Freeze residents file lawsuit, seek to void compact

Navajo Times
August 3, 2006

WINDOW ROCK – Residents of the Bennett Freeze area have files a lawsuit in Tuba City District Court to get the intergovernmental agreement between the Hopis and the Navajos voided because parts of it are to remain secret.

The agreement, which will lift the Bennett Freeze, still needs approval of the federal courts and the Interior Department.

The lawsuit lists Bobby Bennett Sr., Max Goldtooth Sr. and Robert Begay Sr. as plaintiffs as well as any resident of the Bennett Freeze area affected by the agreement.

The basis of the lawsuit stems from provisions in the agreement that allow certain parts to remain secret and under seal.

The provision in question states: "The parties shall make reasonable efforts to advise their members of the terms of this compact, to encourage their members to respect the privacy of the religious activities of others on their land and to urge their members to deal courteously and respectfully with area residents when they enter upon the other party’s land for religious purposes; provided, however, that the Exhibits A, B, C. and D to this compact may not be shown to members of the parties other than elected leaders and those employees of the party having responsibility for performance and/or enforcement of this compact or to any other person."

The portions in question deal with areas that the Hopi tribal members may visit to gather eaglets for their ceremonies.

The gathering of eaglets has long been a bone of contention between the two tribes.

While Navajo traditions call for the eaglets to be respected and protected, the Hopis annually conduct a ceremony where eaglets are gathered, kept in captivity and then killed as part of the ceremony.

Navajos in the western portion of the reservation have argued against allowing the Hopis onto Navajo lands but the practice is protected by federal law.

Each year the Hopi traditional leaders receive a permit from the federal government allowing them to gather a certain number of eaglets.

Another of the exhibits lists areas that the two tribes have agreed to be sacred and the Navajo Nation agreed not to allow any improvements to be built within 900 meters of these sites.

The agreement also provides that the two tribes will, if requested, provide an escort, either private of law enforcement, to any member of either tribe who wants to go onto the land of either tribe to visit a sacred site.

The lawsuit requests the court to void the agreement because Navajo officials have kept Bennett Freeze area residents in the dark about the negotiations with the Hopis, including not revealing the existence of the compact until just before the chapter houses were asked to approve it.

Navajo Nation officials were able to get chapter approval, according to the lawsuit, only by manipulating and misleading the people.

"Navajo Nation officials said, 'If you support this, you will get a house, waterline, electricity and roads,'" they said.

The petitioners want to require tribal officials to go back to the chapters and get approval all over again, making all parts of the agreement public and explaining it "sentence by sentence."




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