The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, Digital Edition > My Day
My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt

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NEW YORK, Monday—Many times during the years that I spent in Washington the plight of the Indians, who still live on reservations and are, therefore, wards of the United States, was brought to my attention. The other day a letter came to me from a woman who has just discovered some of the facts concerning the Navajo Indian tribes. She was under the impression that no one knew of the conditions as they exist, and I am sure it must have been discouraging to her when I wrote that not only did I think the Indian Bureau knew all about these conditions but, in all probability, Congress had been told about them a number of times.

The Navajo situation primarily is a population problem. In 1868 the tribe numbered about 9,000 people. Today there are more than 60,000, and they are increasing at the rate of 1,000 a year, which is considerably faster than the birth rate in the nation as a whole.

The Navajo country covers about 25,000 square miles but most of it is semidesert. Part of the land is timbered and limited almost entirely to use as grazing land, and the soil is severely eroded. The range can carry only about 520,000 sheep, which is roughly ten sheep per person, and the variety raised by the Navajos produces less than $7 per animal per year. About half an acre of irrigated land is the average used by a Navajo farmer and this returns him about $13.50.

Therefore, a little over $80 a year is the overall average income for the Navajo. Only a comparatively few of them are able to earn a little extra income through the sale of minerals, pinon nuts, their arts and crafts and their wood.

Only an Act of Congress can appropriate more land for the Navajos, and for years the appropriation bill for the Department of the Interior has stated that no federal funds appropriated in the bill may be used to buy land for Indian use in the states of Arizona and New Mexico.

The most shocking educational conditions exist among these people. There are 20,000 Navajo children of school age, but the total school facilities, including federal and mission schools, will accommodate only 6,000 children. In view of the fact that in 1868 the United States made a solemn treaty with the tribe, promising a school and a teacher for every 30 children of school age, this puts our government in a decidedly unpleasant light. Also, health conditions are deplorable. Roads through the area are poor, and this adds to the difficulties where health and education are concerned.

The Department of Interior has a program designed to solve some of the problems of these people who once owned this white man's land, and it would seem advisable for Congress to respect the treaty even if it was made with a conquered people who no longer can menace our power.

It is interesting to note that 3,400 Navajos were in World War II and 15,000 were engaged in war work. Their war bond purchases and their contributions to the Red Cross were remarkable, considering their small incomes.

E. R.


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About this document

My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, September 30, 1947

Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962
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Digital edition created by The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project The George Washington University 312 Academic Building 2100 Foxhall Road, NW Washington, DC 20007

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MEP edition publlished on June 30, 2008.

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Transcription created from a photocopy of a UFS wire copy of a My Day column instance archived at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library.