Photography – Taking Photos on the Reservation
By Bill Donovan and Ron Goulet
The Navajo Nation has laws dealing with the taking of photos and videos on the reservation. If you are doing it for your own personal scrapbook, there is no charge. But if you plan to use it for any commercial purpose, you are required to get a tribal permit and pay a fee. You get this through the Navajo Parks and Recreation Department which has its offices in Window Rock. Any shooting of videos for commercial use also requires a permit.
You would be wise to get your permission approved in advance by writing to the department, P. O. Box 2520, Window Rock, Az. 86515, or call them at 1-928-871-6647. Again, if it is for your own personal use you don’t need a permit.
Unlike on many other reservations, there are no places on the reservation where photography is prohibited. If you go through the Hopi Reservation, be aware that most of the villages have strict rules about taking photographs so if you visit a Hopi community, check before you take any photos.
Given all of that, be aware there are certain times when photography is not allow by traditional custom. This includes during ceremonies or during Native American Church ceremonies. You wouldn’t allow strangers to come in and photograph your child’s baptism or your church services, would you?
Another word of caution dealing with photography. There is a good chance you will see during your visit to Navajoland, a Navajo or two whose face or presence is so unique and breathtaking that you must have a photo for your scrapbook.
Tourist guides 50 or 60 years ago would advise you that the custom is to pay the individual 50 cents for their photo. Today it’s a little different.
Some tribal members don’t like being photographed just like you wouldn’t want a stranger to come by your home and take your photo. So ask first, and be polite about it. And if the person wants a gratuity, be aware that this may be a common practice for him or her and either agree or go on your way. Do not try to then take a photo without the person’s knowledge.