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Navajo Nation (navajonation@igc.apc.org) Mon, 28 Feb 1994 15:37:00 PST

Found at: http://bioc09.uthscsa.edu/natnet/archive/nl/9403/0027.html


It all started in 1934, when Congress decided to draw new boundaries for the Navajo Reservation. The Dine' communities living on what had become public lands all along the Rio Puerco, the Little Colorado River, the remote areas around Paiute Canyon and Navajo Mountain, also Gray Mountain almost to Flagstaff, had been there since it was all part of Mexico. They were there way before then, back to when the Mojave traders used to carry white shell and parrot feathers up from the lower Colorado River area. When the 1934 Navajo Reservation Boundary Act was written, it established the reservation for the Navajo and any other Indian people who might be occupying the area at that time.

At that time the Hopi community at Moenkopi was occupied full time, and Hopi people were running livestock south of there. There were also a few Paiute families living among the Navajos at various locations around Tuba City.

The language was a mirror image of the 1882 Executive Order that led to the so-called Navajo-Hopi "land dispute." It was the same group of attorneys who decided to sue the Navajo Nation for 50% of the 1934 Boundary Act Reservation. The Hopi Attorneys were claiming up to half of 7 million acres, home to about 20% of the Dine'. This was in 1966. In order to keep either tribe from improving its position on the ground during litigation, Indian Commissioner Robert Bennett imposed a freeze on construction and development in about a fourth of the 1934 Reservation. At the time he felt that the case would be resolved in a matter of months. It was not. The Hopi Tribe was offered a settlement of about 60,00 acres but their attorney, John Boyden (yeah, HIM!) advised them to litigate. Public Law 93-531 included provisions allowing a lawsuit to determine each tribe's interest in the 1934 reservation.

The "freeze" eventually was challenged legally by the Navajo Nation. In 1980, the Hopi Tribe succeeded in getting an amendment to P.L. 93-531 (the "Relocation Act") which enacted the "Bennett Freeze" into law. The law required the approval of both tribes for any construction (except by the federal government) in a 1.4 million acre area west of the 1882 reservation. Two areas were exempted: about two square miles around Tuba City, and a smaller area including the villages of upper and lower Moenkopi and their surrounding lands.

The "Bennett Freeze" affected thousands of Dine' families, but hardly any Hopis at all. Over the years the Hopi Tribe routinely denied all requests for repairs to housing or for new construction. It was also illegal to create any homesite leases or economic development sites. Hopi "field monitors" would cruise the "Freeze" area looking for signs of construction activity. They would post notices to desist, and take the Navajo Nation to court if people did not comply.

in the meantime, the 60's and 70's ran out without any movement in the "1934 case" it wasn't until 1987 that the U.S. District Court for Phoenix began hearing arguments. This was not a jury trial, but a civil case heard by Judge Earl Carroll. (He is the same judge who dismissed the MANYBEADS case, was also the judge in the Sanctuary Trial.) Judge Carroll finally decided the case on September 24, 1992. Based on evidence regarding the occupancy and use of lands in 1934, the Court set aside an area of 22,675 acres which the Hopi Tribe demonstrated were exclusively used and occupied by Hopi people in 1934. A larger area of about 152,000 acres was found to be jointly used. This area was divided, with a little less than 40,000 acres going to the Hopi Tribe and the other 110,000 acres apportioned to the Navajo Nation. The partition line was drawn -thanks God!- so no Dine' families would have to be relocated. The Hopis were given the big year-round spring and reservoir at Pasture Canyon, also the canyon and its beautiful park of huge cottonwood trees running down to Moenkopi.

The Hopi feel they lost a major part of their land, which the claim based on religious use. They have appealed the decision and a modified "Freeze" is back in place in the 1934 joint use area only. (See the Navajo-Hopi Update of Jan concerning the Hopi religious claim)

The freeze remains lifted in the rest of the area. It lasted 27 years. When it was lifted, the grandchildren of the original freeze victims were being raised in the hogans and shacks that, worn out by family use, had never been repaired in all that time. Not even to fix a window or a leaky roof, would the Hopi Tribe allow construction.

There has been no economic development in the "Freeze" area either, outside of Tuba City, so most of the younger people had to move out to find work. No fencing or windmills or earthdams were built, so the Dine' families were not able to run livestock anywhere near as intensely as elsewhere on the "rez." The only schools were in Tuba, so even very young children would have to ride the bus 4 hours a day, or else go to boarding school.

The people in the Freeze area are living in the worst housing in the U.S. The news crews who came out, some of them were in Somalia and they said it was worse that. I lived in southeast Asia a couple years, never saw conditions anywhere near as bad, not even in the slums of Bangkok. It is not exceptional to find three or more families living in a 1-room hogan, or families living in dugouts, holes in the ground. I have seen small children being raised in shacks made of scrap wood, cardboard and plastic sheets. I know of elders who don't even have a home, theirs collapsed and they are too old to put it together again.

I do believe that it is only because these are Indian people suffering, that the U.S. government allowed this to happen and is now refusing to make it right. It was federal administrative actions and laws passed by Congress that created these conditions. We did a basic needs assessment and came up with a figure of $308 million JUST TO BRING CONDITIONS IN THE FORMER "FREEZE" AREA UP TO THOSE PREVAILING IN THE REST OF THE NAVAJO RESERVATION.

The Navajo Nation could spend its entire budget in the former Freeze area for years straight, letting everything else slide, and not repair the damage. The United States caused this problem and it is the United States' responsibility to provide a remedy.


This year we asked for funding from Congress to begin rehabilitation. We were unsuccessful, in part because of strenuous Hopi lobbying against funds for the former "Freeze" area. But we did get an appropriation of $1.4 million through the BIA housing services program to buy construction materials.

besides working on the "land disputes" our office builds houses, we scrounge money and use whatever labor is available, sometimes the chapter public work project guys, Navajo Housing Services, sometimes family members help build their own homes. We build a three-bedroom home, not fancy but built to code with wiring and plumbing, for about $19,000. We think we can build 80-100 homes using the $1.4 million. We have looked out for the families who are living in absolutely the worst conditions there and have put together a long list of about 200 and a short list of about 20. We're hoping to build all the houses FAST, then go back for more funding for next year.

The basic need is for about 2,000 new homes RIGHT NOW, so even though we appreciate the $1,4 million we need a LOT more, just to correct the existing housing deficiencies.


The Nation assembled a task force to recommend actions when the "freeze" was lifted. One of the recommendations was to decentralize the redevelopment effort, moving it out of tribal government an over to a locally-organized Community Development Corporation, or CDC. This CDC will coordinate redevelopment activities, and would work out of Tuba City. It is designed to take over much of the work now done in Window Rock, like issuing permits, processing homesite and business site leases, taking care of funds, etc. It will be able to go after foundation and state money, and not just be dependent on the feds or the state.

This is a new thing around here. For it to work, a lot of bureaucrats in Window Rock, also the Navajo Nation Council, will have to give up a lot of their power. It will be interesting to see if they can be convinced or forced into doing this.


We will start from now on to write updates on the "Freeze" area, like the ones on the 1882 Navajo-Hopi "land dispute." There is a lot to learn from the experiences people have had out here, I think. So to you who read this, I extend my thanks and appreciation. Jon Norstog

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