Ice breaks on Bennett Freeze issue

WINDOW ROCK-Following four years of negotiations, research and mediation, the Navajo Nation Tribal Council has taken the most recent step to change the environments within the lands and communities effectively 'frozen' by the Bennett Freeze.

On Sept. 26, with a vote of 75 in favor and 3 in opposition, the Council forwarded the progress of Navajo Hopi Intergovernmental Compact.

Then on Sept. 29, Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. gave his stamp of approval by signing the Compact. The next phases will include approval by Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne and final authorization at the hands of Federal District Judge Earl H. Carroll.Through these processes, the 48 years of litigation and 30 years of no developmen meaning no electricity, running water, business or home construction on the 1.5 million acres in the western Navajo Reservation areas may come to a close.

According to a statement released by the Navajo Nation Council Office of the Speaker Lawrence T. Morgan, the Compact will allow members of the Hopi Tribe to enter what is now the Navajo Nation without a permit for religious practices. The Hopi Tribe will not receive any Navajo land other than the area in and around Moencopi, which was previously awarded to the Hopi Tribe, and Navajo people will be allowed to enter Hopi land without a permit for traditional Navajo religious practices, the statement said.

In June, shortly after the Hopi government accepted the Navajo Hopi Intergovernmental Compact, Hopi Chairman Ivan Sidney said, 'The Hopi Tribe looks forward to the day when we finally close the door on the land dispute litigation that has taken far too much of our time and resources.'

For the Dine, this settlement has been the source of much debate due to the lack of clarification and transparency of the terms of the agreement to all residents of the Bennett Freeze area and at large.

Although several weighted concerns were voiced and acted upon, including filing of an injunction, the Intergovernmental agreement will now move to the Hopi Tribal Council.

Those voting in opposition to the passage of the Compact (Delegates Leonard Chee [Birdsprings/Leupp/Tolani Lake], Amos F. Johnson [Black Mesa/Forest Lake] and Hope MacDonald-LoneTree [Coalmine Canyon), released a statement Sept. 27, detailing the reasoning behind their vote as based not in opposition to lifting the Bennett Freeze and prohibition of development, but in the ways in which the Compact was passed.

They wrote: '...because President Shirley did not consult with Navajo people impacted by the Bennett Freeze when his Administration drafted the still secret settlement, and because the settlement was not conducted in good faith, [we] can not support the secret settlement of the Bennett Freeze.'

"The secret compact states that new construction would 'irrevocably' be restricted in those new Hopi sacred sites and corridors. Therefore it is possible that while attempting to lift the Bennett Freeze participants of the secret settlement are creating new freeze areas on Navajo land that may be just as devastating as the Bennett Freeze.'

However, in a Sept. 28 statement released by the Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President, the delegates' reference to the Compact as secret was refuted.

In the statement, Navajo Nation Attorney General Louis Denetsosie is quoted as saying, "No Navajos will be adversely impacted by the areas around eagle nests where development will be restricted, as residents within those areas are exempt, and there will be no relocations."

According to Denotsosie, 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 the maps detailing the Compact terms. This is why only Council delegates and officials have been privy to Compact maps and terms.

Following the Council's passage of the Intergovernmental Compact, residents of the affected area who were presenting in the Council Chamber gave a wholehearted applause.

"This was the people's victory today,"delegate Evelyn Acothely said.

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