An earful for the prez

Bennett Freeze residents demand a voice in settlement terms

By Cindy Yurth
Special to the Times

Attending a meeting on the Bennett Freeze in Tuba City last Friday, President Joe Shirley Jr. got an earful ... and not from supporters chanting "Four more years!"

More than 200 people, all Navajo residents of the Freeze area, gathered on a slope behind the Tuba City flea market to denounce the proposed compact hammered out by Shirley and Hopi Tribe officials.

The protesters called for a rewrite of the agreement, which would end the freeze that has stopped development on a swath of disputed land for the past 40 years. And they want a voice in its approval.

Among the protesters was Joetta Goldtooth, a candidate for Navajo Nation Council in the Tuba City/Coalmine area.

Goldtooth said the protesters' main problem with the proposed compact is that the residents of the Bennett Freeze area were never consulted, and even now parts of the compact have not been revealed to them - or anybody other than the leadership of both tribes.

Those parts describe areas the Hopis may visit to gather eaglets for them ceremonies, a practice contrary to Navajo spiritual tradition.

The sealed portions of the agreement also include an attachment describing areas of religious importance to both tribes where the Navajos agree not to build anything.

Goldtooth said the secrecy surrounding both the compact and its negotiations are "inexcusable."

She said even now residents of the Bennett Freeze wouldn't know what was in the compact if Council Delegate Hope MacDonald - LoneTree (Coalmine Canyon/Tóh Nanees Dízí), who opposed it, hadn't leaked a copy to them.

What we want is a hold to be put on the contract," Goldtooth said. "We want them to come back to the chapters and explain it line by line, then have the people vote on it again."

Shirley's spokesman George Hardeen countered in an e-mail Monday that "if the plaintiffs don't have information about the Bennett Freeze, they have an issue with their (council) delegate."

Hardeen said the negotiation process was "at the direction of, and in accordance to, the council's direction."

"The attorney general has given reports to the council, and the council is represented on the Navajo-Hopi Land Commission," he added.

Five chapters in the Bennett Freeze area have passed resolutions approving the compact, but it has not been approved by either the Hopi Tribal Council or then Navajo Nation Council, and after that would need to be signed by the U.S. secretary of the Interior.

Friday's protest came on the heels of a lawsuit filed in Navajo tribal court last week by three Navajo residents of the freeze area who are upset that parts of the agreement will remain sealed from public view.

Hardeen said the plaintiffs seeing to void the compact never informed the Navajo Nation they were filing suit, and "the suit is without merit because it seems to prevent the Navajo Nation from doing specifically what it was convened to do on behalf of the Navajo people."

Goldtooth said the protesters' Hopi neighbors have already started to ask the Navajos when they plan to leave,a nd she has heard of at least one instance where Hopi rangers impounded a Navajo family's livestock for supposedly being on Hopi land.

The Hopis are acting like it's a done deal, and it hasn't even been approved by either tribe," she complained.

Jamie Kootswatewa, acting chief of the Hopi Resource Enforcement Office, denied his office has changed its policy since the compact came up.

"If they're saying we are going into the Bennett Freeze area and impounding cattle, that is not true," he sated. "If cattle, Navajo or Hopi, wander outside of their grazing jurisdiction onto Hopi land, they are in violation of our Ordinance 43 and we will impound them as we have in the past."

Goldtooth said in addition to the secrecy, the protesters don't like a provision in the compact that would divide frozen federal development funds between the two tribes.

"That money was put aside for Navajos," she said, "Not one dollar of that should go to Hopis."

The Bennett Freeze refers to a moratorium imposed by then Commissioner of Indian Affairs Robert L. Bennett in 1966 to keep both Navajos and Hopis from developing t he disputed land until their reservation boundaries were settled. It was formalized by Congress in 1986.

Originally affecting 1.5 million acres and later reduced to 800,000, the freeze has effectively kept thousands of Navajos and a smaller number of Hopis in primitive and crowded conditions, unable to build homes, start businesses, or obtain electricity or running water.

But Goldtooth said the protesters prefer to endure the freeze rather than agree to a compact they don't support.

She summed up their position.

"No more negotiations. No more pushing around. If the land has to be frozen another 140 years, so be it. We will never agree to leave on these terms."


originally found at the Navajo Times, August 10, 2006


Reprinted as an historical reference document under the Fair Use doctrine of international copyright law.