Navajos end 40-year battle
and Betty Reid
The Arizona Republic
Nov. 3, 2006 12:00 AM
An accord has been reached between the Navajo and Hopi
tribes to end a bitter 40-year struggle over Hopi religious
sites on more than 700,000 acres of the western Navajo
of Navajos in the so-called Bennett Freeze Area have
been without running water, electricity or modern appliances
for decades because of a development ban put in place
during the dispute.
is part of the 7 million total acres of Navajo land
in which access by Hopis to religious sites will be
imposed a ban in 1966 on construction and additional
utility infrastructure on the Navajo land unless both
sides agreed to it.
Secretary Dirk Kempthorne and Rep. Rick Renzi, R-Ariz.,
will be in Phoenix today for a signing ceremony at 4
p.m. at the Heard Museum to discuss details of the agreement.
Jr., president of the Navajo Nation, described the compact
compact clearly is one of the most significant agreements
the Navajo and Hopi tribes have signed together,"
he said. "It resolves a 40-year-old dispute over
land with no loss of land, no relocation, ensuring the
religious rights equally to both tribes and ending a
development freeze that has kept the western portion
of the Navajo Nation in a time warp since 1966."
Chairman Ferrell Secakuku said it finally puts the Hopi
Tribe on a level playing field with the Navajos, who
reside on the nation's largest reservation, the majority
of which is in northeastern Arizona.
land is just as spiritual to us as the mesa tops where
we live," Secakuku said. "It's a milestone
to negotiate this to an end in a peaceful manner. We
both have to co-exist here, and this shows that one
tribe can't dominate anymore."
Tribal Council had approved the settlement measure in
September 2004, but it took the Navajo Nation Council
two years to finally sign off on it because of intense
opposition in the western part of the Navajo Reservation
over questions about development. The Navajo Nation
Council voted 75-3 to approve the agreement in September.
Terms of settlement
Renzi and Clayton Honyumptewa, director of the Hopis'
land office, said the settlement calls for an arbitration
board to be set up to resolve disputes, a $50 million
escrow account to be divided by the two tribes, creation
of designated buffers where no Navajo development would
be permitted and a five-year study of eagles in the
an especially sensitive matter for Hopi religious leaders
and their highly secretive ceremonial societies. They
gather the birds for ceremonies over a wide swathe,
primarily between Flagstaff and the tribe's three mesas.
calls for a study to monitor eagles and their nesting
allows Hopi access to eaglet sites on Navajo land and
also will be looking at ingress and egress routes to
them and where they can obtain a bird," Renzi said.
said the arbitration board will deal with problems that
arise if Hopis are denied access to their religious
sites. It will be made up of equal numbers of members
from the two tribes and will be overseen by an arbitrator
with no affiliation with either tribe.
Bill alive in Congress
Renzi introduced a House bill last summer to deal with
problems that could arise out of a Bennett Freeze settlement.
It would shut down the federal Office of Navajo and
Hopi Indian Relocation in Flagstaff, move it to Tuba
City and rename it the Navajo and Hopi Indian Office
of Reconstruction. The bill has been passed out of subcommittee
but has not been acted on.
$50 million in it, and it will also be used for ongoing
open cases that still haven't been resolved in relocation,"
Renzi said, referring to the Navajo-Hopi Relocation
Act, which relocated thousands of Navajos in the 1970s
and 1980s away from land awarded to the Hopis. "But
all of the Bennett Freeze cases can be prioritized under
said the buffer zones, which include such areas as the
Salt Trail from the Hopi mesas to the bottom of the
Grand Canyon, would require Navajos to notify the Hopis
if development occurred within one mile.
a Phoenix attorney who has represented the Navajo Nation
for 32 years in the case, said the agreement is a "tremendous
foundation" for cooperation between the tribes.
has been a very hard-fought and long legal battle, and
issues have been extremely important to both the Navajo
and Hopi people," Fenzl said. "I am delighted
that the elected leaders have found a way to settle
the lawsuit and put this dispute behind them."
Beetso, 43, a Phoenix resident for the past 15 years
who grew up in the Bennett Freeze Area, said she is
hesitant to celebrate the news. Beetso, whose youth
was spent in a one-room house with 10 other family members,
with only a kerosene lamp for light, said she had watched
many people grow old and die awaiting a resolution.
the next generation won't be in that situation,"
Beetso said. "So, now, if all things are settled,
I might go back and build a hogan."
Not everyone pleased
But some Navajos said they are unhappy with the compact.
a group called the Forgotten People of the Bennett Freeze
Community and two individuals asked Kempthorne to delay
signing the accord until a Navajo court hearing is held
members Bobby Bennett Sr. and Arnold Yellowhorse of
Tuba City filed a civil complaint in Navajo Nation District
Court on Thursday alleging that proof must be given
of the location of eagle sites on land that they ranch.
The complaint lists as defendants Navajo President Shirley,
Navajo Attorney General Louis Denetsosie, Council Speaker
Lawrence Morgan and Roman Bitsuie, executive director
of Navajo-Hopi Land Commission.
filing the claim says it was not thoroughly informed
about the compact.
laid claim to the land for different reasons.
who rapidly grew in number and encircled the Hopis over
time after being released from U.S. military confinement
in New Mexico in the early 1870s, said the land was
theirs because of generations of use by tribal members.
have claimed it as part of their aboriginal homeland,
predating the Navajos by hundreds of years, and say
that in addition to eagle nesting sites, many sacred
springs and shrines are on the land.
reporter at email@example.com or (602)