The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

National News

March 21, 2014

Navajo woman family's last link to monument land

(Continued)

WUPATKI NATIONAL MONUMENT, Ariz. —

Elsie Tohannie said she was in her late teens or early 20s when a former monument superintendent told her the family wasn't eligible to live there.

Now 82, she lives with her family in Flagstaff but has vivid memories of Wupatki. She moves her hands as if creating scenes of the landscape that her family says is the source of seemingly never-ending stories of her childhood.

"Absolutely it bothers me," she said of leaving the land where she grew up. "It's something no one can recognize, the pain."

Another family member, James Peshlakai, has no desire to return to a place under Park Service control. He was born about a quarter-mile from the Wupatki visitor center in 1945. He recalls his mother, Katherine, being evicted while he was in school in Flagstaff and hitchhiking to the monument to find her alone with her sheep. He said he and his siblings fashioned a shelter from tree branches and blankets that they lived in during the winter before going elsewhere.

By that time, Katherine Peshlakai had separated from Clyde Peshlakai. James Peshlakai said he later intervened when the Park Service asked his father to sign a land-use permit, but the elder Peshlakai declined, saying "I want this land for my children."

James Peshlakai's daughter, Democratic state Rep. Jamescita Peshlakai, has introduced a resolution in the Legislature for Arizona to declare its support of the Peshlakai family and their continued residency within the national monument. The Navajo Nation Council has passed a similar resolution.

"Sadly, it's a story typical of every Native American family in the Americas," she said.

No request to allow the Peshlakais to live at the monument has been submitted to Congress, but the family has an advocate in Democratic U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick. The congresswoman said that while federal land-management policies have evolved over the years, "we cannot forget that the people who have emerged with the land are inseparable."

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