Hardrock distrusts McCain due to land dispute record
By Wendy Kenin, Special to the Navajo
Times, OCTOBER 30, 2008
SAN FRANCISCO - “Senator John McCain represents
an Indian fighter just like Colonel Kit Carson,”
says Bahe Katenay, Diné, resident of the Hopi
Katenay has spent much of the past three
decades supporting the traditional elders of the Big
Mountain area as a translator and advocate. His family
has been among those resisting federally mandated relocation
from lands awarded to the Hopi Tribe.
Since 2000 they have been living under
Hopi jurisdiction via a 75-year lease as implemented
through federal laws that Senator John McCain introduced.
“Same as all the other senators
that preceded him” Katenay said. "They were
all Indian haters. They were all responsible for making
the laws against the Indians here in Arizona.”
The Hardrock Chapter includes Diné
residents of the HPL, but land use is limited to its
part of the Navajo Partition Lands - less than a quarter
of the chapter's original land base.
The chapter held its regular meeting
Monday and residents wanted to talk about the U.S. presidential
Hardrock Chapter President Percy Deal
says, “The public was really interested in talking
about the presidential election. Just about every member
of the public that spoke up - whether they be educated
or not - they expressed their support for Senator Obama
simply because they know Senator John McCain over the
last 26 years.”
A young man
Congress instituted the relocation program
by passing the Navajo-Hopi Land Settlement Act in 1974
(PL 93-531), and McCain began his political career as
an Arizona congressman in 1982.
Deal recalls that as a young politician
McCain attended a ceremonial event by invitation of
the Hopi and Navajo tribes for a groundbreaking for
a project to pave a dirt road through the region, which
would improve living standards and bring economic opportunity.
Deal remembers, “Both sides heavily
praised him, saying, 'You are a young man. You appear
to be dedicated to the welfare of both the Navajo and
“'We see that you will be here
for a long time. We see that you will support this project
which will be long term. Because of your presence, it
seems you will be following this project to its completion.”
“Twenty-six years later, the road
is not finished," Deal said. "There is no
allocation for it today.”
Called the Turquoise Trail, the roughly
45-mile long road remains less than half paved.
“They felt that very little has
been done, even though the senator may have been chairman
of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs," Deal
said. "I used to support him and even send him
money. I used to go on the air and urge the Navajo people
to vote for him.
“Things have really changed,”
he said. “I heard it (Monday) from the public.
(Support for McCain) just isn't there anymore. They
want to see a change.”
Katenay says that the traditional Diné
who remain on the HPL have trouble obtaining permits
from the Hopi Tribe for ceremonies, a requirement of
McCain's 1996 legislation.
But when it comes to cultural and religious
continuity, Roman Bitsuie, executive director of the
Navajo-Hopi Land Commission office, says that in many
ways, the Diné relocatees who left the HPL have
it tougher than the resisters who stayed.
“To some extent I think (Diné
HPL residents) are better than those who relocated off
the land,” he said, "because they still have
grazing on their land and the use of the land that they're
familiar with, although they may not have the modern
Last May, Big Mountain matriarch and
HPL resident Pauline Whitesinger was preparing a hogan
for her granddaughter's traditional ceremony when the
Hopi Tribe provided notice that her ceremonial lodge
was illegal and under threat of being dismantled.
Whitesinger is well-known for articulating
that “Relocation is Genocide.” This claim
is substantiated by the anthropological assertion that
when a language dies, a culture dies with it.
In the case of Diné relocation,
those who relocated have endured accelerated language
loss, sometimes in less than one generation losing the
ability for grandchildren and grandparents to communicate
and share stories.
Bitsuie advocates for the relocatees
who never received benefits, the children of relocatees
who are now adults with families, some scattered in
urban areas and some living in hotels for extended periods
“Even the people that have relocated
to the New Lands (Nahata Dziil Chapter), they still
need some development so they can get decent jobs,"
he said. “They were uprooted from areas where
they were self-sufficient and now they were placed in
to a cash economy. They need to be transitioned into
that cash economy.”
Finishing the jobBitsuie says that with McCain's guidance,
the U.S. Congress may terminate the relocation program
“before mitigating the adverse impact of the relocation.”
Along with President Joe Shirley Jr.,
Bitsuie testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on
Indian Affairs in 2005 against ending the federal responsibility
for relocatees as proposed in the Navajo-Hopi Land Settlement
Amendments of 2005 (S. 1003), which still awaits passage.
Bitsuie testified, “We take strong
objection to the argument that the relocation program
should be closed because it has 'taken too long and
cost too much.”
“We believe that the United States
must finish the job with regard to the Navajo-Hopi Land
Dispute and assure that all those who have been adversely
affected by the relocation law have a chance at a decent
life,” he stated.
“As a point of comparison, I think
it is worth pointing out that the entire cost to the
federal government over the last 36 years of the Navajo-Hopi
Land Dispute is roughly equal to what the United States
spends in Iraq every 36 hours.”
McCain has been promoting legislation
to phase out the federal relocation benefits program
since 1996. In an interview with McCain in March of
2000, McCain told the Navajo Times, "Some have
chosen to interpret my role in resolving this land dispute
as hostile or deliberately malevolent.
“I bear no ill will toward any
of the resisting individuals or families,” he
said, “only a hope that these individuals can
reach a negotiated solution within their own system
of governance and within their affected tribal communities.
"I have made every effort to work
with all affected entities in the most compassionate
manner possible to provide for an orderly and certain
conclusion to the relocation process," he added.
"I will continue to do so.”
On McCain today, Bitsuie says, “We'll
still have to deal with him even if he loses the election.
He'll still be in the Senate, and in the Senate Committee
on Indian Affairs.”
Bitsuie is working to prolong the operation
of the federal relocation office, but also envisions
less reliance on the U.S. government.
“We have to think differently
to address our issues and to become fully self-sufficient,"
he said. “Then we have to think about preserving
our culture and our language, preserving our religion
so that we can pass it on to the next generation.”