from land tough on Navajos
Republic Flagstaff Bureau
Jul. 7, 2006 12:00 AM
- The area is called Hard Rocks, an appropriate name
since no grass remains for Navajo shepherds and their
It was here,
20 years ago today, that protesters, spurred on by elderly
Navajo grandmothers, made their final stand at the fence
and piñon ridge lines against the largest forced
movement of Native Americans during the 20th century.
15,000 Navajos were given little option by Congress
other than to take relocation benefits, about $30,000
apiece back then, and start new lives in surrounding
towns or on other parts of the 100,000-population Navajo
Reservation, the nation's largest reservation. They
were removed from land that had been awarded years earlier
to the smaller Hopi Tribe, land that was surrounded
by the Navajo Reservation.
took Navajo families from their land, which is core
to the tribe's earth-based religious beliefs.
It also contributed
to the ongoing decline of the Navajo language and culture,
which have slowly but steadily been fading, said Peter
Iverson, an Arizona State University history professor
and author of several books about the Navajo Nation.
It was inevitable, he said, because a large percentage
of those who moved went to urban surroundings.
also hard for people in urban society, where land is
a commodity, to understand their connection to this
land and all the trauma associated with the move,"
Iverson said. "If you had to pick a population
that was going to have a hard time adjusting elsewhere,
there was no more obvious population than this one."
million relocation program was designed to disperse
the Navajo from long-disputed land that had been designated
as Hopi territory after decades of federal intervention.
The relocatees far outnumbered the Hopi. Population
on the Hopi land was 7,360 in 1990, 6,946 by 2000.
worked in the short term, but pressure is building on
the periphery of the Hopi Reservation as hundreds of
Navajos return to the land they had been told to leave.
And bitterness remains over the controversial handling
of the relocation.
a Holbrook Indian arts dealer who specializes in Navajo
and Hopi jewelry and other crafts, said government intervention
into the land controversy was "terribly misguided."
could have resolved a lot of their differences with
negotiations between the tribes."
Navajos regret moving
The federal Office of Navajo and Hopi Indian Relocation
and the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs made a concerted
effort to replicate Navajo life in what became the new
homeland for hundreds and hundreds of Navajos.
assistant director of the Relocation Commission, said
the relocation office has built or bought 3,700 homes
for relocated families. It also developed about 400,000
acres south of Sanders, where 320 relocated families
placed in 17 "range clusters," communities
of about 20 homes surrounded by thousands of acres of
open land for grazing purposes and intended to replicate
the Navajos' traditional society. The relocation office
also did extensive fencing, water drilling and piping
and road construction projects on that land.
relocatees in the Nahata Dziil, the so-called Navajo
New Lands, are less than satisfied.
about fence lines, the lack of plants that can be used
as natural dyes in hand-woven blankets, meth use, possible
livestock allotment cutbacks and alcoholism among tribe
members because of the close proximity of bars.
Renzi, R-Ariz., said relocatees to the New Lands "definitely
did not get an acre for an acre with the deal."
wind is very harsh there because it doesn't have the
contour of canyons like they had in their homelands,"
One of the
range housing developments, East Mill, is being abandoned
because homes and a preschool in the area were built
on shifting soils.
90, remembers the days when he herded 500 sheep and
five horses in what is now the Big Mountain area of
the Hopis near Hard Rocks.
through a Navajo translator that he now has one horse
and 20 sheep that he tends daily. He spends the rest
of the day listening to traditional Navajo songs on
radio station KTNN in Window Rock and regretting that
he ever left his homeland.
said that we were moving to a better place with all
the land and livestock that we could want," Yazzie
said. "It was nothing but lies. I waited seven
years after 1986 before taking the benefits, and I wish
now I never had."
herd of 83-year-old Hazel Bahe, who was one of the first
relocatees from the Teesto area in the late 1980s, has
been reduced to seven, all of which she has individually
what relocation has meant to her, she points to her
right eye, welling with tears.
a cook at the New Lands senior citizens center, said
she, like Yazzie, was one of the last to leave.
didn't even get the housing situation right here when
they did the ranch clusters," Nelson said. "Navajo
is based on family kinships in the housing clusters.
They put people from all over the rez where I live down
in Hard Scrabble."
Hopis look ahead
Most Hopi tribal members appreciate the separation from
their longtime rivals and having land for economic and
given us a whole new outlook on life, being buffered
from Navajo encroachment and trespassing," Micah
Loma'Omvaya, a Hopi tribal planner said as he sorted
through programs mapping out the Hopi-partitioned land.
Most of the
work thus far, Loma'Omvaya said, has been directed toward
restoring rangeland, cleaning up dumps and tearing down
structures left behind by the Navajos.
Ivan Sidney said during a House subcommittee hearing
last month that the tribe has plans to build six housing
developments on the land. One of them, Spider Mound,
is in the development phase.
Thursday that about 70 Hopi families have moved into
the areas that the tribe received 20 years ago and that
about 400 parcels had been assigned to tribal members
for future use.
have been discussing other economic development, like
a dude ranch and hotel along the paved Turquoise Trail
in the northern part of the reservation. Another 40
miles is scheduled to be paved during the next 10 years
to near Kayenta and Monument Valley, which both Hopis
and Navajos believe will be a big boon for tourism.
Clifford Quotsquahu fears a strife-filled future on
the periphery of the Hopi Reservation.
got to quit messing around and go out there and put
our footprints on that land or we're going to find ourselves
back in the same mess of two decades ago," Quotsquahu
said. "We need to be gathering wood out there,
picking tobacco for ceremonies, picking medicinal herbs.
afraid of all the Navajo resisters and their sympathizers
coming back out there. . . . They still have a lot of
influence with all those people in the Hard Rocks area."
Unable to adjust
The relocation act was passed by Congress in 1974 to
solve a century-old problem of Navajo shepherds encroaching
on the northeastern Arizona mesas, where Hopis had lived
The act divided
the joint-use area into equal parts and required all
Hopis to leave the Navajo side and all Navajos to leave
the Hopi side. Only a few hundred Hopis had to move
while more than 15,000 Navajos were forced to relocate.
of the Relocation Commission, said 200 Navajo families
signed an accommodation agreement in the 1990s for a
75-year lease to stay on land partitioned to the Hopis
but that fewer than 50 families remain. He said eight
Navajo families on the Hopi land refused to relocate
or sign the accommodation, and remain on the land today.
community services director of the Hardrock Chapter
of the Navajo Reservation, deals with the social consequences
of the relocation on a daily basis.
local Navajo governing unit not being able to offer
more grazing or home-construction leases on the land
because of overcrowding, Begay said those who were relocated
to urban areas are flocking back.
adjust to the outside world, he said. They often leave
the homes they were relocated to in shambles, repairs
undone, taxes unpaid. They vividly remember their pastoral
past. And they see the plentiful green grass on the
Hopi side of the fence.
of about 3,000 Navajos is a barren, virtual island,
where the only paved road leads to the heart of the
consists of hanging out at Dinnebito Trading Post, where
a swamp cooler barely functioned on a recent hot afternoon
and posters of Navajo sheep, cattle and horses seized
by Hopi rangers on their side of the fence filled a
bulletin board. If the Navajo owners of the livestock
don't pay an impoundment fee within five days, the livestock
are hauled away to Holbrook and sold.
had at least 100 families move back to this community.
Some of the homes have 20 people in them now,"
Begay said. "If people don't quit seeing nothing
on the other side of the fence and the Hopis don't start
using their land, all this growth pressure is going
to lead to another relocation crisis in the future."