Horse News

Navajo Leader Drops His Support for Slaughter of Wild Horses on the Reservation

Source: New York Times

“Our land is precious to the Navajo people as are all the horses on the Navajo Nation. Horses are sacred animals to us.”

Ben ShellyPHOENIX — Under pressure by animal welfare groups and many of his own people, the president of the Navajo Nation, Ben Shelly, has reversed his stance on horse slaughtering, saying he will no longer support it and will order the temporary suspension of the roundups of feral horses on the reservation.

The agreement, brokered by Bill Richardson, the former governor of New Mexico, is scheduled to be announced on Tuesday. One of its key provisions is to pressure the federal government to do more to help the Navajos handle the tens of thousands of horses that roam freely on their land. Mr. Shelly has estimated that feral horses cost the Navajos $200,000 a year in damage to property and range.

“I am interested in long-term humane solutions to manage our horse populations,” Mr. Shelly said. “Our land is precious to the Navajo people as are all the horses on the Navajo Nation. Horses are sacred animals to us.”

Mr. Shelly’s recalibrated position is sure to strengthen the arguments against horse slaughter in the nation, just as a legal fight to block the opening of horse slaughterhouses in New Mexico and Missouri reaches its final stages.

It could also smooth relations between his administration and tribal elders in some of the Navajo Nation’s largest chapters, who have stood steadfastly against the roundups even as Mr. Shelly embraced them in August as the best available option, given the tribe’s limited resources, to keep its feral horse population under control.

At the time, his stance put the country’s largest federally recognized tribe in a collision course with Mr. Richardson and the actor Robert Redford, who had justified joining a lawsuit against horse slaughtering filed by animal-rights groups by saying they were “standing with Native American leaders.”

In a unanimous vote last month, the Navajo Nation chapter in Shiprock, N.M., banned horse roundups in its territory. The chapter’s president, Duane Yazzie, said members were concerned about the abandoned colts and the sale of the horses to meat plants in Mexico, where slaughter is legal.

On Saturday, several of the chapter’s members protested as Mr. Shelly took part in a parade at the Northern Navajo Nation Fair in Shiprock.

Mr. Shelly and Mr. Richardson met in Farmington, N.M., just outside Navajo lands, shortly after the parade to complete the agreement. It charges several animal welfare groups — including Animal Protection of New Mexico and the Foundation to Protect New Mexico Wildlife, founded by Mr. Richardson and Mr. Redford — with developing alternative policies. One option is rounding up the horses and putting them up for adoption; another is dispensing contraceptives.

“This is a huge event,” Mr. Richardson said. “One of the most important and largest tribes in the country is now on the record against horse slaughtering, and that should be a major factor both in Congress and in the courts.”

All along, Mr. Shelly had spoken about the “delicate balance,” as he put it, between the horses’ significance to the Navajos and the cost of repairing the damage caused by feral horses on the reservation, which covers roughly 27,500 square miles across Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

The Navajos estimate there are 75,000 feral horses roaming the reservation, an estimate based on aerial observations, a method they concede is unreliable. One of the points of the agreement is to find a way to take an accurate count.

During a meeting in Washington last month, Mr. Shelly told several animal welfare groups that the federal government needed to “live up to its responsibilities,” according to his spokesman, Erny Zah, and help the Navajos manage the feral horses. It was not until the agreement with Mr. Richardson, however, that he made his new stance on horse slaughtering official.

The Humane Society of the United States and other groups sued the United States Department of Agriculture in July to keep horse slaughter plants from opening in New Mexico, Iowa and Missouri, arguing that the agency had failed to carry out all of the environmental checks, and asked the courts to block its inspectors from working there. The owners of the plant in Iowa have since scrapped their plans to slaughter horses and turned their focus to cattle.

In August, Judge M. Christina Armijo of United States District Court in Albuquerque halted the inspections until she makes her final ruling on the case, which is expected by the end of the month.

21 replies »

  1. One would think Richardson’s would NOT have supported horse slaughter in the first place because the horse has always been sacred to the Native Americans. I wonder if he did in the first place for the money because Indian reservations out west tend to be poverty-stricken, at least, that is what I have gathered, though I cannot say for certain for I live out East.


  2. Great news. Now to stop the other tribes, the BLM , USF&W and USFS.. The SAFE Act must be passed and Sec. Jewell needs to stop the roundups.


  3. “I am interested in long-term humane solutions to manage our horse populations,” Mr. Shelly said.

    I wonder if Ms. Jewell will learn a lesson from these folks? Probably NOT!


  4. I knew they could rise above it. I knew in my heart the connection was stronger than that to their horses, i am grateful to see he is a Strong enough man to publicly change his mind and take a stand For the horses instead of against them! I thought i was dreaming when it first came out last night, but Thank God it was really true!


  5. It is about time that Mr. Shelly came to his senses. How many of those poor horses had suffered and been slaughtered already. Hopefully, he will never ever send any horses to slaughter again.


  6. Since he is on THE horses side now, he really needs to notify Congress the Tribe withdraws it’s position to support slaughter and Being a voice of reason especially with the largest number of horses involved in the fight in any one location he needs to tell them there is NO need to stop the SAFE ACT and ENCOURAGE them to get it out to the floor to be voted on and passed, I was trying to locate a good place to get the word out and encourage this conversation with OUR Congress whether in written request or phone calls he has the Power of his Voice and the Strength to Conduct this to the people who NEED to hear it. As well if you are contacting Congressmen and women please be sure to include the New York Times Interview as a reference that the largest SUPPORTER of the horse slaughter plants has recanted his position and is positive they can save their horses through other means. As well we also need to remember to encourage dialogue anywhere possible that the tribes have changed their position and are improving upon their herds management and care. These ARE compassionate people and they WANT the best for their animals wild/feral or domestic and I am grateful Ben Shelly changed his position and I would like to think it wasn’t just Pressure from the Activists but that he really has a true love for horses and they got through to that part of him. I want to encourage anyone and everyone to get the word about this saturating Congress and many others who do NOT yet know. ITs important to spread the word and help ourselves to help each other which in turn again helps the horses. Another quip article was printed about horses being sold at auctions for slaughter and need plants to reopen-I looked for a place to comment there wasn’t one, I just wanted to link it to the change of heart and mindset within the Tribes. Maybe only the Auction houses don’t realize they are quickly becoming the ONLY supporters of this degrading industry. Please I emailed John Shimkus, IL to let him know of the changes to the tribes stance and once again appeal to his sense of all things good and ask he supports the SAFE ACT. I am also calling his office and leaving a message, even with the shut down we are still making efforts to make calls, still firing off emails, etc, etc.


  7. If anyone has any way to let Ben Shelly know that he can convey this position change to Congress by writing a letter and having it published in Major News to convey this change in position in order to help with the ban being placed that would be GREATLY appreciated, Thank you!


    • The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA…still insulting, belongs to Department of Interior and in reality should be a SEPARATE agency as they are sovereign Nations) should get the letter and so should USDA……Congress can pass the SAFE Act, but the Native Peoples, First Nations take their marching orders from the DOI…sadly.


  8. Great step forward. I would love to travel through the land and see the beauty of these horses and the lands. Better to see and appreciate horses than oil!


  9. When will the press and the killers(especially DOI) stop calling the wild equines feral?!?! Makes the wild equines sound like so many “stray” dogs and cats that need to be put in the pound and euth’d as “excess” nuisance. And I don’t believe in that either…..especially using my tax dollars to do it.


  10. Horses, like the Earth itself, are sacred to natives peoples, so I am glad Mr. Shelly finally realized who he is – a Navajo!

    Yesterday I was blessed to see hundreds of wild, healthy, natural horses on the vast Yakama Nation reservation in South-Central Washington state. They were a glorious sight. Were the Yakamas interested in educating the public about their culture, they could employ some tribal members to lead trail rides out to see the herds. They make $ from their casino, so are well versed in tourism already. Donations to feed and provide birth control could be solicited from the visitors.

    Viewing mother nature’s creations is very big business here in the Pacific North West. Whale watching on the coast is phenomenal. Being able to watch wild horses in their natural habitat could also be a prosperous way for tribes to earn the money to adequately care for their horses – without resorting to the specter of devastating round-ups and slaughter imposed and/or promoted by greedy non-natives.


  11. It certainly is about time. Its time for all who are truly concerned about the welfare of all of our horses to stick together like Liquid Gold. I could not fathom how these tribes would even consider the slaughter of our beautiful horses. These animals made our country the great country it is today. Unfortunately, we have some very
    greedy people who see the torture and pain of our beautiful horses a means to make a quick buck. I would love to go out and see our Wild Horses running free.
    All those living out West are truly blessed. We don’t have that option in the Midwest. God bless all the Horse Warriors out there! Keep UP The Good Work!


  12. I wonder just how much of a kickback in cash Shelly was offered if he pushed for horse slaughter plants on reservation land so no one would be able to stop it? Plenty I’ll bet. These people aren’t any different from anyone else when it comes to money. I used to live in AZ and the reservation pushed right up against the city limits of Phoenix. So the reservation is huge. There is a lot of poverty but yet there is no law preventing any Indian from living and working off the reservation.


    • Why would there be a law preventing any Indian from living and working off the reservation? That doesnt even make sense. A reservation is specifically for Native American peoples, they can live and work there, you cant.


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