Navajo Times, June 4, 1998
by Wendy R. Young, Navajo Times Correspondent
BIG MOUNTAIN – A small house sits under the bright blue sky on the side of a sage and juniper-covered rocky hill. The ridge overlooks sundance grounds and the wide valley stretching from Big Mountain across to the Navajo Partition Land. Guests at the house have been known to sleep between sheepskin blankets on the floor.
Just last weekend, three men in that house on the Hopi Partition Land sat around the table drinking coffee and eating blue corn fry-bread with honey. They were discussing the tragedy of the Accommodation Agreement and the historical abusive relationship of the US government to the Native Americans. Somewhere on the other side, the sheep were grazing and others were planting corn.
The two Dineh brothers had a relative who signed an Accommodation Agreement just before the deadline last year. But, their homesite is located outside of the family’s three legal acres and they had refused to sign. Their family is counted as having signed, but these men and their close family members still live outside the law.
“Everything is going to end in the year 2000. If they talk about eviction but they need to have a (relocation) house built first, they’ll be looking for me. I just won’t give in to them. I’ll be running for that hill like a jackrabbit,” said the first Dineh brother. “It feels like someone is trying to cut into you with a dull knife. They might as well do it with a sharp one so you can’t feel it.”
Their Hopi buddy broke off another piece of fry-bread. “First they just wanted to evict you,” he said, referring to the federal Relocation Act of 1994. “Then they thought of this Accommodation Agreement to make it not look so bad.”
The Accommodation Agreement, a 75-year lease with the Hopi Tribe, is almost half-way through its 3-year trial period. Those Dineh HPL residents who signed are in the process of having their ancestral lands further partitioned into 3-acre homesites with 10-acre farming allotments.
According to federal law, those Dineh living on the HPL without a lease will either voluntarily relocate or be evicted by February 1, 2000.
“Once you sign it, you give up yourself to that Accommodation Agreement,” said the second Dineh brother. “You’re forgetting your freedom. You’re putting yourself in a cage, the legal system. You’re giving up your religious way.”
The brothers, who are in their late 30s, denounced flaws in the Accommodation Agreement. They objected to the lists of individuals eligible to sign the Agreement because the lists are incomplete and exclude family members who are rightful heirs to the land – especially the children. They brought up the ways the lease can be terminated, simply by violating rigid lease provisions or living elsewhere for a period of time in order to make a living.
“If they don’t see you there for a couple of years, they’ll kick you out,” commented the first brother.
“I think it’s a scam,” the second brother said. “They’re taking the Indians’ land away from them. These people need to live in their own custom ways, not to be controlled by the bureaucratic. Whoever in Washington deals with Indian affairs shouldn’t be doing it. If you want to look good, you should give the Indians their freedom back. Freedom means their land, their way of life, their language, culture, religion, ceremonial ways.”
“They’re just giving back the artifacts,” their Hopi buddy spoke in agreement. “Just leave us alone. That’s all our elders want. The Hopi elders just want to be left alone.”
“He’s my bro,” said the first brother, referring to his Hopi friend sitting next to him at the table. “So I know when I get into it with the rangers, he’ll back me up.”
“Hopi jurisdiction is too harsh,” the second brother explained. “They think they have their jurisdiction but we are self-ruled. Just because of their jurisdiction doesn’t mean going to houses, asking your name and harassing you.
The first brother described a confrontation with the Hopi Tribe which happened a few months ago, similar to other incidents reported from Dineh HPL residents in recent years. A Hopi official arrived in uniform in a tribal vehicle while the Dineh residents were holding a ceremony. In response to the first brother’s inquiry, the ranger told him he was checking to, “See if everybody’s ok.’ I started laughing. Said the one that needed it is in there with the medicine man getting help.”
“That’s what you call intimidating the public or a resident,” the second brother added. “If you comply with them it’s more difficult. Every little thing about the permits. I think people are right not to tell the Hopi agency what you do.
“In the Indian way,” continued the second brother, “you don’t need a permit. You can just go and get wood. One time I tried to get a permit from the chapter house. She told me I had to have a valid driver’s license. She wouldn’t give it to me.
“I’m a resident here. I been born and raised here. I don’t want to give myself up to the federal government. I had enough of it in boarding school years. It’s a way of punishment, a controlling of another human being. That’s abuse.”
The first brother noted that the US government points at human rights violations in other countries, yet the US is abusing the Dineh people here on the HPL. “That’s probably what killed off the elderly people, too,” he said. “That drives a lot of young people to despair, to alcohol. A lot of young people die because of it.”
The second brother named it, “Psychological Emotional Relocation Syndrome. We’re fighting the white man’s ways. The white man’s way is hard to swallow when you’re still herding your sheep.”
The three men believe that most people who signed the Accommodation Agreement were pressured. “That was through manipulation,” said the second brother. “They act like you gonna live just like you lived before. They can have meetings but it is hard to understand. The elders don’t even understand English. They think we all had education and understood it [the terms of the Agreement.]”
The brothers explained that other relatives who had already moved away pressured their relative to sign after being misled by tribal translators.
“The person that was translating was saying that if you sign this, even your grandkids are going to get housing,” said the second brother. He said other family members told a grandmother that she should sign if she really loves her grandchildren.
“It just exploded, disrupted,” the family relations. They mentioned that the Agreement caused problems for neighbors as well. A marriage broke up when the husband signed and the wife did not. A mother is still upset with a daughter for signing. “Tearing people apart,” commented the first brother.
The Hopi man explained, “Mostly our elders tell us not to sign anything. Some of us go by that.”
“I think most of them want to unsign,” said the second brother, remarking that he has been speaking with may of of the Agreement signers in the community. “With the Accommodation Agreement, they were promised a lot of things. I don’t think none of them is met.”
“Another promise is going to be broken again. It’s been going on for 500 years,” said the first brother. “It’s all a big lie. Indian struggles, poor person’s nightmare. Rich people’s sweet dreams. They get to sleep in a good bed, including the tribal council people. Look at our beds here. Sometimes we have nothing to eat.”
“Living here at Big Mountain it’s worth it. It’s an honor in the old ways of life that you try to go through. We don’t know it all but we love this way of life,” the second brother said.
“To me, I’m better off this way. How I live and being here and then being here in this situation most of my life. For me, I choose that I want to live in this way. People believe in a good way and it’s really here. You can love it like that.”