Hopi Bulldoze Big Mountain Sun Dance Grounds
Navajo president questions Hopi moral right to act violently


Posted: August 21, 2001 - 12:00AM EST
by: Brenda Norrell / Today Staff / Indian Country Today

BIG MOUNTAIN, Ariz. -- The Sun Dance grounds at Camp Anna Mae at Big Mountain were bulldozed by Hopi tribal officials accompanied by police. The Sun Dance tree was carted off, the arbor destroyed and the Sun Dance grounds leveled. 

Louise Benally, whose minor son was arrested at the site adjacent to the family hogan, said the actions cannot halt the prayers of the Indigenous sundancers from around the world. 

"No one will break God's way. These people have no life. They are sick and confused, all for greed. 

"The fire, water, earth and air are still there and the prayers of the people -- those cannot be changed by man-made laws. 

"They tore the tree down, the arbor and the lodges! But, the peoples' prayers are still in place. The rangers, and all the police agencies involved, are all lost and have no concept of having a life or understanding of it." 

At dawn Aug. 17, the Office of Hopi Lands, Hopi Range Management, Resource Enforcement Services, Hopi Tribal Police, Navajo County Sheriff and BIA impoundment trailers entered Camp Anna Mae, a sacred religious area. 

Big Mountain residents were awakened by sounds of machinery and observed the desecration. The Sun Dance grounds were destroyed by Hopi land management employees who cut down arbor logs and the Sun Dance tree with chainsaws. A front-end loader destroyed sweat lodges, fire pits, sweat rocks, altars and the Sun Dance arbor. 

Sun Dance tobacco ties, flesh offerings and eagle feathers were seized or left behind and run over by machinery. 

Benally's teen-age son, Eric Crittenton, was arrested as he attempted to photograph the destruction. He was home alone at the time. 

Within hours, local residents began arriving at Camp Anna Mae to take part in a weekly prayer and sweatlodge ceremony. They were blocked by local, state and federal law enforcement. They were told trespassers would be arrested. Law enforcement and Hopi officials left the area in 15 vehicles. Trailers were loaded with the confiscated arbor logs. Arlene Hamilton-Benally, coordinator of a local weaving project and human rights activist, was arrested nearby. It was the day after a wedding reception for her and husband Leonard Benally. 

Chairman of the Hopi Land Team Cedric Kuwaninvaya said, "This is just one of the steps that the Hopi Tribe will be taking to enforce its jurisdiction over the Hopi Reservation. 

"We will keep a close eye on the former site of the Camp Anna Mae to ensure that the trespassers do not try and establish another camp at which they hold unwanted gatherings and celebrate their lawlessness." 

Claire Heywood, spokesperson for the Hopi Tribe, confirmed the action Aug. 17 and said the tribe was asserting jurisdiction over the site. 

"Protected by Hopi Rangers, BIA Police and Navajo County Police, Hopi staff worked quietly and efficiently, tearing down the structures left at the site, including the Sun Dance tree, and loaded the materials onto trailers for removal from the site. 

"The police accompanied Hopi staff to provide security for the dismantling crew as well as the public." 

Responding immediately, Navajo President Kelsey Begaye called the actions deplorable. 

"The Hopi government's decision to bulldoze the Sun Dance ceremony site at Big Mountain is
deplorable. In the strongest terms, I object to such a violent action against the Navajo families who reside on Big Mountain and who participate, as a part of their spiritual beliefs, in the Sun Dance ceremony. 

"The Hopi government appears to be persecuting these families for their religious beliefs, as well as for their heartfelt desire to stay on their ancestral lands and to continue their traditional ways." 

Begaye said the Sun Dance ceremony has been performed at Big Mountain for a number of years at the request of the Big Mountain Navajo families. 

"It has become an important part of their spiritual lives. Like all peoples, including the Hopis, the Navajo families on Big Mountain should have the freedom to practice their non-violent beliefs without governmental interference." 

Begaye's comments mirrored messages received from around the world, stating that if this destruction had happened elsewhere it would be condemned by all as a violation of religious freedom rights. 

"It is shocking to see one Native government do the same to another Native community," Begaye said. "The Hopi government's action seemed to have been intended to intimidate, by a show of force, all the Navajo families who continue to reside on Navajo ancestral lands within the Hopi Partitioned Lands. 

"Let me remind the Hopi government that the Israeli military uses a similar tactic of bulldozing homes in Palestinian villages. The outcome of that strategy has not brought peace to the Middle East. 

"I question whether that jurisdiction gives the Hopi government the moral right to act as violently as they have. 

"I raise my objections directly with the Hopi leadership. The politics of destruction can start a terrible downward spiral that we must stop now. 

"The actions of the Hopi government have cast a long shadow over all the Navajos who reside on the Hopi Partitioned Lands, as well as put chilling effect on the relationship of our two nations."


Reprinted under the Fair Use doctrine of international copyright law. http://www4.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.html