Across the West, few American Indians remain on lands that have become iconic tourist destinations managed by the federal government. The Grand Canyon set aside a housing complex for Havasupai tribal members displaced by the national park. Navajos also live at Canyon de Chelly National Monument near Chinle, but the land is Navajo-owned, and the monument is jointly managed by the tribe. The 38 sites in four states that make up the Nez Perce National Historical Park include reservation land.
Smith has a rare letter of authorization from the Park Service allowing lifetime residency at Wupatki. Her daughter, Helen Peshlakai Davis, gave up a right to pursue residency at the monument in exchange for land north of Flagstaff.
Davis said the Park Service didn't fully explain what she was signing, and she contends the agreement should be invalidated. In Navajo belief, she is tied to the land at Wupatki because her umbilical cord is buried there beneath a sheep corral.
The Park Service believes the agreement should stand.
While the Peshlakai family once had free reign of the more than 35,000 acres that make up the monument, Smith now lives on a much smaller plot without the sheep she once had but with amenities like electricity and running water that she grew up without. Smith said any Navajo family who traces their ancestry to the clans that settled the area should be welcomed back.
"It belongs to them ... everything that's here," Smith said through a Navajo interpreter.