Grace Smith, a Navajo Indian, vows to go to jail rather than submit to a U.S. policy that she says would mean the death of many members of her tribe.
Her crime: She refuses to leave her home in Teesto, Ariz.Smith lives in an area near Big Mountain in northeast Arizona that was given to the Hopi by the U.S. government in 1986. As many as 10,000 Dine'h (the Navajo word for Navajo) live in the area.
Smith, speaking Wednesday at the 44th Annual World Affairs Conference at the University of Colorado, said the land has been the traditional homeland of the Dine'h for thousands of years.
She said her people don't separate their religion from everyday life, and their religion is inextricably linked to the land.
"It is the substance of one's progeny," said Leo Griep-Ruiz, a member of the International Mayan League. "It's very hard to describe - to people who don't see future generations in the soil they touch - our connection with the land."
Smith said the land - not just any land, but the ancestral land - is necessary for prayer. And separation from that land will bring illness to the Dine'h as well as natural disaster. The eruption of Mount St. Helens is only the first example, he said.
The U.S. government maintains the relocation is necessary to keep the more numerous Dine'h from encroaching on Hopi land.
But Smith thinks the government has a different motive, and she said many traditional Hopi are against the relocation.
Smith said the government has given coal-rich land to the Hopi because that tribe's council will allow the coal to be mined.
She said the land was originally given to the Indians because it was a useless desert. "The buttes and mountains are water barrels," she said. "So we knew how to survive."
However, when uranium, coal and oil were discovered, the government's policy changed.
When the tribal elders - not the tribal council, which Smith said is viewed as an extension of the U.S. government by traditional Dine'h - asked her to be their eyes, voice and ears, "I took that challenge in leading the fight against culture genocide."
After insisting on meeting with members of the U.S. Congress rather than their aides, she said Arizona Sen. John McCain "almost threw us out of his office."
So Smith and her companions went to the United Nations, where they filed a complaint that their human rights were being violated and asked for a resolution demanding the suspension of the relocation.