Shirley wants 'unbiased' study

By Kathy Helms
Diné Bureau
WINDOW ROCK Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr., in testimony this week before the U.S. House Resources Committee, requested an independent, "unbiased" non-federal consultant conduct a one-year study to examine the impacts of relocation on the Navajo and Hopi people.

Shirley said the study would examine the effects of relocation, needs, community impact, range management and livestock reduction, and determine eligibility benefits for affected Navajo and Hopi families.

The proposed study asks that the two tribes to be allowed to contract with the relocation office for mitigation activities. Once mitigation between the two tribes is complete, the relocation program would end, as well as federal government involvement, according to the Navajo Nation Washington Office.

President Shirley testified before a packed House, denouncing the proposed Navajo-Hopi Land Settlement Amendments of 2005, which is favored by the Hopi Tribe. Shirley said the legislation sponsored by U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., would bring an abrupt end to federal relocation efforts and would shut down the Office of Navajo Hopi Indian Relocation.

"I urge this committee to reject Senate Bill 1003 and its unintentional disregard for the lives of the Navajo relocatees," Shirley said. He asked the committee to adopt a rational and reasonable policy that closes the program after a thorough study is done.

The Navajo Hopi Land Settlement Amendments of 2005 passed by the Senate calls for a shutdown of the relocation office on Sept. 30, 2008. Remaining responsibilities would be transferred to the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Forced removal
"The Navajo Nation does not want the relocation program to go on indefinitely," Shirley said. "In fact, we would like nothing more than to be able to stand on our own as a sovereign nation without the intrusion of the federal government ... to stand side-by-side with you rather than have policy dictated to us."

President Shirley said the act does not settle the outstanding claims and appeals of individuals whose benefits have been denied. "The act merely cuts off the funding that would be necessary to help people receive job training, and rebuild shattered communities," he said.

"The Navajo Nation is not here to lay blame and has no interest in refighting the long history of the land dispute between the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Tribe," President Shirley said.

Hopi Tribal Chairman Ivan Sidney made a similar observation; however, he said, the Hopi Tribe is in favor of the Senate bill.

Shirley also told the House committee that the Navajo Nation has no interest in securing rights and benefits for its people to the exclusion of the Hopi Tribe.

"While it is true that many more Navajos and Navajo communities were impacted by the relocation than Hopis, the truth is there were many people from both sides who were forcibly moved. We have both suffered and both experienced impacts that the original act intended to mitigate.

"To a great extent, that mitigation has not happened for either of our people," Shirley said, adding that any benefits for which the Navajo Nation is eligible "should be in proportion to the level of harm the Navajo people have experienced."

Unwanted policy
The President said he concurs with others who say the relocation program has gone on too long and cost too much. "I agree, but the Navajo Nation never wanted the program to begin at all. Should the Navajo be punished because the federal government adopted a policy without understanding the issues involved?

"Is it the Navajo's fault that there were more than 10 times the number of Navajos to relocate than the government expected? Is it the fault of the Navajo relocatees that the promise of a new house and a new life has cost so much?

"I say that it is not. Yet, S. 1003 ignores the needs of thousands of Navajos who have had their lives disrupted," Shirley said, urging the committee to reject McCain's bill.

He also asked the committee to "take the time to understand what relocation has wrought and instead of allowing the federal government to commit another grave error, to create a humane, planned resolution to the plight of these Americans."

"Is a study really unreasonable after years of misery? A study that would simply evaluate what has happened, what needs to occur to make the people as whole as is reasonably possible, how to implement a mitigation plan, and how to shut down the program so that the Navajo, the Hopi, and the federal government can put this painful period behind us," the president said.

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 passed by Congress provided for a one-year study of Indian energy rights-of-way, which is due to Congress Aug. 7. The study looks at historical figures paid to Indian nations for energy rights-of-way and ultimately could challenge tribal sovereignty by giving the Department of Interior final say on how much the tribes can charge for rights-of-way.

The study was included after El Paso Natural Gas and the Navajo Nation reached an impasse on renewal of a lease agreement for El Paso's 900-mile energy corridor within the boundaries of the Navajo Nation.

Shirley said a one-year relocation study "would let the facts on the ground dictate the policy that will guide the federal government, the Navajo Nation, and the Hopi Tribe, instead of the federal government dictating policy."

"The study will also allow us to determine how much more money the program needs, and how long it will take to address the outstanding issues. It is impossible to answer these questions without data," he said.

The greatest cost of the relocation program, housing, is nearly complete; so, any further activities would cost substantially less, the President said.



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