Photo By: David Mikesic, Zoologist, Navajo Natural Heritage Program
Service Participates with Navajo Nation to Teach Cultural Heritage and Stewardship Ethics Through Modern Day Hunt
Keeping with a new found tradition, the Navajo Nation Department of Fish and Wildlife held another annual tribal youth deer hunt.. The Southwest Region’s Native American Liaison, Joe Early, volunteered as a hunt mentor, teaming up with a great young man named Julian Francisco, from Prewitt, New Mexico. Thirteen year old Julian was already an experienced marksman with a BB gun and .22 caliber rifle, but had never before hunted deer, let alone pursued anything larger then a rabbit.
The hunt itself is designed to provide an opportunity for Navajo youth between the ages of 12 to 16 who have never hunted and have no other opportunities to hunt. Youth are chosen based on essays they must submit that explain why they want to hunt, why they do not have the opportunity to hunt, and why they are interested in hunting, fishing or other outdoor recreational activities. Once selected, all youth must attend and participate in a mandatory tribal 20-hour hunter education course, which is certified by the Arizona Game and Fish Department, and two firearm range practice days. An application form and announcement are posted every year notifying members the Navajo Nation of this unique opportunity.
This year,eighteen youth qualified and were selected to participate as novice hunters in one of the tribe’s deer management units, located in the Carrizo Mountain range of northeast Arizona.
Hunters arrived at the camp, upon which they helped to set up camp and listened to instructions from the Department’s Director, Gloria Tom. They were then provided with free hunting gear ranging from a full set of clothing, boots, sleeping bag, backpack, knives, first-aid kit, flashlight, binoculars and a variety of other equipment. All of the gear was donated by various Navajo Nation, State and private entities, including The Outdoor Channel’s Bone Collector television show which filmed during the hunt, as well interviewed tribal personnel and hunters.
As a hunt mentor Joe helped explain the environmental rationale and relationship between proper wildlife management; the biology of the deer and their habitat; and principles of ethical hunting and responsible natural resources stewardship, both from a modern day standpoint as well as from his cultural background as a Pueblo of Laguna, New Mexico tribal member. Julian shared with Joe about what he had learned from a traditional Navajo upbringing and with their combined knowledge Julian and Joe were successful in harvesting one of the largest deer of the hunt. After just over an hour of hunting on the first day, the two were able to stalk several deer and, with some straight shooting at a 130 yards, Julian harvested his first deer, a fine 5X5 (including eye guards) mule deer buck! (Joe and Julian are modest fellows, but his colleagues in the Service have no compunction about mentioning the fact that theirs is ostensibly the biggest buck harvested in this year’s hunt.)
Photo Credit: Joe Early, FWS
In all, every hunter harvested a deer, making it the fourth year in a row where there has been a 100% success rate in the Navajo Nation youth hunt. After harvesting the deer, proper field-dressing, skinning and care for the meat was taught to each hunter. All meat was transported by the tribe to a meat processor, upon which it was processed, cut, wrapped and provided free of charge for each hunter’s family.
Being raised on a reservation Joe was fortunate enough to have family to teach him how to hunt, as well as help him to see both the cultural and the religious significance behind the hunt.
“I have personally witnessed today’s tribal youth facing tough challenges and in some cases slowly losing their cultural heritage, whether it be through their language, cultural doings, or the connection to the earth and the outdoors,” note Early. “However, the Navajo Nation has taken a proactive approach in connecting tribal youth to the outdoors by combining tribal knowledge, proper natural resources stewardship and wildlife management education, and modern day hunting opportunities. It’s a great program.”
Joe’s new friend and “brother of the hunt,” Julian agrees that his tribe is doing an outstanding job in not only managing its wildlife, but also in providing a unique opportunity for tribal youth.
Julian is the youngest son of Bennie and Lenora Francisco, and Joe was honored that they allowed him to share his knowledge and experience with their fine young son.
For more information on the youth hunt, please contact Navajo Nation Fish and Wildlife Department at (928) 871-6451, or visit their website at http://www.nndfw.org.