Constructing the Navajo capital: Landscape, power, and representation at Window Rock

2008 2008

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Abstract (summary)

In 1934, the Office of Indian Affairs (OIA), in cooperation with a select group of Navajos (Diné, "The People"), established the town of Window Rock, Arizona, to serve as the administrative center of the Navajo reservation. From their offices in Window Rock (Tségháhoodzání , "Rock with a Hole in It"), federal employees worked to remake Diné Bikéyah ("The People's Land") into a more efficient, profitable, and modern reservation through improvement programs in education, health, range management, and commercial development. The town, comprised of fifty red sandstone buildings constructed by Navajo laborers, quickly became a potent symbol of government surveillance and technocratic expertise, and today it is reviled by some Diné as the most blatant display of colonial oppression in their homeland; yet others are proud of Window Rock because their elders built it, stone by stone, and because today it is the place from which the Navajo Nation determines its own path for the future.

This dissertation considers the physical and spatial ordering of buildings and people—the landscape—to follow political and social agendas. In this study, I demonstrate how Window Rock, a multi-million-dollar project of the Public Works Administration (PWA), was used as the centerpiece for OIA Commissioner John Collier's "Indian New Deal," focusing on the ways in which architectural styles, spatial relationships throughout the site, and construction technologies were used to establish cultural hierarchies and reinforce discrimination against Navajos in their own homeland, despite other attempts by that administration to promote cultural pluralism. I contend that the design of Window Rock did not reflect the values or concerns of most Diné at the time, but instead represented the "Indianness" of the users as imagined by the OIA and its architects working in New York City. Through analysis of these buildings' placement throughout the site and the "traditional" or "indigenous" iconography within them, I reveal how the built environment of Window Rock was intended to obscure the power struggle between Collier's OIA, the newly-formed Navajo Tribal Council, and Diné living throughout the reservation, as well as the manner in which many Diné resisted spatial control.

Indexing (details)

Native Americans;
Native studies
0390: Landscaping
0729: Architecture
0740: Native Americans
0740: Native studies
Identifier / keyword
Communication and the arts; Social sciences; Architecture; Arizona; Landscape; Nailor, Gerald; Navajo; New Deal; Window Rock
Constructing the Navajo capital: Landscape, power, and representation at Window Rock
Leibowitz, Rachel
Number of pages
Publication year
Degree date
School code
DAI-A 69/05, Dissertation Abstracts International
Place of publication
Ann Arbor
Country of publication
United States
Harris, Dianne
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
University location
United States -- Illinois
Source type
Dissertations & Theses
Document type
Dissertation/thesis number
ProQuest document ID
Database copyright ProQuest LLC; ProQuest does not claim copyright in the individual underlying works.
Document URL
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