Arizona congressional lines track Navajo, Hopi differences
ADVANCE FOE WEEKEND OF NOVEMBER 10-11—FILE—Navajo Indian Anna Begay walks the land she calls 'home," where she faces an eviction dispute from Hopi Indian officials, Jan. 21, 2000, near Big Mountain, Ariz. The Navajo and Hopi tribes each hold different views of what it would take to preserve their voting rights and a state commission has been forced to decide that each reservation should be in a separate congressional district _ even though the 8,000 Hopis' reservation is entirely surrounded by the Arizona portion of the much larger Navajo Reservation. (AP Photo/Matt York, File)

PHOENIX — The divisions between the Hopis and the Navajos whose reservation hems them in have manifested themselves in many ways over the years, from land quarrels to face-offs over cultural ceremonies.

This year they created political difficulties as the state's new Independent Redistricting Commission ran up against the generations-old reality that the Navajo and Hopi tribes don't get along.

The distrust by historic foes stymied the redistricting commission's goal of creating geographically compact congressional districts in northeastern Arizona's high desert, where the tribes have their reservations.

The commission decided that each reservation should remain in a separate congressional district, as they have been since maps were drawn to take into account 1990 Census populations figures, even though the 9,000 Hopis' reservation is entirely surrounded by the Arizona portion of the much bigger Navajo Reservation.

Hopi Chairman Wayne Taylor Jr. said putting his tribe with the Navajos would prevent the Hopis from having a political voice.

With projects and programs competing for limited funding, particularly at the state level, "the choice will always be between Navajo interest and Hopi interest," Taylor said. "Navajo representatives can never give genuine consideration to Hopi interest at the expense of Hopi interest, not if they want to be elected again."

James Huntwork, a lawyer and member of the Independent Redistricting Commission, said the split was the right thing to do.

"I can't see how a single congressional representative can honestly and effectively represent all interests," he said.

On congressional and legislative maps adopted after the 1990 Census, separating the two reservations only required a short link to connect the Hopi Reservation to a nearby non-Navajo district.

It was more difficult this time.

The map for the new 2nd Congressional District includes a section resembling a bird on a spring extending from a cuckoo clock.

The "spring" extending westward from the Hopi Reservation to connect it to the rest of the 2nd Congressional District consists of a chain of mostly unpopulated tracts and, in some places, just the width of the Colorado River as it cuts through the Grand Canyon.

Most of the 2nd District's residents live in the western suburbs of Phoenix hundreds of miles to the south.

Meanwhile, the 107,000 Navajos living in isolated homesteads and hard-scrabble communities in the Arizona portion of their reservation — which also includes parts of Utah and New Mexico — are in an all-rural 1st Congressional District.

The area also takes in Flagstaff, Prescott and other communities in the pine country of northern and eastern Arizona as well as desert areas southeast of Phoenix.

The commission did put both reservations in the same legislative district, with members saying they did that because most of the issues dividing the two tribes are federal.

What justified the congressional split, said redistricting Commissioner Daniel Elder was that "from a cultural standpoint, it's a separate, sovereign area."

The dispute over the political remapping was only the latest flare-up of tensions between the tribes.

The most visible conflict, a land dispute, dates back to at least the 1880s, when the federal government set aside 2.4 million acres in northeastern Arizona for the Hopi, which the Navajo Reservation grew to surround.

In the 1970s, a court divided the disputed land, and more than 10,000 Navajos agreed to move. The hundreds who stayed said heritage and religion tied them to the land.

In exchange for a $50 million federal payment backed by Congress in 1996, the Hopi agreed to let some Navajo families stay if they signed 75-year leases. But about 10 Navajo families refused to sign and they remain in the area despite ongoing Hopi efforts to evict them.

Bethany Berger, a University of Connecticut law professor who specializes in Indian law, said the two tribes have been able to work together in recent years on common interests, such as obtaining state funding for schools and other programs.

But the change only goes so far for both, said Berger, a former director of a legal program on the Navajo Reservation.

"It's very difficult not to see each other as enemies and to be distrustful against them," he said.

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Now, both tribes may go to court to challenge one or both of the redistricting maps.

While the Hopis say they need to be in different districts than the Navajos, the Navajos say as many reservations as possible should be grouped together to maintain or increase the political clout of Native Americans.

Frank Seanez, a lawyer for the Navajo Nation, said historic differences have been exaggerated and should not weigh into redistricting.

Though the tribes have been at odds, "we're neighbors," Seanez said. "The folks intermarry and Hopis go to Navajo schools and Navajos go to Hopi schools and health-care facilities.

"They patronize each other's businesses and act in the all the same ways that other communities do," he said.

Seanez said Navajo officials particularly object to using segments of the Colorado River — "the lifeblood of the Southwest" — to connect the Hopi Reservation to the 2nd District.

"We just find that completely outrageous," Seanez said. "Water has become increasingly a matter of public concern within the Navajo Nation. The idea of taking the most vital resource, other than air, which exists in the Southwest and just in an offhand kind of way tossing it out of its physical placement into another district is incredible."

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— Arizona Daily Sun

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