Many people in the United States know about the struggle that is occurring at Big Mountain by virtue of the recent Academy Award-winning film, “Broken Rainbow.” Usually portrayed in the media as a conflict between the Navajo and Hopi peoples, the struggle, as the documentary explains, is rather one between the Indian peoples on the one hand and the federal government, which seeks to remove them from their traditional lands, on the other .
At issue here are lands located in Arizona which are jointly used by the Navajo and Hopi peoples. A series of federal laws and court decisions have forced approximately 15,000 Navajos off their land. Many people believe that this forced relocation was not a result of any Hopi need for the land, but is rather the result of pressure from large coal companies and uranium mining interests who want to use the land for strip mining. A substantial number of the 15,000 people resisted relocation, but government cattle slaughter, fencing, and cutting off of water rights forced people to relocate. At this time approximately 5,000 to 6,000 Navajos remain on the land.
It is difficult for people in our mobile, urbanized society to understand a Native American’s relationship to the land: it is of great religious significance as well as material importance to Indian peoples. As one Navajo woman said, “To move away is to disappear.”
July 6, 1986 had been set as the final date set for the forcible relocation of the remaining 5,000 to 6,000 Navajo people. The schedule was not enforced because no alternative housing is available. However, the Bureau of Indian Affairs has announced that all those remaining on the land will be removed within the next 18 months.
CCR will represent those Indians who are subject to forced relocation. Extensive research has already been done regarding the religious significance of the land at Big Mountain. Numerous maps have been prepared in which each religious symbol has been identified. We will argue that the right to religious freedom protects the rights of Native Americans to remain on the land.
Michael Ratner, Ellen Yaroshefsky, with Terry Gross, Bruce Ellison, Lee Philips, Adrian Wicy, and Hollis Whitson