President, Hopi Vice Chairman join Interior Secretary
to sign historic Compact
Special to the Observer
Nov. 7, 2006
- With half the 250 people standing shoulder-to-shoulder
and peering over a throng of photographers, the federal
Interior secretary and the two leaders of the Navajo
and Hopi nations signed documents to clear the way to
coexist on a piece of land and remove a four-decade-old
development ban that is unique in American history.
brief congratulatory remarks from a U.S. senator and
two congressmen, Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley
Jr., Hopi Vice Chairman Todd Honyaoma and Interior Secretary
Dirk Kempthorne signed the historic Navajo-Hopi Intergovernmental
Compact at the Heard Museum here Friday, leaving just
one more signature to go - that of U.S. District Judge
Earl H. Carroll - to relegate the 40-year-old Bennett
Freeze Area to the history books and memory.
this agreement means is it's an era of a new and positive
relationship between the Navajo and Hopi nations, and
I'm very much looking forward to that, which is the
way it should be, working together, complementing each
other, standing side by side," said President Shirley
in remarks following the signing of documents."
Chairman Honyaoma expressed similar sentiments.
Hopis and Navajos have not always seen eye to eye,"
he said. "Over the years, our relationship has
sometimes been good, and sometimes not. But we are neighbors,
and neighbors should be friends. As leaders we know
that we serve our people best when we do our best to
cooperate with each other."
News of the
signing ceremony spread quickly throughout the western
Navajo area this week and the event itself was organized
over the course of two days. Dozens of residents from
Tuba City, Cameron, Bodaway-Gap and the Bennett Freeze
Area drove to Phoenix to witness it.
the Arizona Republic published a lengthy front page
story about the signing ceremony and the agreement co-written
by Mark Shaffer and Betty Reid, a Navajo reporter who
grew up at Bodaway-Gap in the heart of the Bennett Freeze
President Shirley to the signing ceremony was First
Lady Vikki Shirley, Arizona Senator and former Navajo
President Albert Hale, Navajo Nation Deputy Attorney
General Harrison Tsosie, and the sponsor of the Navajo
Nation Council legislation to approve the Intergovernmental
Compact, Delegate Duane Tsinigine of Bodaway-Gap.
very much looking forward to working together on rehabilitating
the land, building houses for the people out there on
the land we used to call Bennett Freeze," the President
said. "I'd like to see hospitals, schools, paved
roads. It's about time."
Freeze received its name from the late Commissioner
of Indian Affairs Robert Bennett who imposed a construction,
repair and development prohibition in July 1966 on a
1.5-million-acre area of land in the western Navajo
Nation. Its intent was to force the Navajo and Hopi
tribes to settle their differences over the rights to
later, federal court decisions reduced the area to about
700,000 acres but the original federal attempt to coerce
the tribes to the negotiating table by then had long
been deemed an utter failure in policy.
the issue languished. But four years ago, the tribes
tried again on their own with the skillful assistance
of a federal mediator, 9th Circuit Court of Appeals
Senior Circuit Judge William Canby, Jr. An agreement
was reached at last in January 2006 and was approved
by the Navajo Nation Council and Hopi Tribal Council
compact clearly is one of the most significant agreements
the Navajo and Hopi Tribes have signed together,"
President Shirley said. "It resolves a 40-year-old-dispute
with no loss of land, no relocation, ensures the religious
rights equally to both tribes and ends a development
freeze that has kept the western portion of the Navajo
Nation in a time warp since 1966."
Kempthorne, who has been at the Interior Department
for just five months, came to the signing ceremony with
Bureau of Indian Affairs Director Pat Ragsdale and Carl
Artman, the associate solicitor for Indian Affairs within
the Department of Interior whom the secretary introduced
as the next BIA director. Navajo Regional Office Acting
Director Omar Bradley traveled from Gallup to attend
Kempthorne called the tribal leaders gathered there
"peacemakers." adding that he believed that
to be one of the greatest titles anyone could have.
powerful, and there is power in this room by two great
peoples," he said. "You have overcome a long
history of bitterness and dispute. You have made history,
and because you have made history, your people have
a bright future. I congratulate all of you, and I congratulate
He said the
freeze has greatly hindered the use of the land for
40 years, and has been a severe hindrance to the people
who live there. He said he was pleased that the Hopi
Tribe and Navajo Nation have agreed to release each
other from claims, dismissed litigation, and agreed
to the disposition of funds collected for the use of
portions of the disputed property that are held by the
Honyaoma said the negotiations demonstrated that the
tribes can achieve cooperation between themselves.
agreement, this intergovernmental compact, shows beyond
any doubt that the two tribes can cooperate and when
they want to can get great things done," he said.
"We've seen it."
Shirley agreed, saying it takes many to accomplish good
things for the people.
one person can do it alone," he said. "We
have to work together to come to milestones like we've
come to today to accomplish what we've accomplished
Shirley acknowledged the work of the Navajo-Hopi Land
Commission, the commission's director Roman Bitsuie,
the Navajo Nation Council, Navajo Nation Attorneys General
Louis Denetsosie, Levon Henry and Herb Yazzie, and attorneys
Terry Fenzl, Britt Clapham, Dan Jackson and Philip Kline.
But he gave
a special acknowledgement to former Navajo President
Peterson Zah, who he said "helped bring an entirely
new approach to these negotiations, moving us from an
era of confrontation and newspaper battles to conciliation
and negotiation out of the glare of the television lights."
It was under
Dr. Zah's leadership that the tenor of the relationship
between the tribes changed from outright antagonism
to a desire to "sit under a tree" to talk
things out, as he put it at the time. That led to the
resolution of the Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute through an
Accommodation Agreement under the leadership of former
Navajo President Albert Hale and former Hopi Tribal
Chairman Ferrell Secakuku.
Shirley and Vice Chairman Honyaoma acknowledged the
leadership for former Hopi Tribal Chairman Wayne Taylor,
who also attended the signing ceremony and under whose
administration the negotiations began.
Shirley also thanked two federal judges, one who helped
negotiate the compact and the other who presided over
the trials between the tribes. One is Judge Canby, whom
the President thanked for his patience, perseverance,
kindness, and cultural sensitivity during the negotiation
process. The other is Federal District Judge Earl Carroll,
who has presided over the tribes' land issue cases since
years of difficult times and two long trials, he was
very patient and understanding and displayed great sensitivity,"
President Shirley said of Judge Carroll. "He wrestled
with many difficult legal arguments and issues, and
was the one individual in the position of having to
make tough decisions, which he did with grace and impartiality.
We thank him."
Carroll reviews the Compact documents, his will be the
last signature needed on a court order to lift the Bennett
Shirley acknowledged the attendance of Navajo Nation
Council Speaker Lawrence T. Morgan as well as members
of the Navajo-Hopi Land Commission which included Commission
Chairman Lorenzo Bedonie, Commission Vice Chairman Lee
Jack, Sr., and Council Delegates Thomas Walker, Jr.,
Leslie Dele, Raymond Maxx and Harry Williams, Sr. Also
attending was TohNanees Dizi Council Delegate Harry
Goldtooth and Shonto Delegate Harry Brown.