American Indian Heritage Month: Commemoration vs. Exploitation
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Dodge, Henry Chee

Henry Chee Dodge (Hastiin Adiits'a'ii, "Man Who Interprets," ca. 1857–1947) was an influential leader of the Navajo Nation for more than half a century, serving as the reservation government's chairman from 1923 to 1928 and from 1942 to 1946. Fluent in both English and Navajo when few were, Dodge played an influential role as a translator and political leader, working to expand the size of the Navajo Nation.

Dodge was born shortly before the Navajos' Long Walk to Fort Sumner, and his mother and father died when he was very young. Indian Agent W.F.M. Arn took an interest in young Dodge upon his return from the Long Walk, because he believed him to be the son of a former Indian Agent Henry Dodge. His father probably was more likely a captive Mexican, however. Upon returning from Fort Sumner, Dodge attended school for a short time in Fort Defiance. By 1882 he was serving as the official agency interpreter, and, having shown courage several times, he was put in charge of the Navajo police force and named head chief by the Indian agent. Dodge also made the first of eight trips to Washington, D.C., accompanying a delegation of Navajos to Grover Cleveland's inauguration in 1884. On his last trip in his eighties, he asked for more schools, hospitals, land, and irrigation facilities for the Navajos.

In 1890, Dodge invested in a partnership and bought the Round Rock Trading Post, which he comanaged. In 1892, when Agent David Shipley was surrounded and beaten at Round Rock while recruiting students for the Fort Defiance Boarding School, Dodge helped rescue and defend him for three days until soldiers came to the rescue. During the 1890s, Dodge also became a successful rancher at Crystal, New Mexico, and by 1907 he was a wealthy prominent Navajo headman.

In 1914, Dodge wrote the Secretary of the Interior stressing the need for more schools so that Navajo children could learn to speak English. He also stated that the allotment of the Navajo reservation would hurt most Navajos and that state governments had no interest in helping Navajos. In 1940 Dodge criticized day schools and the teaching of the Navajo language and asked for more boarding schools.

In 1922, Dodge was appointed a member of a three-man Navajo business council to sign oil leases by the U.S. government, and in 1923 a twelve-member Navajo council was elected and chose Dodge as chairman. He worked to get the money from the oil leases to benefit all Navajos, even those living off the reservation, rather than just those from the region where the oil was located.

Indian agents for the Navajo called for stock reduction because of overgrazing as early as the 1880s. The increasing Navajo population and their livestock impinged on their neighbors, including the Pueblo Indians. Dodge worked to get more land for the Navajo by cooperating with the demands of the federal government. In the 1920s, Jacob Morgan rose to prominence as Dodge's opponent, representing young assimilated Christian Navajos educated in boarding schools. Morgan questioned whether Dodge was really a Navajo and as a fundamentalist Protestant opposed Dodge's sympathy toward Catholics, the Native American Church, and traditional Navajo religion. Another strike against Dodge was his practice of the Navajo tradition of polygamy for wealthy Navajos, having over his lifetime eight wives, four of whom were sisters, and six children.

Dodge's son Thomas, an attorney, became tribal chairman in 1932, and in 1935 he was appointed assistant superintendent for the Navajo agency in an attempt to gain Navajo support for the Indian Reorganization Act, which the Navajos voted against. When John Collier became Commissioner of Indian Affairs in 1933 he pressured Thomas to implement stock reduction to protect Navajo lands from eroding away and filling up the newly built Boulder (now Hoover) Dam on the Colorado River. Increasing Navajo discontent toward stock reduction and the council's complicity led Thomas to resign the chair-manship in 1936.

Riding the antistock reduction sentiment of most Navajos, Morgan became tribal chairman in 1938 but was defeated by Dodge in 1942. Dodge's son Ben and his daughter Annie Wauneka, a respected health educator, also served on the Navajo tribal council.

Jon Reyhner


Further Reading
Brugge, David M. 1985. "Henry Chee Dodge." In Indian Lives: Essays on Nineteenth-and Twentieth-Century Native American Leaders. Edited by L. G. Moses and Raymond Wilson, 91–112. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.; Iverson, Peter. 2002. Diné: A History of the Navajos. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.; Niethammer, Carolyn. 2001. I'll Go and Do More: Annie Dodge Wauneka, Navajo Leader and Activist. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
 

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