Benjamin A. Thomson, Geography
To introduce this research summary, I would like to include a brief background to my research topic. Since the creation of the Hopi and Navajo reservations in 1880, these two tribes have disputed the use of the land. By 1974 the Navajo, living on a reservation surrounding that of the Hopi, had moved on to a considerable portion of Hopi land under the provision of a Joint Use Area which had been created in 1962. After the Hopi sued the Navajo, a federal judge ordered the relocation of the Navajo, once again, and a return of the land to the Hopi. Since this time, the settlement of this Joint Use Area has been disputed among the Indians.
The most recent settlement proposed that the U.S. Federal Government cede to the Hopi 350,000 acres of Kiabab National Forest, 150,000 acres of grazing land South of Flagstaff, Arizona, from the Bureau of Land Management, and a cash settlement of 15 million dollars, in return for allowing the Navajo currently on the reservation to remain there on a 75 year lease.
There are a number of questions which this settlement proposal raised in the minds of those concerned with the welfare of the land, both Federal and Indian. Is there a difference between how the Hopi and the Navajo manage their land? What is the difference between the land use management of the Indians and the Federal government? Is the Indians use more restrictive, or is it more destructive to the land? If the Navajo stay on the Hopi land, will their different land use practices degrade the land before it returned to the Hopi? And what will be the environmental impact on the National Forest, and BLM land as control is turned over from the tight environmental regulations and practices of the Forest Service to the much less restrictive regulations under the Bureau of Indian Affairs? While I found answers to many of these questions it would take many tens of pages to explain my research and its results. In the paragraphs that follow I will attempt to very briefly convey the essentials of the research I conducted and my general findings.
My initial research began in the library. I researched the history and culture of both the Hopi and the Navajo. The cultural research was particularly useful. My readings indicated that there is a significant difference between the Hopi and the Navajo at a very fundamental level. The Hopi are naturalists. Their regard for the nature and for the Earth is religious. For the Hopi the Earth and every living thing in nature are equal; the Hopi see themselves as participants in nature, only differing from other living things in the responsibility which they have. The Navajo do not hold these same views.
Additionally, the Hopi have held true to their cultural and religious beliefs, and have rejected any kind of integration into modern culture. The Navajo have embraced the modern world, and it is common for them to leave the reservation in pursuit of a new life. The Hopi, on the other hand, rarely leave the reservation, and if they do they almost always return. The fact that the Hopi have the youngest death rates and highest infant mortality rates of any group in the United States testifies to their fundamental rejection of the modern world From this introductory research, it is evident that fears of the Hopi degrading the land and, for instance, opening a strip mine and power plant, similar to the project at Tuba City, are unfounded. It is also obvious that significant differences in land-use practices would be found.
Land-use practices can perhaps be best evaluated by the results which they have on the land. To this end I obtained land-sat imagery of the reservations and BLM land from both 1974 and 1989. The fifteen years between the images allowed for a longitudinal evaluation of the land and the changes in its character. The satellite imagery was not difficult to interpret. A visible ‘line’ existed between the areas inhabited by the Hopi and that by the Navajo, reflecting the effects of the grazing habits of the Navajo versus the unmechanized farming of the Hopi. Not only did this show a difference in the respective amounts of vegetation on each reservation, but also the type of vegetation. Comparing the 1989 images with the 1974 images, I found that the Hopi reservation was largely unchanged in either amount or type of vegetation. The Navajo reservation on the other hand showed significant degradation. This pattern of use and its effects was confirmed by a visual comparison of the current landscape and the early historical accounts from diaries and official documents written at the time of the creation of these reservations, in addition to the 197 4 satellite images.
Studying the official policies of the Bureau of Land Management, lead me to conclude that the Hopi practices concerning the land are in fact more restrictive than the government’s. Of special note is the fact that part of the area ceded to Hopi is of historical, and religious value. The San Francisco Mountains, partially included in the settlement to the Hopi, are held as a sacred place in Hopi mythology, and there is very little chance that a people who hold so firmly to their beliefs would desecrate a place such as this. The chance for environmental degradation is next to nil, and in fact environmental preservation instead of management may best describe the Hopi’s land-use practice.
The effects of the proposed land settlement between the Hopi and the Navajo are nothing for most people to worry about. The Hopi will most likely take better care of the land ceded to them than the government would. On the down side, the Hopi land leased to the Navajo will doubtless be returned to the Hopi in far worse condition than it was originally. If the Hopi feel that they have been sufficiently compensated from this loss,then they have no problem. Although there are fears that this case would set a precedent of settling federal disputes with the disposition of lands held in public trust, this case does nothing to belay them. To the environmentalist, the Hopi are a people particularly well suited to this type of settlement, and the same may not hold true in another situation.