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Big Mountain Navajos

After working in Flagstaff to prevent development on the San Francisco Peaks in the mid-1970s, Running began photographing Navajo people. He became good friends with the Deal family, who introduced Running to many other Navajos. He tells the story in his oral history interview.

"And I met a guy named Percy Deal, who’s a Navajo guy. He and I became friends, and I talked to him about what I needed, and he said, "I can help you." So he and I became really, really good friends, but he took me out on the rez to meet this medicine man named Tsinajinnie Singer, who had kind of given evidence or given testimony during these hearings. And then Percy took me to meet other Navajo medicine men. Right about that time, the Navajo-Hopi land dispute got really going. And so basically what that is, is the Hopi Reservation is in the middle of the Navajo Reservation. The Navajo Reservation is huge, it’s big as Vermont and New Hampshire put together. You know, it’s bigger than the State of Delaware or Rhode Island. It’s a big area. Hopi are in the middle of that. But surrounding the Hopi Reservation was an area called the joint use area, that was supposed to be used equally by both Navajos or Hopi. There was some stuff going on with Peabody Coal. They were just starting to develop that coal mine. The people at Peabody thought it would be easier to negotiate with Hopis than it would be Navajos. Navajos had a reputation of being hard negotiators. Hopi have the reputation of being, "Oh, they’re the peaceful people." And so their lawyer suggested to the Hopis, "You know, you should sue for your own piece of land." They did. That’s a real encapsulated brief version of what’s going on. So all of a sudden, Navajos that lived on that joint use area, they couldn’t rebuild their hogan, they couldn’t do anything because this stuff was being adjudicated. And there was a group of Navajos that were living in that area that was going to be awarded to the Hopis, and they were going to be forced to move. Our government was going to force these people to move. And my friend Percy said, "We need your help. We need you to take pictures to show about this stuff." So I started doing that. And then that led to me photographing a lot of the big.... There was an area called Big Mountain, and that’s where he was from. And then it was kind of the hotbed of protest during the Navajo-Hopi land dispute. And there was a group of mainly Navajo women there who were just formidable. I got to hang out with them, and I documented them. Percy kind of made the observation that, "you know, in this country, if there’s an endangered species," like say the bald eagle or even some little fish or a toad, if there was an endangered species, "that our government would protect them." And he said, "We’re an endangered species. Let’s do a book, and we’re going to call it, Endangered Diné." Diné is the Navajo word for themselves. So we did this book called Endangered Diné. And these people kind of came up with a little bit of money, and I made the photographs, and we published a book called Endangered Diné."

`John Running Oral History, 2014. Courtesy of Cline Library, Special Collections and Archives, NAU.OH. 2009.124.22