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Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute Legislation Passes the Senate

May 4, 2006 by  
Filed under Archives

Navajo Nation Opposes the Bill

For immediate release:             Contact:          Roman Bitsuie, Executive Director,

Navajo Hopi Land Commission Office

928-871-6441

Window Rock, AZ, Navajo Nation///May 3, 2006/// On May 2, 2006, the Senate passed the Navajo-Hopi Land Settlement Amendments of 2005 (S. 1003), legislation sponsored by Senator John McCain that would bring about the closure of the Office of Navajo and Hopi Indian Relocation (ONHIR) by September 30, 2008.   Navajo Nation officials testified regarding the original version of this legislation at a hearing before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on July 21, 2005, expressing grave concern over the abrupt termination of ONHIR, the failure of the legislation to address the negative consequences of the relocation law by not providing for a study linked directly to a program of rehabilitation, and the failure of the legislation to address the effects of the construction freeze in the Bennett Freeze area.   S. 1003 will now be referred to the House of Representatives for consideration.

“Although Senator McCain addressed some of the issues raised by the Navajo Nation, he did not address our principal concerns regarding mitigation of the terrible effects of the relocation program and rehabilitation of the Bennett Freeze area,” stated Roman Bitsuie, Executive Director of the Navajo Hopi Land Commission Office, the Navajo agency responsible for dealing with land dispute related matters. Mr. Bitsuie added, “The Navajo Nation opposes S. 1003, but will always seek to work in a constructive way with the Senator.   We think there is room for compromise.   The only area where we cannot compromise is on the fundamental justice of assuring that the many harms caused by the relocation law and Bennett Freeze are adequately addressed by the Federal government.”

In 1974, when it passed the original relocation law, Congress acted without a good understanding of the situation on the ground in the Joint Use Area.   As a result, Congress grossly underestimated the number of affected families, the extraordinary social and economic upheaval the law would create, as well as the cost of implementing the law.

Mr. Bitsuie added, “With S. 1003, which would bring an abrupt end to the relocation program before any independent study of the program’s successes and failures can be undertaken, Congress would repeat its earlier mistake. S. 1003 should provide for a study to be undertaken to assess the impact of the relocation law and to serve as a policy and fact – based tool for developing a humane closure plan.    That study should be performed before any closure is put into place and should be directly linked to a rehabilitation plan.   The minor reporting requirement in S. 1003 is not sufficient.”

“We have loads of anecdotal information that tells us that many relocated families have been traumatized and suffer from a much higher incidence of alcoholism, poverty, suicide, depression, and physical illnesses than the rest of the local population.   In addition, the burden for caring for these families has fallen on the surrounding communities, as well as the Navajo Nation,” added Mr. Bitsuie .

Mr Bitsuie further noted, “Any legislation should also make clear that there should be no forced relocation of Navajo families and should provide more time for individuals to be certified for benefits.”

“We will work with members of the House of Representatives in the hopes of fashioning legislation that will address the negative impacts of the relocation law, rehabilitation of the Bennett Freeze, and only after these have been fully addressed, bring about final closure of the relocation program,” concluded Mr. Bitsuie.

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