Upon occasion, a library or archives is provided with generous funding to collect, preserve, and disseminate a significant body of material. The United Indian Traders Association (UITA) Legacy Project proved just such an opportunity. In 1997, UITA Past President Elijah "Lige" Blair approached the NAU Cline Library with a proposition. Lige recognized the importance of documenting the traders' rich and sometimes controversial history. The Cline Library agreed to serve as the home for archival collections concerning trade relationships and to develop an outreach program. The UITA footed the bill. Lige called our arrangement a "trade." We think that we--the residents of the Southwest--came out ahead.

As part of the project, NAU conducted 45 oral history interviews, designed a World Wide Web exhibit (, and produced an educational, multimedia CD-ROM. "Traders: Voices from the Trading Post," focuses on late-nineteenth-century and twentieth-century trading posts in the Four Corners region, encompassing the Navajo and Hopi Reservations.

The traders and their customers interviewed for this project are keen observers of the world. Arthur Schlesinger Jr. once said that "history is for society what memory is for human beings." These powerful reminiscences from multiple perspectives provide real life lessons. These voices deserve to be heard. The advent of digital technology allows us to share this story of cultural interaction to a global audience in an effort to encourage further inquiry and research.

The NAU Cline Library is pleased to make the "Traders: Voices from the Trading Post" CD-ROM and curriculum guide available to regional schools, libraries, and museums at no cost. We hope you, the users, will be as captivated by this complex story as we are.

Karen J. Underhill
Head, Special Collections and Archives Department
Northern Arizona University Cline Library


A Word about Traders

Of all the people who came to the Navajo Nation, the trader took the time to bridge the gap between two very different cultures. Navajo society is communal in nature--family oriented and adhering to Karl Marx's principle of "each according to their ability and each according to their need." The trader, on the other hand, was an individual entrepreneur, an example of free enterprise at work.

Engaged in a kind of symbiotic relationship, the Navajo and the trader each had needs that could be fulfilled only by the other. Traders who came without preconceived notions faired better than those who refused to accept Navajo culture. Many--but not all--traders developed good rapport with their customers and learned the Navajo language.

In my opinion, the difference in economic philosophies was the hardest thing for the traders and the Navajo to overcome. Outsiders often fail to understand. Many times Navajo friends have said, "Why don't I have the assets or money the Anglo or trader has?" If the Navajo customer chooses capitalism, like a trader, he or she may be chastised by their family, their clan. As members of the Navajo Nation face the new millennium, this cultural conflict becomes more evident.

Students, regardless of their cultural background, must identify these different philosophies and make their own choice as to which is the most beneficial to them. The goal of this project is to encourage critical thinking, for as philosopher Ayn Rand has said, "Man can survive in only one of two ways--by the independent work of his own mind, or as a parasite fed by the minds of others."

Elijah Blair
Past President
United Indian Traders Association


Main Page