By New Times
By Connor Radnovich
By Robrt L. Pela and Amy Silverman
By Ray Stern
By Keegan Hamilton
By Matthew Hendley
By Monica Alonzo
By Monica Alonzo
"Basically, I started by finding elderly people and taking down their stories, about who they were, who they were related to and where did they live, where did they have their hogans in 1934," Russell says.
Over time Russell was able to draw up a map, showered with red dots, that traced the lives and seasonal movements of hundreds of Navajo families. "I tried not to believe anyone who was less than 10 at the time and I preferred people that were 15 to 20 years old or older," he says.
Eventually, many of the tribe's older members--including Lena Goldtooth Canyon, Bennie Begay and Faye Begody Tso--found themselves traveling to Carroll's low-ceilinged Phoenix courtroom to testify in the case.
During much of the work, Reed Tso accompanied Russell, or other experts or attorneys. The interpreter traveled virtually all the Navajo reservation interviewing tribe members.
For Tso the task was more than academic. In his early 20s, Tso had moved to California, gotten a college degree and then taken a job as a draftsman. He was not intending to move his wife and three children back to the reservation.
But in the late 1970s, he visited his grandfather and heard of the land lawsuit. His grandfather told him he must move back to the reservation and help his tribe keep its land. Tso did, beginning a 12-year personal odyssey that has brought him ever closer to the land where he grew up.
At first Tso worked for the Navajo tribe, compiling an as-yet-unfinished encyclopedia of the Navajos. Soon he was volunteering to interpret for the white lawyers representing his tribe, and eventually it became his job.
Standing on a ridge overlooking the Moenkopi Valley, Tso points below to the tumbled logs and metal that remain of a camp where his family used to live when he was a boy.
"There used to be a ramada and a hogan there, and a large barn," he says. "When something like this goes down, the Hopis say you can't rebuild it."
Over the years, Tso has decided he, too, would like to live again on the land where he rode horseback as a boy helping tend the family herds. All around him he can point to the landmarks of his youth and his soul--the Tall Cliffs, White Horse Pulling a Wagon Mesa, a small knobby hill on the horizon called Bear's Ear.
As painful as the drawn-out process has been, Tso says, the land itself speaks to why the fight has been necessary. Both tribes hold the land dear in different ways, and neither will part with it lightly.
@body:For the Navajos, the lawsuit is all but won. Judge Carroll has indicated in preliminary rulings that the Hopis will get, at most, about 100,000 acres of Navajo reservation land, and probably less than that.
In July, Carroll held one last phase of the trial, allowing Hopi and Navajo attorneys to argue where the specific lines should be drawn. The Hopis appear likely to receive as theirs exclusively the village of Moenkopi, where they have historically lived, and the well-watered surrounding fields around Moenkopi Wash.
The judge's final decision will show how other still-disputed land--areas that apparently were being heavily used by both tribes in 1934--will be split up.
Both sides expect a fence will be built once the line is drawn. It is still possible that 12 or 15 Navajo families will end up on Hopi land and be forced to move, but the massive relocations that were conducted on the 1882 reservation are not going to be repeated.
Sekaquaptewa feared that the outcome will spell further confinement of the remaining Hopis. Being unable to range freely over the land as they have been accustomed, he said, "will probably eventually destroy the fabric of Hopi society."
Carroll, in comments made from the bench at the close of July's hearing, indicated that he is sensitive to the Hopi position as a "minority tribe in this area."
"The majority in any society. . .have the ability to dominate minorities and restrict their privileges," Carroll said. But were it not for the 1934 law, he said, the Hopis might have no ability to gain any land at all and might have even lost the village of Moenkopi.
The Navajos have not contested the likely award of Moenkopi and surrounding farms to the Hopis. They say they primarily want the Bennett Freeze's grip on their lives broken. The toll on their families and lives has already been too great, they say. "It will finally remove the black cloud off the lives of all these people," says Duane Beyal, a spokesman for the Navajo tribe. "[They will] finally be able to breathe freely like the rest of us do."
The Hopis will likely appeal Carroll's ruling, says James Scarboro, one of the Denver attorneys representing the tribe. That means it may be two more years after the judge rules before the reservation lines are firmly in place. The Navajos have asked Carroll to lift all or part of the Bennett Freeze while the case is appealed.
Appeals could push the lawsuit past the 20-year mark before its final resolution, raising the question of how any disagreement--even one as deep-rooted and complex as reservation rights--could drag on for so long and at such human and financial cost.