Dine' officials discuss Bennett Freeze agreement on KTNN radio

WINDOW ROCK -- The Navajo Nation's attorney general and the director of the Navajo-Hopi Land Commission told radio listeners Aug. 17 that the proposed Intergovernmental Compact between the Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe will result in no land exchanges, relocation, loss of Navajo land or livestock or loss of sites sacred to either the Navajo or Hopi people.

Instead, Navajo Nation Attorney General Louis Denetsosie said the compact will end lawsuits between the tribes involving land as in areas as diverse as LeChee and St. Michaels, and lift a freeze on development within the 40-year-old Bennett Freeze Area in the western portion of the Navajo Nation.

He and Navajo-Hopi Land Commission Director Roman Bitsuie spent two hours on KTNN's Forum program explaining the long and complicated history of the land issues going back to 1882, 1868 and what led to lawsuits of the 1934 Reservation.

He said that six chapters and eight Navajo Nation Council standing committees have approved the compact so far.

The Intergovernmental Compact he said, provides, among other things, for:

¥ No more land to be partitioned to the Hopi Tribe.

¥--Lifting of the Bennett Freeze to allow for home repairs, road improvements and electric lines.

¥ Protection of eagle gathering areas and sacred springs for both Navajo and Hopi people.

¥ An end to legal actions regarding land disputes.

Since 1957, 11 Navajo chairmen and presidents have addressed land dispute issues, Bitsuie said.

This issue is different from what became known as the Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute which resulted in the 1974 Navajo-Hopi Relocation Act,relocation of 15,000 Navajos and partitioning of land to the Hopi Tribe, he said.

"The relocation issue is a separate issue and should not be mixed with this settlement today" he said.

He said the compact resolves litigation over Hopi claims to land within as many as 31 chapters, including, for instance, Lechee, Shonto, Kayenta, Blue Gap, Rock Point, Many Farms, Ganado, Steamboat, Wide Ruins, Klagetoh, Leupp, St. Micheals, Window Rock and Fort Defiance.

"All these communities are in the 1934 Boundary act," he said. "The issue is not just over the western Navajo land."

"We are not just talking about the land around Tuba City," Bitsuie said. "The agreement addresses all the land in Arizona except for the 1868 treaty and 1882 executive order lands. Seven million acres of land is addressed in this agreement."

He said the issue has been litigated in court, has been negotiated by the Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe, and the final result has been a positive agreement for the Navajo people that will end lawsuits and result in the development people have asked for so long.

"The Hopis will get the land they got before this agreement by way of litigation so there is no land exchange or relocation in this agreement," he said.

He said Navajo medicine men and Hopi religious leaders have met regarding sacred sites, identified them, and have reached agreements and support the compact.

"We had medicine men tell us stories about these places," he said. "Alvin Clinton, a medicine man, lives near one of these places and goes to places on Hopi but supports this agreement.

Denetsosie said once the Navajo Nation Council, the Hopi Tribal Council and authorized tribal officials approve the compact, it moves to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne for his signature and then on to U.S. District Court Judge Earl H. Carroll. The Compact will take effect once the final judgment is entered by Judge

Carroll and the Bennett Freeze will be lifted immediately. Denetsosie told callers that unsubstantiated reports that residents will lose land or sheep are untrue and invited them to visit with him if they have doubts or questions.

Both he and Bitsuie dispelled the accusation that the agreement was negotiated in secret.

"There are rumors in the communities out there," Mr. Bitsuie said. "We want to tell you about the agreement. We will see how the council votes and how it affects a number of chapters."

Denestsosie revealed that the Navajo Nation Privacy and Access to Information Act in Title II makes it illegal for Navajo Nation employees and offices to disclose protected information such as Social Security numbers, dates of birth, financial documents of individuals, contracts containing proprietary information and information protected by confidentiality agreements.

That is the reason that certain maps generated during negotiations have not been released to the public, as the two tribes have agreed that the maps contain proprietary information and are covered by a confidentiality agreement.

"As a matter of public policy," he said, "courts protect communications and information that is exchanged in a negotiation, to promote the settlement of cases. This case is like that. This matter is in court and this is a negotiation. We don't want make some of the information public because releasing such information can be prejudicial."

He said his office has provided necessary information to the public about the agreement for two months, so an accusation that it is secret from the people affected by it is baseless.

"Many people, including myself, have worked on resolving this land dispute for a long time and I am aware that we are motivated by kindness to end the suffering of our people," Denetsosie said. "Thank you for thanking us, caller. We are not thanked much, so thank you. I agree with you that we should leave the past behind and move on by approving this agreement. I urge the Dine to receive the compact favorably and support approval of the compact by the Navajo Nation Council."

(George Hardeen is Navajo Nation Communications Director.)

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