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As the question of whether to make horse slaughter facilities legal in the United States works its way through the courts and the U.S. Congress, the issue reveals many layers of emotion and economic responses.
Native Americans divided on slaughter issue
Adding to the wild horse problem, many wild herds have moved off public lands after pastures were overgrazed and depleted. Many of these herds moved on to more fertile pastures on tribal lands, sometimes pastures dedicated to farming. These wild horses are now competing with tribal cattle, domestic horses and other wildlife, and tribes say they are causing serious damages to tribal land.
Last week the Navajo Nation conducted a wild horse roundup, the second this month with more to come. So far nearly 300 wild horses were rounded up and will be sold at auction.
A Navajo spokesman said as many as 75,000 horses could be on tribal land and many of are either sick or dying. Tribal land is capable of sustaining around 30,000 horses. While it costs the Navajo an estimated $70 a horse to round them up, tribal officials say they will only get about $10 a horse at auction.
Elsewhere on tribal lands, the Fort McDermitt Paiute-Shoshone Tribe on the Oregon border rounded up nearly 500 wild horses with intent to auction, but last week a wild horse advocacy group asked for a court order to block the sale of what they termed federally protected mustangs. As a result, the U.S. Forest Service issued a statement last week saying the potential for legal pressure over the horse issue has forced them to cancel plans for a $120,000 roundup in collaboration with the tribe scheduled this month.
Similar problems are being experienced by the Yakama Nation. Tribal officials there say more than 12,000 unwanted wild horses are on their property, competing for forage and water and destroying farm land and sensitive wild plants traditionally used in tribal medicine.
Both the Navajo and the Yakama support horse slaughter in the United States. In contrast, a number of other Native Americans groups are opposed.
The Cheyenne River Tribe Lakota Indians have made a public stand in opposition to slaughtering horses. The group is listed as one of the plaintiffs seeking to enjoin the USDA from authorizing resumption of horse slaughter for human consumption.
Members of other tribes, including Sandy Schaefer, a Sioux tribe member who lives in Roswell, consider horse slaughter as "greedy and disrespectful" and support legislation and court action that would prevent the practice.