By Ray Stern
By New Times
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"When you go out and interview, people cry," says Scott Russell, an anthropologist who has spent ten years researching Navajo life for the lawsuit. "People talk about the freeze. How they want their lives to improve, how they want their children's lives to improve, how they want their children to be educated, and the freeze has basically said 'no' for a generation. . .[and] they cry."
Standing at his camp, Begay explains what the quarter-century freeze--almost half his lifetime--has done. His camp consists of three hogans, two stucco homes, various corrals and two fiber-glass outhouses.
Although high-voltage power lines crisscross the reservation, Begay has not been allowed to run power to his house. Thousands of Navajo families in the freeze area cannot get electricity, running water or telephones.
But more important, Begay says, he is not allowed to add to his camp. As sons and daughters marry, they cannot build new homes next to their families as Navajos traditionally do.
The freeze, Begay says, has produced a wholesale disruption in his family's way, driving the young people into Tuba City or off the reservation to live.
Tuba City, in fact, is a large town now because of the freeze. Although it was long ago established as a Navajo village, it now holds between 8,000 and 10,000 people, mostly Navajo. The town and the area immediately around it are exempt from the freeze, and so have become the repository for many Navajos who cannot remain on their land any longer.
For the generation that has grown up since the freeze was set, Begay says, the spiritual and family links they should have with their homeland are severed. Were it not for the freeze, he says, he could run utilities to his camp, make it bigger as his family grew and live full-time out on the rangeland like his father and grandfather did.
"I've been thinking about this for a long time," says Begay, his words whipped by a stiff, high-mesa wind. "This is a great problem and it causes hardship on us. Just to give you an example, I have seven children and then I have a wife and then I have nephews and nieces. They all don't have homes. When we get together here, this is a small house and we don't all fit in there and there's sometimes no place for them to sleep.
"The younger generation, they say, 'Well, I really have no future and I have no hope.' So they turn to drinking and then they get away from here. They leave the area. They leave the reservation.
"If they had a decent home here and were able to return to what they knew was their own home, then they would be here. The way it is now, they don't have a home of their own, so it's really like they have no place to go. They have nowhere to live, and life has become unmeaningful for them."
Begay's words are echoed across the freeze area. Lena Goldtooth Canyon says she cannot live on the land where she grew up because the houses and hogans have all fallen down and the Hopis will not give her permission to rebuild them.
"My heart aches and I grieve," she says, her hands still in her lap for the moment. "[The Hopis] are the ones that harass us. Whenever we want to build something new, they come out with a piece of paper and stick it on the structure saying we can't do that."
Doc Scott, 71 years old, has herded sheep on the southwest side of Middle Mesa all of his life. His parents and other relatives are buried on the land, where he now lives in a single hogan with his wife and mother-in-law.
The Hopis tried to tell Scott, too, that he could not build the hogan, but he chose to ignore them. When they stuck a paper on his livestock corral, telling him to tear it down, he says, "I just pulled it off and gave it to the wind, and the wind took care of it.
"I can't build a house because of the freeze," he says. "I just put an outhouse up the other day, and they haven't put a ticket on it yet."
Faye Begody Tso, interpreter Reed's 58-year-old mother, offers a similar lament. On the grazing land where Reed grew up, the family still runs sheep and has a camp. But the house is a dirt-floored skeleton of old logs and cardboard. Tires hold plastic down for a roof. Her family has a house in Tuba City because it cannot live at the camp full-time, she says.
This week she is preparing the camp for a five-day religious ceremony--a Wind Way--to cure the deep chest cold she has been unable to shake. "We've been living out here a long time and the Hopi, they never lived out here," she says. "They don't like us. They want to get our land. It was like that since I know."
Some people have built in spite of the freeze, defying the Hopis to come tear down their structures, Navajos say. In many cases, the Hopis have obliged, and at one point during the 1980s the Hopi tribe even used helicopters to scout the vast land looking for freeze violators.