Accord reached for sacred Hopi sites on Navajo land

Nov. 04, 2006

PHOENIX (AP) -- After a bitter 40-year dispute, leaders of the Navajo and Hopi tribes sat together Friday and signed an agreement that allowed development on 700,000 acres of land that both claim as their own.

"The Hopis and Navajos have not always seen eye to eye," Hopi Vice Chairman Todd Honyaoma said at the signing ceremony. "But we are neighbors, and neighbors need to be friends."

The two tribes, which about each other in Arizona's northeastern corner, have fought over land most of the last century. In 1966, the federal government imposed a ban on any development on the so-called Bennett Freeze Area as the tribes worked out their differences.

As a result, thousands of Navajos were without running water, electricity or modern appliances for decades.

"Every day we wait, our people suffer," said Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. "I'd like to see hospitals, schools, paved roads. It's about time."

A crowd of more than 100 Hopis and Navajos crowded the Heard Museum as tribal leaders and Interior Secretary Dick Kempthorne signed the land agreement.

In a corner of the room, 93-year-old Lena Goldtooth-Canyon sat in a wheelchair, dressed in red print dress and turquoise, and clapped with her family. She'd driven down from Tuba City to see the historic ceremony.

"For too long we've lived in poverty," Goldtooth-Canyon said in her native Navajo.

Goldtooth-Canyon, who spoke through an interpreter, said she'd like to see more economic development in the area "so we can have electricity."

Like many in the disputed area, Goldtooth-Canyon wasn't able to fix her hogan. She was once cited for throwing dirt on the roof after a monsoon storm.

U.S. Rep. Rick Renzi, R-Ariz., and Clayton Honyumptewa, director of the Hopis' land office, said the settlement calls for an arbitration board to be set up to resolve disputes, a $50 million escrow account to be divided by the two tribes, creation of designated buffers where no Navajo development would be permitted and a five-year study of eagles in the area.

Eagles are an especially sensitive matter for Hopi religious leaders and their highly secretive ceremonial societies. They gather the birds for ceremonies over a wide swathe, primarily between Flagstaff and the tribe's three mesas.

Honyumptewa said the arbitration board will deal with problems that arise if Hopis are denied access to their religious sites. It will be made up of equal numbers of members from the two tribes and will be overseen by an arbitrator with no affiliation with either tribe.

The Navajos reside on the nation's largest reservation, the majority of which is in northeastern Arizona. It surrounds Hopi land.

"This land is just as spiritual to us as the mesa tops where we live," said former Hopi Chairman Ferrell Secakuku. "It's a milestone to negotiate this to an end in a peaceful manner. We both have to co-exist here, and this shows that one tribe can't dominate anymore."

The Hopi Tribal Council had approved the settlement measure in September 2004, but it took the Navajo Nation Council two years to finally sign off on it because of intense opposition in the western part of the Navajo Reservation over questions about development.

The Navajo Nation Council voted 75-3 to approve the agreement in September.


originally found in the Arizona Daily Sun


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