WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. – One of the more controversial leaders in modern America has paid a visit to the Navajo Nation. Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam, is well known for his polarizing political statements and large media gestures such as the Million Man March on Washington, DC in 1995. His visit to the Navajo Nation on July 18 and 19 marks the first time he has been invited to speak in front of a tribal council in Indian country.
President Joe Shirley’s office received a phone call from the Nation of Islam headquarters in January from Farrakhan’s granddaughter, Yo’NasDa LoneWolf Muhammed. She serves as the national director of the Indigenous Nations Alliance of the Millions More Movement.
According to a press release from the Navajo Nation, “The Nation of Islam seeks to establish a positive relationship with tribes across the country.” Farrakhan stated that “Yo’NasDa’s recently deceased mother was a full-blood member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe.” Reasons for the visit were described as “diplomatic” by the Navajo Nation press office.
Farrakhan met with President Joe Shirley on Tuesday, July 18. He inquired about “Navajo life, government, politics, culture and belief.” When he spoke to the summer session of the tribal council on Wednesday, July 19, Farrakhan emphasized the similarities between the “black and red nations,” stating that “Here we are today with common problems, and, really, a common destiny.”
During his speech to tribal council, Farrakhan made several references to shared experiences at the hands of the “oppressor.” He emphasized the necessity of all people of color to form alliances and “recognize kinship,” stating, “I’m not a stranger. I am your brother.. .and I’ve come to establish that relationship with the greatest indigenous people in America, the Navajo Nation.”
President Shirley has been recognized for reaching out to other nations, and in the past two years has met with leaders of Latino, Jewish, Christian and indigenous organizations.
The meeting with Farrakhan presents an interesting tack in the Navajo Nation course, considering the fact that many leaders in the United States and abroad have refused to meet with Louis Farrakhan, citing his divisive politics. Probably his most infamous quote, which led to his censoring by the United States Senate was the statement, “Hitler was a very great man.”
Direct solutions for the Navajo Nations’ economic and social ills were not offered in Farrakhan’s speech, but his rhetoric of encouragement was met with a standing ovation. He said that “At one time, before the foreigner arrived with more powerful weapons, the Navajo people were known as fierce, strong and independent.”
He said that “something” happened to cause them to become dependent on the federal government, but now what the government provides is not enough to meet the needs of the people. On the outside, this visit was touted as “diplomatic” in nature. However, inside the tribal halls, political agendas were quietly being mused.
President Shirley is up for reelection in the Fall, and has stated his intention to secure a $500 million no-interest loan from the United States government to take care of a lot of the problems of the Navajo with one major influx of capitol. He stated that the Leader of Islam had “important contacts,” and that the Navajo Nation will look for the loan from other countries, if necessary.
Farrakhan and other black leaders have publically expressed their interest in merging their political influence in Washington, DC, including their voting power, with that of other “people of color,” including Indian country.