Hopi: Bill divides 2 tribes

Sidney says completion of relocation process is 'long past' overdue

By Kathy Helms
Staff Writer
WINDOW ROCK Hopi Tribal Chairman Ivan Sidney on Tuesday told the U.S. House Committee on Resources that the Hopi Tribe is opposed to amending the Navajo-Hopi Settlement Act and urged the committee to reconsider moving forward with a bill that would pit Hopi and Navajo against each other.

"The Hopi Tribe opposes the draft House bill," introduced by U.S. Rep. Rick Renzi, R-Ariz., Sidney said. "It is completely contrary to the interest of the Hopi Tribe to reopen old wounds with the Navajo and rehash the question of who suffered what as a result of the land dispute.

"It is long past time to put all of this behind us and allow both tribes to go on with their full attention focused on the business of providing secure and economically viable homelands for our respective people," he said.

The Hopi Tribe is supportive of Senate Bill 1003, the Navajo-Hopi Land Settlement Amendments of 2005 sponsored by U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, according to the chairman.

The Hopi Tribe previously testified in support of S. 1003 when it was before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, urging timely closure of the Office of Navajo-Hopi Indian Relocation and an end to the Hopi-Navajo land dispute.

"The Hopi Tribe supports the committee's efforts through S. 1003 to bring to a close a difficult chapter in the long struggle of the Hopi Tribe to protect its reservation from encroachment and to regain full jurisdictional control over Hopi lands," Sidney said.

"The current reservation is but a small part of the Hopi's aboriginal lands and only slightly more than 60 percent of the land originally set aside for the Hopi by President (Chester) Arthur almost 125 years ago.

"Through a long history of action and inaction by the United States, the Hopi Tribe lost 40 percent of its reservation approximately 911,000 acres to the Navajo Nation," which occupies more than 17 million acres and completely surrounds the much smaller Hopi Reservation, he said.

Controlling rights
For more than 100 years, the Hopi Tribe has worked to prevent the loss of its lands to the Navajo Nation and to preserve the Hopis' right to control its lands against intrusion, the chairman said.

Beginning in 1958, Congress enacted a series of laws intended to lead to a final resolution of the disputes between the Hopi and Navajo over the lands of the 1882 Hopi Reservation. The Navajo-Hopi Land Settlement Act of 1974 authorized litigation between the two tribes to determine their respective rights in the 1882 reservation.

The lawsuit resulted in a partition of the reservation into lands held exclusively by the Hopi and lands held exclusively by the Navajo. The 1974 act also provided for the relocation of Hopi and Navajo individuals residing on that part of the reservation partitioned to the tribe of which the individual was not a member, Sidney said.

"Since 1974, the Hopi have waited patiently for the relocation process to be completed and for the restoration of our full jurisdictional authority over the Hopi Reservation. We are still waiting. Perhaps we have been too patient and too accommodating.

"All members of the Hopi Tribe who were required to relocate off Navajo Partitioned Land completed the relocation process many years ago. However, more than 30 years following passage of the 1974 act, we are still waiting for completion of Navajo relocation off Hopi land," Sidney said.

While the Hopi Tribe supports timely completion of the relocation obligations of the United States and eventual closure of ONHIR, it believes that the objectives of S.1003 must be accomplished in ways that do not prejudice the rights and interests of the tribe under federal law.

In 1995, the United States entered into a settlement agreement with the Hopi Tribe under which the feds committed to complete the relocation process by Feb. 1, 2000. Congress approved the agreement by enacting the Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute Settlement Act of 1996.

"That commitment has not yet been fulfilled," Sidney said, adding that S. 1003 should not become the means for further weakening of the commitment.

The Hopi Tribe said termination of the Office of Relocation is the ultimate goal, but that that goal should not become a substitute for the United States to meet its obligations.

Black hole
"The Hopi Tribe does not want to see an incomplete relocation obligation pushed off onto an already overburdened and underfunded Bureau of Indian Affairs," the chairman said.

"Funding shortages produce staff shortages, and the result is that some work is unavoidably shifted to the very lowest priority and may in fact never be completed.

"Given the Hopi Tribe's interests in obtaining full jurisdiction over all of its reservation lands, we would not want to see the work of completing relocation drop into some black hole within the Interior Department," Sidney said.

Another issue is whether the Bureau of Indian Affairs is suited to carry out relocation responsibilities that might have an adverse effect on either tribe.

"Will the BIA be willing to step into a situation that it might view as a conflict of interest and perhaps a breach of the federal trust responsibility it has to both tribes?" Sidney asked.

He also questioned whether BIA could adequately carry out any responsibilities remaining after 2008, the deadline for the Office of Relocation to complete its work.

Chairman Sidney said the relocation issue can be fully resolved "only to the extent that all Navajos potentially qualifying for relocation benefits have an opportunity to apply for those benefits.

"Making the certification deadlines unreasonably short only opens up the possibility of legal challenges and delays by those who believe their circumstances were not fairly considered."

He urged adequate funding to carry out the relocation obligations within the Sept. 30, 2008 deadline.

Plans for HPL
"There are six planned communities on Hopi Partitioned Land," Sidney said. He asked that the Office of Relocation continue to have discretion to use a portion of the annual funding allocation to address the unique burdens imposed on the Hopi and Navajo people.

"For example, when a homesite on Hopi land is vacated because of relocation, that homesite must be dismantled. In addition, all of these homesites are associated with open solid waste dumpsites that must be cleaned up," he said.

In past years, the tribe has contracted with ONHIR to cover the cost of dismantling and cleanup of the site. He asked that the funding continue to be made available.

The chairman said the communities planned for HPL to provide opportunities for Hopi people to build new homes, to accommodate a growing population and to move out onto Hopi Partitioned Lands, which make up the bulk of the Hopi homeland.

"One of these communities, Spider Mound, is now in the development phase. Hopi people are living at Spider Mound and need infrastructure improvements" which could be made available through ONHIR funding, he said.



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