By Monica Alonzo
By Stephen Lemons
By Jason P. Woodbury
By Dulce Paloma Baltazar Pedraza
By Ray Stern
By Pete Kotz
By Monica Alonzo
By New Times
For its millions of acres of vastness and remarkable contrast, the reservation is actually the scene of thousands of minute territorial struggles.
"The land is crowded in a way that you and I do not understand," says Terry Fenzl, an attorney with Brown & Bain who has represented the Navajo tribe on this issue for 18 years.
Limits on the number of sheep and cattle that can be grazed on the land have been frozen since 1940, and animals often stray into a neighbor's grazing area. There are a limited number of wells and other water sources, and disagreements over rights to the sometimes-precious commodity abound. There are also arguments over fences, roadways and utilities.
"The Navajos got a lot of land, but most of it is pretty goddamn poor land," says Phillips. "You have constant conflict between the Navajos and the Hopis."
The Navajos, sheepherders by history, are used to roaming around their territory. Typically, Navajo families would have several camps dotted across the land where their animals grazed, and would move among them with the seasons in search of fresh pastures, firewood or fresh water. The landscape is a canvas, and their wanderings--the sites where children are born or people die--the life sketch they leave upon it.
Land use to the Hopis is different. Farmers by nature, they gathered over time into permanent villages near their fields. To them the land is a masterpiece of the spirits that they have been entrusted to steward. They would travel out into it, gather young eagles for ceremonies, or find herbs and medicines, but otherwise leave it unruffled.
For generations both used the same lands, relying primarily on neighborly agreements and a general understanding that each tribe was entitled to the land it had traditionally used. There were always conflicts, and sometimes bloodshed, over the years as the tribes tried to co-exist. The Hopis, in particular, felt the Navajos were elbowing them out.
Now, growth and history have forced both tribes to confront the necessity of actually dividing the land between them. Their outer limits are circumscribed by the boundaries set by the federal government years ago, and they are fighting over what's left.
Originally, there were essentially two reservations. The first, about 2.5 million acres, was given to the Hopis in 1882 by presidential order. Surrounding the Hopi reservation was more than ten million more acres given to the Navajos piecemeal during the late 1800s and early 1900s.
But the federal government's lines could not account for the way the land was actually being used, and Congress was vague about specifying which tribe was entitled to what acreage. Thousands of Navajos lived on the Hopi reservation, hundreds of Hopis on the Navajo reservation, and there was much crossing back and forth.
Conflict over the 1882 Hopi reservation eventually led Congress, in 1974, to order that the land be partitioned between the two tribes. As a result, almost 10,000 Navajos were thrown off Hopi land in a highly publicized, and much criticized, relocation effort that brought violence and bitterness.
The land remaining to be divided by Carroll's order is the Navajo reservation. A 1934 law passed by Congress gave the land to the Navajos "and such other Indians as may already be located thereon."
The Hopis have successfully argued that they are the "such other Indians" referred to in the act, and want part of the Navajo reservation designated as theirs.
The process of deciding which land the Hopis should get has consumed years. It has traveled to the U.S. Supreme Court and back, as the federal judiciary tried to settle a distinctly legislative problem. And it has made an already harsh life that much harder for those awaiting Judge Carroll's decision.
@body:Bennie Begay is a 56-year-old Navajo sheepherder. Like many Navajos, he does not really live in one place. He has a home near Tuba City, and a camp high atop Coal Mine Mesa, sweeping pastureland that seems to touch the sky.
His father and grandfather lived out on the rangeland, moving from camp to camp, but Begay cannot do that. Like Lena Goldtooth Canyon, Begay is caught in what is most often referred to as the Bennett Freeze.
As the dispute between Hopis and Navajos caught fire in the 1960s, then-Commissioner of Indian Affairs Robert Bennett issued his namesake order. Until the courts could determine who got what, Bennett decided, the land should stay as it was.
So, in 1966, eight years before the Hopis formally filed suit against the Navajos, Bennett froze development of about 1.5 million acres of the most disputed land on the western part of the Navajo reservation. No member of either tribe could build on or improve their land without the permission of both tribes.
Effectively, Bennett's order, which was later endorsed by Congress, locked the western reservation into a time warp. The Hopis, hoping that they would ultimately win much of the land, did not want the Navajos building on it in the meantime.
But as roamers, the Navajos' traditional way of living and keeping their families together depends on the ability to build, expand or repair their campsites as they move from place to place. They claim the Hopis have used the freeze to block virtually any improvements on the land, even things as simple as repairing a window or patching a roof. The freeze, they say, has had consequences far beyond what federal officials might have imagined.