seven years for homes to be built
By Marley Shebala
SANDSPRINGS, Ariz. – For the past seven years, Alfred
and Ida Mae McCabe have been waiting for the construction
crew to arrive.
The materials for their new house are there - $60,000
worth of construction supplies delivered to the site
in 1998 by the Navajo Housing Services Department,
a part of the Division of Community Development.
Alfred McCabe, a former construction worker, looked
at the pile of decaying sheetrock, warped lumber, and
a cracked tub and shower stall, and remembers when
it was first delivered.
McCabe, a huge man even at 68, said he was still able
to work then and offered to build the two-bedroom house
himself. He was uneasy, he said, when he learned housing
services planned to construct the home with a three-foot
crawl space beneath the plywood floor.
He explained to the workers that rats, mice and even
snakes would start living under the house, which is
not good in the Navajo way.
He needn’t have worried. No one ever returned to start
building the new house. The couple still lives in a
small one-room house built by McCabe from scrap lumber
and stone he hewed from the surrounding red-rock canyons.
At a June 22 meeting, seven years after the project
began, the Navajo-Hopi Land Commission met to discuss
the issue. The commission is comprised of council delegates
from the area.
The discussion about the delay and failure to complete
the homes centered on the changeover in leaders and
administrations over the years.
George Hardeen, spokesman for President Joe Shirley
Sr., said Shirley would answer questions about the
families and their homes and discuss other issues on
McCabe, who now has difficulty standing for very long,
is beginning to lose his vision and hearing. His 68-year-old
wife is in ill health as well, and needs a walker to
get around. She must make weekly hospital visits to
Tuba City, an hour away over sandy and rocky roads.
Sandsprings is a remote and isolated spot on the vast
Painted Desert southeast of Tuba City. There are no
electrical lines or telephone poles for miles. The
majestic San Francisco Peaks form a backdrop for an
outhouse situated several feet from the McCabe home.
As the peaks turn a lush purpose in the early evening
light, Alfred McCabe sits on the couple’s bed and watches
his wife make fry bread. They are talking and laughing.
The McCabes’ closest neighbor is John Yazzie, 79,
a Navajo medicine man, lives several miles to the north.
The McCabes and Yazzie are among 48 Navajo families
in the Hopi Partitioned Lands who were slated to receive
new houses, to be built by the Navajo government using
$1.5 million in federal relocation funds set aside
in 1998. The homes were approved by the tribe’s Navajo-Hopi
Land Commission, which gave the money to the housing
The houses and federal funding were part of $22 million
in federal relocation benefits for Navajo families
forced off their ancestral lands in the bitter Navajo-Hopi-U.S.
The dispute began with a jurisdictional battle between
a federal Indian agent and the Hopi people, and led
the federal government to create a Navajo-Hopi Joint
Use Area in the middle of the Navajo Reservation. This
People from both tribes co-existed in the so-called
JUA for close to a century, until Peabody Coal Co.
expressed its interest in mining the area’s coal reserves.
With millions in royalties and hundreds of jobs at
stake, pressure rose to determine which tribe controlled
the territory over the coal.
In 1977, a federal court, following approval by Congress
of the 1974 Navajo-Hopi Land Settlement Act, drew an
arbitrary line through the disputed area. Several hundred
Navajos, including the 48 families, found themselves
living on Hopi Partitioned Land, while a few Hopi families
were on land assigned to the Navajo Nation.
Intense turmoil followed as the Hopi Tribe pushed
to dislodge the many Navajo families on its side of
the line. After two decades, the 48 families in Sandsprings
and Cactus Valley joined a small group who signed a
75-year renewable lease with the Hopi Tribe.
Signing the accommodation agreement
The McCabes, Yazzies and four other HPL families interviewed
recently all said they signed the “accommodation agreement”
so they could remain on a sliver of their traditional
The agreement granted them long-term residency on
at least a portion – between three and 10 acres – of
their ancestral home sites, farms, grazing land, and
The deal opened the way for the Navajo government
to help the residents gain decent housing. For two
decades, they have been prevented from maintaining
or improving their homesteads while the Hopis tried
to evict them.
But their tribe let them down, the families say.
And top tribal officials with oversight responsibility,
including President Joe Shirley Jr., and the Navajo-Hopi
Land Commission, have left them feeling disappointed,
frustrated and angry.
The tribal agency that received the HPL money to build
their new homes did not do the job. Some families,
like the McCabes, are still looking at a pile of untouched
Others like Bessie Young-Begay, 68, of Cactus Valley,
Ariz., say her HPL home was so badly built that she’s
afraid to live in it.
Begay, her husband Harry Begay Sr., 67, and their
seven children continue to occupy their old two-room
house, located about 50 feet from their HPL house.
Some family members sleep in the HPL house, despite
major structural weaknesses, she said.
Young-Begay smiled as she remembered how happy she
was when the housing material arrived. She laughed
as she recalled cooking for the construction workers
so they would finish her house quickly.
Her smile suddenly turned to silence and tears filled
Harry Begay Sr., 67, looked down at his hands and
shook his head back and forth.
The home began to fall apart at completion.
Passing the buck
Their daughter, Jane, 30, said they reported the sagging
floor and other problems to the Hardrock Chapter. Chapter
officials told them to take it up with the Hopi Tribe
because they live on Hopi land, they said.
As Jane recounted the family’s disappointing encounters
with Navajo leaders, Hopi officials, and Beauty of
Indian Affairs administrators, her anger increased.
The Hopi and BIA officials said they could not help
because the home was built by the Navajo government.
Several residents said they told Shirley of their
plight when he visited a nearby chapter last year,
but never heard back from him.
Bessie Begay pointed to a cornfield and said, “We’re
living the old way now. They might as well leave us
Fannie H. Goy, 52, another Cactus Valley resident,
shares a similar story. She cannot occupy her two-bedroom
HPL home because the floor is slowing (sic) dropping
and the interior was never completed. Some doors and
kitchen cabinets are missing.
Goy, a soft-spoken woman, said that after her family
realized the NHSD workers would not return to finish
the job, she, her 52-year-old husband John Goy, and
their four children tried to complete the house.
But Goy said the family’s limited income and remote
location prevented them from doing very much.
Looking out over the vast landscape surrounding her
little homestead, she said it would be nice to get
a visit from one of her Navajo leaders.
At the June 22 meeting, the Navajo-Hopi Land Commission
instructed Roman Bitsuie, the Navajo-Hopi Land Office
director, to advertise for bids to complete and repair
the HPL houses of the 48 families.
The commission’s vote, which authorized the use of
additional federal relocation funds for the 48 houses,
followed Bitsuie’s report that the Navajo Times had
been in the area interviewing some of the families.
found in the June 30, 2005 edition of the Navajo Times