The following is a statement released by Mr. Lee B. Phillips, esq. regarding the Navajo-Hopi land dispute in northern Arizona. Mr. Phillips is the attorney for Navajo families who filed a class action lawsuit against the United States in 1988. This lawsuit, referred to as Manybeads vs. U.S., asserts that relocation of Navajos is unconstitutional because it violates their First Amendment.
Since 1991, Navajo families have been engaged in talks with the Hopi Tribe as a result of court ordered mediations by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The following is his statement which we, the Navajo Nation Office of Navajo-Hopi Land Commission here in Window Rock, Arizona are releasing in his behalf to dispel unfounded rumors and misinformation being circulated out there about evictions of Navajo elders on April 1, 1997.
Comments can be sent to: Annette Brown, Navajo Nation Press officer (520) 871-7919.
Mr. Phillips' office is in Flagstaff, Arizona.
The Hopi Tribal Council recently rejected requests from the federal district court, Attorney General Janet Reno, Navajo Nation President Albert Hale and attorney, Lee Phillips, who represents the Navajo individuals living on land partitioned to the Hopi Tribe by Congress in 1974, to extend the March 31, 1997 deadline for Navajo families to sign 75 year lease agreements known as Accommodation Agreements.
This decision leaves the Navajos with less than 2 weeks to sign the Agreements or face eviction from their ancestral homes by the federal government by the year 2000.
The Navajo families have been awaiting a decision from federal judge Earl H. Carroll regarding the fairness of the Agreement and proposed settlement of the Manybeads v. United States lawsuit. On March 17, 1997 Judge Carroll issued an order stating that he would defer his ruling on these issues "until the expiration of the deadline by which eligible Navajos must enter into an Accommodation Agreement." The Court also made clear that the Navajo families have nothing to lose by signing the Agreement because they can do so and still pursue their separate appeal against the federal government in the Manybeads case.
I strongly urge the Navajo families who reside on Hopi Partitioned Lands, to sign the "Accommodation Agreement" with the Hopi Tribe prior to the March 31, 1997 signing deadline. I recommend this because families lose nothing by signing and by signing can continue our appeal of the Manybeads lawsuit while remaining legally on the disputed land, free from a twenty (20) year old Court ordered freeze on home construction and repair, with new increased grazing rights and a commitment from the federal government and Hopi Tribe to treat the Navajos fairly and to recognize and respect Navajo culture and religion.
The only legal alternative is to not sign and to then agree to voluntary relocation or involuntary eviction by the year 2000. People gain nothing by choosing this option.
If a family signs the Agreement with the Hopi Tribe the receive the legal right to remain on HPL, to live their traditional lifestyle and to exercise their religious rights, which have finally been recognized by the Agreement. The 20 year old ban on Navajo home construction/repair on the HPL will end and the family will receive new increased grazing privileges. In addition, family members who have been away from the HPL for work, school or military service can sign the Agreement and return to the homesite to live with their family. Finally, further negotiations on unresolved issues will continue, but only, with the Navajo families who have signed the Agreement.
The families who refuse to sign by the March 31, 1997 deadline will be left out of this future process. Instead, the families who do not sign will be contacted by the federal Office of Navajo Hopi Indian Relocation beginning in April, 1997. The families will be given 90 days to decide if they wish to voluntarily relocate from the HPL. The families who refuse to voluntarily relocate will be referred to the Department of Justice and the Bureau of Indian Affairs for possible eviction.
It is very important for everyone to realize that there will be no large scale eviction effort any time in the immediate future. Rumors that evictions will begin April 1, 1997 are false. Under the current federal law, after the deadline, the federal government must:
END OF STATEMENT