rejects deal settling Navajo, Hopi land feud
By John Christian
WINDOW ROCK — The Government Services Committee narrowly
rejected an agreement Monday aimed at settling the Navajo-Hopi
Orlanda Smith-Hodge and Mel Begay expressed concern
that the pact under consideration lacked any supporting
resolutions from the chapters affected by the proposed
Duane Tsinigine, who sponsored the legislation, along
with Deputy Attorney General Harrison Tsosie and Chief
Legislative Counsel Ray Etcitty said there only two
alternatives: negotiate an agreement or continue litigation.
main thing to consider is that no land ownership will
change hands and no Navajo families will be relocated,
Tsosie said. The pact basically spells out that both
Navajo and Hopi will respect each other's traditional
religious practices and the right to practice them without
interference, he added.
filed suit in 1974 against the Navajo seeking half of
a seven-million acre tract that the tribe claimed was
its homeland. In 1992 the District Court ruled the Hopi
were entitled to only 62,000 additional acres.
Hopi appealed the decision, this time arguing that some
of their religious shrines and sacred sites were located
on Navajo. In 1994, the Appellate Court upheld the earlier
decision regarding the land claim, but noted that some
religious issues remained unresolved.
a settlement with Hopi was the best option, Etcitty
said. He told the committee up front that he lived in
Jedditto, within the disputed Bennett Freeze area. By
negotiating, the tribes retain control over the outcome.
If it continues in litigation "some white Anglo
court judge, sitting in Phoenix, will make the decision,"
be even more costly to continue the litigation, Tsinigine
The key elements
of the proposed settlement are:
- No land
monetary claims are waived;
- The Bennett
Freeze would end;
tribes maintain access to religious sites on the other's
Enforcement of settlement provisions would be by arbitration.
each side gives a little under the agreement, Tsosie
question is what did Navajo gain by the compromise,
asked GSC Chairman Ervin Keeswood Sr. It appears that
Hopi got more out of it, he said. For example, Hopi
are allowed to come to eagle nests on Navajo and take
18 eaglets a year, while Navajo are only allowed 12,
ownership of the land, Tsosie said. Also Hopi can only
collect "fledgling golden eagles and hawks"
at specific sites addressed in the pact, Tsosie explained.
In return, Navajos will get access to springs and sites
on Hopi, he added. Religious sites for both tribes contain
an 800-foot easement, or right of way, Tsosie said.
Fish and Wildlife Agency will issue permits for the
collection of eaglets, Etcitty said. Basically, "the
Hopi didn't trust us and we didn't trust them"
as far as monitoring eagle collections, Etcitty said.
met with representatives from the Medicine Man's Association
before agreeing to that provision, Tsosie said.
eagles were more important to the Hopi, while Navajos
wanted access to the springs and the right to take some
of the water," Tsosie said. "It's a good settlement."
to end the long-time feud begin with both tribal councils
approving the pact, Tsosie said. Then the Secretary
of the Interior would have to sign off on it, before
it goes back to the court, where the judge must also
A final more
symbolic step would then have the Congress accept the
compact and lift the Bennett Freeze, Tsosie said. But
once the judge signs off the settlement goes into effect
whether Congress acts on it or not, Tsosie explained.
the Hopi don't approve, or the Navajo doesn't, then
where are we at?" asked GSC member Leo R. Begay.
"Probably back in litigation; and there would probably
be no settlement in our lifetimes."
asked if this compact was the final agreement, or if
the Navajo Nation Council could still make changes.
council could make changes, but the Hopi probably wouldn't
like it," Etcitty said.
attempt to alter the settlement now would result in
an end to negotiations, Tsosie said.
compact refers to "traditional" religious
ceremonies, Tsosie noted. For example, he said, a Navajo
couldn't go on Hopi for a Sun Dance.
Sun Dance isn't one of our tradition ceremonies,"
he said. "It's a Lakota tradition."
squabbling over just what is traditional is still a
possibility, Etcitty said. Some Navajos would insist
that peyote is a traditional practice, while others
would disagree, he said.
settlement is the best possible solution, Etcitty said.
is the closest we've been to a settlement in 12 years,"
against the pact, 3-2.
With a special
council session set for Friday, Tsinigine is pushing
to get this compromise on the agenda.