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Navajo leaders continue discussion about feral horses

FARMINGTON — The Navajo Nation’s new administration is in preliminary talks with an anti-horse slaughter organization to address the issue of feral horses on tribal land.

On Thursday, the Foundation to Protect New Mexico Wildlife released a joint statement from former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and actor Robert Redford, who co-founded the organization. In the statement, Richardson and Redford said they are pleased Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye and Vice President Jonathan Nez are continuing to collaborate with the group to protect wild horses on the reservation.

Richardson met with Begaye and Nez on May 26 in Window Rock, Ariz., to discuss the issue, according to the tribe’s Office of the President and Vice President.

Rick Abasta, Begaye’s spokesman, wrote in a text message that no agreement was reached.

“There was no deadline given. They need to review the proposed agreement and meet with chapters and grassroots people for their input,” Abasta wrote.

The foundation’s spokeswoman, Alarie Ray-Garcia, said this is the first time Richardson has discussed with Begaye and Nez the need to protect wild horses on the Navajo Nation.

“Gov. Richardson did not present any concerns other than the one he has always had about the welfare of horses on the Navajo Nation,” Ray-Garcia wrote in an email.

She added Richardson was “pleased” Begaye expressed interest in working with the foundation on a horse protection plan.

This is not the first time Richardson has approached the tribe about developing an agreement for wild horses.

In April 2014, then-Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly signed a memorandum of understanding with the foundation.

At the time, the two entities agreed to work on creating and implementing a humane horse management program while also developing a permanent solution.

The decision came after Shelly ordered the Navajo Nation Department of Agriculture to suspend horse roundups in October 2013. In July 2013, the Navajo Nation Council approved supplemental funding for the roundups to the agriculture department and to the Department of Resource Enforcement.

After reports and questions surfaced about how the agriculture department was conducting roundups, the Shiprock Chapter removed itself from the roundup list in September 2013.

Rather than participating, chapter members stated they would develop a project with a humane approach to address the issue.

Chapter President Duane “Chili” Yazzie said the chapter’s project remains on hold because it is waiting for permission from the agriculture and resource enforcement departments.

There are tribal law provisions the chapter does not want to violate, Yazzie said, and the best way to avoid that is to receive clearance from the departments.

“We’re trying to get it going because it needs to be done. We need to make sure the resource enforcement department knows what we are doing,” Yazzie said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 and Follow her @nsmithdt on Twitter.


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