Tag Archives: Navajo-hopi Land Dispute

Journal of Folklore Research An International Journal of Folklore and Ethnomusicology-Bitter Water: Diné Oral Histories of the Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute

Journal of Folklore Research An International Journal of Folklore and Ethnomusicology – Bitter Water: Diné Oral Histories of the Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute Edited by Malcolm D. Benally. 2011. Tucson: University of Arizona Press. 102 pages. ISBN: 978-0-8165-2898-1 (soft cover).  Reviewed by Charlotte Frisbie, Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville: [Review length: 1732 words • Review posted on November 9, 2011]  This extremely important volume makes numerous contributions: for the first time, it presents in both Navajo and English, oral histories or personal narratives of four women from the Black Mesa area, Arizona, women living within and near the HPL or Hopi Partitioned Land area who were/are directly involved in activism opposing the 1974 so-called Navajo Hopi Land Settlement Act, or PL 93-531.

The women and their home communities include: Mae Tso, Mosquito Springs; Roberta Blackgoat (who died in 2000), Thin Rock Mesa; Pauline Whitesinger, Big Mountain; and Ruth Benally, a distant relative of Benally’s, also from Big Mountain. While there are important academic studies of the dispute, the 1974 law authorizing the partition of Navajo and Hopi lands, and its resulting disasters—such as works by Brugge, Churchill, Kammer, and Redhouse, besides a 1993 popular book by Benedek, a 1986 movie, “Broken Rainbow,” and the Pulitzer prize-winning investigative article, “The Black Mesa Syndrome: Indian Lands, Indian Gold,” by Judith Nies (Orion, summer, 1998)—until this publication, we lacked testimonies and in-depth perspectives from Navajos living in the affected area. Malcolm Benally, a Navajo from Forest Lake, was the ideal person to pursue this project, having been born three years before the 1974 act and raised in Forest Lake, another community on partitioned land. During college at Northern Arizona University, in 1994 he began to work with Into the Mud Productions. When they received a grant in October, 1998, from a fund aimed at raising public consciousness about human rights abuses and restrictions of civil liberties, Benally was hired to work with Mary Fish, the producer and photographer, to produce a sixty-minute documentary, Bitter Water: Diné Chronicles of Resistance.

Thus, in the late 1990s, he videorecorded, using a digital audiotape and Hi-8 documentary video camera, over twenty-five hours of personal testimonies and oral histories from Navajo elders affected by the partition of Navajo and Hopi Lands. The plan was to produce the documentary from the interview footage and thus tell the world about the cultural genocide and human rights violations continually occurring in Arizona because of PL 93-53. However, once the interviews were completed, the funding disappeared, technology changed, and digital format arrived. Wanting to share the women’s stories, educate the public about the unnecessary pain, trauma, and suffering continually being caused by relocation, and call international attention to the gross violation of human rights that continues because of this law, yes, in the United States and in Arizona, Benally finally decided to release some of the narratives in book format. He still plans to complete the documentary, his “work in progress,” and he still has misgivings about print format because most of the project’s participants are elderly, monolingual Navajos and most have already had too many horrendous experiences with documents.

After deciding to move ahead in print, Benally first transcribed the audio track, writing the women’s narratives in literal Navajo; then he did numerous re-listenings to find a way of translating their words that would catch their eloquent ways of speaking and expressing themselves. Anyone familiar with the challenges of doing translations will understand his labors of love during this process. Among the contributions made by this volume is the bilingual presentation of all four monologues as well as the section entitled “Sheep is Life.” The content offers a very current look at oral traditions among Navajos, and how the language itself is being used in the contemporary world. Word choices, and ways of speaking and telling stories are only two of the countless elements that will be of interest to linguists and folklorists in this volume; happily, the formatting facilitates comparisons of the spoken Navajo and English translations, and endnotes occasionally offer additional insights about specific words, phrases, translation issues, and/or multiple interpretations. Additionally, perhaps because of ethnopoetics, Benally occasionally uses italics to show what a speaker was emphasizing, or indicates with parentheses that a statement was accompanied by a smile or laugh. Through the women’s personal testimonies, one feels the deep pain and trauma caused by relocation, the prevailing sense of loss—loss of land, animals, family and friends, language, culture, traditions, and the old ways. But simultaneously, one also senses the bravery, strength, and courage expressed daily by these women and their families as they try to deal with the shameful forced removal, relocation, and cultural genocide caused by this misguided legislation.

The volume opens with a contextualizing foreword by Navajo historian, Jennifer Nez Denetdale; Benally’s preface, which explains particulars of the publication, is followed by a chronology of the shameful relocation process with its expired deadlines, governmental and legal maneuvers, the 4/18/2001 Supreme Court dismissal of the class-action lawsuit, Manybeads et al. v. United States, and the continuing horrors. The English text of “The Travel Song” as sung by Carol Blackhorse, Benally’s grandmother, follows, preceding the author’s introduction, which includes a needed map, and the first two of the volume’s stunning twenty-one black and white photographs by Mary Fish. Chapters 1–4 present the four personal testimonies first in Navajo and then in English, with photographs positioned only in the English-language sections, except for one on page 8.

Roberta Blackgoat’s narrative is followed by a reprint of a biographical note (37-38) written for the Navajo Times (4/25/2002) by reporter Marley Shebala after Blackgoat’s passing. A section entitled “Sheep is Life” (Chapter 5, pages 62-83) follows the four narratives, again in both Navajo and English, being constructed from vignettes provided by nine individuals, eight women and one man: Carol Blackhorse, Emma Bahe, and Katherine Smith provide multiple vignettes, while single contributions are quoted from Oscar Whitehair, Maize Begay, Mary Lou Benale, Elvira Horseherder, Pauline Whitesinger, and Manygoats Daughter. While photographs of only four of these nine individuals are included in this section, again in the English translation portions, traditional life on the land with the sheep is thoroughly documented by Fish’s outstanding pictures; the chapter or community residence of each contributor is identified in the endnotes. A poem, “The Mutton Hunger,” by the author, follows “Sheep is Life,” and then, in an epilogue, Benally updates events through the summer of 2010, identifying nonprofit advocacy groups and a new lawsuit. The website for the Black Mesa Indigenous Support group which provides current information about the people who remain on the HPL, was given earlier, in the preface (xv) as www.blackmesais.org.

A very important essay, “Natural Law and Navajo Religion/Way of Life,” coauthored by Roman Bitsuie and Kenja Hassan, follows as an appendix, and predictably precedes endnotes, bibliography, and an index. Bitsuie, the executive director of the Navajo Hopi Land Commission Office, reportedly gave “Natural Law . . .” as testimony on 6/20/2006 before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Resources during hearings on the Navajo-Hopi Land Settlement Amendments of 2005; however, Benally (xvi), indicates that Hassan, a student from Japan who lived with a family in the HPL and became a friend of Bitsuie’s, also deserves coauthorship credit. I wish the entire book had been printed bilingually, so that the foreword, preface, introduction, poetry, epilogue, and this important appendix essay could have been presented in Navajo too, as were the four narratives and “Sheep is Life.”

The four narratives are individually powerful, as are their supporting photographs. While only one touches on persecution and being arrested for activism, the voices in “Sheep is Life” provide more references to confrontations with the law, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and rangers, and going to jail. Throughout the four personal histories, there is a shared tone of sadness and worry about loss, loss of everything from the old ways, the land, and the sheep, to the Navajo language, traditions, and culture. The women worry about their grandchildren and the need to teach them their history, traditions, and beliefs, their Navajo language, and traditional ways to use and care for the land. There are many references to the need for discipline in child rearing and the importance of Blessingway. Throughout the thinking about everything being gone—the animals, the people, the old ways—it is clear that most devastating is the loss of human rights.

Only a few criticisms are warranted. While it is not surprising to have different, yet correct, ways of translating a given Navajo word, there are places in the text when Navajo words and/or expressions are left untranslated, without explanation. Examples can be found on pages 14, 21, 23, 50, 51, 68. In Mae Tso’s narrative, there are two endnotes numbered 16, on pages 13 and 14 in the Navajo part, but only one number 16 on page 21, in the translation and in the endnotes on page 96. There is an extra line of space in the Navajo text on page 55, but not in the translation on page 58. Sometimes nonverbal behaviors such as smiles are indicated in one place but not in translation; likewise, the use of italics for emphasis is not always the same when comparing the Navajo and the translation. In places (see page 77 for one example) where the translation is given as “ceremony basket,” in my opinion “ceremonial basket” would have been better. Other errors: on page 10, the third note at the bottom of the page, third line, word 7 should say 1986 instead of the Navajo printed there. Page 11 includes two bottom-of-the-page notes, neither of which appears in the translation on pages 18–19. Both of these are important and should have been included. The second discusses the translation of “an endangered word,” of interest by itself but also because Benally refers to the “archaic terms” the women often used in their monologues, which he came to enjoy as a nice change from the boarding school Navajo his parents speak. One example of Navajo slang is noted, page 67. On page 35, there is a typo in line 13 from the bottom of the page. On page 97, note 7, line 2, the size of the Council needs to be changed since it has now been reduced from eighty-six to twenty-four. Two additions to the bibliography would be helpful: Judith Nies’ 1998 article mentioned above, and the article about this book done by reporter Cindy Yurth for the Navajo Times (March 3, 2011: A-7), “New Book Gives Voice to Land Dispute Victims.” Yurth’s article is based on conversations with Benally which include further information about the author, the project, and the book which then was due to emerge in May.

9/28/2011 Navajo Times: Rehab fund spending report released

Rehab fund spending report released Report details how money intended for victims of the Bennett Freeze, in the Navajo-Hopi land dispute, was spent. 9/28/2011 Navajo Times: Rehab fund spending report release By Noel Lyn Smith: WINDOW ROCK: The Navajo Nation’s Department of Justice has finally produced a draft summary of the accounting record for the Navajo Rehabilitation Trust Fund. Nine months after being ordered to do so, DOJ submitted the document during a Sept. 21 hearing for the lawsuit filed by the Forgotten People and 12 other individuals who are suing the Navajo-Hopi Land Commission to learn how money has been spent from the fund, which was established by Congress to benefit residents of the former Bennett Freeze and Hopi Partitioned Land.

As their name suggests, the Forgotten People contend that the assistance their region was promised in the Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute settlement has failed to materialize, and they suspect the money may have been misspent.

Henry Howe, a DOJ attorney representing the Navajo-Hopi Land Commission, submitted an eight-page report that shows trust fund expenditures from 1990 to 2009 that went toward projects on the former Bennett Freeze area, New Lands, Navajo Partitioned Land and Hopi Partitioned Land.

The report also shows amounts Congress appropriated for land purchases and federal appropriation amounts from 1990 to 1995.

“This information provided to plaintiffs demonstrates good faith on behalf of the Navajo-Hopi Land Commission Office,” Howe said, speaking before a courtroom packed with spectators.

When plaintiffs filed their civil complaint in 2010, they asked for a full account of all income, expenses, profits, losses, assets and other financial matters for which the tribe, the Navajo-Hopi Land Commission and the Navajo-Hopi Land Commission Office have responsibility.

Window Rock District Court Judge T.J. Holgate asked Howe why it took months to produce the report after the court issued an order in January.

Howe explained that it took time to locate accounting documents and it was especially difficult for the office to locate the first five years of records.

Sitting with Howe were Navajo-Hopi Land Commission Chair Lorenzo Curley (Houck/Klagetoh/Nahata Dziil/Tsé si’án’/Wide Ruins) and Navajo-Hopi Land Commission Office Director Raymond Maxx and Deputy Director Thomas Benally.

James Zion, attorney for the Forgotten People, asked Holgate for time to examine the record since it was handed to him shortly before the hearing started.

Holgate granted Zion 30 days to review the document and to submit any written responses or questions.

The judge also ordered both parties to continue discussing the issue before the next hearing date in January.

In an impromptu meeting at Veterans Memorial Park after the hearing, Zion told the group that this was just a start.

“Today we had a victory for the Forgotten People,” Zion said to the group of about 30 people.

This document is a start in addressing the issue of when the money was received, how much was received and how it was spent, he said.

Forgotten People member Grace Smith Yellowhammer said it took a long time to obtain this financial record but the group will continue fighting until the issue is completely resolved.

“I want to see these elders win,” she said.

8/27/2011 CENSORED NEWS: New Wikileaks: Forced Exiles of Native Americans and Palestinians

8/27/2011 CENSORED NEWS: New Wikileaks: Forced Exiles of Native Americans and Palestinians: While the US media censored the truth, the world was watching By Brenda Norrell: The release of thousands of Wikileaks cables includes the comparison of how the colonial United States government forcibly drove Native Americans from their homes, while Israel forcibly expels Palestinians from their homes. The new Wikileaks cables reveal that while the US media was censoring the truth, the world was watching. In a diplomatic cable from the US Embassy in Kuwait released Friday, dated June 21, 2004, the US Embassy in Kuwait provides this quote from the media:

¶3. “Journey Of Tears” Mohammed Musaed Al-Saleh wrote in independent Al-Qabas (6/19): “The way the United States was founded is identical to the way the Zionist entity was founded. In America, Native Americans were forcibly driven away from their homes. Israel in 2004 is doing the same thing by forcibly expelling Palestinians from the West Bank, east of Jerusalem and Gaza. According to author Muneer Al-Akesh, America’s idea of exchanging a nation and a culture with another, through forcible evacuation and unjustified explanations, is in fact Israel’s historical raison d’etre. While Sharon is in Palestine, Bush is in Iraq. There is no difference.”

It is the second cable released in the past few days where US Embassies refer to media quotes about the atrocities committed by the US government and the exile of Native Americans.

A second Wikileaks cable revives an article censored by Indian Country Today. While the newspaper censored an article stating that the war in Iraq is a continuation of the atrocities inflicted on American Indians — the truth was already known around the world in Turkey.

The US Embassy in Turkey quoted Omer Ozturkmen in 2004, in the Wikileaks cable: “The Iraqi people were expecting to watch Saddam’s trial on TV while the president of the US focused on his re-election bid. Now, the torture photos from Iraq have recalled for the American people the long forgotten atrocities faced by American Indians.”

It is an important fact that Turkey knew this truth at the beginning of the Iraq war, because in the United States, this fact was being censored.

Louise Benally of Big Mountain, Ariz., longtime Navajo resister of relocation, was among the most vocal from the beginning opposing the war in Iraq. When Benally compared the war in Iraq to the forced exile and imprisonment of Navajos on the Long Walk by the US Calvary, the newspaper Indian Country Today, where I served as a staff writer, censored Benally’s comments in 2005.

Pressed to publish a correction, the newspaper refused.

Here are the censored comments:

Navajos at Big Mountain resisting forced relocation view the 19th Century prison camp of Bosque Redondo and the war in Iraq as a continuum of U.S. government sponsored terror.

Louise Benally of Big Mountain remembered her great-grandfather and other Navajos driven from their beloved homeland by the U.S. Army on foot for hundreds of miles while witnessing the murder, rape and starvation of their family and friends.

“I think these poor children had gone through so much, but, yet they had the will to go on and live their lives. If it weren’t for that, we wouldn’t be here today.

“It makes me feel very sad and I apply this to the situation in Iraq. I wonder how the Native Americans in the combat zone feel about killing innocent lives.”

Looking at the faces of the Navajo and Apache children in the Bosque Redondo photo, Benally said, “I think the children in the picture look concerned and maybe confused. It makes me think of what the children in Iraq must be going through right now.

“The U.S. military first murders your people and destroys your way of life while stealing your culture, then forces you to learn their evil ways of lying and cheating,” Benally said.

We know now that not only were Benally’s comments censored at the time, but Native Americans and other peace activists were being stalked and spied on by law enforcement throughout the United States. The spy files of the Denver Police Department, made public, revealed that activists at Big Mountain were among those on the police watch list.

Meanwhile, in Turkey, the truth was known that when American Indians viewed torture photos in Iraq, they recalled the atrocities inflicted on Native Americans.

A US diplomatic cable in Turkey, dated May 21, 2004, states:

“The US is in Trouble in Iraq”

Omer Ozturkmen observed in the conservative Turkiye (5/21): “The fact is, US diplomacy was mistaken in planning for the post-war scenario in Iraq. The US could never imagine the kinds of problems they were going to face there. The Iraqi people were expecting to watch Saddam’s trial on TV while the president of the US focused on his re-election bid. Now, the torture photos from Iraq have recalled for the American people the long forgotten atrocities faced by American Indians. Let us see how the president will explain the loss of American lives in Iraq during his campaign. When put next to the torture the Iraqi people have suffered at the hands of the coalition, Saddam’s Halapja massacre looks mild by comparison. Those obscene photos are already being circulated among international terrorist groups to recruit fighters against the United States. The Bush Administration, which at one time put sacks over the heads of allied troops, now buries its own head to hide its shame. The US is paying the price for excluding Turkey in its policies in Eurasia. It looks that that price will continue to be paid.”
Reference id: 04ANKARA2881 Origin: Embassy Ankara Time: Fri, 21 May 2004 16:38 UTC
Classification: UNCLASSIFIED

Finally, here are more of Benally’s comments from 2005:

Suffering and strength at Bosque Redondo
By Brenda Norrell

BIG MOUNTAIN, Ariz. – Viewing a photo of Navajo children at Bosque Redondo for the first time, Louise Benally wondered which ones were her great-grandparents who endured the Long Walk to Fort Sumner, N.M. and suffered in the prison camp for four years.

”On my mother’s side they went: and my great-grandfather was just 5 years old. He had seen a lot of hard times, where parents and other relatives were killed,” Benally said.

”My grandma passed on three years ago – she was 116 years old. When she left, she would tell us that they did some healing ceremonies which were called ‘Without Songs.’ She would sometimes have me perform this one: ‘The Blacken Way.”’ She remembered her great-grandfather and other Navajos who were driven from their beloved homeland by the U.S. Army on foot for hundreds of miles while witnessing murders, rapes and starvation.

One-third of the 9,000 Navajo and Mescalero Apache who suffered at the prison camp from 1863 – ’68 succumbed to pneumonia, dysentery, starvation and exposure.

She also said that some Navajos who eluded capture secretly helped others. ”On my father’s side of the family, they didn’t go on this march. But, as supporters from the outside, they brought food in the night and other health supplies.”

Benally is among the Navajos who are resisting forced relocation from her home on Big Mountain. The Navajo descendants of Long Walk survivors at Big Mountain gained strength and fortitude from their ancestors for their 30-year struggle to remain on the land as protectors, she noted.

Benally pointed out that the so-called ”Navajo and Hopi land dispute” resulted from legal maneuvers, documented by Colorado professor Charles Wilkinson, to remove Navajos from the land to make way for the expansion of coal mining on Black Mesa.

8/21/2011 Att'y letter to UN CERD & Right to Water and Free Assembly

James Zion Letter to Patrick Thorn Berry UN CERD Committee Member“>JAMES W. ZION, Attorney at Law, Admitted in the Navajo Nation, Connecticut and the United States Supreme Court, 3808 Ladera Drive N.W., Albuquerque, NM 87120, (505) 839-9549, August 21,2011 TO: Professor Patrick Thornberry CMG, Professor of International Law, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Keele University, Keele, Staffordshire, UNITED KINGDOM ST5 5BG

Re: Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute Issues and CERD: Dear Professor Thornberry: I was privileged to be in the audience on 22 February 2008 when you had a closing discussion with the United States Mission to the United Nations on the U.S. periodic report to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. You specifically asked that the United States mention the status of Big Mountain and Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute issues in its next periodic report to CERD. It is due on 20 November of this year.

I am the attorney for The Forgotten People, a non-governmental organization that serves the Navajo survivors of the Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute, including individuals who still live on Hopi lands on Black Mesa. One of the issues they face is getting potable water, and it must be hauled to homes by truck. The dirt roads in the area are poor and require frequent maintenance. The Forgotten People has projects with attempts to obtain funding and logistical support so it can get water carried to people in affected areas in the western part of the Navajo Nation. That includes those who live in areas where the ground water is contaminated with uranium waste from mining and remote communities of Navajos without water who are ignored by both the Navajo and the Hopi tribes.

The specific problem I write about is that The Forgotten People announced a meeting to be held at the residence of Pauline White singer at Big Mountain within the area partitioned to the Hopi Tribe on Monday, August 22, 2011 at 10:00 a.m. to “discuss a request for safe drinking water delivery and impassable dirt road repair.” The purpose of the meeting is to ask for assistance from the Navajo and Hopi tribes to get water hauled to homes at Big Mountain and to get the roads in and out of the area graded.

The news of the meeting came to the attention of Mr. LeRoy N. Shingoitewa, the Chairman of the Hopi Tribe, and on August 19, 2011 he wrote to Marsha Monestersky and Ed Becenti of The Forgotten People to inform them, among other things, that “the meeting would be in violation of the Hopi Tribe’s rules and regulations.” He added that Ms. Monestersky is the subject of an order excluding her from the Hopi Reservation (because of her advocacy for Navajo rights). He also noted that one had requested a permit to hold a meeting, when permits are not required by Hopi law and are prohibited by the Indian Civil Rights Act.

We have a situation where the chief executive of the Hopi Tribe, on learning of a meeting to discuss access to water as a human right and to petition for road repairs, has prohibited the meeting in violation of freedom of speech and assembly and the right to petition government provisions of the federal Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968.

I have been asked to bring this situation to your attention and to additionally advise that there are recurring problems of violations of the rights of the refugees of the Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute.

They include a Navajo-Hopi compact that violates individual rights and a situation whereby monies and resources held in trust by the Navajo Nation for the benefit of survivors of the Navajo-Hopi land dispute are unaccounted for and likely wasted. I will bring those matters to your attention and that of CERD as the time for the filing of the next United States CERD periodic report approaches.

I therefore bring these facts to your attention so that you will know that your February 2008 request for new information was prescient in its assessment of emerging events.

Your attention to these matters and communication to the full Committee will be appreciated. A copy of the August 19, 2011 letter signed for Chairman Shingoitewa is enclosed.

James W. Zion


LeRoy N. Shingoitewa
August 19, 2011
Herman G. Honanie
Vice Chairman

Ms. Marsha Monestersky, Program Director
Mr. Ed Becenti
The Forgotten People
Tuba City, Arizona 86045

Dear Ms. Monestersky & Mr. Ed Becenti:

It has come to my attention and the attention of the Hopi Tribal Council that you intend to hold a meeting for the HPL Navajo families on Monday, August 22, 2011, to “discuss a request for safe drinking water delivery and impassable dirt road repair,” as quoted directly from your press release. As we understand your press release, the meeting will take place on HPL, at Pauline Whitesinger’s residence in Big Mountain and will be led by Ms. Marsha Monestersky, Program Director of the Forgotten People. You have requested Hopi Tribal officials participation, as well as other directors and executive officers from the Navajo and Hopi Nations.

At this time, the Hopi Tribe will not be supporting or attending the meeting. To begin, the issues being raised – water and transportation issues – are Government-to-Government issues. Thus, a request for this type ofmeeting must come from the Navajo Nation, not the “Forgotten People.” Additionally, you should be advised that no one has requested a permit from the Hopi Nation to hold this event. As such, the meeting would be in violation of the Hopi Tribe’s rules and regulations. Finally, there is a valid and binding exclusion order for Ms. Monestersky. Thus, Ms. Monestersky is not welcome on Hopi land. Her attendance would clearly violate her exclusion order, which is currently in force.

I hope the above clarifies the Hopi Tribe’s position and we respectfully request that you abide by all Hopi rules, regulation and orders. If you have any questions regarding the Hopi Tribe’s response, please contact Mr. Clayton Honyumptewa, Director, Department of Natural Resources at (928) 734-3641 or my office at (928) 734-3100.

LeRoy N. Shingoitewa, Chairman
The Hopi Tribe
P.O. BOX 123 KYKOTSMOVI. AZ.. 86039
(928) 734-3000

Ltr. to Monestersky & Becenti
RE: Hopi Tribal Resp.

xc. Vice Chairman Honanie
Clayton Honyumptewa, DNR
Robert Lyttle, Interim Gen. Counsel
Norberto Cisneros, Asst. Gen. Counsel
Hon. President Ben Shelley NN
Raymond Maxx, NHLCO, NN