Liza Gross: Navajo and Hopi families still suffering from relocation

Members of Congress and their staff meet with leaders of the Hopi Tribe and the Navajo Nation to learn more about the effects of Office of Navajo and Hopi Indian Relocation. Photo from Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Arizona)

Members of Congress want the Office of Navajo and Hopi Indian Relocation to come to an end after decades of work. Journalist Liza Gross looks at the impacts of the effort on the Hopi Tribe and the Navajo Nation:
Over half a billion U.S. tax dollars have been spent to destroy the largest community of American Indians still living according to ancient traditions. In the name of progress, our government relocated thousands of elderly traditional Diné from the only homes they ever knew to prefab houses in suburbs, where they were suddenly faced with bills for mortgages, electricity, running water and indoor plumbing. They had none of that back home, and preferred it that way. Their skills ran toward raising livestock and growing crops in the desert – skills that had no equivalent in a suburban cash economy. When they lost that life, many chose a path of slow death by drinking. Others settled on a quicker way out.

Their fate was predictable. Anthropologists warned of the traumatic impacts of relocating traditional people with such strong ties to the land. The rest of us, for the most part, didn’t listen or didn’t care.

The politicians who authorized the mass relocation seemed barely aware of the wheels they’d set in motion. President Gerald Ford interrupted a skiing trip in 1974 just long enough to sign the Navajo-Hopi Land Settlement Act (P.L. 93-531). In doing so, he ordered the partition of a jointly owned portion of the Navajo and Hopi reservations, a move the bill’s non-Indian authors claimed would avert a violent clash between the tribes over rights to the estimated 21 billion tons of coal lying just beneath the surface of the Black Mesa plateau.

He also ordered the forced removal of over 14,000 traditional people, mostly Navajo, living on the wrong side of the fence.

Yet there was no range war, as both traditional Navajo and Hopi repeatedly made clear. They appealed to Congress, the United Nations and the American public to recognize their sovereign rights to their homelands. They knew their homes straddled energy sources worth billions to mining and power companies. They saw the relocation act as an excuse to clear the coalfields for mining..

Get the Story:
Liza Gross: When Worlds Collide (Indian Country Today 4/18)

Inspector General Reports:
Office of Navajo and Hopi Indian Relocation’s Eligibility and Relocation Practices (February 2016)
Operations of the Office of Navajo and Hopi Indian Relocation (December 2014)

Related Stories:
Cronkite News: Navajo and Hopi relocation effort could finally end (03/01)
Lawmakers seek end to Office of Navajo Hopi Indian Relocation (02/09)

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