The president of the Navajo Nation, Ben Shelly order the temporary suspension of the roundups of feral horses on the reservation.

The Navajo reservation in New Mexico and Arizona spans around 27,500 square miles. The people there estimate that there are around 75,000 feral horses that roam freely on the land. Mr. Ben Shelly, the president of the Navajo nation has spoken all along 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. The estimated cost to the Navajos is $200,000 a year in damage by the feral horses to property and range.

In August,Mr. Shelly embraced roundups as the best available option, given the tribe’s limited resources, to keep its feral horse population under control. The Navajo nation is made up of various chapters, and in September, Duane Yazzie, from the Shiprock, N.M. chapter, said their members were concerned about the abandoned colts and the sale of the horses to meat plants in Mexico, where slaughter is legal. They had voted unanimously to ban horse roundups in their territory which was against Mr. Shelly's position.

Mr. Shelly's stance also put the country’s largest federally recognized tribe in a collision course with Mr. Bill Richardson, (former governor of N.M.) 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.”

Then this past Saturday, several of the chapter’s members protested as Mr. Shelly took part in a parade at the Northern Navajo Nation Fair in Shiprock. Because of the pressure by animal welfare groups and many of his own people, the president of the Navajo Nation, Ben Shelly, then 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 was brokered by former N.M. governor Bill Richardson and was announced today. One of the 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. One option is rounding up the horses and putting them up for adoption; another is dispensing contraceptives.

According to Mr. Richardson, “This is a huge event. 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.”

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

His new stance is sure to strengthen the arguments against horse slaughter in the nation which is especially important 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 all along.

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