August 15, 2013
WINDOW ROCK, AZ Horsemeat is not only a delicacy in Europe
and China, it's also one here.
Since at least the 1500s, Navajos have harvested and consumed
horses. This is according to Tim Begay, a Navajo Cultural Specialist
with the Navajo Historic Preservation Department, who added that
horse consumption on Navajo was and is mostly a way to combat the
common cold and flu, and an alternative food source for families
during the winter months.
"It was used as medicine, which is totally different from
slaughtering and selling them to different countries," Begay
said of why Navajos harvest horses.
"After they domesticated it, and if you look at Apache
history, that's when they also started eating horses," he added,
noting the nutrients of horses helped Navajos and Apaches boost
their immune systems.
The last time Begay ate a horse was in the fall of the late
1980s. He added that the methods of butchering a horse are similar
to how a sheep is butchered for consumption during feasts or ceremonies.
"They always played a significant role in all of Navajo
history," he said about the sacred creatures. Begay also cited
a Navajo story of when one of the Hero Twins, Naayéé'
Neizghání to be exact, grew sick from fighting the
monsters of the Fourth World. The Twin was instructed by other Navajo
deities to have a Nidaa, or Enemy Way Ceremony, to rid him of the
darkness that affected his spirit from being in war, Begay said.
The songs and prayers of the Nidaa', which consists of a myriad
songs, including "The Spirit of the Horse," restored Naayéé'
Neizghání back to harmony with the natural world.
"That was how the Nidaa' was made," he said.
These prayers, songs and chants about the horse, which the
Hero Twins saw when they journeyed to meet their father, the Sun,
were used during his Enemy Way.
Even though the horse didn't physically exist among the Navajo
until the Spaniards brought them to the New World, the horse existed
as a spiritual being in ceremonies since the creation of the universe,
according to various accounts of the Navajo Creation Story.
Begay did say the Enemy Way ceremony conducted by the Navajo
deities during that primordial time "was different" from
the version now practiced today.
he didn't take a position on horse slaughtering - a solution President
Ben Shelly has endorsed because of the estimated 75,000 feral horses
roaming the reservation, ravaging the range and depleting water
sources - Begay said his cultural background makes him reluctant
to see horses being rounded up and taken to slaughter for meat.
"We sing for them and now we want to get rid of them,"
Begay quipped. "Does that adversely affect our way of life?
Maybe it's our change of time? We now have vehicles. Nobody really
rides horses except for in rodeos or during ceremonies like the
The cultural specialist figures that the practitioners of the
Blessing Way, who know the horse songs, have consumed horsemeat
at least once in their lifetime, given their knowledge of the horse
through singing, chanting and ceremony.
But for Navajos like Olin Kieyoomia, of Tohatchi, N.M., horsemeat
is a delicacy and is medicine.
The president of the District 14 Council, which represents five
chapters in Fort Defiance Agency, said the last time he ate horse
was last fall, when he and his father identified a feral horse to
harvest. They decided to butcher the two-year-old horse to help
them overcome a lingering cold, Kieyoomia said.
Before killing and eating the horse, Kieyoomia said he and his
father made an offering to the horse with corn pollen to thank it
for providing nourishment. They placed the hide of the horse under
a juniper tree in the Chuska Mountains.
Within two to three days of eating the horse, which was prepared
as a broth stew, Kieyoomia said, "Believe it or not, we got
He describes the taste of horse as "bland" when cooked
as a stew and "very tough and lean" over an open pit fire.
"From a historical perspective, horses have always been
an herbal remedy," he said.
In District 14, which includes the communities of Coyote Canyon,
Mexican Springs, Naschitti, Tohatchi and Twin Lakes, about 20 feral
livestock, mostly horses, were rounded up as of Wednesday, Kieyoomia
"It's a very small amount compared to what's out there,"
he said, before adding, "It's just sad to see that horses are
being neglected by malnutrition, pesticides, and dehydration."
Kieyoomia blames the lack of horse wranglers, which were a norm
in the past, as a possible reason for why there is a soaring feral
horse population on the reservation.
"That's how they controlled the population at the time
with castration," he said. "Nowadays, you have very few
children or men who do that process anymore."
The 32-year-old rancher also said the land needs to heal, adding
that he would rather see a horse slaughtered for horse meat, than
suffer from disease, malnutrition or thirst.
"If you see unwanted feral horses, contact your local grazing
official or ranger's office," he added.
July 29, 150 feral livestock, mostly horses, have been rounded up
on the reservation and sold to permitted buyers, who take them to
the Mexican border to harvest as meat, according to Roxy June, principal
planner with the Navajo Department of Agriculture.
The roundup of these feral animals is being conducted according
to tribal law and is funded by a $1.3 million emergency supplemental
appropriation the Navajo Nation Council passed on July 18 that Shelly
later signed into law July 25, June said.
June said that all animals located on highway rights-of-way,
whether branded or not, are taken to a central compound in Blackhat,
N.M., where they are held for detainment. Owners of those animals
that are branded are allowed a few days to claim their animals,
and if they're not claimed during that period of time, the horses
are shipped off with the buyers.
Buyers are provided a livestock trader permit to purchase these
feral animals from the BIA, June said.
"Most of the buyers take it (them) to Mexico to harvest
the meat," she said. "What the government of Mexico does
is give the meat to their poor people for free."
As of July 29, round-ups have occurred in Greasewood, Tsaile,
Wheatfields, Piñon and on the rights-of-way in the Northern,
Chinle and Fort Defiance agencies of the reservation. A feral livestock
roundup in Chinle, along with free horse castration and mare birth
control vaccine conducted by the Navajo Veterinarian Program, is
also scheduled to occur today.
In an effort to decrease the feral horse population by improving
general horse health, the tribal veterinarian program is offering
free castration and mare birth control for feral horses in several
chapters this month and in September.
"We're rounding up any livestock that is not properly permitted
and any livestock not branded is property of the Navajo Nation,"
June said. "They're picked up and shipped off."
The $1.3 million supplemental appropriation was allocated for
equipment and the hiring of 24 laborers and administrative support
staff that have helped with the round-ups until Sept. 30, when the
fiscal year ends. The Navajo Division of Agriculture, Department
of Resources Enforcement and Department of Water Resources are involved
in the feral horse round-ups.
June said roundups of any feral livestock will continue to occur
as long as chapters have resolutions supporting them.
"It's really the land that is suffering," June said
on Tuesday adding that the $1.3 million for the feral horse roundups
came after Shelly declared a drought state of emergency on June
"Everything looks green, but is it weeds or healthy grass?"
she added. "Everybody is talking about the horses, but we also
got to think about Mother Earth and Father Sky."