultural lifestyle on to their children.
In 2009, the federal relocation office established a demonstration ranch in the New Lands to help families increase their income from selling cattle.
The result is Navajo Beef, a grass-fed, premium Grade A brand that is purchased by Navajo-owned casinos and generates twice the income for New Lands ranchers as other livestock.
Land use is highly regulated, people often find themselves being fined by the same federal office that relocated them, deepening resentment toward the federal government.
People depend on income from selling cattle as well as rugs made from the wool of their Churro sheep.
Keeping livestock is central to Navajo identity. But Navajos’ connection to the land and to animals is not just spiritual; it is also financial.
Houses were built so that extended families could live next to one another; shared grazing areas were established so that people could keep sheep and cattle.
“We are turning this big ‘ole negative of relocation into a positive,” says New Lands rancher Kim Yazzie. “We now have this awesome product, this Native American beef product.”
Frank Nelson is a rancher from East Mill, Ariz., in the New Lands. After he relocated from Big Mountain, Ariz., Nelson found it easy to buy alcohol and became an alcoholic. These days, Nelson spends his time ranching instead of drinking.