“Cartoonist Jack Ahasteen of the Navajo Times is not a fan of notoriety. In fact, during the most contentious days of the Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute, he often didn’t sign his own cartoons.” R. Koeler, The Navajo Times, May 6, 2021
“Despite Ahasteen’s best efforts, a measure of fame has found him. Sometimes strangers will even approach his grown daughters in Phoenix, inquiring about Ahasteen. He says, ‘They say, ‘You know, whenever we introduce ourselves to somebody, they recognize our last name. And they want to know if this is your dad that’s doing (all these) cartoons(s).’
Ahasteen’s work stands out for its unflinching representations of life in the Four Corners region and, specifically, the reality of the injustice of Diné forced removal.
It’s an issue that hits close to home. Ahasteen’s own family faced forced removal from their ancestral home at the hands of U.S. officials.
‘Right where that land was divided up, it was where I was born,’ he said. ‘I wasn’t born in the hospital.’
Facing relocation was traumatic, Ahasteen says, especially for elders who didn’t speak English and therefore couldn’t understand what United States officials were telling them.
‘They didn’t understand what the laws are, or what was going on,’ Ahasteen remembers, noting that he was getting most of the information about relocation and range wars from the Navajo Times that he read each week while studying at Arizona State University.
‘So really, I used to always tell my parents in a humorous way what was going on and they would just laugh about it,’ he said. “And that’s where I got the ideas, how to draw cartoons and stuff like that…I had to draw these cartoons in a way they could understand it.’
Soon, Ahasteen’s work became known to the Navajo Times…The cartoons that were created as a result gave voice to the trauma of forced removal. As Ahasteen remarked in a 2019 Navajo Times front-page article written by Rima Krisst, “There’s no word for relocation in Navajo. It was like a death sentence to them.”