Four sheep to the wind
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