Once again groups of Navajo resisters living illegally on Hopi Partitioned Lands (HPL) and their friends are flouting the laws of the Hopi Tribe – this time under the guise of participating in a religious ceremony. More than 100 individuals have set up camp on Hopi land and have announced that they intend to stay until the Sundance ceremony is complete. Hopi police are turning away others who would swell the camps numbers to perhaps several hundred.
The host of the Sundance ceremony is believed to be the Benally family, Navajo resisters who refuse to move off of Hopi land in the face of court orders denying them any legal right to be there. Neither the Benallys nor anyone else requested permission from the Hopi Tribe to host the ceremony on Hopi land and no permit was issued for the event. It is clear that Hopi law requires such a permit and the Benallys, as well as others seeking to use the HPL, have been repeatedly reminded of this fact. On at least one previous occasion Ruth Benally contacted the Hopi Tribe seeking such a permit. In response to that request a July 7, 1998 letter from Chairman Wayne Taylor, Jr. granted permission for a 1998 Sundance on the explicit condition “that this be the last Sundance held on the Hopi Reservation. After this year, if you are to hold another Sundance, it will have to be held off the Hopi Reservation.” Ruth Benally signed and dated the letter, acknowledging receipt and understanding of its contents. Commenting on the current situation Chairman Taylor said, “Apparently Ms. Benally’s word means nothing to her.”
Eugene Kaye, Chief of Staff for the Chairman Taylor, expressed his frustration over the Benally’s ongoing disregard for Hopi rights and jurisdiction. “We issued the 1998 permit as a goodwill gesture and clearly stated that it was to be the last Sundance held on the Hopi Reservation. In return for that gesture the family has displayed repeated disregard for the Hopi Tribe’s sovereignty and jurisdiction by continuing to host Sundances on Hopi land without the Tribe’s permission.
In response to allegations that the Hopi Tribe is violating the Sundance participants’ religious freedom, Cedric Kuwaninvaya, Chairman of the Hopi Land Team responded, “The Hopi Tribe’s objections to this Sundance have nothing to do with the religious aspects of the ceremony. We are opposed to this ceremony taking place on Hopi land against our wishes. Just like any other government or landowner, the Hopi Tribe has the right to regulate the use of its land by requiring permits and by objecting to any use which violates Hopi laws. By coming on to and using Hopi land for this ceremony without the Tribe’s permission they are violating the Tribe’s sovereign rights.” Kuwaninvaya added “A number of years ago the Oglala Sioux informed us that the hosts of a Sundance, which is a Lakota ceremony, must have permission from the landowner of the ceremonial site. Joseph Chasing Horse, the medicine man for this Sundance, is Sioux and should know this. Yet even after he was informed that the Hopi Tribe had not granted permission for the ceremony to take place on Hopi land he knowingly and willfully continued with preparations.”
Several arrests for trespass were made in connection with the Sundance, and the Hopi Tribe has expressed safety concerns. Said Chief Ranger Mervin Yoyetewa, “While the Hopi Tribe’s position is that the Sundance will not take place on Hopi land, John Benally, a member of the host family, made verbal threats to Hopi personnel that he would shoot anyone who tried to stop the Sundance. We take such threats very seriously.”
Added Yoyetewa, “It is remarkable that a participant in a ceremony, the supposed purpose of which is to promote peace and solidarity, would issue such threats of violence.”