The Hopi reservation sticks out like a sore thumb on the state’s congressional map. Instead of being in the same district as the larger Navajo Nation, which surrounds it, the Hopi land is connected by the Colorado River to residents in the far western side of the state.
The Hopi and Navajos’ proximity makes it hard for the two tribes to avoid association. But when it comes to congressional representation, the Hopis have advocated for separation.
“Although we’ve worked things out with the Navajo Nation, they’re a bigger tribe, and sometimes our issues are overshadowed by what the Navajo Nation is doing for their own people,” said Hopi Chairman LeRoy Shingoitewa.
New census figures mean the congressional map for Arizona will be wiped clear and the political lines redrawn. The once-in-a-decade job is in the hands of an independent commission that begins work next year.
After the 2000 census, the commission heard hours of testimony from the Hopis and Navajos before drawing the odd district separating the tribes. The Navajo Nation challenged the boundaries in court, but a judge upheld them.
The tribal governments have taken no official position this time around, but the Hopi chairman said he’ll push to keep his reservation in a different district from the Navajo Nation. And the incoming Navajo president says he’ll look for ways to group the Navajos and Hopis — and possibly other American Indian tribes — to build political clout.
Navajos and Hopis are historic foes, with their most contentious battles over land.
But they’ve also made progress on key issues since the former redistricting commission drew the lines that put the Hopis in the 2nd Congressional District and Navajos in the 1st District.
The federal government set aside 2.4 million acres in northeastern Arizona for the Hopis in the 1880s, and the Navajo reservation grew to surround it. The Hopi reservation now occupies about 1.5 million acres.
The two tribes agreed to end a decades-old construction ban imposed by the federal government that stemmed from the land dispute. The ban was intended to prevent anyone from planting roots on the land that both tribes laid claim to.
The original 1958 lawsuit between the Hopis and Navajos to determine the title to the surface and mineral rights on what’s referred to as the “1882 reservation” was dismissed earlier this year.
And the Navajo Nation paid more than $6 million to the Hopis to settle rent payments for homesites and farming areas used by Navajos still living on Hopi land. Navajo justice officials say they intend to negotiate a final settlement for rent through 1999 for an estimated $4 million.
Incoming Navajo President Ben Shelly said the tribes are also working together on other issues and should be joined in a congressional district: a broadband effort, water rights and coal leasing and transport.
The tribes both fought to prevent snowmaking on a mountain they consider sacred and are working to clean up contamination at a dump in Tuba City, a Navajo town that borders the Hopi reservation.
Navajos have said the division between the tribes will only grow if their federal issues are considered separately in Congress.
“I think we need to be united,” said Shelly, who takes office Jan. 11. “I believe in unity. And by not being together, we’re weak.”
But there’s no denying the Navajo Nation is a huge political force in Indian Country, with the largest land base of any tribe and among the top two in population.
The current congressional lines were challenged by the Navajo Nation, which argued the 103-mile serpentine line that connects the Hopis to the 2nd Congressional District violated a state constitutional mandate for compact districts. But a judge ruled that the former Independent Redistricting Commission acted within its constitutional duty.
Shingoitewa, the Hopi chairman, said Arizona’s congressional delegates need to work together to give Navajos and Hopis equal treatment, for example, in rehabilitating the land where construction was banned.
He said the Hopi Tribe also would like to have its code talkers honored the same way Navajo Code Talkers are — with congressional medals — for their military efforts.
“The tribe needs to be assured they’re not overlooked in the concerns we have,” Shingoitewa said.