By Marley Shebala
WINDOW ROCK - The seven-year wait by 48 Navajo families
who were promised new homes by the Navajo government
appears close to an end, thanks in large part to Ray
Denny, a 50-something contract employee of the tribe,
meticulously documented the failure of the tribal government
to fulfill its promise to the families, despite receiving
$1.5 million in federal funding to build their homes.
All the families live on Hopi Partitioned Land, and
were to receive modern, foundation-built homes in return
for signing an agreement limiting their rights to small
plots of their ancestral lands. The homes were part
of $22 million in federal relocation benefits allocated
to the Navajo government in 1997.
The Navajo-Hopi Relocation Commission passed the money
and the housing project to the Navajo Housing Services
Department, part of the Division of Community Development.
Seven years later, the housing department was forced
by pressure from the commission to look into complaints
from 48 families that their homes had either never
been built or had been constructed so badly they were
Housing services hired Denny, a resident of Kinlichee,
Ariz., to investigate the matter. He spent the summer
of 2004 compiling a written report, including photographs,
from inspections and interviews with the 48 families.
His report revealed incomplete exterior and interior
housing construction, sinking floors, mismatched kitchen
cabinets, missing construction supplies, and the deterioration
of about $360,000 worth of construction materials left
out in the open for years.
"They're promised new houses," Denny said. "But
then some of them can't live in their new house. And
some just look at their housing materials."
before he said, "I don't know what
I would do if I was them. How long could I wait? It's
a harsh life out here (HPL). And they lost their land
to the Hopis."
Denny's report, about 1.5 inches thick, was finished
Aug. 20, 2004, but was not accepted by the Navajo-Hopi
Land Commission until October.
With HPL families demanding to see the report, the
commission scheduled a meeting in August 2004 at Hardrock
Chapter, the nearest government office for most of
The commission took no action until its October meeting,
when it voted to accept the report.
The Navajo-Hopi Land Commission is made up of council
delegates from chapters that continue to be impacted
by the Navajo-Hopi land issues.
Beyond voting to accept Denny's report, however, the
commission took no further action to help the residents.
The report was shelved, where it remained for six months
until the Navajo Times began interviewing the 48 families
for a follow-up story on their plight.
On June 22, the commission voted to advertise for
bids to complete and repair homes for the 48 families,
authorizing the use of additional federal funds for
the job. The job calls for a contractor to construct
six new houses and repair and finish 42 other houses.
Lorenzo Bedonie (Hardrock/Pinon), chairperson of the
Navajo-Hopi Land Commission, reminded commission members
before the vote that as Navajo leaders, they are responsible
for helping the Navajo people living on HPL.
Bedonie noted that the families have been waiting
since 1998 to have their HPL house completed or built.
"I think that even if we were not in office then,
we are all equally responsible," he added.
Commission member Leslie Dele (Tonalea) argued that
the money should come from the tribe, because it received
$1.5 million for the project.
Bedonie, however, urged that more federal money be
used in order to speed things along.
"We really don't know what happened to all the
money ($1.5 million) that the commission gave to Navajo
housing services," Bedonie said.
The commission approved the HPL assistance 5-3, with
Dele and two other commission members opposing on grounds
that the money should come from President Joe Shirley
was there to witness the vote, saying, "I
want the people out there to get help. They've been
suffering long enough.
"The leaders should be the ones helping them,
going out there to see and talk to them instead of
just sitting around with themselves in Window Rock," Denny
Roman Bitsuie, director of the Navajo-Hopi Land Office,
said Wednesday that he was meeting with Hopi officials
before he executes the commission's directive.
Bitsuie explained that the Navajo government must
get approval for the project from the Hopi Tribe since
the families live on Hopi land.
Please see related story: Unfulfilled Promises
found in the June 30, 2005 edition of the Navajo Times