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Inside The Hopi Navajo Land Dispute From The Hopi Perspective: An Investigative Report - Part One

by Hart Williams, NAV Contributor



The Kachina Factories

Do you know what a kachina is?

In the Hopi religion, they are called "katsinas" and, really, if you'd like to talk about respecting religions, we have to begin with the premise that we don't know what the Hopi religion is about, not really. We know that by Hopi tradition, Katsina dolls are given to children during annual ceremonies. These are hung in the home to remind the children of the Katsinas' importance to everyday Hopi life. The Heard Museum in Phoenix notes, in part, on their web page: http://www.heard.org/education/rain/cultura3/raincul8.html

  • Only an initiated Hopi adult has the appropriate knowledge and right to make an image of a Katsina or Katsina doll.
  • Young, uninitiated Hopi children are not allowed to draw or otherwise represent a Katsina, even a color-by-number figure.
  • Katsina dolls should only be carved by certain people. A non-Hopi person should not be encouraged to carve, draw, or make any image of a Katsina

The practice of selling Kachina dolls dates back to the late 19th century opening of the Santa Fe railroads main line, and Fred Harveys tours of the Painted Desert and the Hopi mesas, when passengers became fascinated with the quaint little dolls, and insisted on buying as many as the Hopi could carve. The commercial sale of kachinas has been a thriving business, and an economic mainstay of the tribe ever since. [Note: I use the term kachina for the commercially available dolls. This differs from katsinas which represent the pantheon of Hopi religion, and will not be mentioned again.]

Nonetheless, the Navajo (who have no kachinas) have never been shy about carving and selling kachinas (a Google search for Navajo Kachina turns up 470 links to sites selling and discussing Navajo Kachinas.) a sore point with the Hopi for many many years. Indeed, there are, at present, at least three factories turning out authentic kachinas, including one in Gallup, New Mexico, and one in Grants (pictured). factory They are assembly-line operations, with a Navajo at the end of the line signing the kachinas, so they can be sold as "authentic Navajo kachinas."

All tribes suffer from fake trinkets knockoffs -- as many as 70% of all NDN artifacts are phony, estimates the Smithsonian -- but the predation of the Hopi tribes (total pop. approximately 11,000) religion and handiwork by the only tribe located surrounding another -- a tribe that asks you call it the Navajo Nation, with some justification as the largest tribe in the United States, at 270,000 members, and a reservation that has grown, since 1868 to the size of West Virginia -- seems astonishing.

The word kachina is unique to the Hopi tribe and Hopis object to its use by other tribes. But Democratic Rep. Benjamin Hanley, a Navajo from Window Rock, Ariz. said an Indian is an Indian as I see it and the kachina is a commercialized product now that it is no longer solely a religious symbol. Hanley voted against the bill.

Senate fails to pass stiffer laws against Indian arts fraud - Arizona Daily Wildcat, April 5, 1996

Is this astonishing religious oppression? Is this monumental economic oppression? And isn't this also a metaphor for the entire relationship between Hopi and Navajo, at least as told by the Hopi? The answer to the last question is yes.

Over 100,000 imitation and fake kachina dolls are sold as "Hopi" every year - a huge problem for a tribe of which over 70% of its members earn part of their income from arts and crafts.

Does the Navajo tribe acknowledge that this is a problem and work with the Hopi to correct it? No.

Do the vast majority of visitors to and/or residents of the Southwest know anything about this religious controversy? No. Did you?

Injuns is Injuns

dusputed lands

The complexities of the Hopi/Navajo land dispute have resolved themselves to perhaps ten families representing perhaps eighty people, total. But the battle isn't about numbers anymore, its about ideologies. Its about world views. And, at least according to the resisters of the 'Sovereign Dineh Nation,' it's about 'religious oppression.'

But most people don't even know who the Hopi and the Navajo are, let alone the nature of the long struggle that, technically was resolved in March 2001, when, after 111 years of struggle with Washington, D.C., the Hopi finally cleared title to what remained of their ancestral lands.

The Hopi are village-dwelling, agrarian people. Old Oraibi, on the First Mesa, is the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in the U.S. lower 48, and was founded about 1050 AD. The Hopi culture infuses dry farming and daily life with a sophisticated and all-encompassing religious observance that is paralleled, perhaps, only in Tibetan culture. Religion, daily life and land are considered inseparable.

They have occupied their current mesas for thousands of years, and are thought to be the descendants of the Anasazi (a Navajo term meaning the old ones as in the old ones who built the cliff-dwellings, the villages, the endless ruins of cities that dot the Southwest as thick as bugs on a windshield on a summer day). The Anasazi built Mesa Verde; they built Chaco Canyon, the cliff dwellings, the ruins at Pecos National Monument, and, significantly, the ruins, fields and orchards at Canyon de Chelly (pronounced CAN-yon de SHAY). The Navajo, on the other hand, are a nomadic people, who, in the late 19th Century, adopted sheep-herding as a preferred way of life.

"... the nomadic Navajo ... people are considered an adaptive culture. They rapidly adjust to new forms of livelihood and technology and integrate them into their way of life without disturbing their basic values and spirit. This was so in their acquisition of sheep and horses [from the Spanish]."

-- Dr. Gerald M. Knowles, "The Navajo"

Their language is Athabaskan, and they call themselves the D'ineh or "the people." Archaeological evidence indicates that they migrated from the region of the Northwest Territories in Canada to the American Southwest, arriving at approximately the same time as the Spanish, in the 16th century. (This last fact is vehemently, although baselessly, disputed by SDN supporters, since it tends to delegitimize their contention that they have "always" been where they are, and have "always" herded sheep).

The current trouble stems from the refusal of a handful of Navajo to respect the rights of an entire nation, the Hopi people, to security in their own homeland. 10 Navajo families have refused to accept an accommodation agreement and have refused to voluntarily leave Hopi land.

Milland Lomakema, Sr., the world-renowned Hopi artist, Executive Director of the Hopi Arts & Crafts Guild and member of the Cultural Centers Museum Board explained it: "A hogan is an igloo." He recalls that there has always been tension between the Hopi and Navajo.

There is a long and well-documented history of the Navajo as raiders (hunter/gatherers who hunted people and gathered their goods) as far back as the Spanish administration of New Mexico.

One of the saddest periods of Hopi history came during the Spanish rule, when Hopi women and children by virtue of their intelligence and nonviolence became highly prized merchandise in the Santa Fe slave market, and were regularly kidnapped from the fields by Navajo raiders. The only time in memory that the Hopi ever went to war was against the Navajo, and then to protect their very homes.

Indeed, after the U.S. conquest of the Southwest in 1848, the first question that pueblo and Spanish residents sent emissaries to Santa Fe to ask was: Will you protect us from the Navajo? Among them, in 1850, was a delegation of Hopis who traveled to Santa Fe to complain about Navajo depredations to James S. Calhoun, the U.S. Agent for the newly acquired territory of New Mexico (which included what is now Arizona).

Within the past two hundred years, the Navajo have stolen Hopi crops, raped Hopi women, stolen Hopi livestock, and murdered Hopi children. The Hopi understandably call the Navajo the "tesavu" "head-bangers" or "beaters" is one translation. It relates to the favored Navajo method of killing (according to the Hopi): smashing in ones skull.

"Tavasuh - Hopi word of contempt for a Navajo (means head-pounder), From 'A Tony Hillerman Glossary by J & G Vaughan'

The pueblo term for Navajo means "newcomers." On the other hand, the name "Hopi" means the "peaceful (or "virtuous") ones."

You can tell a lot about a people from the name they've acquired from other peoples. Everyone's name for themselves is, the people. In Navajo, the people is the t'ineh, or the d'ineh (a phoneme, a language sound building-block, t' or d' is a non-vocal consonant, like "ch", t' or d' is shared by several NDN languages, for instance, Kiowa.) For gringos, its "US."

The peaceful Hopi, having never gone to war with the U.S. were thus never granted a treaty, and, in 1882, President Chester Arthur created the Hopi reservation, with the proviso that the reservation was also for "such other Indians as the Secretary of the Interior may see fit to settle thereon." Those "other Indians" were the present-day Navajo. It was to be a clash of utterly alien cultures.

In 1882, President Chester Arthur laid out a map of the Four Corners region (an area laid out by a mapmaker who'd never seen it) and drew another rectangle. This was to be the Moqui reservation (the old term for Hopi). And all the Indians in it were the same, weren't they? Injuns was injuns, after all.

Tell Me A Story

In its 1999 documentary "Trees for Mother Earth," San Francisco PBS station KQED reported just what the Navajo in Canyon de Chelly told them: that the Navajo had built the cliff dwellings of Canyon de Chelly, and planted its fields and orchards. While demonstrably not true, the Navajo interviewed clearly believed it, since that was what they'd been told. KQED mindlessly repeated the false claim.

So, a fundamental misunderstanding of who resides in the Southwest, and who the Navajo and Hopi are is not a new problem. It's really at the root of the problem. At the dawn of the Twenty-first Century, Americans still know as little about the original inhabitants of the conquered continent, seemingly, as they did when they first arrived: virtually nothing. Hopis, Navajo: same thing, right?

This much I was told over and over again: "Lets clear this up," said Alph Secakuku, author of Following The Sun And Moon - The Hopi Kachina Tradition, from a couch in his shop on the First Mesa, "The Hopi and the Navajo have never had good relations!"

It is well to begin with one unassailable fact: the Hopi have occupied the lands they now inhabit for at least one thousand years. There is evidence that the figure (for their ancestors) is closer to ten thousand years, but one thousand is accepted without controversy.

Two more unlikely cultures have rarely been mistaken for one another -- but "injuns is injuns" seemed to fuel the thinking in Washington D.C., and the Navajo, released in 1868 from Bosque Redondo, and suddenly herding dubiously acquired Spanish Merino sheep, increasingly encroached upon traditional Hopi lands. All Navajo land holdings were acquired during the last 150 years.

Meanwhile, the loss of traditional Hopi lands was staggering. In his Master's Thesis abstract, William Havens, relates: "the Navajo Nation grew from 3.5 million acres in 1868 to over 16 million acres, while their neighbors, the Hopis, have lost over 40% of their original reservation land."

ancestral lands

For a long time, there was an area called "joint-use" land. In practice, as virtually any Hopi will be happy to tell you, the Navajo used the land, and woe to the Hopi who tried to run livestock on it, or live there. Beatings, fence-cuttings, livestock mutilation, harassment and shootings were common. So it was decided to split the lands into Hopi Partitioned Lands (HPL), and Navajo Partitioned lands (NPL). The Navajo Nation got the lion's share of the split, and the Hopi on the wrong side of the fence reluctantly, but lawfully moved from their ancestral lands, and, impossibly (at least according to the relocation scenario of expert Dr. Thayer Scudder) did not die in droves, etc. The percentages of relocatees, as a function of tribal populations, were the same.

However, aided by radical AIM elements, by white hippie lawyers and 'New Age' do-gooders, the "phony land war" scenario was developed and funded, an artifact of a very specific era of American history. The Navajo resisters began their long sit-in, and filed lawsuit after lawsuit, held Lakota Sioux sundances at Camp Anna Mae and traveled repeatedly to the United Nations, claiming religious persecution.

"To say Navajos are incapable of moving is to deny historical reality," Ross Swimmer, Cherokee, Bureau of Indian Affairs Head, 1987

So, how does the SDN fight this? Simple: they say it is all a lie. "The Hopis and the Navajos have always lived together and gotten along," they say, in defiance of evidence and reason. Luckily, injuns is still injuns, and they are readily believed.

"The Creator gave us sheep," say the Navajo, which would seem to elevate the Spaniard to deity. Or, perhaps, a more charitable explanation would be that Navajo is an oral tradition (actually a series of clans and traditions), and oral traditions tend to change over time and with the times. The stories also tend to change in a manner convenient to the tellers.

The Navajo of Canyon de Chelly undoubtedly believe that their ancestors built the cliff dwellings and farmed the bottomland originally.

If you tell a story long enough, it acquires the semblance of fact. So, too, the stories of the SDN, which reflect the times of the founding of Camp Anna Mae the height of the 1960s anti-war, pro-everything movement (the early 1970s). One of the most prominent features of that time was the counter-cultures firm belief in conspiracy theories.


Part Two
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Hart Williams was the only person who was both a delegate to the 2000 Democratic National Convention, and a reporter with the Independent Media Center, covering the Convention for the Los Angeles Free Press as "Ed Waldo." He has written professionally since 1976.

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