Unfulfilled promises


Families wait seven years for homes to be built
By Marley Shebala
Navajo Times

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 July 5.

Unfulfilled promises

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 services department.

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. land dispute.

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 was in1882.

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 homeland.

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 wood-gathering areas.

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 construction materials.

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 her eyes.

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 alone.”

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.     


         Originally found in the June 30, 2005 edition of the Navajo Times

Reprinted as an historical reference document under the Fair Use doctrine of international copyright law. http://www4.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.html