Family that gave land has no regrets
By Cindy Yurth,
Times Times, October 18, 2007
TUBA CITY — Max Goldtooth doesn't want
his land back. Most days.
Today he's looking out across Kerley
Valley from the backyard of his Navajo Housing Authority
rental, pointing out the 32,000 acres to which his family
had the grazing rights until last year.
He briefly contemplates taking a reporter
and photographer out to the land, to show them the little
springs and shady groves where he herded sheep as a
child. He doesn't think the Hopis who graze their flocks
there now would mind. Several of them were his childhood
But to cross the barbed-wire fence that
demarcates Hopi and Navajo partitioned land could cause
an inter-tribal incident, and Goldtooth decides not
to risk it.
These days, what's left of the Goldtooth
family's flocks has to be trucked to Grey Mountain to
Goldtooth's father, the late Teddy Goldtooth,
made the painful decision to sacrifice the 32,000 acres
of grassland and scrub forest to settle once and for
all the conflict over the land known as the "Bennett
The valleys that surround the Hopi mesas
have long been occupied by both Hopis and Navajos and
both tribes claim customary use rights to them.
Until a compact between the two tribes
was signed last Oct. 4, the land had been "frozen"
to development. Not even an addition to a cramped house
could be made without approval from both tribes.
Teddy Goldtooth, who had served as a
Navajo Nation Council delegate from 1991 to 1995, had
watched with concern as the area, frozen since 1966,
fell further and further behind the modern world.
Though power lines ran through the valleys,
just yards from home sites in some cases, generations
grew up and died without knowing what it was like to
turn on a light switch.
In the late 1990s, Goldtooth approached
the tribe about offering his land to the Hopis to help
push along the compact that would lift the Bennett Freeze.
It wasn't an easy decision. Goldtooth
had put his heart and soul into that land, quarrying
sandstone and building homes for his extended family,
a trading post, even a church for the Christian community
although he himself was a traditional practitioner.
"I remember he rode around to all
the relatives to talk to them about what he wanted to
do," says Max Goldtooth, looking out across the
valley. "Not one time but many times. He talked
to everybody before he made the decision to give up
According to Max, Teddy Goldtooth told
the attorneys who were negotiating on behalf of the
tribe he wanted his acreage to be the last Navajo land
ceded to the Hopis.
"He told them, 'Take my land and
leave all those other people alone,'" Max Goldtooth
recalled. He was distressed to learn later that 10,000
more acres had been ceded. "But he couldn't do
anything at that point."
As Max recollects, Teddy was never completely
comfortable with his decision.
"He said, 'It wasn't something
good that I did,'" Max recalls, his voice shaking
a bit. "'But all these people living here, they
deserve to live better than this. When I go before the
Creator and he asks me, 'What did you do for your people?'
I can show him this.'"
Max watched this past summer as power
poles went up in the Freeze, and one by one the lights
came on in the dilapidated little shacks and hogans.
He hears people talking excitedly about
the improvements they plan to make to their properties,
and he's glad his father made the choice he did - even
though his mother, Teddy's widow, has yet to get a power
"I just want people to be happy
and live full lives," he says. "That's the
way to honor my father's sacrifice.
"The Hopis too," he said,
"I hope they're enjoying the land and using it
well. There's been so much intermarriage around here,
I don't think we can say 'us' and 'them' any more. We're
As for his neighbors who are challenging
the compact in court, he hopes they're able to achieve
a settlement they can live with.
"There's still some friction there,"
he admits. "It's hard to be around them. I'm just
looking forward to the day we can put all this behind
us and move on with our lives.
"Sometimes I feel like a little
wheel caught between two big wheels that are moving
opposite ways," he added.
Teddy Goldtooth didn't live to see the
power poles go up in the Bennett Freeze. He died Feb.
13, 2006, seven months before the compact was signed.
But Max has no doubt he was looking down and smiling.
"I know he helped us," he
says confidently. "He's still helping us. He's
in the spirit world now, so he's even more powerful."