Freeze comments frost delegates

Trio defends its vote on compact following president's statements

By Kathy Helms
Diné Bureau, September 28, 2006

WINDOW ROCK The three Navajo Nation Council delegates who voted Tuesday against the proposed intergovernmental compact between the Nation and the Hopi Tribe say they are not happy with statements made Wednesday by President Joe Shirley Jr. on KTNN Radio.

Delegates Leonard Chee, Amos Johnson and Hope MacDonald-Lone Tree said in a joint press release that President Shirley incorrectly told the Navajo people that they do not support lifting the Bennett Freeze because of their vote.

"President Shirley is wrong on his position on the Bennett Freeze compact and he is wrong again on Delegates Chee, Johnson, and MacDonald-Lone Tree's vote. Delegates Chee, Johnson, and MacDonald-Lone Tree want the freeze to be lifted, but not at the cost of individual and human rights of our people," they said.

The delegates emphasized that they support lifting the Bennett Freeze. "However, because President Shirley did not consult with Navajo people impacted by the Bennett Freeze when his administration drafted the still secret settlement, and because the settlement was not conducted in good faith, Delegates Chee, Johnson, and MacDonald-Lone Tree cannot support the secret settlement of the Bennett Freeze."

The delegates said the concerns they attempted to raise before council were on several of the compact's provisions. "The compact, as it is currently written, is restrictive and greatly accommodates the Hopi claims as opposed to what rightfully belongs to Navajo people," they said, citing an amendment offered by Johnson regarding religious rights.

Religious freedom
Language in the compact states, "The Navajo Nation and the Hopi tribe are federally recognized sovereign nations that desire to live in harmony and mutual respect for each other and further desire to resolve the 'Navajo-Hopi land dispute' insofar as it relates to the freedom of the Navajo and Hopi people to practice their traditional religions, and related issues."

Johnson's amendment would have accommodated traditional religions, "other religious beliefs," and related issues. Attorneys for the Nation told Council that the legislation needed to be approved without amendments, otherwise it would have to go back to the Hopi Tribe for its approval, after which council defeated the amendment.

Regardless of amendments, the compact still must go back to the Hopi Tribe for its approval because the compact language approved in January is different than that approved by the Hopi Tribal Council in 2004.

"Wise amendments from the council could have easily addressed the concerns of the people and would have protected Navajo rights and the integrity of the Navajo Nation," the delegates said.

During debate on Johnson's amendment, Delegate Tom Lapahe said it doesn't matter whether it's written in the compact or not, that there are people on the Hopi Reservation who practice Native American Church and Christianity. "So we shouldn't worry whether it's written in either of these documents," he said.

The three delegates also said that new maps outlining where the Hopi sacred sites and corridors are located were not reviewed by council. "There may be several sites and corridors located in areas that will restrict Navajo people's human rights to the land," they said.

"Navajo people have yet to be informed on the exact location of the sites and corridors, and the exact impact those sites and corridors have on Navajo people who may be negatively impacted by the secret settlement," they said.

During a press conference following the vote, Attorney General Louis Denetsosie said that the Hopi people who use the religious sites know where they are located, and that per the agreement, in order to protect the sacred sites and shrines, only those tribal officials with a need to know were being given that information.

The three delegates said that as conveyed Tuesday during MacDonald-Lone Tree's comments to council, the compact legislation "has far reaching, precedent-setting and irreversible affects on our Navajo people, our land, and the integrity our Navajo Nation."

"Navajo community resolutions respectfully requested that more time be devoted to informing Navajo people on the compact before a vote was taken. Sadly, this did not occur." Also, they said, it was not disclosed the amount of Navajo land that is being conceded to the Hopi.

Trading freezes?
During an impassioned speech to council, MacDonald-Lone Tree pleaded with delegates to vote "No" on the legislation, saying the Navajo people deserve a clear understanding of how it might affect the 1934 reservation.

"If we are agreeing in this compact that we will not make any improvements or build any structures within the designated Hopi religious sites, then we are just trading one freeze for another," she said.

"Even if there is no relocation, our Navajo people are being restricted from using their land as they had used it before it being designated Hopi religious sites and corridors.

"As opposed to the original Bennett Freeze imposed by the Secretary of Interior and Congress, this new freeze will be imposed on our own people by their own government the Navajo Nation," she said.

"At least the Bennett Freeze can be changed by congressional action and litigation. But according to the new freeze, it is forever. Our children, their children and future generations cannot make changes to the compact they are irrevocably bound to it and there is no recourse."

Nothing in the compact states that the Bennett Freeze will be lifted, she said. "All that it states is that the Hopi 'promises' not to object when Navajo asks Congress to repeal the Bennett Freeze in Article 7.6." She questioned what would happen if the Hopi did not follow through, saying there is no language to protect the Navajo Nation if the Hopis do not honor their promise.

According to the compact, the Navajo Nation is agreeing to give the Hopi Tribe "50 percent of all royalties income coal, powerlines, pipelines, natural gas lines, and other rights-of-way derived from the Bennett Freeze since 1966," she said.

"Ladies and gentlemen, the Bennett Freeze is not a joint use area. By what right is Hopi entitled to half of the Bennett Freeze area income?"

Waiver of claims
"Even more horrendous," she said, is the language in Article 7. "We are waiving all claims and litigation against the Hopi and agreeing that the Secretary of Interior's approval of the compact does not create any new claim against the United States for monetary damages."

"The Navajo Nation, essentially, has let the United States off the hook for any legal claims that may arise from the loss of land, resources, and Navajo rights," according to Chee, Johnson and MacDonald-Lone Tree.

"Don't we want to sue the feds and/or Hopi for damages and harm done to our people? Why would we just walk away and leave our people to suffer on their own?" MacDonald-Lone Tree asked.

Delegates said their concern is that "this poorly drafted provision will forever tie the Navajo Nation hands behind its back," by not allowing them to seek redress for the wrongs done to the Navajo people. "Is this something we really want to forfeit?"

Also, they said, under the compact the Navajo Nation agrees to waive the fair market value of property rights. They questioned this waiver, saying, it was not explained to council or the Navajo people why the Nation "would agree to waive the fair market value of property rights and possibly allow the Hopi Tribe or the federal government to determine what they feel is the right price for our land or property."

The Nation's leadership "should not threaten the Navajo people with threats that 'The Bennett Freeze will never be resolved if the compact is not approved,' or with threats that 'Litigation is a loser,' delegates said. "Those remarks are inappropriate and extort approval from the people through fear."

Delegates Chee, Johnson, and MacDonald Lone Tree did not support the compact, they said, because they believed "in protecting the individual and human rights of Navajo people, the sovereignty of the Navajo Nation, and they believe in truthfully informing the Navajo people."


originally found in the Gallup Independent


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