The Navajos and nature: Changing world and changing self
For Native Americans throughout the United States, economic development often comes in the form of energy exploitation; these projects involve large-scale disturbance of the environment, relocation of the occupants and the release of toxic by-products. How does one group of Native Americans, the Navajos of the southwestern United States deal with environmental issues in such disrupted circumstances? As part of the objectives of this dissertation, I will describe the traditional and modern Navajo environmental beliefs on several development subjects; the effects of these developments on the Navajo people and their lands; and the internal conflicts these issues generate for the Navajo people.
The goal of this research is to analyze how contemporary Navajos perceive their environment and their relations to it. How does development, upon which they are heavily dependent, affect how they negotiate these perceptions? In addition, how do Navajos assess their own well being and relationships within the context of development? Specifically the dissertation will emphasize the following research objectives: (1) What is the traditional environmental model used by the Navajo people and how do they view the current degradation of their lands from development using this perspective? (2) What is their assessment of their own well being concerning present environmental concerns and relations with outside institutions and governments concerning development? (3) What are the internal conflicts that arise out of their current environmental debate, and what are the forces that continue to generate these conflicts? (4) Are there different routes available for resolving the tensions and contradictions that exist within Navajo society because of their development and environmental perspective?
The theoretical basis of this study is derived from Gregory Bateson's analysis of human knowledge, communication, culture and experience. This dissertation also builds on the works of Native American anthropologists who study the importance of place. The methodology used in this study has relied on a variety of standard ethnographic methods used throughout the social sciences such as formal and informal interviews, life histories, and literature reviews.