Hardrock distrusts McCain due to land dispute record

By Wendy Kenin
Special to the Times

Text size: A A A email this pageE-mail this story

SAN FRANCISCO, Oct. 30, 2008

"Senator John McCain represents an Indian fighter just like Colonel Kit Carson," says Bahe Katenay, Diné, resident of the Hopi Partition Land.

Katenay has spent much of the past three decades supporting the traditional elders of the Big Mountain area as a translator and advocate. His family has been among those resisting federally mandated relocation from lands awarded to the Hopi Tribe.

Since 2000 they have been living under Hopi jurisdiction via a 75-year lease as implemented through federal laws that Senator John McCain introduced.

"Same as all the other senators that preceded him," Katenay said. "They were all Indian haters. They were all responsible for making the laws against the Indians here in Arizona."

The Hardrock Chapter includes Diné residents of the HPL, but land use is limited to its part of the Navajo Partition Lands - less than a quarter of the chapter's original land base.

The chapter held its regular meeting Monday and residents wanted to talk about the U.S. presidential election.

Hardrock Chapter President Percy Deal says, "The public was really interested in talking about the presidential election. Just about every member of the public that spoke up - whether they be educated or not - they expressed their support for Senator Obama simply because they know Senator John McCain over the last 26 years."

A young man

Congress instituted the relocation program by passing the Navajo-Hopi Land Settlement Act in 1974 (PL 93-531), and McCain began his political career as an Arizona congressman in 1982.

Deal recalls that as a young politician McCain attended a ceremonial event by invitation of the Hopi and Navajo tribes for a groundbreaking for a project to pave a dirt road through the region, which would improve living standards and bring economic opportunity.

Deal remembers, "Both sides heavily praised him, saying, 'You are a young man. You appear to be dedicated to the welfare of both the Navajo and Hopi tribes.

"'We see that you will be here for a long time. We see that you will support this project which will be long term. Because of your presence, it seems you will be following this project to its completion.'

"Twenty-six years later, the road is not finished," Deal said. "There is no allocation for it today."

Called the Turquoise Trail, the roughly 45-mile long road remains less than half paved.

"They felt that very little has been done, even though the senator may have been chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs," Deal said. "I used to support him and even send him money. I used to go on the air and urge the Navajo people to vote for him.

"Things have really changed," he said. "I heard it (Monday) from the public. (Support for McCain) just isn't there anymore. They want to see a change."

Continuing hardship

Katenay says that the traditional Diné who remain on the HPL have trouble obtaining permits from the Hopi Tribe for ceremonies, a requirement of McCain's 1996 legislation.

But when it comes to cultural and religious continuity, Roman Bitsuie, executive director of the Navajo-Hopi Land Commission office, says that in many ways, the Diné relocatees who left the HPL have it tougher than the resisters who stayed.

"To some extent I think (Diné HPL residents) are better than those who relocated off the land," he said, "because they still have grazing on their land and the use of the land that they're familiar with, although they may not have the modern conveniences."

Last May, Big Mountain matriarch and HPL resident Pauline Whitesinger was preparing a hogan for her granddaughter's traditional ceremony when the Hopi Tribe provided notice that her ceremonial lodge was illegal and under threat of being dismantled.

Whitesinger is well-known for articulating that "Relocation is Genocide." This claim is substantiated by the anthropological assertion that when a language dies, a culture dies with it.

In the case of Diné relocation, those who relocated have endured accelerated language loss, sometimes in less than one generation losing the ability for grandchildren and grandparents to communicate and share stories.

Bitsuie advocates for the relocatees who never received benefits, the children of relocatees who are now adults with families, some scattered in urban areas and some living in hotels for extended periods of time.

"Even the people that have relocated to the New Lands (Nahata Dziil Chapter), they still need some development so they can get decent jobs," he said. "They were uprooted from areas where they were self-sufficient and now they were placed in to a cash economy. They need to be transitioned into that cash economy."

Finishing the job

Bitsuie says that with McCain's guidance, the U.S. Congress may terminate the relocation program "before mitigating the adverse impact of the relocation."

Along with President Joe Shirley Jr., Bitsuie testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs in 2005 against ending the federal responsibility for relocatees as proposed in the Navajo-Hopi Land Settlement Amendments of 2005 (S. 1003), which still awaits passage.

Bitsuie testified, "We take strong objection to the argument that the relocation program should be closed because it has 'taken too long and cost too much.'
"We believe that the United States must finish the job with regard to the Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute and assure that all those who have been adversely affected by the relocation law have a chance at a decent life," he stated.

"As a point of comparison, I think it is worth pointing out that the entire cost to the federal government over the last 36 years of the Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute is roughly equal to what the United States spends in Iraq every 36 hours."

McCain has been promoting legislation to phase out the federal relocation benefits program since 1996. In an interview with McCain in March of 2000, McCain told the Navajo Times, "Some have chosen to interpret my role in resolving this land dispute as hostile or deliberately malevolent.

"I bear no ill will toward any of the resisting individuals or families," he said, "only a hope that these individuals can reach a negotiated solution within their own system of governance and within their affected tribal communities.

"I have made every effort to work with all affected entities in the most compassionate manner possible to provide for an orderly and certain conclusion to the relocation process," he added. "I will continue to do so."

On McCain today, Bitsuie says, "We'll still have to deal with him even if he loses the election. He'll still be in the Senate, and in the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs."

Bitsuie is working to prolong the operation of the federal relocation office, but also envisions less reliance on the U.S. government.

"We have to think differently to address our issues and to become fully self-sufficient," he said. "Then we have to think about preserving our culture and our language, preserving our religion so that we can pass it on to the next generation."

Back to top ^

Text size: A A A email this pageE-mail this story