Hopi & Navajo Take Eagle Dispute to Court

     PRESCOTT, Ariz. (CN) – The Hopi Tribe claims in court that the neighboring Navajo Nation broke an agreement to allow Hopi to collect golden eagles for religious purposes on Navajo land.
     The two Native American tribes have long disputed land and water rights on the sprawling Navajo Reservation in northeastern Arizona.
     The Hopi live on three mesas surrounded by Navajo land east of Tuba City, Ariz.
     Some Hopi villages have no electricity or running water and have been inhabited for more than 1,000 years. Many Hopi still practice the traditional religion, a key feature of which is the gathering and eventual sacrifice of nestling golden eagles.
     The Navajo and Hopi signed a compact in 2006 allowing Hopi religionists with proper permits to gather nestling eagles and perform other rituals in specific, secret places on the Navajo reservation.
     But in May 2012 a Navajo police officer arrested a Hopi who was headed to a shrine on land held in trust by the United States for individual Navajos, a so-called “allotment.”
     “Prior to the incident in May 2012, the Navajo Nation had been aware of Hopi gathering at religious shrines on allotments for decades,” according to the Hopi complaint. “The Navajo Nation regularly issued permits to the Hopi Tribe to collect eagles from allotments. The Navajo Nation also provided police escorts to Hopi practitioners during their religious pilgrimages to shrines on allotments.”
     In May this year, “the Navajo Nation deployed law enforcement officers to prevent Hopi practitioners from accessing another sacred shrine because it is allegedly located on an allotment,” the complaint states. “This particular shrine to which the Navajo denied access this past May is one that the Navajo have knowingly allowed Hopi religious practitioners to access and use for decades.”
     The Hopi say the Navajo Nation has “warned the Hopi Tribe that it will criminally prosecute any members of the Hopi Tribe who come onto allotments during their religious ceremonies.”
     The Hopi took the issue to the Navajo-Hopi Land Commission, which dismissed on grounds that it lacked jurisdiction over allotments.
     The Hopi claim the dismissal denied the tribe a fair hearing, forcing it to litigate the issue in Federal Court.
     “Accordingly, the Hopi Tribe brings this complaint and requests that this court enter a declaratory judgment that the Navajo Nation agreed in the compact not to interfere with Hopi religious practitioners exercising their rights under the compact to access the small number of eagle gathering shrines located on allotments,” the complaint states. “The Hopi Tribe maintains that, in the compact, the Navajo Nation agreed that it would not stop members of the Hopi Tribe from accessing designated shrines, including those on allotments on the Navajo Reservation, for sacred eagle gathering ceremonies. The Hopi Tribe further requests that the court enter an order enjoining the Navajo Nation from violating the Compact by interfering with the religious activities of Hopi practitioners on the few eagle shrines that occur on allotments.”
     That the lands in question are “allotments” is not relevant to their religious rights, the Hopi claim, as the “United States abandoned the policy of allotting lands to individual Indians nearly 100 years ago, and, given the passage of time, allotments today commonly have dozens, if not hundreds, of owners, each holding a tiny fractional interest in the land that they often do not use or occupy.”
     The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this year issued a permit allowing the Hopi to take up to 40 nestling golden eagles for religious purposes, but only five can come from Navajo land. This restriction was a departure for the agency, which had issued permits without such restrictions since 1986.
     According to the agency’s finding, the new restrictions are meant to strike a balance between the tribes, which have differing views on the use of golden eagles in religious ceremonies.
     “The Navajo and Hopi have separate and different cultural and religious beliefs regarding golden eagles,” Fish & Wildlife stated. “Consequently, they have differing views on how the golden eagle should be managed. The Navajo believe that productivity and survival of golden eagles, on Navajo lands, should be self-sustaining, in other words high enough that no immigration of eagles from surrounding landscapes is needed to keep the population there stable.”
     The Hopi are represented by Timothy Macdonald, with Arnold and Porter in Denver.

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