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  • J.F. Rowan

Jicarilla Apache Nation Reservation

Jicarilla Apache Nation Reservation

I almost wrote the title as, “Our first Indian American Reservation”. Would they care? Would you? The majority of people that I’ve met so far on the “Rez” care less about labels than people that don’t live there. What they do care about is just living day to day. Why am I going into all of this as opposed to talking about our time here? Well, I’ll do that too but before we could even camp here, we first had to visit the Dulce (pronounced Dull-Cee) Fish and Game Office. Unlike other campground areas (technically, this is not a campground in the conventional sense), the reservation does not charge for camping in predetermined camping areas. Camping is free as long as you purchase a fishing permit. No permit, no camping. The fishing permit costs vary depending on one's needs but for us, it made more sense to purchase the annual permit option. An annual permit, non-senior is $60. Now, most of you would think, “Well, he’s not over 60 so he doesn’t qualify for a senior discount and normally, you’d be right. Now, this is where this blog will slightly drift into more of an observation about a group of people than it will about what we barbequed over a fire, or what birds we observed.

Enbom Lake. This is actually the view from our Tiger.

Sunset over the reservation.

My annual fishing permit that allows me to fish all year long on this reservation and camp where we want as long as we don’t stay in one place more than 10 days, cost $30. $30 because here on the “Rez”, I’m considered a senior. The definition of a senior here on the reservation is that you be over 55. I asked my new friend Jacob, a wildlife biologist here in the Jicarilla Apache reservation why 55 is considered senior status on the reservation. As it turns out, native Americans, at least on this reservation, have a lower life expectancy rate than none Native Americans. By 5 years? Jacob and I sat in his office and though he probably didn’t expect someone to ask about life expectancy here, I certainly did. The Biologist went on to explain the many factors which did not allow the native American people to live as long as non-native Americans. Diet, lifestyle and to some unknown degree, environment play a significant role in determining the life expectancy here. Apparently, native American people do not process any form of sugar as well as non-native Americans so diabetes is very common here. And today as we all know, everything has sugar in it. My wife even reminded me that many newborn native American babies are not given any milk because of the sugar Lactose can have very bad side effects. Another issue on a local level, is the environment. In 1967 the Department of Energy decided to dig a deep well 12 miles from Dulce and detonate a 29 kiloton nuclear device in hopes to improve the flow (availability) of natural gas in the area. It was called Operation Gas-buggy and if you want more details about it, you can click on the link here

Scientists lowered a 13-foot by 18-inches diameter nuclear device into a New Mexico gas well. The experimental 29-kiloton Project Gasbuggy bomb was detonated at a depth of 4,240 feet. Los Alamos Lab photo.​(Google)

To cut to the chase, there is some evidence that the surrounding ground waters were contaminated and that grazing animals that were subsequently eaten, or by people drinking the water directly may have had, and continues to have, some serious side effects on some of the 4800 people that live here. As it turns out, the project was almost a success. Almost, because the flow of natural gas did increase, but it was unusable due to the fact it was now radioactive. Despite all of this, we found that the people that live here are welcoming and warm. As I said, they are just trying to live day to day.

So it was nice to be able to speak with someone in the Fish and Wildlife Service that was both a biologist and who also knew something of the local area and its people. He gave me some advice as to where to camp and what NOT to do on the reservation. After all, this was essentially a big chunk of private property that we were given permission to use, in a very limited way. There are rules of what you can and can not do, one rule, in particular, is that you can only walk on certain areas of the reservation, areas that are relevant to your particular permit. For us, it meant camping and fishing at designated areas and lakes, a lake such as Enbom Lake.

So off to Enbom lake we drove. (We knew we wanted to camp there because we passed this lake when we traveled from Heron Lake to the reservation, the back way.) The lake was pretty quiet when we got there. We positioned ourselves close to the water. It wasn’t very level so it took some time to get it so Yvette wouldn’t roll out of bed involuntarily. The lake was beautiful and it was home to several species of waterfowl which kept us entertained. It was also my first real opportunity to do some fishing and within the first two hours, I took full advantage of my newly acquired reservation fishing license. But other than a single nibble, no fish would be caught by me here. My fishing skills or the perhaps the timing of the moon wouldn’t allow a trout dinner no matter what I tried. I felt better after the first day when a gentleman by the name of “Rudy” came to our spot apparently looking for a place to park to fish. When he turned around and headed to the opposite side of the lake, I felt bad and walked over to see if he wanted to fish from our spot. Since I wasn’t having any luck, there was no sense in me keeping someone from an opportunity right? When I introduced myself and asked if he wanted to fish near where we were parked, he said no and that the moss and weeds were too thick to do any fishing from shore. throughout our conversation he gave me some advice and gave me one of his lures. I was a bit surprised by this. Rudy and I had a long conversation. Fishing, politics, reservation life and life in general. An older man that still wiser than his years. I didn’t catch any fish at Enbom, but I made a new friend, one who I will not soon forget.

We only spent two nights at Enbom Lake. We had both decided it was time to move and see what other areas of the reservation might be good to camp on, so after the second night, we packed up everything, hooked up the trailer and headed to the Navaho River on the north side of the reservation. It would be a great move and an even great place than we could have imagined. Stay tuned.

Exploring other camp and fishing possibilites near the Navaho River.

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