ALBUQUERQUE – The Navajo Nation already has its own police academy, universities, bar and court system, plus a new office in Washington near the embassies of other sovereign nations. And during the coronavirus pandemic, the Diné, like many, preferred to make one important distinction: the most populous tribal nation in the United States.
According to the Navajo Office of Vital Records and Identification, Navajo Nation’s official enrollment increased to 399,494 from 306,268 last year. The jump was enough for the Diné to overshadow the Cherokee Nation, which has an entry of about 392,000.
The growth of the tribe, which took place while enduring some of the country’s most disturbing virus outbreaks, could affect the disbursement of future federal aid as well as political representation in the Southwest. The Navajo Nation Reservation, which is larger than Western Virginia, covers approximately 27,000 square miles of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.
“This is the brighter side of a very bad time in the pandemic when we saw so many people watching,” said Traci Morris, executive director of the Arizona Indian University Policy Institute.
Dr. Morris, a member of the Chickasaw Nation in Oklahoma, said that although the number of enrollments increased during the pandemic, the 30 percent increase in the Navajo nation was particularly noticeable. The Cherokee Nation, which normally sees about 1,200 applications for enrollment each month, has increased to about 1,400 a month since mid-last year, a tribe spokesman said.
Official enrollments for the tribe can often be lower than the actual population of a tribe, due to factors such as migration of reserves to urban areas and the different policies that the 574 federally recognized tribes in the United States have to determine membership. Some tribes, such as the Diné, have relatively stricter requirements than others that have weakened such rules.
Over the past year, thousands of Diné have scrambled to update their enrollment information or to officially sign up for the first time to receive payments that the tribe distributes directly from its share of the Coronavirus Law on Aid, Relief and Economic Security. Those payments of up to about $ 1,350 per adult helped many Diné endure a long period of economic instability, while Navajo leaders implemented some of the country’s most aggressive virus mitigation tactics, including curfew rules and checkpoints.
The Navajo nation also surpassed much of the rest of the country by vaccinating the population; nearly 90 percent of those eligible for the discussion got at least one chance.
At the same time, at least 1,297 Navajo nationals died from the virus. Residents were particularly vulnerable due to the high incidence of diseases such as diabetes, the scarcity of running water to wash hands and houses with several generations living under the same roof.
Although Navajo enrollments climbed during the health crisis, some experts believe that the official statistics are too low for the actual Diné population. The Census Bureau did not announce how large it considers the Navajo nation, based on data collected during the 2020 census.
Wendy Greyeyes, an assistant professor of Indian studies at the University of New Mexico, noted that most Diné live off the discussion, away from the offices that keep up with enrollment figures, and that the Navajo Nation maintains stricter citizenship requirements than many other tribes.
The Navajo nation requires members to be at least a quarter of a Diné, unlike tribes such as the Cherokee who relinquish a specific blood quantum requirement in favor of citizenship being largely based on Cherokee descent.
“I have met in Albuquerque so many members who do not qualify for the minimum enrollment, or that they may be enrolled in another tribe and cannot enroll double,” said Dr. Greyeyes, of Kayenta, Ariz., On the Navajo Nation discussion.
Dr Greyeyes, who has been helping people enroll in the tribe for the past few months, also stressed that the process could be bureaucratically complicated and that some Diné could potentially become citizens.
“It’s not an easy process,” said Dr. Greyeyes said. “How do you prove your blood origin? You need to get the paperwork for your parents, and the paperwork for everyone. ”
As the tribe grew, so did its political power. Diné politicians have recently made inroads into local races in places like southern Utah, and the Democratic-leaning election in the Navajo nation is attributed to the fact that he helped President Biden win Arizona in 2020.
The population growth of the Navajo Nation is also a sign that efforts to strengthen self-determination among tribal countries are gaining momentum, building on a shift that began more than five decades ago under the Nixon government. Previously, in the 1950s and 1960s, the federal government had a policy of the breakdown of tribal sovereignty and encouraged thousands of Native Americans to leave reservations for American cities.
Eric Henson, a citizen of the Chickasaw nation and a research fellow of the Harvard project on American Indian economic development, said the increasing enrollment of the Navajo nation stands in stark contrast to federal policy during the 20th century. which was literally an attempt to get rid of all the tribes. ”
Mr. Henson said of the emerging Diné numbers: ‘It’s a very obvious way of saying,’ Hey, we’m still here. ‘