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A Brief History of the San Juan Paiute Indians of Northern Arizona


The San Juan Paiute Indians are a native people who have resided on their present homelands since prehistoric times and maintained their distinctive ethnicity, their language, and their customs despite the fact that their lands have been incorporated into the Navajo Reservation. They are now petitioning for federal acknowledgement under the provisions of the Federal Acknowledgement Act as specified in the Code of Federal Regulations (25CFR54). Documentation demonstrating their "identification as an Indian entity by anthropologists, historians, or other scholars" (25CFR54) has been provided to the San Juan Paiute Indians for submission to the Federal Acknowledgement Office of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (A. Turner 1983). The law requires the submission of: "a statement of facts establishing that the petitioner has been identified from historical times until the present on a substantially continuous basis, as 'American Indian,' or 'aboriginal'" [25CFR54.7(a)].

The present paper is based on the documentation generated in support of the San Juan Paiute petition. This is not an ethnographic or an ethnohistorical study. It is simply to put on record the historic notations of where the San Juan Paiute were living during the past two hundred years, and the fact that they indeed deserve identification as a recognizable and distinct group of Southern Paiute people.

In brief, the record of observations of Paiute people inhabiting the area south of the San Juan River and east of the Little Colorado is continuous from 1776, when the Spanish Franciscan Fathers Dominguez and Escalante made the first recorded contact, to the present time when several anthropologists are engaged in active research with this group.

The consensus that can be derived from the data is that the San Juan Paiute occupation of the area southeast of the San Juan-Little Colorado confluence far predates that of the Navajo and that the latter migrated to that territory after the 1867 Bosque Redondo incarceration. The antiquity of Paiute occupation was probably as early as A.D. 1300.

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