Felicia Fonseca, Associated Press
SANDERS, Ariz. Unlike most of the vast, impoverished Navajo Nation, in this town all the roads are paved, schools and clinics are a short drive away, and everyone has electricity and running water in their homes.
Those modern conveniences are what lured hundreds of Navajo families to the "new lands" ranch land the federal government bought in the 1980s as part of a massive project to relocate thousands of Navajos from Hopi land and hundreds of Hopis from Navajo land.
Now, a quarter century and $514 million later, the federal Office of Navajo-Hopi Indian Relocation is winding down what has become one of the largest relocation efforts in U.S. history. The office expects to move the last of the group some 40 families by next year.
The community of relocated Navajos near Sanders calls itself Nahata Dziil, or "planning with strength," and to some, the so-called New Lands is a success story. The relocated families, they say, are mostly doing well and the community has a bright future.
But there are persistent critics, along with some families who have balked at the idea, refusing to move from their own land in eastern Arizona that their families inhabited for generations. And now the question looms: Can the New Lands remain self-sufficient once the federal program ends?
In 1882, President Chester Arthur designated 2.5 million acres in northern Arizona for the Hopi Tribe and "such other Indians as the secretary of the Interior may see fit to settle thereon."
Prior to that date, Navajos had been herding sheep on the land in the years since they returned from the Long Walk, as the Navajos call their forced relocation and imprisonment in eastern New Mexico in the mid-1860s.
The Hopi Tribe went to court in 1958 seeking return of the land the Hopi tribe claimed as its own, and in 1962, a federal court in Arizona deemed 1.8 million acres a joint use area.
Twelve years later, Congress approved the Navajo-Hopi settlement and ordered the tribes to work out their differences over the land. That never happened, and four years later, Congress divided the 1.8 million acres and ordered members of each tribe to leave the other tribe's land.
When the federal government proposed relocation as the solution to the land dispute it helped create, some Navajos armed themselves and threatened bloodshed if anyone tried to move them. Some allied themselves with the American Indian Movement, vowing to stay on the disputed land and lobby Congress for mercy.
Moving is not a concept widely embraced in the Navajo culture. Navajos often bury their children's umbilical cords in the land to tie them to it.
"We get used to our surrounding so much because we're part of our surrounding," said Peterson Zah, a former Navajo chairman and president, whose tenure was dominated by the relocation project. "You live in the spiritual way, with all the plants and the vegetation, the trees, the animal life, those kind of things people generally don't experience."
But whether they liked it or not, Navajos complied with the law under which they were provided a home and some benefits.
Glenna Thompson said Navajos often asked their creator to allow them to stay on the disputed land.
"We prayed that we wouldn't be forced to move because that's where our hearts are and that's where we wanted to stay," she said.
But as she saw other families near Teesto pick up and go, she and her family also left first to Winslow and later to Sanders to live with her mother.
Others signed accommodation agreements to remain on Hopi land under that tribe's jurisdiction. Some relocated to much smaller plots across the reservation and in towns that border Navajo land.
- Challenge to Utah's same-sex marriage ban
- Court: Mormon church, members not liable in...
- Actor Paul Walker dies in car crash; was...
- Detroit officially enters bankruptcy
- Obama: Income inequality a defining challenge
- Notre Dame sues over health care law's birth...
- Research: Native American genes have Eurasian...
- Unions and tea party activists? Common Core...
- Challenge to Utah's same-sex marriage ban 82
- Obama: Income inequality a defining... 66
- Croatians vote against same-sex marriage 43
- Court: Mormon church, members not... 33
- Fast food outlets planning strike for... 25
- Obama declares health care law is... 18
- Notre Dame sues over health care law's... 18
- Detroit officially enters bankruptcy 16