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Hopi Fight for Survival and Peace in the next Millennium

High on the mesas in northeastern Arizona, surrounded by majestic views, is the heart and center of the Hopi homeland. It is also the final battleground for the survival of this ancient tribe.

The Hopi, peaceful by nature, have carried on their ancient way of life and culture for more than 2000 years. Hopi villages are regarded as the oldest continuously occupied settlements on the North American continent. On this Hopi homeland, the Hopi raised their families and built a culture performing their ceremonial and traditional responsibilities -- a vibrant culture in every way. The Hopi language is still widely spoken and is at the heart of religious ceremonies carried on to this day. The Hopi extended family -- relatives by blood and clan -- provide a remarkable support system in Hopi society. Hopi artisans are renowned for their silverwork, kachina carvings, weaving, pottery and baskets. Hopi farmers, like their ancestors, continue to raise and nourish a variety of crops through dry farming techniques in an environment that receives a meager 8-10 inches of rain annually.

Since contact with other peoples and cultures, the history of the Hopi people is riddled with battles over sustaining their culture and lands in a world marked by dramatic and rapid change. The peaceful Hopi have seen a long history of United States government inaction to protect Hopi homelands and interests against corporate greed and the illegal homesteading on Hopi ancestral lands by the largest tribe in the United States, the Navajo. Over the past decade, the Hopi Tribe has waged exhausting and expensive legal and legislative fights over rights to land, religious rights, and water against the Navajo Nation, Peabody Coal Company and the federal government.


Peabody Coal Company extracts about 4000 acre feet of water annually from the N-Aquifer beneath the Hopi and Navajo reservations for use in the Black Mesa slurry pipeline which was authorized by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior in the 1960's. It is the only coal slurry operation in the United States.

The N-Aquifer is the only source of drinking water for the Hopi people. Over the years, the Hopi Tribe has repeatedly raised concerns regarding the effect of Peabody withdrawals on the N-Aquifer and has urged the company and the federal government to implement an alternative method of transporting the coal. Any damage to or significant depletion of the N-Aquifer spells doom for the Hopi people. Without reliable drinking water, Hopi villages would be devastated. In recent years, the Hopi have noted that washes and springs fed by the N-Aquifer are drying up. Hopi Tribal hydrologists warn that the N-Aquifer wells will begin drying up within a decade if nothing is done.

In its efforts to resolve this crisis, the Hopi Tribe, as a party in the ongoing Little Colorado River Adjudication, has proposed the development of the Lake Powell pipeline to bring an alternate source of water to Hopi homelands. The water is necessary to preserve the environment of the Hopi Reservation and to sustain the reservation as a permanent homeland for the Hopi.

For the Hopi, the Peabody mining leases are symbolic of the federal government's inaction in safeguarding Hopi resources. In his role as guardian of Indian tribes the Secretary of the Interior should intervene to stop the use of Indian drinking water to slurry coal.


Without land, the Hopi will have no place to call home. For over 100 years, the Hopi Tribe has protested Navajo encroachment on Hopi ancestral lands. No single battle has been more contentious, expensive, misunderstood, and exhausting than the Navajo-Hopi battle over ownership of land. The struggle has resulted in numerous lawsuits and congressional legislation. For the Hopi, it has been an unwelcome, but necessary battle.

While many outsiders claim the Navajo-Hopi land dispute is about coal interests, the simple truth is that the battle is over ownership of land between two neighboring tribes. For the Hopi, a separate battle with Peabody Coal Company concerning water and mining is also being waged. Added to this complex fight for Hopi survival is another battle to set the record straight concerning the recent media hype of outside non-Indian agitators who have no understanding of tribal sovereignty or Hopi culture and history. For outsiders to simplify and translate Hopi survival in the Navajo-Hopi land issue as nothing more than a corporate battle over coal is an injustice to the Hopi people. The Hopi have historically suffered at the hands of unscrupulous attorneys like John Boyden and agents of the federal government. They now suffer at the hands of outside agitators who have given the resisting Navajo false hope and encouragement to use violence as a means to stay on Hopi lands illegally. By focusing on coal, the public is led to believe that simple solutions can be found. By focusing only on the demise of the Navajo people, the public is led to believe that the Hopi have not suffered and should be made to give up more Hopi land and other concessions. This is not so.

The battle over title to the 1882 Reservation involves a government-to-government relationship between the Hopi Tribe, the Navajo Nation and the U.S. Government. While the modern government of the Hopi people is not the same as earlier traditional systems, the Hopi Tribal government, like many other Indian nations, is recognized as the central body authorized by the Hopi people to safeguard Hopi interests. The Hopi Tribal Government has litigated conflicts over title to Hopi lands and resources on behalf of the Hopi people since 1958.

The battle over land, however, became inevitable long before 1958 when the two tribes first made contact during the mid-1800's. Faced with American westward expansionism, the Hopi, a peaceful farming people, found themselves increasingly in direct conflict with the Navajo over the use of what had always been Hopi lands. Anxious to protect their families, the Hopi moved to the tops of the mesas for their own security, leaving Hopi territory largely exposed to further expansion by the Navajo.

The only effort made by the U.S. government to protect Hopi rights in the land, its economy and culture, was the creation of the 1882 Hopi reservation by President Chester Arthur. By this Act, a clearly defined geographic territory was set aside for the use and benefit of the Hopi people. This was to be a Hopi homeland. Unfortunately, the Navajo paid no attention to the legal boundaries protecting Hopi interests despite continued Hopi protests to the federal government. Driven by their extraordinary population growth, large herds of sheep, and the necessity for large land areas to support such a lifestyle, the Navajo simply took all the land and pushed Hopis back from their vast ancestral territory into a more restricted area -- lands immediately surrounding the current Hopi villages.

In 1958, the Hopi Tribe sued the Navajo Tribe over title to the 1882 Hopi Reservation in the case of Healing v. Jones. Navajos had come to occupy a substantial amount of Hopi land within the 1882 Reservation and refused to leave. The federal government lacked the political will to make good on its promise to protect Hopi land for Hopi use and return the land to the Hopi. The much smaller Hopi Tribe, whose legal rights to the 1882 Reservation had largely been ignored, argued for a return of all lands within the 1882 Reservation. The court instead rendered a decision allowing the Navajo to claim a 50% interest in the Hopi Reservation by way of squatters rights. The Hopi were given exclusive rights to a small area known as District 6. District 6, originally a range management district, became all that was left of the Hopi Reservation. The rest of the 1882 Reservation became a "Joint Use Area" to be shared by both tribes. The decision was a devastating loss for the Hopi.

The court's idea in establishing a "Joint Use Area" for the Hopi and Navajo was premised on the belief that the two tribes were much the same culturally and traditionally. Nothing was further from cultural reality. Treating the Navajo and Hopi according to the belief that "all Indians are the same" proved to be unwise. The Hopi's battle to keep their ancestral lands continued in the face of Navajo efforts to claim all the land for themselves. For the Navajo, Joint Use meant `No Use' for the Hopi.

In 1974, the matter was taken before Congress. Congress decided to allow the courts to partition or divide the land between the two tribes, and as a result, the 1974 Navajo-Hopi Settlement Act was passed. Hopi living on the side partitioned to the Navajo were asked to move to the Hopi side. Likewise, Navajos living on the Hopi side were asked to move to the Navajo side. Being a lawful people, the Hopi moved from the lands given to the Navajo to the Hopi Partitioned Lands. Most Navajo families also complied with the law and moved to the Navajo Partitioned Lands. However, a few Navajo families refused to comply.

During the early 90's, President Zah of the Navajo Nation came before the Hopi Tribal Council specifically to ask the Hopi to find some way for the Navajo elderly to remain on Hopi Partitioned Lands. In an effort to sustain peace between the two tribes and to bring an end to this longstanding conflict, the Hopi responded to the Navajo request. After months of deliberation, the Hopi Tribe entered into settlement discussions with the HPL Navajo families to arrive at a solution where Navajo families who wished to remain on Hopi land could do so. The families, represented by their own lawyers, reached an Agreement in Principle with the Hopi Tribe in October of 1992. The Agreement in Principle grew into an accommodation agreement under which the Navajo could remain on Hopi land under a 75 year lease of homesite, farming and grazing land. In 1996, Congress passed a Settlement Act which ratified the Accommodation Agreement and the 75 year lease opportunity for Navajo families. Today, most of the Navajo families have either accepted relocation benefits and moved, or agreed to lease arrangements with the Hopi Tribe.

With the passage of the 1996 Settlement Act, the Hopi thought the "Land Dispute" was finally over. However, full implementation of the 1996 Peace Treaty between the Hopi and Navajo over the 1882 Reservation remains to be seen. 26 Navajo individuals have refused to abide by the law to either relocate voluntarily or to enter into a lease agreement with the Hopi Tribe. They are called the resisting Navajo. Fueled by an inability to respect the 1996 Peace Treaty between the two tribes and driven by outside agitators, the resisting Navajo are hoping to remain permanently on Hopi land beyond the February 1, 2000 deadline to leave.

One of the clear injustices to the Hopi is the claim of the resisting Navajo that their rights to the land are even greater than that of the Hopi; they have undertaken an extensive "religious" freedom and public relations campaign to convince themselves and the world that they should stay on Hopi homelands illegally. The resisting Navajo have enlisted the help of movie stars, United Nations activists and the media to their cause. A great deal of media hype includes spins on words like "ethnic cleansing," "genocide," the "evil governments" and "corporate interests." Little attention or understanding, if any, has been given to the Hopi position regarding this matter. The allegation that the Hopi people are engaged in the ethnic cleansing or genocide of the Navajo people is not only absurd, it is irresponsible. First of all, there is no systematic destruction of the Navajo people, who far outnumber the Hopi people by a population of 260,000 to 12,000. Nor have the Hopi people ever planned to cleanse their lands of the Navajo. To the contrary, the Hopi have opened up their lands for settlement by Navajo families who wish to stay via an agreed-upon lease arrangement. If anything, it is the Hopi who are being deliberately and systematically destroyed by the very forces claiming to be victims.

In June 1999, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the resisting Navajo have no right to remain on Hopi land and did not find the accommodation agreement to be discriminatory against them. In fact, the Accommodation Agreement amounts to one of the first peace treaties between two Indian nations and is recognized by Congress and the Courts to be fair, humanitarian, and without precedent.

For the Hopi, making peace with the neighboring Navajo tribe has taken its toll. The Accommodation Agreement has been bashed by outside agitators as non-workable. In fact, the next battle lines have been drawn by the resisting Navajo. Come February 1, 2000, the resisting Navajo will wage a legal battle to fight their eviction from Hopi lands. Of great concern to the Hopi have been the threats of armed occupation by outsiders who intend to settle on Hopi lands in the coming months. The outside agitators and resisting Navajo have vowed to use violence against the Hopi people, Bureau of Indian Affairs Law Enforcement and Hopi rangers. On the Hopi reservation, where principles of peace have sustained an ancient culture for thousands of years, there is fear that zealous "Navajo" activists could escalate the matter into a physical conflict. It is this fear that the Hopi people pray against and for which they will hold the outside agitators and resisting Navajo accountable.

The Hopi people trust that the federal government, the Navajo Nation, and the Navajo people living on Hopi lands will make good on their word to end the Navajo-Hopi land dispute and to live side by side in harmony and peace with the Hopi people. May peace prevail.

Article copyright Cultural Survival, Inc.

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