Four sheep to the wind

Pasatiempo - - Mixed Media -

There were many am­bi­tious and pos­i­tive projects ini­ti­ated as part of Pres­i­dent Franklin De­lano Roo­sevelt’s New Deal pro­gram. One was the Soil Con­ser­va­tion Ser­vice, which be­gan as the Soil Ero­sion Ser­vice, and that refers to a big part of the agency’s story: con­trol­ling land-dam­ag­ing ero­sion.

As prac­ticed on Navajo lands, though, SCS strate­gies may some­times have done more harm than good. “The ser­vice took over more than 100,000 acres and fenced it off into demon­stra­tion ar­eas, and they did all kinds of ex­per­i­ments,” said Lil­lian Makeda, a his­toric preser­va­tion con­sul­tant who gives a talk, “A Utopian Vi­sion: The Navajo, the New Deal, and the Soil Con­ser­va­tion Ser­vice,” at noon on Fri­day, Dec. 18.

“They were try­ing to en­tice the Nava­jos into do­ing things in fairly rad­i­cal ways, es­pe­cially how they ran sheep,” she said. “It was thought the an­i­mals were con­tribut­ing to ero­sion, so there was a stock-re­duc­tion pro­gram, but it af­fected fam­i­lies that were de­pen­dent on live­stock and caused a lot of hard feel­ings. But the Nava­jos made some beau­ti­ful struc­tures to con­trol ero­sion on the rez that looked like land art.”

Makeda’s talk is at the State Li­brary and State Records Cen­ter and Archives, Yucca Room No. 2022, 1209 Camino Car­los Rey. There is no charge. Call 476-7998 for more in­for­ma­tion.

Nava­jos shoring up a gully, 1930s; cour­tesy Cen­ter for South­west Re­search, Uni­ver­sity of New Mex­ico

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