WASHINGTON - The Navajo Nation would support a proposal
by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to dissolve the federal
Navajo-Hopi Indian Relocation Office but only if further
hardship is eliminated and the action is not simply
to save money, according to a news release from the
Navajo Nation President’s office.
McCain, chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee,
received testimony July 21 on his proposal to amend
the 1974 Navajo-Hopi Land Settlement Act.
His proposal (S. 1003) would dissolve the relocation
office as of Sept. 30, 2008, and its remaining duties
would be transferred to a new division within the Interior
During the July 21 hearing, McCain said the program
has cost too much and lasted too long. The program,
passed by Congress over the objections of the Navajo
Nation, was proposed as a $40 million program to build
homes and move 10,000 Navajos and about 100 Hopis over
It has ballooned to $483 million and has lasted 30
years and is still incomplete.
Testifying before McCain’s committee were President
Joe Shirley Jr., Hopi Chairman Wayne Taylor, Navajo
Nation Navajo-Hopi Land Commission Director Roman Bitsuie,
and Navajo Nation Attorney General Louis Denetsosie.
Shirley said the Navajo Nation would support the bill
as long as any proposed solution does not cause more
hardships for affected residents, and that closure
of the program not stem merely from a desire to save
money for the federal government.
Taylor said the Hopi Tribe’s position is to see all
relocations completed before the office is closed.
“Evictions should be mandatory,” Taylor said.
Shirley said, “Now that the Navajo people have had
to live through the nightmare of relocation, we do
not think federal budgetary issues alone should be
a basis for limiting funds to complete the program,
and doing so in a way that brings humanity to what
has otherwise been an inhumane process.”
When asked by McCain whether the relocation program
was voluntary, Christopher Bavasi, the federal relocation
office director, said it was, somewhat.
“This was something less than a voluntary program
but it has been operated as a voluntary program,” he
Bavasi said the program has also been encumbered by
continuous court battles.
“In hindsight, maybe we shouldn’t have pass the law
in the first place,” McCain remarked.
Shirley said another concern is the 1.5-million-acre
Bennett Freeze, which was instituted by the Bureau
of Indian Affairs and prohibited all development and
improvements since 1966.
Calling the Bennett Freeze “horrendous,” “a national
shame” and a “disgrace,” McCain asked Shirley whether
he believed the freeze should be lifted.
“Yes, I’d like to see it lifted,” Shirley said. “I
think that’s what’s needed.”
However, Bavasi said it “wouldn’t be wise” to pass
a law specifically to lift the Bennett Freeze, saying
it could result in chaos. However Navajo officials
said that did not occur when the freeze was temporarily
lifted in 1993.
Denetsosie said that the Navajo Nation has paid the
Hopi Tribe $29 million in payments and spent more than
$800,000 in attorney fees as a result of the relocation
He added that there are 296 late applicants currently
in process before the federal relocation office that
may be certified for benefits. But almost none could
be certified by the Sept. 30, 2005, deadline, he said.
He said the Paragon Ranch in New Mexico had been purchased
for the Navajo Nation with the intention that its coal
reserves be used for the Navajos. But the land has
yet to be transferred to the nation, he said.
McCain said the relocation act is an example in which
“the law of unintended consequences” may have prevailed.
“No one thought in 1974 that these issues would be
unresolved” in 2005, he said. “I’d like to put these
issues behind us so we can begin to provide health
care and housing that is terribly behind the rest of
found in the July 28, 2005 edition of the Navajo