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But the Hopis refuse to be cast as villains in the affair. They maintain that they were merely looking after what was theirs to begin with.
@body:Abbott Sekaquaptewa offered evidence in an interview shortly before he died that hard feelings are not limited to the Navajo side of the fight.
The 62-year-old former tribal chairman was a self-confessed Hopi purist. He believed that the Navajos have no business being on much of the land they inhabit. The Hopis were there first, he said, and the Navajos have elbowed them out through force of numbers.
Although he knew it would not happen--because of "politics," he said--he believed the Navajos should be evicted from the disputed land so the Hopis can care for it as their spirits intended. But the relocation of Navajos after Congress divided the 1882 reservation created so much bad publicity and resentment, he said, that the Hopis stand little chance of gaining much of their land back.
"The Navajos have been conducting a propaganda campaign for 20 years about the supposed damage they would suffer if they had to move off the land," Sekaquaptewa said. "The Navajos like to say there is no word in their language for 'relocation.' I agree with that. There is no word for relocation because it's been a way of life. They've always been nomadic. For a Navajo to say that it is harmful to relocate a Navajo is the same as being afraid of throwing a fish into the water for fear that it will drown."
When the lawsuit was originally filed by his administration, Sekaquaptewa said, the Hopis wanted up to half of the Navajo reservation. But he believed the 1934 law consolidating the reservation has worked against the Hopis.
The law's specific language said the reservation was intended for the Navajos "and such other Indians as may already be located thereon."
The lawsuit, therefore, was essentially an argument over who lived where in 1934. The Hopis, as they are prone to do, actually lived in fairly limited areas, Sekaquaptewa said, although they used much vaster areas.
"Hopis go out into the traditional areas to gather eagles, wild herb plants, medicines and natural building materials, wood and stone," he said. "From the faithful and sincere performance of our rituals, we gain the benefits of rainfall, snowfall, the warmth of the sun and bountiful crops. When our Earth Mother is taken away, it takes away the foundation of Hopi society and severs the umbilical cord of Hopi society to the Earth Mother."
Judge Carroll has made it clear that he will not award either tribe land just because it contains sacred sites that are used only occasionally. Access to such sites, Carroll has noted, is protected by federal law.
Had Carroll recognized the Hopi way of using land--occasional treks to religious sites rather than full-time occupancy--as opposed to actually residing on it, the tribe would have been entitled to much greater areas than it will likely receive, Sekaquaptewa said.
"I don't think the judge's decision is very fair at all to the Hopi people," he said. "Anybody with any knowledge of any history knows that all the land in question are the ancestral homelands of the Hopi clans."
Sekaquaptewa agreed that Navajos have suffered hardship from the freeze, although not as much as his tribe. "Hopis have not only been prevented from building improvements, but prevented from using the area as they did before the Navajos arrived," he said. "We have a lot longer history of denial than the Navajos."
@body:For all its sweep--years of costly litigation to determine the futures of thousands of people--the ongoing lawsuit has been a battle of minutiae.
Because of the terms of the 1934 act, each tribe was forced to reconstruct how the land was being used 40 years before the lawsuit was filed. The task consumed years, as experts from both sides combed through aging federal grazing records and correspondence, and then tracked down and interviewed hundreds of elderly Indians who were old enough in 1934 to remember who lived where.
Scott Russell, the anthropologist hired to do most of the work for the Navajo attorneys, has devoted ten years to answering the question of who lived where on June 14, 1934, the date on which the operative Congressional Act took effect.
Fortunately, Russell says, history had conspired to provide some starting points. Because Hoover Dam was under construction, the Soil Conservation Service was studying grazing during that time for fear overgrazing would cause erosion that would fill the new reservoir with silt.
The government had ordered a dramatic reduction in animal grazing and was monitoring herd sizes and locations during the 1930s, Russell says. Aerial photographs were taken of much of the area, and routine census data were also collected.
For two weeks a month, two and a half years running, Russell says he tracked down older Navajos. He would ask them if they remembered where exactly they were living during 1934. He would help them peg the year in their minds, reminding them it was the year the federal government came out and killed their goats to cut down herd sizes.