The Multinational Monitor

JUNE 1986 - VOLUME 7 - NUMBER 10

I N D I G E N O U S   P E O P L E

The Politics of Plunder

Navajo and Hopi Resist Relocation

by Anita Parlow

It's not a war between Navajo and Hopi at Black Mesa in Northern Arizona, but a war between two worlds. Hanging in the balance is what could become the largest U.S. forced movement of a population since the incarceration of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

In 1974, the U.S. Congress-allegedly to settle a land dispute between the Navajo and Hopi-partitioned 1.8 million acres of Indian territory in Northern Arizona that the two tribes had used jointly for centuries. Over 10,000 Navajo Indians were ordered to relocate.

Public Law 93-531, the Navajo-Hopi Land Settlement Act, created a Relocation Commission to plan and administer the removal of the Navajo and Hopi who lived on the land. Navajo and Hopi in the area were advised to sign up for relocation and move "voluntarily" or they would be forced to move by July 7, 1986. A barbed wire fence now separates the Navajo and Hopi tribes, and those who live on the wrong side of the fence have become trespassers on their own land.

Although U.S. lawmakers claimed they were attempting to mediate a tribal dispute, Navajo and Hopi elders say their "land dispute" was concocted by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Hopi Tribal Council and energy developers in order to open up the land for mineral development.

"We're caught in the middle between the energy companies and the U.S. government," Pauline Whitesinger, a Navajo spokesperson, told the New Mexico Independent. "There is no dispute between the tribes."

Although members of the Navajo and Hopi tribes have had disagreements about how to use their jointly held lands, known as the Joint Use Area (JUA), and the Hopi may have a legitimate claim to lands occupied by the Navajo, elders of the two tribes say that they should be left alone to settle their differences.

"There was never any fighting out here," said Thomas Banyacya, spokesman for the traditional Hopi leaders. "They only wanted to get their hands on our mineral resources."

The Navajo and Hopi homeland at Black Mesa lies atop one of the richest coal reserves in the Southwest. Bordering on Four Corners, the energy basket of the United States, the area holds a multi-billion dollar mineral reserve.

Since the early 1950s, energy companies have attempted to gain access to the oil, gas and coal resources in the energy-rich Black Mesa. Their efforts were often frustrated because jurisdiction over the land had been issued jointly to the Hopi and the Navajo. In 1934, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) created Navajo and Hopi tribal councils as governing bodies for the two tribes.

"Since they couldn't get to the resources through the traditional Hopi leaders," said Banyacya, "they set up the tribal council which the [U.S.] government uses to sign things without our consent."

To accelerate the process, the Hopi Tribal Council advocated partitioning the land. A public relations firm was hired, and a range war was manufactured to show that a "Navajo-Hopi land dispute" existed. To settle the "dispute," Sen. Barry Goldwater, R-Ariz., backed by a number of energy companies, and the Hopi Tribal Council, pushed through the Navajo-Hopi Land Settlement Act.


One hundred Hopi and 6,000 Navajo have already left their homes. Most of those who remain on the land oppose the 1974 law and have refused to leave.

Their defiance has been costly. The traditional Navajo way of life, dependent primarily on a sheep-based economy, has been destroyed. Under the law, the Navajo had to cut the number of livestock that they grazed on the land by 90 percent. Sheep in the area have been reduced from 120,000 to less than 2,000.

The 1974 law also put a moratorium on building and repair, a provision that has left two generations of Navajo without hogans-the traditional Navajo dwelling-or corrals.

Roberta Blackgoat, elder of the traditional Navajo community of Big Mountain claims that Congress has "bludgeoned" the Navajo. "Our hogans and corrals are in disrepair, our roads are not graded and we've had no tribal services for the past decade."

Navajo who have refused to relocate, said a Phoenix. BIA Area Director are now "totally dependent upon federal largess."

The human costs of the Big Mountain dispute are best understood by the grim stories of those who have moved off the reservation into Arizona towns like Flagstaff, Holbrook and Winslow.

Relocation, originally estimated to cost $34 million and now expected to cost upwards of $500 million, has devastated many of these families.

"The forced relocation of Navajos is equivalent to the 19th Century Trail of Tears tragedy in which President Andrew Jackson marched Cherokees from the East Coast to Oklahoma," said anthropologist Alfonso Ortiz.

The Relocation Commission, an agency set up by the 1974 law, has resettled approximately 1200 families manv of whom had lived their entire lives on the reservation, and speak little or no English.

Unfortunately, the relocation homes provided by the Commission are regularly repossessed by lending institutions. These institutions, charged Big Mountain Legal Offense/Defense Committee attorney Lee Phillips, "organized financial and real estate schemes designed to defraud relocatees of federal benefits they were awarded in compensation for the loss of their ancestral homes."

According to the Big Mountain Support Group, 50 percent of the families that have been relocated to Flagstaff, Arizona have already lost their new homes. Rates of repossession are similar in other areas.

Ester Begay, the Navajo mother of seven children, lost her $66,000 home to lenders last year.

"They saw us as an opportunity to repossess our relocation home," she said. "They lied on the forms about our employment" so that they could "lend us money. They knew we would not be able to pay it back."

According to Indian advocate Phillips, the Commissioners responsible for relocation knew of these statistics and "regularly" provided Congress with information concerning the program that "misled" them about the effects of relocation.

As the numbers of Navajo relocatees who lost their homes climbed, Congress and the Arizona Department of Real Estate, as well as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, began to examine the relocation program. Several lawsuits were filed against loan companies alleging abuse and outright fraud. In 1985, the House Survey and Investigations Committee released a report that concluded that relocation was a failure.

"Relocation, as performed by the commission," said Rep. John McCain, R-Ariz., "has been a disaster."

More than 1100 families that left the reservation are still awaiting relocation benefits from the Commission, Rep. McCain estimated.

"Many of the once independent families are now indistinguishable from the urban statistics of poverty, joblessness, alcoholism and despair," said a social worker with the Relocation Commission.

For those who remain on the disputed land, the failure of relocation has hardened their resistance. They are fighting both forced relocation by the federal government and Washington's recognition of tribal councils which the Indians claim do not represent them. The Hopi Tribal Council frequently operates without a quorum because several villages have refused to send delegates to the council meetings. In their struggle to retain their traditional way of life, the Navajo who remain on the land have vowed to resist until the end.

"In [the Navajo] tongue, there is no word for relocation," said Whitesinger. "To move away means to disappear and never be seen again."

The cultural chasm between traditional Navajo and federal policy-makers is underscored by the fact that many of the elders believe relocation can be stopped through prayer, meditation and ceremony.

Rep. Morris Udall, D-Ariz., submitted a bill to Congress, in February, 1986 that would have stopped the forced relocation of Navajo but withdrew the measure in the face of opposition from both the Reagan administration and Sen. Barry Goldwater, R-Ariz.

The Udall bill, profoundly dependent upon the continued expansion of Indian coal extraction, suggests the extent to which the Navajo-Hopi controversy has been shaped by energy interests.

Udall's alternative would have required the Navajo tribe to pay some $300 million to the Hopi in exchange for 350,000 acres of land. Two-thirds of the money owed was to be generated by royalties from Peabody Coal Company leases located in the northern tier of the Navajo-Hopi dispute area. The remaining $100 million would be raised from a proposed 2000-megawatt coal-fired generating plant that would be built on land granted the Navajo in 1974.

Coal and Development

To many Hopi and Navajo people, the Peabody Coal Co. has become a symbol of the aggressor. The massive draglines from Peabody mines already bite deeply into Black Mesa, the spiritual center of the two ancient cultures located in the northernmost part of the Navajo and Hopi reservations. Black Mesa is hundreds of square miles of high valleys, deep canyons and muddy washes that turn to dust in the summer. Hopi shrines are scattered through the dense mountains covered with pinon and juniper trees.

The Navajo and Hopi who consider the mountain sacred have long opposed strip mining of Black Mesa. But, Peabody Coal Co., with approval from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, was able to negotiate leases from the Hopi and Navajo tribal councils for the nearly 65,000 acre area. Black Mesa mine, one of the largest surface mines in the country, is one of the nation's largest coal producers.

Consent of the tribal councils has been central to the opening up of both Navajo and Hopi lands to mineral development. The Hopi Tribal Council has also been a key supporter of partition and expulsion as the means to obtain title to the mineral-rich joint Use Area. Expulsion, although never used to satisfy Indian claims when nonIndians had to be moved, was advocated as early as the 1950s by both the Hopi Tribal Council and the coal companies.

Former Hopi Tribal Council Chairman Abbott Sekaquaptewa claimed that dispossession of the Navajo is necessary to ensure "growth of future Hopi generations." He discounts widespread Hopi opposition to the Navajo relocation as a mere conflict between 'tradition" and "modernity."

But Hopi traditionalists say that Sekaquaptewa acted without their consent when he called for expulsion of his Navajo neighbors.

As early as 1979, Hopi traditional and religious leaders called for a repeal of the 1974 act which would force the relocation of the Navajo. "The time has come for all Native people to come together as Sovereign Nations and solve this problem created by the BIA," wrote the Hopi leaders.

Once Congress passed the land settlement legislation in 1974, it left to the courts the responsibility of partitioning the 1.8 million acre JUA. The partition line finally adopted was endorsed by both Goldwater and former Sen. Sam Steiger, R-Ariz.

Goldwater spent the better part of thirty years methodically lobbying Congress to partition the JUA land. Goldwater's efforts have been called by some less an interest in supporting the Hopi claim than an effort to ensure a long-term supply of coal and unobstructed access to water for the $3.5 billion Central Arizona Project which will pump 1.2 million acre feet of Colorado River water annually to the Sun Belt.

According to former Navajo Nation attorney George Vlassis, in the "long term plans for Arizona development, the Navajo Nation is in the way."

Regardless of Goldwater's reasons for supporting relocation, the people at Big Mountain believe that they are being forced to relocate to make energy development easier.

"The draglines have already moved some of our people out, said Medicine man Hasteen Nez Begay who lives just south of the Peabody leasehold. "They're coming this way."

Former Navajo Tribal Council Chairman Peter MacDonald is more direct. "It is easier to attract mineral leases when the land is vacant," he said.

Development is a priority for both tribes who, like most other Indian nations, have little capital and high unemployment rates. But the price for development is high. One Hopi administrator says that Peabody is making "foreign policy" and has tried to "divide and conquer" the tribes.

Critics claim that Peabody Coal Co. has manipulated the two tribes in order to extract the most advantageous leases.

But current Hopi Tribal Council Chairman Ivan Sidney, is firm. "We control Peabody, they don't control us."

Until minerals were discovered beneath Black Mesa, at the center of the Navajo reservation in Arizona, the Navajo and the Hopi lived together relatively peacefully for several centuries on their joint lands in the northwest part of the state. In the last six years, however, with the combined force of energy developers, federal regulators and tribal councils, first the Hopi and now the Navajo have been forced off the land in order to facilitate exploitation of coal and uranium reserves.

As the deadline for completion of Navajo relocation approaches, tensions are mounting. Senator Goldwater has repeatedly stated that he wants the Navajo off the land on the appointed day.

But the Navajo, fighting to remain on their ancestral lands, show no signs of backing down.

"We've reached the point where we have to fight for our land," said Katherine Smith, a Navajo elder and widow. "I will never leave this land. I guess they will have to shoot me."

Anita Parlow is the director of the Sacred Lands Project of the Christic Institute and is completing a book entitled Cry for Mother Earth: The Navajo and Hopi Witness Dispossission by Public Law.

Extraction and Extortion

Resource development in Navajo and Hopi lands is perhaps best personified by Peabody Coal Company, the only company currently leasing Black Mesa coal. How Peabody Coal Co. acquired leases to mine Black Mesa-the Navajo and Hopi Holy Lands-is central to the events that have driven a wedge between the Navajo and the Hopi, who once lived in friendly interdependence on overlapping ancestral lands.

The Peabody leases show a legacy of federal intervention in Indian politics that eased the way for energv interests seeking access to the jointly held Navajo and Hopi lands. The concept of owning land by title violated traditional Navajo and Hopi law. But to the energy industry, land title was necessary to successfullv negotiate an exploratory lease.

Throughout the 1920s, the U.S. Interior Department accommodated energy industry interests by creating Navajo and Hopi tribal councils which were later authorized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to approve mineral leases. The traditional Navajo leadership rejected the councils in favor of their own clanbased decision-making process.

According to the Indian Law Resource Center's "Report to the Kikmongwis," pressure from the oil companies to obtain mining rights grew so intense that the BIA Superintendent regularly sent written reports to "at least twenty oil companies" describing his efforts to reorganize the Hopi Tribal Council for the purpose of executing the leases.

Stiff opposition from traditional Hopi villagers to the federally-imposed tribal council and to any mineral development it would authorize slowed the efforts of Salt Lake City attorney John Boyden who was eager to deliver Hopi land for oil and coal exploration.

In 1955, the BIA organized hearings in the Hopi villages to decide whether they would reestablish the tribal council that had been disbanded as a result of pressure from the traditional leadership. According to Thomas Banyacya, interpreter for the traditional Kikmongwis, "most of the people opposed the creation of a council that would replace their own traditional leadership." Despite a"resounding" rejection of the BIAsponsored council, the Department of the Interior announced that the reconstructed tribal government was the sole recognized representative of the Hopi people.

The resources on the land that nobody "owned" were not limited to oil. In 1956 the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the University of Arizona College of Mines completed a three volume report that evaluated the mineral resources of the overlapping Navajo and Hopi lands at Black Mesa. The report estimated that the land contained significant deposits of high-level BTU-reserves, as well as oil, gas, and uranium. The BIA also predicted that strip mining and electrical power generation were likely to begin "in the forseeable future." The BIA underlined the fact, however, that mineral exploitation in the Black Mesa area hinged upon which tribe owned-and therefore had the legal capacity to lease-the mineral rights to the land.

Attorney Boyden understood. He quickly moved to define title for the land on which both Navajo and Hopi lived. By 1958, he had convinced Congress to authorize a special jurisdictional act which allowed the Hopi tribe to sue the Navajo for land claims. Only 18 months after the Hopi Council was officially recognized, Boyden brought suit to clarify its title to the land. But before a decision was rendered, Boyden orchestrated a unilateral amendment by the Secretary of the Interior to the Hopi constitution that granted the controversial Tribal Council the authority to lease mineral resources-an authority that the traditional Hopi leadership have continued to oppose.

In 1962, the three-judge federal panel in Prescott, Arizona ruled that the Navajo and Hopi tribes held a joint and undivided interest in all of the 1.8 million acre Joint Use Area (JUA) with the exception of the exclusively held Hopi grazing District 6. Oil and gas exploration boomed in this district. According to the Navajo Times, oil and gas experts considered the Navajo-Hopi JUA as the "last major high-potential source of unexplored lands in the country." But, the oil and gas were out of reach of the oil companies' drilling tools.

With the title problem cleared and oil and gas production not economically feasible, the coal developers came to Black Mesa. In 1964, a coalition of utility companies, called WEST, Western Supply Transmission Associates, devised a regional energy plan to bring power to the expanding population of the southwest.

Six coal-fired electricity plants were planned for the Four Corners area just northwest of Black Mesa-an area that the Department of Energy called a "national sacrifice area" for energy development. The plants were intended to feed on Navajo coal, and the electricity they produced would supply areas both west and south of Four Corners.

In the late 1960s, the Navajo Tribal Council signed away hundreds of thousands of Navajo acres to coal and uranium companies-leases with royalties far below the federal prices. Sentry Royalty Company, predecessor to Peabody Coal Company, applied for a preferential coal prospecting permit just north of the Navajo-Hopi dispute area. After the 1962 district court ruled that both sides had an undivided interest in the area, Peabody assumed the Sentry lease to mine the rich high-BTU coal reserves both north of and inside the formerly unreachable JUA.

Hopi Counsel Boyden who negotiated the leases received a million dollar fee from the Hopi Tribal Council-including a $250,000 bonus for his troubles.

In 1969, Interior Secretary Morris Udall proposed a revision of the Department's administrative procedures by eliminating the Navajo consent requirement to lease Navajo coal lands. According to an Interior Department report, Udall's cover letter focused specifically on Navajo coal. Udall wrote that it would be "irresponsible" to Hopi interests not to construct the Four Corners plant on Navajo lands even "without consideration of Navajo consent."

Although Udall later withdrew his proposal, federal policy continued to expedite coal development on Indian lands.

In the early 1970s, several Nixon administration officials who had participated in the JUA dispute, left government service and accepted jobs with the energy industry. Harrison Loesch, Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Public Lands, helped shape the Bureau of Indian Affairs partition policy before he went on to be Senate Interior Committee counsel, which oversees Indian lands. Loesch then went on to Peabody Coal Co. as its President of Governmental Affairs.

Jerry Verkler, staff director of the Senate Interior and Insular Affairs Committee with oversight authority on relocation, became a lobbyist for the Texas Eastern Transmission Corporation-a member of WEST, which at that time had an interest in coal development at the Navajo Burnham plant.

According to Mark Panitch of the Washington Post, the Hopi Tribal Council's public relations firm of Evans and Associates represented WEST at the same time they leased Hopi and Navajo coal for the Page and Mojave power plants.

- Anita Parlow

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