Bennett Freeze legislation introduced
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Last Thursday, Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick introduced the Former Bennett Freeze Area Development Act (HR 6525). While the legislation is unlikely to move forward before the end of the 111th Congress, introducing this bill will continue the push on behalf of Native Americans living in the communities burdened for so long by the Bennett Freeze moratorium in the next Congress.
After 40 years of economic burdens on the Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe, the legacy of the Bennett Freeze will take a significant and sustained effort to reverse. Kirkpatrick worked closely with tribal and community representatives to craft this bill, which will help them deal with the challenges that still remain.
"The Bennett Freeze stopped Diné and Hopi people from making even basic improvements to their homes and communities for too long, and Washington has a responsibility to address its consequences," she said. "In the last few months, we have finally started to move in the right direction. Introducing this legislation now will ensure we can build on the progress we have already made in the next Congress, rather than starting over again."
Kirkpatrick had previously provided a discussion draft of the legislation to tribal and local authorities in mid-September, asking them to send her questions, comments and other feedback from their communities.
"I am proud to have made a committed effort to ensuring the Navajo and Hopi had full input in this process," she stated.
The legislation would create a new trust fund to support housing, infrastructure, health, education, and economic development of the affected area. The fund will focus on the special requirements of these communities, allowing current sources to continue focusing on challenges elsewhere in Indian Country. The bill also enables the Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe to take on the work of the Office of Navajo and Hopi Indian Relocation through contracting, and authorizes the office to oversee a rehabilitation program for the former Bennett Freeze area.
The Bennett Freeze was imposed by the U.S. Commission of Indian Affairs in 1966 and blocked construction and development on 1.5 million acres of Navajo and Hopi lands in northern Arizona for years after, leaving the nearly 8,000 people who lived in the area in poverty. It was lifted by order of a federal judge in 2006, and the law was taken off the books permanently last year.
District One, represented by Rep. Kirkpatrick, is home to more Native Americans than any other congressional district in the country, comprising most of the Navajo Nation and 10 other tribes.