Help coming for families promised HPL homes


By Marley Shebala
Navajo Times

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.

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 falling apart.

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."

He sighed 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 families.

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 Jr.'s budget.

Ray Denny 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 said.

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


         Originally found in the June 30, 2005 edition of the Navajo Times

Reprinted as an historical reference document under the Fair Use doctrine of international copyright law.