by Felicia Fonseca, AP Writer
Edited by Al Swilling
Arizona Daily Sun
14 March 2009
The U.S. Senate
has voted to lift a decades-old ban on development on about
700,000 acres in Arizona's Black Mesa region that both the Navajo
and Hopi tribes claimed as their own.
unanimously approved a bill by Arizona senators John McCain* and
Jon Kyl on Thursday night to lift a ban on development in the
"Bennett Freeze" area. The ban had prevented about 8,000 Navajos
who live there from putting in electric lines, repairing leaky
roofs and running water lines to their homes unless the
improvements were approved by the neighboring Hopi Tribe. Action
by the House is still required, but no opposition is expected.
The ban was
imposed in 1966 by former U.S. Commissioner of Indian Affairs
Robert Bennett as a way to settle the land dispute between the
tribes.** It was lifted in late 2006 after the tribes*** reached an agreement
and a federal judge signed off on it. Tribal members remained
fearful that the freeze could be reinstated if the law that
authorized it wasn't repealed.
"That's the last
scar that needs to be erased," Leslie Dele, chairman of the Navajo
Nation Council's Navajo-Hopi Land Commission, said Friday. "It
will be there as memories, but at least we get it off the books.
This will be good news for the people back home."
The Bennett Freeze
area, on the western edge of the Navajo Nation, includes nine
Navajo communities and arguably is the most depressed area on the
27,000 square-mile reservation.
A recent study
commissioned by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs found that 77
percent of the homes in the area aren't suitable to live in, more
than 40 percent of homes don't have electricity and 10 percent of
residents make almost daily trips to haul water.
It's expected to
cost upward of $1.3 billion to rehabilitate the area, and tribal
officials largely will be looking to the federal government for
government has a moral obligation to support the redevelopment of
the former Bennett Freeze area," said Roman Bitsuie, executive
director of the Navajo-Hopi Land Commission Office. "The
construction freeze is over. The legal issues between the two
tribes are largely resolved. Now it is time for all parties to
work together to address the human issues that this legacy of
tangled and unjust laws has left behind."
As part of the
compact that put an end to the Bennett Freeze, the Navajo and Hopi
tribes agreed to support legislation in Congress that would repeal
the authorization of the freeze, said Scott Canty, an attorney for
the Hopi Tribe.
An identical bill
to the one passed Thursday had won approval from the Senate last
year but wasn't voted on in the House, according to McCain's
"It's been sitting
in front of Congress for quite some time, and we're glad they
finally acted on it," Canty said.
*It should be noted that John
McCain--the same John McCain who ran for President against
Obama--was one of the people responsible for imposing the Bennett
Freeze in direct violation of the human and civil rights of
the Hopi and Dineh (Navajo). The ban was not just "imposed" by
Bennett; it was enacted into law as a clause in the Navajo-Hopi
Land Settlement Act of 1974.
**The "land dispute" never existed in
reality. It was contrived by the BIA-created Navajo Tribal Council
and Hopi Tribal Council and presented to U.S. lawmakers by the
tribal attorneys, who were bought and paid for by Peabody Coal
Company. The "land dispute" was a sham designed to divide and
conquer the Hopi and Dineh people by convincing U.S. lawmakers
that there was an urgent need for action and that the only
solution was to enact a land dispute settlement as directed by the
attorneys for the two bogus tribal councils.
***The Navajo and Hopi Tribal
Councils are not to be confused with the tribes themselves. The
tribal councils were neither created nor run by the Hopi and Navajo tribes.
Before the two tribal councils were created, each Hopi and Dineh
village was self-governing, with no centralized government
overseeing the entire Hopi or Dineh Nation.
By tradition the Hopi, who were
primarily peaceful, spiritually oriented people and an
agricultural society, were surrounded and protected by Dineh (the
Navajo) by mutual agreement. The Hopi shared their agricultural
knowledge and spirituality with Dineh, and the Dineh protected the
Hopi from any enemy force who might try to overrun or harm the
Hopi. They shared the land base and sacred sites. Many Hopi and
Dineh intermarried, in fact. Therefore, there was no land dispute
except the one created on paper by Peabody attorneys (attorneys
known to work for Peabody but denied that fact when questioned
The two tribal
councils were created by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). When
the councils were created, the only authority they possessed was
that of signing over Hopi and Dineh mineral and mining rights to
outside, non-Native mining companies, namely Peabody Coal Company.
It was not until later that the BIA set up the councils in a way
that presented the illusion of representing the Hopi and Dineh
people. Such misrepresentation so angered the Hopi people that
they forcibly shut down the Hopi Tribal Council after announcing
that it did not represent the Hopi people or their wishes. The BIA
later reopened the Hopi Tribal Council in spite of protests from
the Hopi people that it pretended to represent. To this day, the
Hopi and Navajo Tribal Councils represent the BIA and Peabody's
interests and not those of the Hopi or Dineh. It needs to be
remembered that the purpose of the BIA is not to serve the best
interests of the Indigenous American peoples. It's purpose is to
keep Indigenous people under control and prevent them from
becoming too independent--or too wealthy.
Just because the Bennett Freeze is
said to be officially thawed does not mean that the attempts to
forcibly relocate affected Dineh from their ancestral homes is at
The truth is that bills to end the
Bennett Freeze and its human rights violations have been before
the Senate and Congress for more than three decades; but every
time they came up for a vote, they were tabled by the Senate and
never mentioned again. It could be another three or four decades
before Congress decides to vote on the bill.
SENAA has been urging the public to
demand that their Washington representatives vote in favor of the
bills that would end the Bennett Freeze since 1998. That was 11
years ago, and the bill had already been before the Senate for
several consecutive years before that.
What Senator McCain stands to gain by
finally acting on the bill to end the Bennett Freeze is yet to be
seen. You can bet the farm, though, that there's something in it
for him. He has never been one to do any favors for the Indigenous
American people, especially those indigenous to Arizona, unless it
benefitted him in some way.
Al Swilling, SENAA International