Measures of Social and Economic Change in a Navajo Community

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  • Topic: Marriage, Navajo Nation, Navajo people
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  • Published : January 15, 2013
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Shonto Revisited: Measures of Social and Economic Change in a Navajo Community, 195501971 WILLIAM Y. ;ZDAMS
University of Kentucky

LORRAINE T. RUFFING Ad elp h i University
Between 1954 and 1956 the senior author of this article carried out a detailed social and economic study of the community of Shonto, situated in what was then a particularly remote corner of the Navajo Indian Reservation in northeastern Arizona. In 1972 the junior author returned to d o a restudy of the same community. A comparison of the data obtained in the two studiesprovides unique measures of social and economic change, and also of social and economic persistence, during a period of unprecedented growth and modernization of the Navajo Reservation. [social change, economic change, Navajo J

FOR MORE THAN A GENERATION ethnographic studies of the American Indian have been, more often than not, studies of culture contact and change. Almost n o one since the early 1930s has undertaken to produce an old-fashioned “precontact ethnography,” for the lifeways of native Americans have been changing almost before our eyes, and it was ali too obvious that the traditional past was receding beyond our grasp. The impermanence of native culture has, in consequence, been very much in our consciousness; so much so that students of North American Indians have played a leading part in the development of theories and conceptual approaches t o the study of cultural change. In spite of our continuing preoccupation with this subject, very few quantitative measures of culture change have been undertaken. Because tribes o r communities have rarely been studied twice in the same way, we are usually obliged either t o compare the subjective impressions of earlier investigators with quantified data from the present day, or subjective impressions of today with the baseline studies of earlier periods. Without comparable and quantified data both before and after a specified interval of time, change can only be described in qualitative and somewhat intuitive terms. Two studies of the Navajo community of Shonto provide unique quantitative measures of the dimensions of economic, social, and cultural change over a 16-year interval. Between 1954 and 1957 100 Navajo families who regularly traded a t Shonto Trading Post were studied by William Y. Adams, who a t that time was employed as operator of the trading post. Although his studies were focused primarily upon the role of the trader himself, detailed social and economic data were also collected from each Navajo individual, household, and residence group in the community. Much of this information was subsequently published in a monograph (Adams 1963). In 1972 the same group of Shonto families was revisited by Lorraine T. Ruffing, who was then preparing a doctoral dissertation a t Columbia University. Although she did not have access t o the privileged information which the trader can often obtain, Ruffing was nevertheless able t o replicate much of the census and income data provided in the earlier study.’ A comparison of Ruffing’s findings with those of 1954-57 thus makes it possible not 58

Adams and Ruffing]

CHANGE IN A N A V A J O COMMUNITY

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only to define but to measure the extent of cultural change, and also the extent of cultural persistence, during a critical period of 16 years when the Navajo country has been undergoing unprecedented modernization. In this article we, the authors respectively of the 1954-57 and of the 1972 surveys, will discuss briefly the major social and economic changes that have taken place a t Shonto since 1957, and some of their theoretical and practical implications.’ We are aware that much of our data, particularly in the social field, is “two-dimensional.” Neither of us went to Shonto primarily to study social organization, nor did we foresee an article on this subject as one of the outcomes of our labors. In essence, what we have learned is a by-product of other, differently...
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