Navajo Hopi Land Commission advocates for Bennett Freeze funding

WASHINGTON-Representatives of the Navajo Hopi Land Commission traveled to Washington for meetings with Congress and the White House concerning the Office of Navajo Hopi Indian Relocation (ONHIR) and the need to provide money to rehabilitate the former Bennett Freeze area.

Of particular concern to the Commission members was OHNIR's shift away from relocating and housing families displaced by the Navajo Hopi Land Settlement Act of 1974, and to a prolonged tactic of engaging in lengthy and costly appeals in an attempt to deny relocation benefits.

The Navajo Hopi Land Commission has long advocated for greater oversight over ONHIR and the need for the appointment of an executive director to properly manage the office's work.

Navajo Council Delegates Walter Phelps (Cameron, Coalmine Canyon, Birdsprings, Leupp, Tolani Lake) and Lorenzo Curley (Klagetoh, Wide Ruins, Houck, Lupton, Nahata Dziil) also discussed a proposed Navajo Sovereignty Empowerment Zone that would streamline the federal approval process on selected lands and the former Bennett Freeze area to expedite development and rehabilitation.

The commissioners were in Washington from March 10 to 12 and had meetings with representatives of the Navajo Nation's congressional delegation, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, the Senate Finance Committee, and the House Interior Appropriations and Indian and Alaskan Native Affairs Sub-committees.

The council delegates also raised concerns about the Peshlakai family's dispute with the National Park Service regarding their right to remain on their traditional lands during their meeting with the White House Senior Policy Adviser for Native American Affairs, Jodi Gillette.

"It was a privilege to meet with the Obama Administration's Office of Native American Affairs, it gave us a great opportunity to relay a number of interests relating to the relocation program including the need for rehabilitation of the former Bennett Freeze Area," said Phelps. "In addition, it also provided us an opportunity to discuss the situation involving the Peshlakai family; this has the potential to impact other indigenous peoples whom reside within National Park lands."

The congressional delegation is working with the land commission to introduce their amendment to the Navajo Hopi Land Settlement Act before Congress adjourns for the August recess.

Phelps will testify before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies in April.

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