August 19, 2006

Navajo – Hopi land dispute: settlement in site


Navajo, Hopi negotiating teams reach agreement on language in the proposed compact

WINDOW ROCK — Since 1958, the Navajo and Hopi tribes have been involved in litigation over various aspects of the Navajo-Hopi land dispute. A proposed intergovernmental compact would settle a lawsuit authorized by Congress in 1974.

In the lawsuit known as “the 1934 Reservation Litigation,” the Hopi Tribe asserts that millions of acres of Navajo land are Hopi shrines or religious use areas and should be awarded to the Hopi. It also argues that Navajo families living in those areas should be relocated.

Over the last four years, Navajo and Hopi negotiating teams working through a mediator have reached agreement on language in the proposed compact which would put an end to the 1934 litigation. The compact must be approved by both tribal councils and then signed off on by U.S. District Court Judge Earl Carroll and the Secretary of the Interior.

According to a Legislative Summary Sheet presented to Public Safety Committee by Delegate Duane Tsiniginie (Bodaway-Gap/Cameron/Coppermine), the compact would put “an immediate end” to the 1934 litigation and the Bennett Freeze.

Delegate Raymond Maxx, a member of the Navajo-Hopi Land Commission, asked the Transportation and Community Development Committee to approve the proposed pact. All sides have “a perfect desire to resolve the Navajo-Hopi land dispute,” Maxx said.

No Navajos will be relocated when the Bennett Freeze is lifted, said Navajo Attorney General Louis Denetsosie.

In all, 20 of the 110 Navajo chapters are at least partially affected by the freeze; they range from Mexican Hat to Leupp, Denetsosie said.

“In the compact there will be no fences and no Navajos are moved,” Maxx said. “We will get together as neighbors.”

TCDC member Edward V. Jim Sr. wasn’t sure if the council should be talking about this pact.

“The Hopi are stubborn people,” Jim said. Instead of the Navajo agreeing to Hopi settlement, it should be the reverse, he said.

Among the pros of the compact highlighted in the summary:

  • The Hopi Tribe would not receive any Navajo land other than the area in and around Moenkopi already awarded by the courts, and any risk that Navajo families might be forced to relocate from 1934 Reservation lands would be eliminated;
  • There would not be any additional lawsuit about money claims relating to the 1934 Reservation;
  • Navajo people will be free to go onto Hopi land (District 6, Hopi Partitioned Land, and the Moenkopi area) without a permit for traditional Navajo religious practices, including the taking of materials needed for traditional religious practices;
  • The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service will conduct an ongoing study of golden eagles on and around Navajo and Hopi land, and the number of eaglets the Hopis may take from Navajo land and elsewhere will be controlled by the federal government based upon the results of that scientific study. Presently, there is no scientific evidence to govern Hopi gathering practices.

Cons of the proposed compact:

  • The Hopi people will be allowed to come onto Navajoland without a permit for traditional Hopi religious practices, including the taking of eaglets for religious purposes;
  • The Navajo Nation may not allow new construction near certain specific active eagle nests on Navajoland, none of which are located near current Navajo structures.

The compact also makes provisions for a joint committee of Navajo and Hopi biologists to investigate ways to protect the golden eagle population on lands controlled by both tribes for the benefit of future generations.

Any disputes under the compact will be resolved by communication between Navajo and Hopi leaders, or by arbitration if necessary, but such disputes will not be decided by federal or state courts.

According to Article 7 of the compact, all funds held by the Department of Interior and/or the Bureau of Indian Affairs as payment by third parties for easements, rights-of-way, or other interests within the area known as the Bennett Freeze, from July 8, 1966, to the effective date, will be distributed in equal shares to the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Tribe.

The compact also states in Article 7 that restrictions on development contained in 25 USC, Sections 640d-9(f), commonly known as the Bennett Freeze, “are of no further force and effect,” and directs that confidential exhibits A, C and D are to be filed under seal.

AUTHORS: Kathy Helms and John Cristian Hopkins, Dine Bureau

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