Navajos Fear Showdown at Big Mountain

Big Mountain Sundance grounds and Sweatlodge fenced off by Hopi Rangers

By Brenda Norrell
Special to Lakota Journal

Big Mountain, Ariz. -- The Camp Anna Mae Sundance grounds, bulldozed last year by police who decimated the Sundance Tree, were fenced off by armed Hopi Rangers July 8. Officers also interrupted a nearby Sweatlodge of Navajos resisting relocation and fenced it off.

Fearing the current tactics will lead to relocation by force for those who remain on the land, Louise Benally called on the news media, tribal, state and federal authorities to take action to halt the threats and intimidation.

“They are trying to slowly starve us out. They have already eliminated the majority of our sheep and cattle. Now they want to starve our spirituality by fencing our sacred sites," Benally said in a statement released by the Dineh Bidziil Coalition.

“We will not be intimidated by their paramilitary tactics. We will remain true to our ancestral and spiritual birthright to our mother, Big Mountain.”

Benally made an emergency phone call for help to the Dineh Bidziil Coalition, a coalition of 19 grassroots organizations of the Navajo Nation. The coalition called on tribal, state and federal authorities to intervene in the violation of religious freedom.

The majority of those Navajo remaining on the land and resisting relocation are vulnerable, elderly and women with children who lack electricity and telephones.

Benally said she is monitored at her Hogan, adjacent to Camp Anna Mae Sundance grounds, four times a day by Hopi Rangers. She said there are no illegal activities that warrant such show of force at her residence, where she tends to her goats, chickens, small garden and hauling water.

“They probably know how many times I’ve gone to the outhouse per day.”

The rangers have posted notices on cedar trees around her home stating: “No trespassing” and “No water hauling."

Benally said, “It’s very difficult to ignore their daily harassment activities. They, the Hopi Rangers, are trying to provoke us into some kind of trouble. Their daily drive by's and arrogant attitude are driving us insane.

“The Hopi Tribal Council and their heavily-armed Hopi Rangers need to give us our freedom of movement to go about our daily lives and live in peace.”

Benally said the actions constitute a violation of the peoples’ most basic civil liberties and freedom of religion.

“The Hopis are wasting their resources on us, while they should be insuring the safety of the people, looking out for drunk drivers, issuing traffic tickets on the highways and responding to emergencies or domestic violence.

“Instead, the Hopi Tribe and Hopi Rangers are violating our basic human rights to live in peace and dignity. They are violating our freedom of religion and criminalizing our sacred ceremonies. They are littering our home areas with huge paper notices and warnings on just about every other tree that surrounds our homes.”

Benally said it is another tactic to instigate trouble among the residents, primarily with the threat of jail time and is likely to continue until someone gets hurt.

Last year, five Navajo women, including elders Pauline Whitesinger and Ruth Benally, were arrested bringing in the Sundance Tree.

Then, Hopi rangers, Navajo County Sheriff officers and BIA Police, bulldozed the Sundance Grounds and decimated the Sundance Tree in August 2001, arresting Benally’s teenage son who attempted to photograph the destruction.

Now, on July 8, 2002, Hopi Rangers fenced the Anna Mae Sundance grounds.

Benally said it is considered a sacred holy site frequented by thousands of Native Americans and Navajo people who come to offer prayers of renewal. It is considered “sacred ground” recognized by many spiritual leaders from Indigenous nations across the world, as well as tribal nations in United States and Canada.

Also on July 8, 2002, Ruby Bikadee’s Sweatlodge grounds were fenced in, about two miles east of Katherine Smith’s home. (Smith is a Navajo elder, medicine woman and relocation resister).

“The armed Hopi Rangers also harassed some women who were in a Sweatlodge ceremony, Monday July 8, 2002,” Benally said.

“The fencing crew came in three trucks loads." Benally said if anyone objects or gets in the way of the crews they will be arrested and jailed for interfering with a Hopi Partitioned Lands fencing project.

“We have no freedom nor peace from the Hopi Tribe, as we are threatened daily by the Hopi rangers words, attitudes and threats."

Currently, Benally said people interested in investigating these incidents or supporting the destitute Navajo families with groceries and other household supplies are scrutinized at blocked entrances to Hopi Partitioned Lands if they are non-residents.

Native American tribal members traveling to the sacred site to pray are questioned and asked not to return to the Big Mountain area. Even the press are scrutinized and questioned. Most visitors fear serving jail time for trespassing.

Navajos in the region called for direct action from state and federal authorities and for the Navajo Nation President to protect Navajo families and elderly who live on the land.

© Copyright 9 July 2002 by Brenda Norrell