WINDOW ROCK – If U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has
his way, officials for the federal Navajo-Hopi Indian
Relocation Office will lock their doors for the last
time on Sept. 30, 2008.
McCain has introduced legislation before the Senate
Indian Affairs Committee to shut down the Flagstaff-based
program within four years, saying he feels it has accomplished
its mission and should go quietly into the night.
Officials of the federal program say McCain may be
Since its formation in 1976, the office has processed
the relocation of hundreds of Navajos (and a few Hopis)
from the Navajo-Hopi Joint Use Area – some with their
consent but many without.
It was at one time the most hated program in the U.S.
government, with members of the American Indian Movement
vowing that if massive forced relocation ever occurred
on the disputed lands they would give their lives to
No massive relocation ever occurred and no one gave
his or her life for the cause. Instead, it occurred
by attrition and in small increments, with reports
in the early years that some of the elderly who were
forced to relocate died shortly thereafter from sadness
Mike McCalister, the office’s deputy director, has
been working for the program since 1980. He said Tuesday
that Sept. 30, 2009, might be a realistic termination
McCain proposed a similar resolution in 1996 but then
the Navajos and Hopis reached the “accommodation agreement,”
which basically set up life estates – the right for
existing residents to remain in their homes for the
rest of their lives – ending the threat of forced relocation.
The decision was made to allow the relocation office
to continue indefinitely until it could complete work
on relocations already in the works.
McCalister said the office now has less than 100 relocations
still active and those families have been told to come
in and clear up the paperwork so they could be relocated
Since the program provides assistance for two years
following a relocation, most books would be closed
by the proposed 2008 termination date.
Ironically, there is some opposition for the termination
of the program and it’s coming from the Navajo and
This is ironic since for decades the Navajo Nation
bitterly opposed the program.
Now in recent meetings with Congress and the Bureau
of Indian Affairs, leaders of both tribes have urged
the government to continue the program.
The tribes have come to see the program as a way to
get federal funding for housing and other services,
As relocation efforts have diminished over the years,
so has the program’s funding. This year, the program
received a budget of about $9 million.
On Wednesday, a Navajo tribal official said the tribe
has not yet decided on an official position in the
Roman Bitsuie, director of the Navajo-Hopi Land Commission
Office, said President Joe Shirley Jr. Is meeting with
the appropriate committees to decide what position
the tribe should take on the termination of the federal