Usually portrayed in the media as a conflict between the Navajo and Hopi peoples, the struggle occurring at Big Mountain is in reality one between the Indian peoples and the federal government. At issue 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. This forced relocation resulted from pressure by coal and uranium mining companies that want to use the land for strip mining.
A substantial number of the 15,000 Navajo people resisted relocation, but government cattle-slaughter, fencing, and cutting off of water rights forced people to relocate. At this time only about 5,000 to 6,000 Navajos remain on the land.
July 6, 1986, was set as the final date for the forcible relocation of the remaining Navajo people. The schedule was not enforced because no alternative housing was available. The Bureau of Indian Affairs announced, however, that all those remaining on the land will be removed within the next 18 months.
The CCR is representing those Indians who are subject to forced relocation. Extensive research has been carried out on the religious significance of the land at Big Mountain. It is difficult for people in our mobile, urbanized society to understand a Native American’s relationship to the land. The land has great religious meaning as well as material importance to Indian peoples. There is no word for relocation in the Navajo language. As one Navajo woman said, “To move away is to disappear.”
Ellen Yaroshefsky, Morton Stavis, Michael Ratner, with Terry Gross, Bruce Ellison, Lee Philips, Matt Strassberg, and Hollis Whitson