View from La Bajada looking south toward Cochiti Pueblo. (Photo by Shaun Griswold/Source NM)
Leaving the hazy Albuquerque skies, escaping the smoke of distant wildfires covering the Sandia Mountains, you cross west past Nine Mile Hill — maybe make a quick stop to place a wager at the casino — and then drive on until you reach the red rocky mesas. Here, 18-wheelers from the east are the only things that will pull your attention from the impeccable land that is still home to Pueblo citizens.
It’s a sight. Users on the crowdsourced hiking app called AllTrails gush about places like this, especially in New Mexico, looking for so-called “hidden gems.” But many of these places are sacred. What’s an inviting landscape to you might actually be tribal land or private property, and you’d be trespassing if you took a road off the highway, jumped down from your car, ignored the signs and went for a hike.
Adesbah Foguth has a message for hikers: If you don’t belong, don’t be long. Better yet, don’t come at all.
Foguth works outdoors, and still, she needed an outlet.
“I was tired of the micro-aggressions I faced every day working so I started to call myself a Power Ranger,” she said. “Then I was like, no, I’m a Native Power Ranger.”
The Diné citizen and park ranger at Chaco Culture National Park took the label further, creating the Instagram page Native Power Rangers to educate people about outdoor spaces and how they connect to Indigenous people and cultures.
Foguth was creating a tour initiative at a park she worked at to bring forward Indigenous perspectives.
“These are the types of conversations I wanted to bring into the interpreter program I was creating.” She counted 2,000 visitors that interacted with the program over the course of five months. “I began to think to myself: How can I make this impact greater? How can I reach more people? [Instagram] could be used as an educational tool in this way.”
Today, more than 5,000 people follow the page she started in August 2020. “I was somewhat surprised by how quickly the page has been growing, and I had to enlist the help of other friends and Indigenous folks,” she said.
Recently, Foguth saw an increase in engagement when she posted about trails through Navajo Nation outdoor spaces that were being shared on the popular recreation app AllTrails.
“My first thoughts were just fear, and fear of wanting to protect the land and the Navajo Nation,” she said. “And then, of course, naturally my next emotion was anger. I do not want these spaces on the Navajo Nation to be open to just anybody. Because they deserve to be protected. I’ve seen what happens to areas that get published online.”
AllTrails is an app that allows users to crowdsource, rate and review hiking or climbing areas. It’s in the editor’s choice category in the Apple app store. AllTrails refused to comment on concerns about posts that are showcasing illegal trails on tribal lands. The company did not answer questions about safeguards within the app that could limit areas people share, such as sacred sites for Indigenous communities. It’s also unclear if AllTrails has any consultation with Native American leaders on how outdoor spaces — many on tribal lands — are presented on the app.
What made me angry was that these places on my own homeland, which are completely off limits to non-Navajo people, were going to be opened up to the public. And that was a scary thing.
– Adesbah Foguth
Foguth said the trails she reported to the app were swiftly removed by the developers. She said one trail was a waterfall location that required people to not only illegally access the Navajo Nation but also trespass on a residential plot of land.
“I can’t imagine how that would feel if it was my own home — some strangers, driving through my yard and accessing the trails on my land that I cared about for so many generations, and now it’s just accessed by anybody from off the highway.”
Highways that go through the Navajo Nation are open for drivers to pass. Taking outlets, dirt roads,and entering neighborhood roads is trespassing. Getting out of your vehicle and wandering off the highway is not allowed for non-Navajo people.
The digital space is creating an entirely new perspective on how people interact with the outdoors. People needing to physically distance or stay away from public indoor spaces during the pandemic energized more individuals to find time in parks of all scales.
“The parks were shut down during the pandemic,” Foguth said. “But I did notice overall that there were more people on the public trails on public lands than I’d ever experienced before. So yeah, there definitely was some kind of increase of people going out.”
Outdoor recreation is also a major component of the Biden administration’s infrastructure agenda. States like New Mexico are creating outdoor recreation offices within state agencies.
Tribal lands can sometimes mix with national or state parks. Foguth said one of the most frequent issues she encounters with visitors to the park where she works is directing them to stay off roads that make travel and access easier but that are closed for visitors who are non-Native.
Some tribes do offer outdoor services for non-Indigenous people. For instance, the Navajo Nation Parks and Recreation Department is one of the oldest entities within the Navajo government. It was established in 1957 by the tribal Council and is responsible for more than 25,000 square miles across New Mexico, Colorado and Utah.
Pandemic regulations limit permit applications for hunting, camping, hiking and commercial photography. People who aren’t Navajo must have permits to hunt, camp, hike or do commercial photography on Navajo land and must follow pandemic regulations. Some mirror the limitations a person would experience at public open spaces, but some are more restrictive due to sovereign laws that are intended for respecting Diné culture.
For instance, “Cremation, littering, rock climbing, and drones are strictly prohibited inside Navajo Tribal Parks lands,” according to the department. “Dune buggies, Jeeps, 4-wheel drive vehicles and modified motorcycles are strictly prohibited. Unnecessary trails or roads result in erosion to the fragile environment. All disturbance will be fined to the utmost extent.” That’s per Navajo Nation law.
Permits can also be obtained for guided tours. Areas where hiking is permitted — with advance permission — can even coincide or border state or national parks. According to the department, areas where people can seek permission to hike are: Rainbow Bridge Trail, Little Colorado River, Bowl Canyon Recreation Area, San Juan River and Monument Valley. Some of these places are also under the purview of national or state parks but do retain significance to Navajo people and do include locations that are restricted.
Reminding visitors about these distinctions is common for Foguth.
Those reminders are also embedded in her Instagram Native Power Ranger page to inform folks about areas that are not federally recognized tribal lands but are ancestral to Indigenous people.
“How are non-Native people playing on our land? Are they being respectful? Where do they rock climb, for instance? Are they climbing up a sacred mountain? Are they skiing down a sacred mountain? How are they treating that mountain?”
TIPS FOR HIKERS
- Check in advance to see if the trail you want to visit crosses onto tribal lands.
- Watch for trespassing signs — and obey them.
- Be aware of and abide by the laws and rules if you’re visiting a sovereign nation with permission or an invitation. Each tribal nation is different, with their own laws.
- Reach out in advance for permission to hike a path.
- Plan on a tour with a sanctioned guide.
- Stay off private property, even if it looks like a shortcut.
- Be considerate about COVID safety concerns and regulations in the place you’re visiting.
- Wear a mask.
- Don’t ever leave trash.
- Don’t erode the landscape and keep to a designated legal path.
- Check out the Native Power Rangers Instagram page for more tips.
Interactions on her page include positive reactions.
“Thank you. I know I’ve been guilty of making insensitive commentary around places I didn’t fully understand the sacred history of,” user alexanderthek8 writes. “But I don’t need nor am I entitled to sacred knowledge in order to do better — to tread lightly and speak quietly and respectfully of your lands. I do my best to spread this teaching to all my fellow well-intending outdoor family.”
Foguth posted about the New Mexico True campaign encouraging outdoor recreation and drew another complex response. “There is currently a push for more Black people to visit national parks. And as a Black woman who enjoys the occasional national park, I feel I’m in a weird place regarding topics like these,” user mind_dee_gap writes. “Still, my concern is that people of color will buy into this white colonial narrative being pushed when it comes to sacred sites located in national parks. As someone who follows multiple social media accounts that encourage people of color, mainly Black people, to travel more both internationally and nationally, how can those of us who enjoy national parks counteract the harmful way mainstream society is promoting these places?”
The last comment became a thread where Foguth responded with earnest efforts to spread the word and offer information, and it highlighted topics that don’t normally get discussed about these areas.
That’s the point, Foguth said.
Native Power Rangers seeks to educate anyone interested about outdoor spaces while also highlighting Indigenous people who do the work maintaining lands or guiding tours as park rangers.
The page is a place to Indigenize spaces where Native Americans exist but are often ignored.
“To create a space for a conversation to be had with the public, and for the general public to be able to learn a little bit more about Native people, has been great,” she said.
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