A century-old land dispute between Hopi and Navajo Indians is flaring up again, but Hopi Tribal Chairman Ivan Sidney says he'll avoid any direct confrontation and rely on federal courts for protection.
Navajo Tribal Chairman Peter MacDonald says Navajos who have lived for years on what is now Hopi land may die of exposure this winter if repairs aren't made.And he says he's ready to go onto the land himself to make repairs if no one else does.
Sidney said, however, that if MacDonald is really concerned, he should help the Navajos relocate from Hopi lands to his reservation instead of encouraging them to stay on Hopi land.
"MacDonald talks about relieving hardships and building houses on our land, but if he is really worried about relieving hardships, why can't he build them homes on his side?" Sidney told a news conference Friday.
Sidney said his lawyers already had filed papers in U.S. District Court to block Navajos from building or rebuilding homes on the Hopi land without permission from the Hopi tribe.
But MacDonald aides told reporters to gather at a hotel near the Hopi lands Saturday to accompany the Navajo chairman on a trip.
The aides declined to say where MacDonald was heading, but Sidney said he assumed MacDonald would go to Hopi land and participate in the construction.
"If there is actual construction to take place this weekend, maybe Monday, then we will take a second step of asking for a restraining order," Sidney told a news conference Friday.
"But it will be an orderly process," he added, saying that he planned to spend today at a ceremonial dance and expected no direct confrontation.
The Hopis and Navajos have been feuding over land in northeastern Arizona for more than 100 years, but the latest moves stem from 1974 congressional and court decisions that partitioned a 1.8-million-acre "joint-use area" that both tribes had used into Hopi-only and Navajo-only sectors.
The few Hopis affected by the partition moved quickly, but many of the thousands of affected Navajos have been reluctant to leave. A federal commission that is supposed to provide relocation benefits has been unable to provide many of the new houses that Congress promised.
In letters to the relocation commission and the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs earlier this month, MacDonald said his tribe was prepared to go onto the Hopi-partitioned land and make the repairs itself if the federal government did not come up with a repair schedule by Thursday for about 32 Navajo families living in housing that is "totally inadequate" for a cold winter.
"Another winter like the last one and some people, particularly the poorest, may suffer illness, even death," MacDonald wrote.
MacDonald said that some Navajo families were living "day to day in shacks, cars along the roads, tents, lean-tos or hogans that are in such disrepair that their very lives may be in danger with the coming of winter."
Sidney, however, said that tribal members on parts of the 16-million acre Navajo reservation also lived in deplorable conditions and that MacDonald was ignoring their plight.
"I think many of the relocatees are living there because they are pawns of their own government," Sidney said. "Why doesn't he help his people move away from our land and make room for them on Navajo land?"
Officials at the BIA said there is a regular system set up under which Navajos seeking repairs on Hopi-partitioned land can have repairs made if they get permission from the Hopi tribe.
The Hopis have insisted that Navajos agree to eventual relocation in return for permission, however, and many of the Navajos have balked. Both tribes consider the land sacred.