President signs historic legislation

By John Christian Hopkins
Diné Bureau
September 30, 2006

WINDOW ROCK Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. signed to historic pieces of legislation Friday one to close the book on the past and the other to begin a new chapter in Navajo history.

Flanked by First Lady Vikki Shirley and Delegate Nelson Begay (Lukachukai/Tsaile/Wheatfields), the president signed into law the Hopi-Navajo land agreement and the creation of a tribal gaming enterprise.

"I thank the council who passed this, and it went through the chapters, too," Shirley said. "The councilors who passed this had the people at heart."

Last July 8 marked the 40th anniversary of the Bennett Freeze, which prohibited any new construction or improvements on existing buildings on the land claimed by both the Navajo and Hopi tribes.

"It's been too long, the people have suffered," Shirley noted. The present lamented the fact that so many of the elders have gone on and couldn't share this special day. He spoke of the medicine people, and, mostly, the people who lived in the area, and said they all had suffered.

And maybe the land freeze played a role in so many of the young people leaving the reservation. Unable to build homes in the area, maybe they moved off to a city, Shirley suggested.

But that was a dark, bygone time. The president saw a new beginning. Soon, Shirley said, the once-disputed freeze area will shine with new homes, gas stations and stores.

"It's a historic day," Begay agreed.

The first lady also hailed the special day.

"I'm excited for the people," she said. "I've heard some of the elders talking about it."

She and the president feel for the people who suffered through the freeze, Vikki Shirley said.

"Many of them have no water, no electricity," Vikki Shirley said. "There was a time when the president and I lived with no water. We lived in a hogan. I had to haul water; I know how difficult it is for the people."

Vikki Shirley said she hopes the Hopi council also approves this agreement.

Once both sides have agreed, the pact goes to the secretary of the Interior for a review and he has already said he supports it, the president added and then back before the judge overseeing the case.

"Then, that's it, the land is thawed. It's over." Joe Shirley said. "Then people can move back on the land."

Under the agreement, the Navajo retain ownership of the land, but the Hopi and Navajo agree to recognize each other's traditional, religious rights.

The gaming enterprise is another albeit, important step forward for the Nation, Shirley said.

"We should have had this 20 years ago," the president said.

With the enterprise in place, Shirley said the next step is to select a developer.

How soon before the Navajo Nation opens a casino?

"I hope, this side of six months," Shirley said. The present said the Nation was looking to open a temporary casino, while construction on a permanent facility continues.

John Christian Hopkins can be reached at or by calling 505-371-5443.


originally found in the Gallup Independent


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