The Long Walk into the Present

Seven Generations 2020

Two years into the US Civil War, as the country divided itself over the future of slavery, Kit Carson and the Union Army initiated what became known as the Long Walk. Beginning in 1863, roughly half of all Navajo peoples in the Southwest region marched to Bosque Redondo (called Hwéeldi in Diné Bizaad), a concentration camp in eastern New Mexico Territory. Around 500 Mescalero Apaches were already imprisoned there. The Americans forced the Navajo to surrender by burning their fields and property, killing livestock, and contaminating water sources. During this period, there were 53 forced marches across three different routes, and at least 2,000 people died along the way or were killed by soldiers. About half of the other Navajo people fled and hid; many families today tell stories of their ancestors hiding in canyons in southern Utah.

The land at Bosque Redondo was barren, and many more Navajos and Mescalero Apaches died of starvation over the next five years. In late 1865, most of the Mescalero Apaches at Bosque Redondo escaped the camp in the middle of the night.

The Navajos at Bosque Redondo signed a treaty with the U.S. government in 1868 that ended their incarceration and established the Navajo Nation. Women in the group were instrumental in convincing the men that a return to their original homelands be included in the treaty. However, the treaty also required that the Navajo send their children to English schools and not interfere with the railroads, which were being built throughout the region.

Despite this attempt at their extermination, the Navajo Nation grew over time to become one of the most populous tribal nations situated within the United States. Today their existence and livelihoods are again threatened by the COVID-19 pandemic, a situation compounded by lack of access to clean water and electricity and air pollution from resource extraction.