Up to 40,000 wild horses wander the Navajo Nation, roaming across 27,000 miles of deep canyons, rugged hills and huge mountains, according to aerial estimates from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. In just five years, the population is expected to double. Already the feral horses compete with domestic animals, sheep or cattle, and wildlife for water and sparse vegetation. Yet a Navajo Nation oversight committee recently denied an $800,000 funding request from the tribe’s Fish and Wildlife Department to help reduce the horse population, leaving the nation with few alternatives. “Right now, there is no program,” Leo Watchman, Navajo Nation Agriculture Department director, told me recently.
During President Barack Obama’s eight-year tenure, tribal sovereignty, the power by which tribes govern themselves, was a prime concern. But under the Trump administration, that may change. There are several indicators of this shift, including proposed budget cuts to the Interior Department’s Bureau of Indian Affairs and the de-prioritization of major land initiatives. Within the first six months of President Donald Trump’s administration, the Department of Interior has renewed its interest of energy development and tribal land privatization. That differs starkly from Obama policies, which focused on both acquiring and consolidating land for tribal nations.