Albion Monitor /News

No Resolution in Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute

by Terril L. Shorb
Special to the Monitor

About one-third of the Navajo did not sign the settlement agreement
PHOENIX -- The much-anticipated March 31 deadline has passed in the century-old dispute over Navajo and Hopi tribal lands in Northcentral Arizona, but many crucial issues remain unsettled and little has been resolved.

Despite last-minute efforts by leaders from both tribes and BIA officials, it is believed that about one-third of the Navajo living in the contested area did not sign the settlement agreement.

The agreement is a legal "remedy" that has spawned a lawsuit and a complex range of responses from both Hopis and Navajos. At the heart of contention over the Settlement Act is its either/or language which offers Navajo families who have lived on the Hopi Partitioned Lands (HPL) for generations either a 75-year-lease agreement or eviction.

An unknown number of Navajos are in a legally murky position because their names do not appear on the official list
Federal District Judge Earl Carroll, who ultimately must decide whether or not the Settlement Agreement is a satisfactory accommodation of HPL Navajo complaints, wants to know precisely how many families complied with the Settlement Agreement by the March 31 deadline.

The Monitor contacted Judge Carroll's office in Phoenix on Friday, April 4, and was told by staff that Judge Carroll had earlier in the week issued an order requesting that counsel for both parties submit information on the numbers of families who have accepted the Settlement Agreement. They have until April 21 to comply with the court order. Carroll's office said it is unlikely that the Judge will rule on the underlying motions before that date.

One problem is that no one is sure exactly how many Navajo live in the remote area, with estimates ranging from 250 to over 1,000. Further complicating the matter is that an unknown number are in a legally murky position because their names do not appear on the official list of HPL Navajos. Some were under 18, or outside the area working or attending school when the lists were made. Others, living in the traditional way and speaking no English, did not understand the legal consequences of the Agreement.

Among those in limbo is Lawrence Altsisi, whose mother was recognized on the list and did sign the Agreement. According to the Navajo Hopi Observer he is not recognized as an HPL Navajo by the Hopi Tribe, and was told in mid-March that he would be arrested for trespassing if found at his mother's hogan.

The firm March 31 deadline aggravated a situation already delicate because many important details were not yet settled, such as the issue of Navajo burials. Without formal cemeteries, the HPL Navajo would have to draw intricate maps to indicate gravesites of their ancestors or show Hopi Tribal officials burial locations, actions that the Navajo are reluctant to do because of fear that the graves could possibly be disturbed.

The March 31 date had been the deadline set by the 1996 Navajo Hopi Land Settlement Act. Congress, and President Clinton, who apparently believed their latest legislative action would bring a swift conclusion to a land controversy that was initiated by the same U.S. government over 125 years ago.

Wendy Young of the Navajo-Hopi Observer contributed to this report

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Albion Monitor April 4, 1997 (

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