First People Last Place: A Case Study of Monument Valley Residents Priced out of Their Land

Degree Name

MA in Sustainable Development

First Advisor

Charlie Curry Smithson


In Monument Valley Utah there is a hotel named Goulding’s Lodge and is owned and operated by a non-Indian family. How was it possible that they were able to own businesses and land within the Navajo Reservation lines? How did the local Monument Valley residents feel about a non-Indian owning and operating businesses on the reservation? And did this person give back to the community? Recently the Oljato Chapter residents were informed that the current owners of Gouldings would like to sell the 640 acres and businesses for 40 million dollars. They proposed that the Navajo Government would have the first bid, but if they could not come up with the money or would not come up with the money there are other interested buyers. This case study provides a current and ongoing example of land rights issues for Native Americans.

A historical approach is needed to understand the complexity of the ownership of this land. In depth interviews were conducted to obtain an oral history as will as finding out stakeholders needs and opinions. I also researched the histories of the land sales, treaties, formation of the reservation, land disputes, and other pertinent information to create a clear understanding of land sales to non-Indians and the inability of Indians owning land. The Navajo Nation was allotted under the General Allotment Act, the Dawes Act of 1887. If the amount of reservation land exceeded the amount needed for allotment, the federal government could sell it to non-Indian settlers. Allotment Policy land ownership was different for Indians than for non-Indians. Non-Indians could sell their land or transfer it to another entity. Whereas Indians were declared ‘incompetent’ to handle their land affairs. The United States Government retained the legal title to the land as the trustee for the allottee. The Indian landowner could use the land but could not sell it or lease it without the Federal Government’s approval. Literature has been written about the history of allotments and the unfair advantages some had over others.

This case study located in Monument Valley does just that and extends an unfair economic advantage for the owners of the ‘Goulding’ land. This land has not passed from generation to generation within the Goulding heirs; it has been gifted and sold to other non-Indians. The Navajo people were looked over several times thru several changes of hands, therefore, putting them at a disadvantage. Monetarily purchasing the ‘Goulding’ land may not be an option for the Navajo Nation. Other possible options to obtaining the equitable ownership of their land remain debatable.


Community-Based Research | Family, Life Course, and Society | Indigenous, Indian, and Aboriginal Law | Indigenous Studies | Inequality and Stratification | Land Use Law | Politics and Social Change | Tourism

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