Tucked into the northwest corner of New Mexico, San Juan County sits atop the Colorado Plateau, a high-desert region known for its rugged beauty and complicated social history.
San Juan County encompasses several governing bodies: the semi-autonomous Navajo Nation Reservation; the county; and the municipal governments of its largest cities—Farmington, Bloomfield, and the county seat of Aztec. Farmington, the county’s largest metropolitan area, is a majority white community that borders Navajo Nation and is the commercial hub for tourism in the Four Corners area (where the borders of New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado meet).
Although the separation of governance is vital for Navajo Nation’s preservation and protection of its tribal heritage, a lack of communication and understanding between the reservation and non-reservation communities has led to racial tensions and contributed to stark disparities. A 2010 report by Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission found that, despite decreasing tensions, the Navajo continue to experience severe economic and health disparities; unequal access to services, benefits, and opportunities; and other examples of institutional racism. Agencies and individuals, located on- and off-reservation, are responding to selected health and social concerns, however many initiatives focus largely within one governing unit or the other and typically do not encompass the population as a whole.