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Hopis vs. Big Mountain Trespassers

For the facts on the Hopi/Navajo land dispute, read the Hopi Tribe's position paper. Then return here.

The following is a response to the latest Big Mountain press release on the subject:

>> The U.S. has begun what it hopes will be the final steps in a campaign to exterminate Dineh (Navajo) families who became trespassers on their traditional land as a result of a 1974 law pushed through Congress by the coal industry. <<

Congress passed the 1974 returning Hopi land to the Hopi people because it was the right thing to do. The law merely recognized that the Navajo were trespassers and have been since the last century. The Navajo have spent millions on lobbying and public relations to persuade the public that this issue is about coal. It isn't. The Navajo have fought in the courts for their alleged rights (the right to trespass, that is) and have lost every time.

>> The land title was transferred to the Hopi Tribal Government, which was dominated by John Boyden, a white attorney working for the Peabody Coal Company. <<

That Boyden "dominated" the Hopi might be news to the Hopi. Boyden secured the land for the Hopi (for all Hopi, not just the tribal government) because it was Hopi land.

The Hopi people have made it clear they want control over their ancestral land (see below). The courts have ruled in their favor both before and after the so-called title transfer. That makes Boyden's role irrelevant.

"Traditional" Hopi defined
>> The tribal government was installed by the US for the purpose of granting mineral leases despite the strong objections of traditional Hopi and continues to receive funding from Peabody Coal. <<

The US "installed" the Hopi tribal government, like it installed other tribes' governments, to give them a way to cope with modern America. For decades the Hopi people have elected responsible chairmen and council members to deal with other government and corporate entities. Like other Native people, they're fully capable of making their own decisions.

At the same time, they continue to practice their traditional religion. "Traditional" is a term the Navajo and other non-Hopis aren't qualified to define. Even among the Hopi, it isn't a clearly distinguished concept.

Those whom the trespassers call "traditional Hopi," the people who don't recognize the Hopi or US government as valid, make up a tiny percentage of the Hopi overall. Only a few of them are left, literally.

If the US government and mining interests exerted undue pressure on the Hopi tribal council to sign leases with Peabody, that was decades ago and most of the parties involved are dead. In recent years Hopi leaders have denounced the leases as unfair and have pushed for better economic terms and more environmental protections. Vernon Masayesva, for one, has worked to stop Peabody's waste of N-aquifer water as Hopi chairman and as director of the Black Mesa Trust. His views have been consistent in both roles.

If "conflict of interest" is a factor, the Hopi government is no different from any other democratic government. Officials must balance preservation of the status quo with economic development. The Hopi people need and want schools, roads, police, hospitals, telecommunications, and the other necessities of modern life. Nothing surprising about that.

But the usual conflict of interest is a far cry from a BIA-backed conspiracy to betray the Hopi and Navajo people. In fact, the Navajo, supposedly the victims in this contretemps, also receive funding from Peabody Coal. They receive several times as much funding as the Hopi do, which should make their motives several times as suspect.

One could easily claim the Big Mountain trespassers are acting as stooges for the BIA-backed Navajo Nation in its attempts to gain additional coal royalties. That charge would have as much merit as the equivalent charge against the Hopi. None, in other words.

Navajo encroachment goes way back
Here's what one Tewa-Hopi elder had to say about the Hopi-Navajo history:

If you look at a map of the Hopi area the way it has been drawn in recent years you will see a section of about 630,000 acres reserved for exclusive Hopi use, and around it in a rectangle an area of about 1,800,000 acres known as Joint Use land. That center section is sometimes called District 6. The Joint Use land is really Hopi territory, always was before the Navajos moved in....Traditionally, Hopi lands extended hundreds of miles in all directions. They went north to the San Juan River and south to well below Winslow. On the west side they went to the Little Colorado River, and on the east they went beyond Jeddito and White Cone.

The Hopis suffered from the Navajo a long time, beginning back when the Navajo began floating in here from the north....[The Navajo] had the same idea that the whites had about land. If they wanted it and no one seemed to be living there, they just moved in. With us Hopis and Tewas, we have always respected the land claims of other people. But the Navajos were basically migrators who moved around a lot until the Government drew a line around them and made them stay in one place.

From the Hopi point of view, the Navajo were not good neighbors because they were aggressive and warlike whenever they needed something. They not only took food in their raids, but women and children too....[W]e Hopis were outsiders to them and fair game if they needed something we had.

In 1882 President Chester Arthur set off two and a half million acres for the Hopis, and the Navajos were not supposed to come into that area. It was supposed to be exclusively for the Hopis and maybe some other Indians that the Secretary of the Interior might want to settle in it. But the Navajos kept coming in. They swarmed all over it, and the Government let them do it.

Albert Yava, Big Falling Snow

The historic enmity between the Hopi and Navajo is well-known, at least to anyone who has lived in the area and isn't trying to whitewash the reality. For instance, Pat Sekaquaptewa, a Hopi woman, says, "There is and always has been conflict between Hopis and Navajos." That may explain why, historically speaking, the Navajo nickname for the Hopi is "Moqui" (people of the dead) and the Hopi nickname for the Navajo is "Tavasuh" (head pounders).

Albert Yava talks at some length about the Hopis' land concerns throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Since he was born in 1888, he lived during these times and knew the people involved personally. He offers an eyewitness report:

Old-timers told us that back in the 1800s some representative from Washington came out here to talk about a land agreement. He didn't make much progress on it. He said, "Don't you people want to have something on paper, an agreement showing what you are claiming?"

The Hopi chiefs said, "No, we don't have to have an agreement. This is our land. Always was our land. Why do we have to negotiate for our own land? We were here first. Why do we have to have some kind of paper to show?"

I mentioned that a Hopi delegation went to Washington in 1890 to talk about our land problems and the inroads of the Navajos. At that time we had a BIA agent named Vandever. When our people talked to him at Keam's Canyon they frequently indicated they wanted to go to Washington to get a pledge from the Great White Father that their lands would be protected.

Old Tom Keam was very concerned about the whole land question, the lack of an officially designated Hopi reservation and the carving up of the clan lands as well. He thought that the Hopis had better get together and do something to keep their lands and landholding system intact. In 1894 he went around urging the village and ceremonial leaders to unite and write a letter asking that the Government protect the Hopi claims.

Tom Keam persuaded them to send an appeal from the Hopi people to Washington....Practically every clan and family was represented. One hundred and twenty-three men in all signed by making their clan marks.

When our Hopi Tribal Council was first set up under the 1934 Constitution, it asked the Government to extend District 6, which was supposed to be for exclusive Hopi use....[The Government representative] said, "Yes, but there are Navajos living there." We said yes, we knew it, but the Navajos had come in just recently and we were trying to keep our lands from being taken over by them.

Sources confirm Hopi history
Just one man's fancy? No, you can find similar accounts in most books written by or about the Hopi. For instance, in Truth of a Hopi, Edmund Nequatewa offers a chapter titled, "How the Hopi Marked the Boundary Line Between Their Country and That of the Navajo." It recounts events from around 1870, suggesting both people recognized the concept of land ownership and boundaries long before tribal governments existed. He wrote this in 1936, before John Boyden and the mining interests became involved in Hopi politics, so his claim seems unimpeachable.

And from Hopi by Susanne and Jake Page:

The Navajo continued to move into the Hopi Reservation, and the Hopi continued to complain to the U.S. government, to no avail. Raiding and thievery continued, as the government agents' reports testify, but chiefly the problem was that Hopi were effectively denied the use of much of their land.

And from The Hopi by Nancy Bonvillain:

In 1949, 24 traditional leaders sent a letter to authorities in Washington, D.C., expressing their convictions about the importance of land. They said:

This land is the sacred home of the Hopi people. It was given to the Hopi people the task to guard this land by obedience to our traditional and religious instruction. We have never abandoned our sovereignty to any foreign power or nation.

And from Pages from Hopi History by Harry C. James:

In 1951 many important members of the various clans and religious societies of Shongopavi drew up a statement which was presented to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, outlining the boundaries of the area they have traditionally considered to be theirs.

Some excerpts from this statement:

Many times we have talked with officials of the United States Government on the matter of our land. In April of 1939 we presented a map of our land to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, but have not received acknowledgment of our claim....

Our claim—based upon our occupation and use in the conduct of our traditional life under the traditional order of the Hopi people joined as one through long established custom, and through agreements whereby all clans are pledged to their traditional leader and in turn are supported by their leader—is for our rights to the full use of our resources, our ceremonial shrines and hunting areas.

Clark Talahaftewa, Kikmongwi, Sakwalenmongwi
Dick McLean Quanavama, Katcinmongwi, Dowmongwi
Franklin Coochyesotewa, Sun Clan, Kwanmongwi
Viets Lomahaftewa, Water Clan, Al mongwi
Ralph Selina, Corn Clan, Wuwucim mongwi
Otis Polelonema, Snow Clan, Mas len mongwi
Louis Tewanima, Rope Clan, Tchuf mongwi
Wadsworth Nuvangoitewa, Sunforehead Clan, Chumongwi
Andrew Hermequaftewa, Bluebird Clan, Advisor

The historical record is clear. From the 1800s through the turn of the century to the 1950s and beyond, the Hopi refrain has been constant and unyielding. "Protect our land. Keep the Navajo off it." The trespassers' claim that nobody cared about land rights until corporations began looking for coal is a blatant fiction.

Even Peter Matthiessen, an author with a strong bias against government and business interests, doesn't deny the obvious. In his book Indian Country he writes:

Except for the traditional people at Big Mountain, most Navajo do not revere Black Mesa as the Hopi do; it wasn't their land in the first place....

Traditionalists oppose Navajo land grab
In recent decades, the more conservative Hopi have opposed both the Peabody mining and the Navajo encroachment. Here are excerpts from a letter dated August 6, 1970, to Peabody Coal, the Hopi tribal council, and lawyer John Boyden:

The lease of 1966 already gives Peabody permission from the Tribal Council to mine coal from land that belongs to all the Hopi people. They are doing this now. The land is also claimed by the Navajo Tribe, but we know it belongs only to the Hopis . . . .

We therefore urge you to refuse to sign any lease with Peabody to let them mine and process another 84 million tons of coal.


Mina Lansa, Chief, Old Oraibi
Claude Kewaneouma, Chief, Shungopavi
Several villagers

Several traditional Hopis reiterated their beliefs in a subsequent statement. This statement described the religious basis for a lawsuit filed by the Native American Rights Fund against the Secretary of the Interior and the Peabody Coal Co., May 14, 1971. Some excerpts:

The area we call "Tukunavi" (which includes Black Mesa) is part of the heart of our Mother Earth.

This land was granted to the Hopi by a power greater than man can explain....

To us it is unthinkable to give up control over our sacred lands to non-Hopis.

The Hopis never gave authority and never will give authority to anyone to dispose or our lands and heritage and religion for any price.

We can no longer watch as our sacred lands are wrested from our control, as the spiritual center disintegrates. We cannot allow our control over our spiritual homelands to be taken from us.

Starlie Lomayaktewa, Kikmongwi of Mishongnovi
Mina Lansa, Kikmongwi of Oraibi, Kykotsmovi and Lower Moencopi
Claude Kewaneouma, Kikmongwi of Shungopavi and Sipaulovi
Jack Pongayesvia, David Monongye, religious leaders of Hotevilla
Thomas Banyacya, Sr., Official Interpreter, Village of Kykotsmovi
Carlotta Shattuck, Recorder, Village of Walpi

Hopi united in wanting land
Quoting from the same 1971 statement in Handbook of North American Indians, Vol. 9, Southwest, Richard O. Clemmer writes:

"Title," [the six Hopi elders] asserted, "is vested in the whole makeup of Hopi life....If the land is abused, the sacredness of Hopi life will disappear."

Although this view conflicted with the [Hopi tribal] council's strategy of economic development, it is clear that Traditionals and council supporters were alike in valuing land and its resources. Whether land was used for economic purposes or as a basis for religious activity and ritual enactment of the mythic process, land was regarded as the most crucial factor for the perpetuation of the Hopi as a viable Indian nation.

Some excerpts from letters to the Hopi Tutuveni newspaper make it clear the distinction between "traditional" and "progressive" Hopi is misleading, if not false:

[Outsiders] would like the Hopi to believe that there is such a person as a "traditionalist" when we all know that every Hopi individual is both traditional and modern at the same time. Take me for instance.

I am very involved in religious functions and at times have become one of the religious leaders in my village. Yet I serve on the Hopi Tribal Council supported by our village leader....The sad truth is that we continue to suffer colonial attitudes when so-called human rights activists suggest that we are unable to govern ourselves and that we are not "traditional" enough to be Indian. We can speak for ourselves and we can govern ourselves. We are not puppets for anyone.

These individuals continue to show their ignorance and their unwillingness to see the injustice, hatred, and racism they are promoting against the Hopi. Here on Hopi, everyone is related. To put down one Hopi is to put down all Hopi for we are all brothers and sisters. Shame is upon you for attempting to divide Hopi people.


Cedric Kuwaninvaya
(Published 3/7/00)

While non-Hopis find it convenient for their own purposes to label Hopi people as either "traditional" or "progressive," it is not the truth. The truth is that all Hopi are traditional and progressive. Some of our religious leaders today are also college educated. The labeling of Hopi as "progressive" or "traditional" is a divisive tool for those that wish to divide and conquer the Hopi people. It is a colonial attitude that has survived to this day.

Those who argue that the voice of the Hopi people as expressed through their Tribal Government is a "puppet" voice, ignore the basic human right of all people to evolve in their culture and society, including their governmental institutions. The Hopi will deal with modern problems by means of their own choosing. We will not allow others to choose for us.

The so-called activist[s] who support the resisting Navajo in their efforts to take Hopi land are using the same colonial tactics to undercut Hopi self-governance. When they speak of Human Rights, they only advance their own domination over native people. We, as Hopis, are in charge of our destiny and our lands. A right we refuse to give up to any outside individual or group. That is our human right.

Rachel Sakiestewa-Scott
(Published 1/25/00)

Much of the traditional activity centers in the Hopi village of Hotevilla. Hotevilla's religious leaders have denounced in writing, with a signed pronouncement, any so-called "traditionals" claiming to speak for Hopi or saying "traditional Hopis support Navajo presence on Hopi land." The trespassers have found one or two mouthpieces to speak for the entire tribe, but they don't represent the Hopi any more than you or I do.

More Hopi speak out
"We cannot afford to lose more land because it would make it impossible to fulfill our religious obligations...."
Dan Evehama: Disputed land is "HOPI!"

Big Mountain, Big Lie
Speaking of shame, shame upon the activists for claiming coal is the issue when the Navajo already receive 80-90% of Peabody's royalty payments. Simply put, coal is a smokescreen. Here's what Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), not known as an apologist for anyone, said about the 1996 Settlement Act in correspondence with the Navajo Times, March 2000:

The Peabody Coal Company was in no way a party to the settlement. The Peaboady Coal Company does have mining interests in certain Hopi and Navajo lands. Only by the consent of the Navajo and/or Hopi people represented by their government and tribal council are these land areas opened to mining. There were no negotiated provisions in the settlement to allow for mining in the HPL or affected Navajo land areas. There are no coal or mineral deposits in the lands at Big Mountain.

The Navajo, the Hopi, and the US government—the principals in the land dispute—and Peabody Western all agree. Peabody has no involvement or interest at Big Mountain:

[C]ertain activist groups have erroneously accused Peabody Western of being the cause of the Navajo-Hopi land dispute and the hardships brought to the Dine (Navajo) people caused by their relocation from the disputed area. The tragedy of forced relocation is a direct result of the United States Government's failure to deal in good faith with either the Navajo or the Hopi people, and has nothing whatever to do with Peabody Western.

Albert Hale, president, Navajo Nation
Letter written 11/5/97

Peabody Western Coal Company is in no way acting in concert with the Hopi Tribe and the United States Government in attempting to reach a resolution of this long-standing problem. Any statement to the public to the contrary made by any individual or group of individuals is simply untrue and amounts to nothing more than misinformation and an attempt to illicit [sic] unwarranted public support for the continuing denial of Hopi rights to Hopi lands.

Ferrell Secakuku, chairman, Hopi Tribe
Letter written 1/25/95
Peabody operates two surface mines about 20 miles north of the dispute area through lease agreements renewed and expanded in 1987 and renegotiated again in 1998. Peabody has no operations at Big Mountain, no legal right to mine there and no plan to mine there.

Peabody FAQ on land issues

Maps on both the Dineh Relocation Resistance website (large map) and Peabody Western's website (small map) confirm all of the above. These show Peabody's lease area does not come close to Big Mountain. The coal issue is a fraud perpetuated by the trespassers.

Thousands complain, a few trespass
>> Several thousand Dineh still remain on their ancestral land in defiance of all the government attempts to drive them away. <<

Maybe so, but only a couple dozen trespassers have declined the generous offer of 75-year leases, negotiated by the Hopi and Navajo despite the Hopis' winning in court. Only these trespassers are refusing to obey the law. The other "several thousand," those that have signed leases aren't at risk of eviction from Hopi land. They can live on the land they hold sacred and practice their beliefs without interference.

To reiterate, no one wants to mine Big Mountain because it doesn't have any coal or mineral deposits. What are the trespassers protecting except their right to squat on land that isn't theirs?

>> The US has forbidden them to make any repairs on their homes. <<

Right, because building on the land would let them increase their illegal toehold on Hopi land. The courts have rightly recognized the Hopi right to control development on their own land. Anything else would deny the Hopi the property rights enjoyed by all other Americans.

Try building a house on any property you don't own and see what happens. If the trespassers want to develop the Hopi land they live on, they can sign leases that protect their rights and the rights of the Hopi landowners. That's the American way.

Here's a quote from the Hopi-Navajo agreement outlining the Navajo rights to use the land:

All structures related to residential, farming, grazing or Navajo ceremonial use which are currently on the HPL leaseholds shall remain permitted, as part of each lease. The individual lessees shall be allowed to repair, restore, and enlarge existing structures. The individual lessees shall be permitted, after application, to construct new structures on the lease areas so long as the structures are related to residential, farming, grazing, or Navajo ceremonial use.

>> Some families were offered leases that allowed them to remain as tenants upon their land with no civil rights and without a means of survival. <<

The land isn't "their" land, it's Hopi land. The Navajos who lease Hopi land have the same civil rights and means of survival as Hopi citizens do. The Hopi government has made this clear repeatedly. If the leaseholders try to graze more sheep than they have permits for, the Hopi authorities will stop them just as Navajo authorities would (or should).

An article in the Hopi Tutuveni, 6/12/01, confirms this:

All ranchers living on Hopi land, both Navajo and Hopi, are subject to livestock impoundment if they do not have a permit or they have more animals than they are permitted under sustainable land management practices. What the resisters always fail to point out is that it is their continual disobedience of these permitting requirements that results in their animals being impounded.

Permitting is not a devious means of ensuring the Navajo resisters cannot keep enough sheep to maintain their subsistence lifestyle. It is an absolute necessity on the Hopi Reservation because it is the only means of protecting this fragile high-desert environment.

Does that sound unfair to either party? Read the agreement to see how fair it is to both sides.

>> What Can I Do? <<

Observe that the Navajo apologists can't or won't document their claims as I've done above. Ask yourself why. Why are the apologists telling you what others say and believe without quoting the parties in question? If the "traditional" Hopi want to give their land to the Navajo and the "corporate" Hopi want to give it to Peabody Coal, where's the concrete evidence? Where's the written documentation of these claims?

Nowhere, that's where. It doesn't exist. The actual evidence shows conclusively that the Hopi want their land because the Creator gave it to them. They've asserted ownership of it ever since white men began recording their views.

So what can you do? You can counteract the Navajo propaganda machine by learning the truth about the issues.

The latest developments
A Thirsty Nation
Navajos' eviction by U.S. not likely
Gathering Clouds:  Arizona's Navajo and Hopi Tribes Have Won a Water-Rights Battle Against the [Peabody] Coal Company

Background on the Hopi, the Navajo, and the land dispute
Hopi Ancestral Land Issues
Who Will Protect the Hopi?
Navajo-Hopi Long Land Dispute
      Navajo-Hopi Dispute Links (update)
The Native American Nations of the Black Mesa Region
      I'll See You in Court
The Hopi Project
Hopi Lands and Big Mountain:  Misinformation Is an Issue
Navajos' Eviction by U.S. Not Likely

Big Mountain in the Stereotype of the Month contest
Big Mountain article fails to note Hopi/Navajo conflict
Norrell claims Hopi sovereignty is "apartheid attitude"
Looking Horse says Diné foes have a "disease of the mind"
Newspapers write about a "traditional Navajo Sundance"
Navajo blames "Corporate Hopis" for Ariz. land conflict

Related links
Big Mountain pictures

Readers respond
Lakotas affirm that only Plains Indians should do Sun Dances.
Benally:  "[N]o one can own the earth, not Hopi, not Diné, not Lakota."
Bulldozing Camp Anna Mae was evidence of a "storm trooper mentality, and not the way of Native people."
"Who are these people...who tell everyone that they know more about the Hopi than the Hopi?"
"I was most happy to read your strongly worded reaction...."
"No one owns the land, we belong to it...."
"The Hopi are not a sovereign nation, as long as the BIA and Peabody operate the HTC."
"You are 'pushing' exactly what the Peabody coal and BIA propaganda machine wants you to push -- more lies."
"Sounds like your information comes from the Whole Earth Catalog."
"Don't ever tell me there is no Hopi Corporation."

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