Navajo - Hopi Long Land Dispute

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Cultural differences, a history of U.S. interference, expanding reservation populations, and Peabody Coal are responsible for the longstanding struggle between Navajo and Hopi tribes for certain land and resources. The small map shows the result of a century of Navajo expansion of their tribal lands. Between 1868 and 1991, the Navajo land base has been extended 15 times, mostly at the cost of what Hopi consider their traditional land base, but also incorporating on the northern and western edges of the reservation land of the Utes and Southern Paiutes. It is in the context of this long historical struggle that the highly publicized cause of the Navajo people living at Black Mountain on Hopi land must be understood. At the bottom of this page are links to many sites that present facts and perspectives, mostly in support of the Big Mountain Navajo residents. This short essay attempts to sketch historical background prior to development of the dispute as it is presented today by those crucially involved in it.

Here's the Salt Lake city Tribune's news story of the situation as of early April, 1997: Navajos Consider New Choices as Hopi-Land Deadline Passes.

These 2 maps are adapted -- colored and somewhat cropped -- from 2 presented in The Wind Won't Know Me, by Emily Benedek, Knopf, 1992. Her maps were redrawn from those used in Navajo-Hopi land claim litigations.

The rust-colored rectangle in the smallest map shows the boundaries that were set for the Hopi reservation in 1882. The Hopi did not war with the U.S. Unlike the Navajo, they have no treaty. During the years from 1863 to 1868, anglo volunteers under Kit Carson had rounded up about 75% of the Navajos in the area, marching them on death marches to concentration camps at Ft. Sumner in eastern New Mexico. When Navajo leaders signed a peace treaty of 1868, survivors of the long walk (the death marches) began to return. The Hopi began to complain from the very first about Navajo on their land. This led to the 1882 delineation by Executive Order of the 2.5 million acre rectangle (now entirely surrounded by Navajo land) shown in outline on Map 1.

At the time of this decree, several hundred Navajo lived on this reduced Hopi reservation. The Hopi have always continued to officially complain about this. The rectangle is greatly reduced from what they always considered their traditional homeland, and they have always officially and legally sought complete jurisdiction over the homeland -- the rectangular 1882 reservation -- that was left. Similarly, Navajo tribal members have always settled families and grazing operations into the remaining Hopi lands. Individual families have in effect "homesteaded" on it without Hopi permission.

The larger map, above, shows a marked area at the west of what's now the Navajo reservation marked "disputed area of 1934. " This is the location of the traditional Hopi town of Moencopi. The 8-million-acre area was also later settled by Navajo people, whose town of Tuba City is also shown. This area is outside the rectangular boundary of the 1882 Hopi reservation, and by act of Congress the entire area later became one of the larger expansions of the Navajo reservation. Also included in this Navajo land expansion was all the land of the San Juan band of Southern Paiutes, who have been left without a land base ever since. In obtaining this land for the Navajo tribe, lawyers had argued that "Indians" had lived there since time immemorial.

The map at the left shows how these early disputes -- that led to the 1882 Executive order setting the dark rectangular Hopi reservation boundary . Hopis had lived in this area for thousands of year. Before the great drought of 1250, some Hopi relatives inhabited the desert canyon and cliff cities, and when those had to be abandoned, populations resettled in many Hopi Pueblos along the San Juan River (which were wiped out early by diseases introduced by the Spaniards, survivors retreated to the heartland shown). The high mesa area and surrounding canyons and fields were the heartland, a refuge from the Spaniards. This map shows boundary-marker shrines placed by Hopi people about a thousand years ago. Annual ceremonies that certain clans are responsible for renew the sacredness of the heartland to the Hopi people. The darker area shows Hopi land in use in the mid 19th century -- being farmed, small villages, etc. A couple of these villages are marked: Wupotki and Honglavi.

All this -- villages, farmlands, boundary shrined and other sacred places -- was excluded from the 1882 reservation. Hopi early complaints about the Navajo arose because these comparatively recent arrivals raided Hopi villages and fields. This raiding continued, and perhaps worsened when the survivors returned from the death marches from Bosque Redondo. The surviving released prisoners had virtually nothing to survive on -- families were given 1-2 sheep, they lacked all tools, clothing, and their own plantings had been destroyed. The result of Navajo raiding and Hopi complaints was the rectangular boundary shown -- the 1882 Hopi reservation, which considerably diminishes Hopi territory that had been both in regular use and occupancy and boundary-marked. This marked and formerly used land -- lost by the reservation boundary (though the Executive Order says they shall retain sacred and other individual places) formed the basis of the 1934 Hopi claim to territory the U.S. gave to the Navajo tribe for the western part of their reservation, the marked area on Map 2 which is shown as "1934 disputed territory. " Land from within the rectangle bounding the reservation is the land that 250 Navajo resident families don't want to leave, this is a second dispute or land-taking from the Hopis.

Because of disputes about the western 1934 area, when the 1974 Navajo-Hopi land partioning law -- which covers the Hopi reservation, the former Joint Use rectangular area -- was passed, Interior Secretary Bennett placed a "freeze" on construction, development, and even the repair of structures there. The Bennet Freeze (which lasted into the early 1990's, stopped briefly and was resumed in late 1995) is discussed from several perspectives in 1992-94 on the email list NATIVE-L.

On April 30, 1992, the Navajo Times reported what was essentially a victory for the Navajo Tribe over the Hopis, in a lawsuit the Hopis had filed over the 1934 disputed western reservation land area. The story was posted to the NATIVE-L email group. (May 1992): Navajo/Hopi: Bennett Freeze Area. Not long after this victory in the lower court, the court ordered an unfreeze on construction in the disputed area. Considerable Navajo building and repairs took place over the next few years. Meanwhile, the Hopi tribe prepared an appeal.

In the fall of 1993, a list participant offered information about the Bennet Freeze status that may have been sumarized in an annual report of the American Anthropological Association. In March 1994, Jon Norstog, who does not identify his employers, reported on the 27-year freeze's effects on Navajo western lands residents Norstog's email contains the following:

"The Nation assembled a task force to recommend actions when the "freeze" was lifted. One of the recommendations was to decentralize the redevelopment effort, moving it out of tribal government an over to a locally-organized Community Development Corporation, or CDC. This CDC will coordinate redevelopment activities, and would work out of Tuba City. It is designed to take over much of the work now done in Window Rock, like issuing permits, processing homesite and business site leases, taking care of funds, etc. It will be able to go after foundation and state money, and not just be dependent on the feds or the state.

"This is a new thing around here. For it to work, a lot of bureaucrats in Window Rock, also the Navajo Nation Council, will have to give up a lot of their power. It will be interesting to see if they can be convinced or forced into doing this."

Two months later, in May of 1994, Norstog covers the unfreezing of the freeze and other matters, such as his -- or his employers'?-- view that the Southern Paiutes are really Navajos, shouldn't have been federally recognized as a tribe (as they have been) and shouldn't get any of their land back, at least not from any of what's now Navajo Nation land.

Norstog's emails were sent using the email username of "" His original emails do not identify him as an employee of the Navajo Nation; this was done in a footnote to an article I found in a Fourth World Bulletin article bylined by him linked-to at the end of my essay here, with some more info on the partitioning and leases). The identifying footnote there says:

"Jon Norstog works for the Navajo-Hopi Land Commission, an agency of the Navajo Nation. This article updates information contained in FWB Vol. 3, nos. 2 and 3.

for more information, contact:

Navajo-Hopi Land Commission
PO Box 2549
Window Rock, AZ 86515
tel: (602) 871-6441; fax: 871-7297

This is the current P.O. box and phone number and email for the Navajo-Hopi Land Commission at Window Rock, given on the Navajo Nation's Executive Branch government web page. Telephone areacode is now 520. No email is given. Individual current employees are not listed.

I looked this up because all Norstog's Internet statements/writings appear to reflect personal views that seemed strange -- situationally inflammatory -- for a Navajo government employee in a sensitive position to be sharing with random World Wide Web readers. From information available to me, I am unable to determine Norstog's actual employer(s) or role or whether his views are authorized expressions or personal opinions. The email address is that of Jon Norstad's personal account on the server of the Institute for Global Communications (that's the igc part) , for the org (non-profit orgasnization) account of the Association of Progressive Communication (that's the apc part of the name). The IGC webserver, at hosts many peace and non-violence-oriented groups, and others that relate to indigenous rights. On a "conflict resolution organizations page&apparently anyone may list their organization; the U.S. Department of Justice (for example) has, but so have many that are not government-sponsored.

The Hopi court appeal on the Western 1934 disputed lands was finally heard in 1995. Here is the fulltext of the 9th Circuit Court's opinion. In summary: the court held that the lower court was not in error in its holding that the Hopis were not entitled to half these disputed lands just because Congress had given the Navajos half of the lands within the Hopi reservation. But the lower court was in error about Hopi shrines and sacred places on the western disputed lands. That only a few Hopi religious persons used these lands ceremonially, perhaps as seldom as once a year, the court felt, still meant these lands were important religious locations for the Hopi. The court pointed out that in Christianity and many other religions, there are many occasions observed only once a year. The shrines and access to them should be guaranteed in any partitioning of these western lands. The court also refroze the Bennet freeze on construction, setting aside the lower court's thaw, since these lands were (and still are) in litigation at the end of 1995, and the freeze had been set up, in 1974, to prevent substantial changes before litigations were settled.

Another land reduction for the Hopis occurred in 1936, this one within the rectangular boundary of their reservation established in 1882 As part of a stock-reduction plan to reduce overgrazing from sheep and goats (mostly Navajo), the BIA divided the Hopi homeland rectangle into 18 land-management grazing districts, of which only one  District 6 (about 1/5th of the original divided area) was allocated exclusively to Hopis. The remaining 17 districts within the rectangle were called "Joint Use" districts for both Hopis and Navajo. The Hopis continued to protest this continuing reduction of their homeland.

In 1958, a special act of Congress permitted the two tribes to sue each other in their dispute over the land question. The lawsuit, Healing v. Jones was decided in 1962. The Hopis lost it, bigtime. The court ruled that except for District 6  the two tribes had equal rights to the 17 districts within the small rectangle boundary of the 1882 Hopi reservation.

Key court finding: "Navajos had squatted on Hopi lands, and because the Secretary of the Interior had never taken action to remove them, they had acquired 'squatters rights' to a one-half interest in the Hopi reservation, surface and subsurface on a share and share alike basis."

Observers at the time of this decision felt (and wrote) that it seems to have been influenced by the fact that the Navajo tribe could be expected to be more compliant and friendly to Peabody Coal than Hopis with newly-affirmed Navajo subsurface rights. The coal deals were the basis for the swift rise to power of long-term Navajo tribal chairman Peter MacDonald, who had been appointed (in 1963) to head Office of Navajo Economic Opportunity. MacDonald was elected to the first of his many terms as tribal chairman in 1970. MacDonald was recently released for health reasons from federal prison terms being served for convictions in 1990, 1992 and 1993 for racketeering and corruption charges in relation to land and financial dealings.

Peabody Coal was fo