Assessing the Success and Failure of Navajo Relocation

By Tamir, Orit | Human Organization, Summer 2000 | Go to article overview

Assessing the Success and Failure of Navajo Relocation


Tamir, Orit, Human Organization


This paper analyzes forced relocation in the United States and compares it with international standards. It focuses on assessing relative success or failure of forced Navajo relocation in relationship to the two major analytical frameworks: Cernea's World Bank guidelines for planned relocation projects and Scudder's four-stage relocation model. The assessment demonstrates and explains why the relocating agency and, subsequently, the relocation process do not live up to the World Bank guidelines and to Scudder's four-stage relocation model. In addition, it also reveals that the United States' inadequate policies vis-a-vis Native Americans continue today.

Key words: relocation, assessment, World Bank, Scudder, Cernea, Navajo

In northern Arizona over 10,000 Navajo and 100 Hopi Indians were slated for forced relocation by the 1974 Navajo-Hopi Land Settlement Act (PL 93-531). This paper assesses relative success or failure of forced relocation based on data from my research on Navajos forced to relocate to Pinon, Arizona, a Navajo community located within the Navajo-Hopi land dispute area. Seventy-one Navajo households were originally slated to relocate to Pinon. At the time of the study (October 1987-January 1990), 47 households ( 171 individuals) had already relocated to Pinon: 27 of them were relocated in five group moves and the rest were relocated as individual households. I conducted ethnographic interviews and census surveys with adult members from all relocated households, with adult members of all 11 host households, and with members of 187 (77 percent) of the other 243 households in Pinon.

The legal origin of the land dispute dates to President Chester A. Arthur's 1882 designation of an Executive Order Area (EOA) for "the Hopi and such other Indians as the Secretary of the Interior may see fit to settle thereon:' The EOA did not specify who the other Indians were to be. Over the years, Navajos living within the EOA gradually came to outnumber the Hopi, and a land dispute ensued. In 1962 a U.S. District Court in Prescott, Arizona, ruled in the case known as Healing v Jones that the Navajo and the Hopi tribes have undivided equal rights to the surface and subsurface of the EOA, except for Grazing District Number Six, which became known as the Joint Use Area (JUA). Following the court decision the Hopi Tribal Council sought to protect its surface rights from further Navajo encroachments through various legal initiatives. On July 1, 1966, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) froze all significant residential, commercial, and infrastructure development in the JUA unless the Hopi Tribe approved. In 1972 proceedings, an Arizona District Court ordered a drastic reduction of Navajo livestock and restricted construction in the JUA to improvements authorized by both tribes. After a series of congressional hearings, the United States Congress passed in 1974 the Navajo-Hopi Land Settlement Act, PL 93-531. The act ordered equal partitioning of the JUA; the relocation of people residing on land partitioned to the other tribe; and the establishment of the Navajo Hopi Indian Relocation Commission (later, the Office of Navajo and Hopi Relocation) to carry out the relocation. Originally, the relocation was to be completed by July 1986. It remains unfinished. As of September 1,1999, 446 families out of 3,513 have not relocated (Office of Navajo and Hopi Indian Relocation, September 1999).

Some aspects of Navajo relocation from the former JUA have been examined. Brugge (1994) provided a detailed personal historical account of Healing v Jones. Early studies addressed the expected outcome of Navajo relocation (Natelson 1981; Scudder 1982; Johnson-Conner 1985) and correctly predicted that the outcome would be notable and detrimental. Studies of the population subject to relocation described disrupted lifestyles, an increase psychological stress, and elevated levels of mental health service utilization among Navajos slated for relocation (Gilbert 1977; Topper 1979, 1980, 1987). …

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