(EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first in a series of articles detailing the Bennett Freeze issue.)
TUBA CITY -- Following the recent acceptance by the Navajo Nation government of the intergovernmental agreement lifting the Bennett Freeze, Dine directly affected by the agreement are crying foul.
At 4:24 p.m., Aug. 1, three Dine representatives filed a Complaint for Permanent Injunction in the Tuba City District Court of the Navajo Nation opposing the terms of the intergovernmental agreement and most importantly, the way in which the agreement was passed.
In an interview preceding the action, one of the petitioners, Bobby Bennett Sr. of Tuba City explained the immediacy of the injunction.
"This is an emergency situation. The way the Navajo Nation is treating the Navajo people ... they're doing everything in secret. So the sooner we file, the better. We've just got to do it as fast as we can," Bennett said. "The Navajo Nation is informing the chapter, but they're not explaining the agreement to the Navajo people. We're losing our sovereignty and we're losing our civil rights."
In a separate interview, Priscilla Kanaswood, Dine resident of Survival Hill, agreed with Bennett.
"They've had meetings that no one hears about. Part of the problem is that people don't know," she said.
According to Kanaswood, thousands of Dine who would be affected by the intergovernmental agreement have never been told of the local meetings in which the agreement would be discussed. Furthermore, she said, they have not been informed about the terms or conditions of the agreement.
"Our tribal leaders are doing things in secret. They're closing meetings and going into executive session. Maybe they think that if they don't tell people, they won't get as many people mad at them," Kanaswood said. "But we are mad. All of us have become refugees on our own land. Some of us have been forced to live in shanties on the edge of Tuba City. We're not going to agree to this. I said, 'You're going to have to handcuff me, because I won't agree.' "
Currently, both the Navajo and Hopi governments have agreed to the intergovernmental compact, which has now been forwarded to the U.S. and District courts for final approval.
However, due to the formal injunction filed by Bennett, Max Goldtooth Sr. and Robert Begay Sr. the fate of the agreement is uncertain.
Among other declarations, the petition, filed against Navajo Nation officials: President Joe Shirley Jr., Attorney General Louis Denetsosie, Speaker Lawrence Morgan and director of the Navajo Hopi Land Commission Roman Bitsuie, asks for:
A HearingÉbased on Petitioner's lack of knowledge of the existence of a Compact and denial of access to information contained therein.
The basis of due process as the homesteaders that are directly affected were never informed of the Compact.
For the Navajo Nation officials to stop misleading homesteaders and go back to the Chapter Houses to correct the record and explain specifically, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph the contents of the Intergovernmental Compact.
The District Court stay the Compact until the directly affected peoples living in the Bennett Freeze are afforded an opportunity to see, read, understand, have translated, and be granted access to the Compact, maps and exhibits contained therein.
Joetta Goldtooth, a member of the Dine Sovereignty Defense Coalition who lives on the Bennett Freeze area with her husband and family, explained that many times when chapter meetings were held to discuss the Compact, presenters would arrive without the actual documents or maps.
"My husband and I started doing research, looking into the actual document and what was going on. We started realizing that there were other people out there who were questioning, too," she said.
"I mean, the whole Compact is just a big problem. It needs to be amended so that the Dine people agree with it," Goldtooth said. "The way it's written, it would force us to give up our sovereignty. They may as well as get us new tennis shoes and send us on the Long Walk again."
Goldtooth discussed her diligence in ensuring that the Compact is not passed as it is currently written.
"A lot of people just assume that it will be okay, but when it comes down to it, it's not. This is for our kids. This is for the future," she said. "The Compact refers to the Hopi Salt Trail, but not to the Navajo Salt Trail. This is history and if history is going to be written it has to be done right."
Goldtooth explained that for hundreds of years the affected people have been complacent and accepted terms decided by the respective governments. It is these attitudes, she said, which have prolonged the dissatisfaction with land agreements, relocated families, placed livestock in jeopardy, desecrated sacred sites and contributed to the animosity between peoples.
"We want to stop the threats. It's enough," she said.
The Bennett Freeze area encompasses approximately1.5 million acres and holds sites sacred to both tribes.
In addition to the filing of the injunction, several marches have been held in the Bennett Freeze area to alert people of the fact that the Compact is not final.
For those who would like to discuss the Compact or have been threatened by the situation, Goldtooth said a meeting will be held at 6 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 10, at Bobby Bennett's home near the old airport on the Bennett Freeze. For more information call 928-283-6070 or 928-606-3205.