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Navajo resisters, Hopi officials to file more court motions

August 17, 2001 by  
Filed under Voices from the Land

By Marley Shebala
The Navajo Times

KEAMS CANYON (Aug. 16, 2001) – Four Navajos accused of trespassing on Hopi land asked the Hopi Tribal Court to dismiss the charges on Monday.

Private attorney Joe Washington, who is representing the four Navajo women free of charge, said to Hopi Tribal Judge Delfred Leslie that the trespassing complaints against his clients were insufficient.

The four women are Ruth Benally, 85, Elvira Horseherder, 62, Paulene Whitesinger, in her 80’s, and Louise Benally, age unknown. They all reside on Big Mountain, which is on Hopi Partitioned Land.

Washington said the complaints failed to include the elements of trespassing according to the Hopi trespassing law.

Hopi Tribal Prosecutor Geoff Tager argued that the complaints against the four women were sufficient.

Leslie then ordered Washington to file a written motion for dismissal by 5 p.m. on Aug. 27 and Tager to file his response by 5 p.m. on Sept. 10.

The judge said that he would enter a not-guilty plea on behalf of the four women so their right to further challenge the complaints of trespass against them would be protected.

Leslie also set Sept. 18 at 9 a.m. as the date for the pre-trial hearing of the four women if he did not grant the motion for dismissal.

He explained that during the pre-trial hearing, the attorneys could argue their case or plea agreements could be made.

All four women were again released on their own personal recognizance after Tager informed the judge that he had no objections.

Tager said the women had complied with each of their personal recognizance agreements.

According to a copy of one of the complaints, which were almost identical for all four of the women, the women allegedly trespassed on Hopi Partitioned Land to conduct a Sun Dance without proper authorization from the Hopi Tribe

The women, the complaint says, refused to leave after being instructed to by Hopi Chief Ranger Merve Yoyotewa.

The arrest date and time on all four complaints was July 11 at 4:30 p.m.

After the arraignment, Benally said the women did not violate Hopi tribal law.

Benally, a longtime resister of federal relocation, said the Navajo people that refused to sign a 10-year lease or accommodations agreement with the Hopi Tribe or file for federal relocation benefits are denied basic human needs.

Congress passed a federal relocation law in 1974 that made it legal to prohibit the Navajo people resisting relocation on the HPL from making improvements on their homes, farms and corrals, including the installation of water lines and electrical power, she said.

Benally reiterated, “We’re being denied basic human rights.”

She said if the federal government, Hopi Tribe and even the Navajo government refuse to treat them like humans then the resisters want to be placed on the endangered species list.

Benally said the people of Big Mountain live a lifestyle that is not being practiced in other parts of the Navajo reservation and especially not off-reservation.

The traditional Navajo way of life demands that one live in peace with all of life, which includes Mother Earth, she explained.

Benally said the Navajo people on Big Mountain and Black Mesa knew before the land dispute between the governments of the Navajo Nation, Hopi Tribe and United States that their homelands contained rich coal deposits and were the least expensive to mine because the black gold was so close to the surface.

The 1974 federal relocation policy was created to force Navajo people to relocate so coal companies could strip-mine the area, which is what’s happening now, she said.

Benally said the Hopi Tribe arrested the women after first telling them that they were taking them to meet with Hopi Tribal Chairman Wayne Taylor about a permit for the Sun Dance.

She said the arrest, which included being forced to take off their clothes and put on orange jail clothing, was humiliating and scary for the women.

Whitesinger said Hopi detention officers yanked her skirt down.

Tager on Wednesday said he would contact the appropriate Hopi officials for a response concerning the allegations by the Navajo defendants about mistreatment by Hopi detention officers.

Hopi Tribal spokesperson Claire Heywood on Wednesday said the defendants might claim that the trespassing charges against them were a violation of their religious rights.

But Heywood said the Hopi Tribe still maintains that they were

They are resisting relocation and so they have no right to be on Hopi land, she said.

Heywood added that the Sun Dance ceremony, which the Hopi Tribe does not oppose, is about a mile from Navajo land and there seems to be no reason why the ceremony and prayers for healing couldn’t be moved

Heywood said the accusations by the defendants that they were mistreated by Hopi rangers, police and detention officers are “flat out lies.”

The Hopi rangers, police and detention officers are professionals and the allegations of abuse by the defendants are being made to generate public sympathy for them, she claimed.

Heywood said detention officer informed her that the defendants were not mistreated and that they could hear them “giggling” in their cells all night.

She said people who are giggling shows they are not that upset.

Heywood said the defendants were made to wear the orange detention clothing because that’s just standard practice and there are no exceptions.

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