Articles and News

O.C. Man Helps, Bungles, Learns in Navajo world
By KEITH SHARON – OC REGISTER
2013-05-17 11:21:21

NAVAJO TERRITORY, ARIZ. – The wind rips across this harsh, yellow land, sand blasting anything in its path. Dust gets between your teeth. Your eyes water. The slow burn from the sun, the sand and the wind tints your face.

If you don’t walk carefully here the wind will knock you down. White people rarely come to this place the Native Americans call Naataanii, a sparsely populated divot in the expansive Navajo reservation. It is hard to believe this place is in America.

There is no center to Naataanii, no town. But if you let your eye wander across the horizon, you can see small
dwellings, including a shack and a trailer. The shack, a wood structure that would be condemned if it were in Orange County, is the home of Lillie Redsteer and Harold Begay, 87 and 85 years old, respectively. The trailer is where Lillie’s son, Robert, 56, resides.

A plywood ramp leading to the trailer’s front door nearly buckles as Robert Redsteer limps across it with his cane. Lacking indoor plumbing, Lillie and Harold have strategically placed buckets to collect rainwater for drinking.

To drink, they have to drive to get water from wells, but they don’t trust the water. The federal government started mining coal and uranium decades ago, and much of the groundwater is contaminated.

In front of their house, you can see the outline of a pair of blue jeans buried in the topsoil, as if the person who wore them disintegrated and became part of the dust.

Their property is typical in Naataanii, a two-hour, neck-jarring drive northeast of Flagstaff. In 2010, Gary Christmas, 48, came to Naataanii with a pure heart, hoping to help Native Americans, whose lives for hundreds of years have been compromised by outsiders. Christmas, of western European descent, quickly found out how difficult it is to help someone who considers you the enemy.

In 25 trips to the Navajo reservation, Christmas has battled mistrust, hatred, stubbornness, his own ineptitude and enough petty drama for a reality TV show. In his enthusiasm to help, he has unknowingly offended, sometimes spectacularly, almost every Native American he has met.

And through it all, Gary Christmas has become the orchestrator of miracles – mind-blowing miracles that may change not only the Naataanii landscape and the Native American culture but also may have a ripple effect that stretches around the world. Christmas even helped bring ancient Native American enemies closer
together.

Robert Redsteer, who doesn’t trust easily, now calls Christmas “my white brother.”

Gary Christmas remembers an important day when he was a teenager in Texas in the 1980s. He was drinking Jack Daniel’s and smoking pot when he started “cussing at God.” He screamed, “What’s wrong with me?” Something clicked. “A feeling of peace dropped on me like an egg.”

On that day in 1983, he had the first of what would be several life-altering visions. Through his drunken drug haze, he said he saw himself with short hair sitting in an office. Christmas cut his hair and moved to Orange County in 1984 to be near his father, who lived in Long Beach and had divorced his mother years before.

Christmas worked in data processing and advertising. He worked as an executive for The Pennysaver. Along the way, he began to do some yoga and meditate. “I send people love,” he said.

Today, he’s single, living in Costa Mesa and working as the broadcast manager at Online Trading Academy, a company that teaches people the ins and outs of the stock market.

In the mid-2000s, in search of a bigger purpose for his life, Christmas began volunteering for Project Peace on Earth, an organization that promotes peace and music through concerts around the world. He said he Prays or meditates as often as 100 times a day.

But Christmas, hard-charging and driven, needed even more purpose, some project in which he could take a leadership role.

It is said that white people see the poverty of Naataanii, and Native Americans see Mother Nature – thundering wild horses, soaring red-tailed hawks, towering rock formations that change color depending on the angle of the sun.

Naataanii is sacred.

Once when he was meditating, Gary Christmas heard a voice. “Start with sacred land.”
He doesn’t know where the voice came from or whose voice it was. This was his “Field of Dreams” – If you build it, they will come – moment. When he told his friend, children’s book author Kimberlee Schultz about his vision, she told him about the dilapidated Naataanii community.

Naataanii is in the middle of tribal land formerly known as the “Bennett Freeze,” the name of one of the saddest chapters of U.S.-Native American relations in recent history. In 1966, Robert Bennett, then the U.S. commissioner of Indian Affairs, reacted to a bitter land dispute between the Navajo and Hopi tribes by declaring 1.6 million acres “frozen.”

In other words, if the Navajo and Hopi people couldn’t decide whose land it was, then the U.S. government decided to make the area so inhospitable no one would want to live there.

For more than 40 years – until President Barack Obama overturned the freeze in 2009 – Native Americans were not allowed to build new homes or repair the homes they already had. When a window broke, it stayed broken. When the roof leaked, it stayed leaking. Planes patrolled the Bennett Freeze, enforcing the law.

A 1997 study found that 3 percent of Freeze residents had electricity and 10 percent had running water. Since 1966, the study said, the population grew by 65 percent, to a bit less than 20,000, without a single new home being built. Generations of extended families were forced to live together. Just like Lillie, Harold and Robert Redsteer.

Shortly after Thanksgiving in 2010, Christmas was on his way back to Orange County from Texas when he decided to visit Naataanii for the first time. He was blown away by the need.

It wasn’t long before Christmas’ idea – an Earth Day celebration to raise awareness about the Navajo – was born.

By April 2011, Christmas and Schultz had gathered a bunch of their like-minded friends from Orange County. They pitched a tent for the small gathering outside Lillie and Harold’s shack. They brought guitars, wore crystals and donated blankets and clothes. The white and Navajo people prayed to Mother Earth and cried.

Michelle Anderson of Coto de Caza, a wife, mother and tour guide specializing in visits to sacred lands, felt drawn to join Christmas’ nameless group. Among Christmas’ huggy friends, she is the huggiest. ”

She drove nine hours to get to Naataanii blasting Three Dog Night’s “Road to Shambala,” Rare Earth’s “I Just Want to Celebrate,” John Lennon’s “Imagine” and Golden Earring’s “Radar Love” – among other hippie songs.

“Love is going to change everyone’s programming,” Anderson said. “We’re all nourished by the same sun.”

You can’t stop Gary Christmas, a force who at times seems as formidable as the Navajo wind.

The first time he walked into the round darkness of a hooghan, a holy place in Naataanii culture, he turned to the right and took a couple of steps counter-clockwise. He was quickly halted by angry elders. Walking counter-clockwise in a scared place is, as Christmas quickly learned, more than frowned upon.

So is asking Native Americans to find sticks and feathers on their land to sell at fundraisers – a gaffe Christmas also made.

“You just don’t say that,” said Robert Redsteer, himself a smart and successful Orange County businessman who once lived in Anaheim Hills and sold computer parts to the U.S. military. “Gary needs to take some classes.”

But Christmas, realizing his mistakes, keeps pushing the goodwill forward. He doesn’t run a registered charity, though he says he’s spent more than $10,000 of his own money to buy necessities for the Navajo people. He sees himself more of an inspirer of donations, most of which go straight to the Navajo people without a middleman.

When an Oregon company donated a two-story- tall bio-dome to help grow crops in Naataanii, Christmas thought the giant white orb was a brilliant addition. He and his band of Orange County friends formed a prayer circle around the structure. They chanted so much around it they began calling it the “Om Dome.”

For a while, the Om Dome was bountiful. Using the sun’s rays and a dripping (aquaponic) water system in which plants hang above the ground in skinny beds, the Om Dome grew alfalfa, squash, tomatoes, pinto beans and cabbage.

Then, there was a problem with the generator. Then, there was a problem with the pump. Robert, Lillie and Harold didn’t or couldn’t fix the Om Dome’s problems. Over time, the Om Dome fell into disrepair. Now all the plants are dead.

There was a cultural problem, too, that Christmas didn’t anticipate. The Om Dome – when it still grew food – grew food from water. That’s not the Navajo way. “We grow food from the ground,” Redsteer said.

Still, Christmas is diving head first into a problem the U.S. government hasn’t touched. Even the Navajo government doesn’t have a handle on how to improve the lives of many of its people.

“Gary and his friends are doing a great thing,” said Ronald James, a Navajo from Fort Defiance, Ariz. James sells handmade jewelry at Christmas’ Earth Day events. “The people out there (in Naataanii) don’t appreciate it. The people out there are so stubborn.”

And, sadly, there is the story of the tree. Christmas noticed that such harsh, barren land would benefit from the presence of trees. So he did research and found the perfect gesture. He would plant a Royal Paulownia, known on the Internet as “The World’s Fastest Growing Tree” (10 to 15 feet in its first year). It would reach 30 to 60 feet, has a history of growing in the harshest ground and flowers in a beautiful purple. And what made it more perfect: Lillie Redsteer’s favorite color is purple.

So Christmas brought a Royal Paulownia, spent hours with a pick, piercing hard clay. When he was finished with the hole, Lillie informed him that she hoped a water line would be going there someday, and he had to start over in a new spot. Finally and lovingly, he placed the tiny sprig into the ground. The participants in the celebration showered the tree with water collected from rivers and lakes around the world.

Then, unexpectedly, Native American activist Shannon Rivers, who was attending the event with some dignitaries, angrily called out Christmas for planting a tree that was not indigenous to the area. The Native Americans collectively turned their backs on the tree.

The tree was never watered again. But Christmas didn’t let that stop him. “A Thousand Trees for the Bennett Freeze” will now focus on cedars, he said, a tree that’s indigenous to the area.

Christmas could quit. But he’s not wired that way.

“This place didn’t get broken quickly, and it won’t get fixed quickly,” he said, steadfast in his commitment to help. “There is no peace without transforming conflict.”

If he quit, he wouldn’t be around to see the miracles he helped create.

In 2011, Christmas invited Rex Lee Jim, vice president of the Navajo Nation, to his first Earth Day celebration.

What are the odds that a tent filled with Orange County hippie-types and Gary Christmas playing guitar would
attract the second most powerful Navajo official?

But Rex Lee Jim came. And he decided to help.

Prompted by Christmas, Jim freed up enough Navajo funding to build four new houses – one of them purple –  in the former Bennett Freeze. The purple house still needs plumbing and electrical work before Lillie and Harold can move in. But it’s the first development in the area in more than 40 years – and Christmas helped get 24 more houses approved.

“That house changed things,” Christmas said.

“That house … they just did it, and that surprised me,” said Robert Redsteer. “I didn’t know about it. They just showed up and did it.” He has vowed to stay in Naataanii until that house is complete.

Over time, Christmas has learned to ask how he can help rather than suggest what is needed.

“I’m learning as I go,” he said.

Christmas’ housing miracle also attracted the attention of the Navajos’ nearby enemy. For decades, the Navajo and their neighbors, the Hopi, have been in a dispute over land. It’s what sparked the Bennett Freeze and it’s what’s kept Navajo and Hopi from bonding even as the region fell into squalor.

But, almost inadvertently, Christmas’ work has brought the two cultures closer to something that looks like
peace.

Last December, the Hopi sent representatives to a prayer day hosted by Christmas.

“The seed of peace was planted that night,” said Ruben Saufkie, a Hopi. “They (the Navajo) were willing to let go. So we gave them our hearts.”

In April, representatives from the Hopi tribe also attended Christmas’ third Earth Day celebration. There were a few squabbles, but there has been a clear breakthrough in the relationship between the tribes.

And if the Navajo and Hopi can get together, why not other longtime enemies? That’s what Steve Robertson, founder of Project Peace on Earth, wants to know.

After Robertson heard that Christmas had helped broker some peace between the Navajo and Hopi, he invited Christmas and representatives of the two tribes to Israel.

“I asked them to participate in this world forgiveness project,” Robertson said. “Gary is a great, loving, caring human being. … He’s one of the few people walking the Earth with a heart of gold.”

In December, Christmas plans to stand with Navajo, Hopi, Israelis and Palestinians in Bethlehem.

“There is this whole energy that has never happened before,” Christmas said. “And it’s happening right now.”

Contact the writer: ksharon@ocregister.com

© Copyright 2013 Freedom Communications. All Rights Reserved.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

WASHINGTON – A United Nations fact finder surveying the lives of Native Americans and Alaska Natives said Friday that he’ll recommend in an upcoming report that some of the tribes’ lands be restored, including the Black Hills of South Dakota.

James Anaya, a U.N. special rapporteur, has been meeting with tribal leaders, the administration and Senate members over 12 days to assess U.S. implementation of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

He plans several suggestions in his report, which he said he likely will deliver to the U.N.’s Human Rights Council in September.

AdTech AdAnaya said land restoration would help bring about reconciliation. He named the Black Hills as an example.

He said restoring to indigenous people what they have a legitimate claim to can be done in a way that is not divisive “so that the Black Hills, for example, isn’t just a reminder of the subordination and domination of indigenous peoples in that country.”

The Black Hills, home to Mount Rushmore, are public land but are considered sacred by the Sioux tribes. The Sioux have refused to accept money awarded in a 1980 U.S. Supreme Court decision and have sought return of the land. The Black Hills and other lands were set aside for the Sioux in an 1868 treaty. But Congress passed a law in 1877 taking the land.

President Barack Obama endorsed the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2010, reversing a previous U.S. vote against it. It is intended to protect the rights of 370 million native peoples worldwide. Anaya is the first U.N. special rapporteur on rights of the indigenous to visit the U.S.

He met with several members of the executive branch and had the chance to brief members of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. He lamented he was unable to get individual meetings with members of Congress, noting that he usually meets with members of legislative bodies of countries he is visiting.

Anaya said he heard universal cries from the Native Americans and Alaska Natives for the federal government to protect their tribal sovereignty and for more ability to control their own affairs.

He added provisions in the Violence Against Women Act, recently approved in the Senate, give tribes the ability to prosecute people who commit violent crimes against Native American or Alaska Native women, even if they are not native peoples. That provision has been opposed by some Republicans in Congress. The House is expected to move on the act as soon as next week, with Republicans possibly drafting and pushing their own version.

Anaya said he met with tribes in Arizona, Alaska, Oregon, Washington State, South Dakota and Oklahoma both on reservations and in urban areas.

“In all my consultations with indigenous peoples in the places I visited it was impressed upon me that the sense of loss, alienation and indignity is pervasive throughout Indian Country,” Anaya said.

“It is evident that there have still not been adequate measures of reconciliation to overcome the persistent legacies of the history of oppression and that there is still much healing that needs to be done,” he said.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

http://unpfip.blogspot.com/2012/05/solidarity-indigenous-peoples-mobilize.html

Indigenous Nations and Pueblos of Abya Yala
On Monday, May 7 at 12:00 noon a constellation of Indigenous Peoples and supporters will take action in front of the UN Headquarters in order to realize and converge the Prerogatives of the Peoples in resistance and rebellion of the Domination brought to bear upon Indigenous Peoples and their territories by the Doctrine of Discovery.The event, to take place at Ralph Bunch Park in front of the UN building in New York at 12:00 noon on Monday will coincide and complement the efforts of delegations of the Nations and Pueblos of Indigenous Peoples who will be addressing the issue of the impact of the Doctrine of Discovery simultaneously at the 11th Session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.The action on Monday was announced yesterday at the global Indigenous Women’s Caucus meeting in New York, and will be presented today to the Global Indigenous Caucus.

In anticipation of the need to bring the activities within the UN systems back to Power of the Peoples, the call is for catalytic cognition in the form of a
PERMANENT MOBILIZATION
of
SOLIDARITY and PRESENCE
in front of UN on Monday as a Direct Action whose Purpose is to
Dismantle the Doctrine of Discovery
and
INDIGENOUS PEOPLES
Call to Courage
Dismantling the the Doctrine of Discovery
ACT of DECOLONIZATION
MONDAY MAY 7, 2012
12:00 NOON
Ralph Bunch Park
1st Avenue and 42nd Street
New York, NY“Indigenous Peoples, equal to all other peoples…..”
UN Declaration
Adopted by the UN General Assembly on September 13, 2007
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Take a look inside the self-sufficient growing dome where it’s always springtime

By DAILY MAIL REPORTER

Last updated at 10:34 PM on 22nd June 2011

Out in one of the most isolated areas of the U.S. there is a surprising oasis flourishing with vegetables and fish. Inside the prototype BioEnergy Dome in a Navajo Indian Reservation near Naataanii, Arizona, it is always springtime.

The incredible growing pod is completely self-sufficient and can produce energy, food and fish all year round.Paradise: Inside the protype BioEnergy Dome in a Navajo Indian Reservation near Naatani, Arizona, it is always springtimeParadise: Inside the protype BioEnergy Dome in a Navajo Indian Reservation near Naatani, Arizona, it is always springtime

Incredible: The growing pod is completely self-sufficient and can produce energy, food and fish all year roundIncredible: The growing pod is completely self-sufficient and can produce energy, food and fish all year round

Isolated: The white seven metre diameter geodesic dome and white cloth sun reflectors consist on the inside of a pond and cascading water-fed planting traysIsolated: The white seven metre diameter geodesic dome and white cloth sun reflectors consist on the inside of a pond and cascading water-fed planting trays

Green: This BioEnergy Dome manufactured by Oregon-based Pacific International Domes is a prototype experiment in the field of environmentally friendly, self-sustaining organic farming and energyGreen: This BioEnergy Dome manufactured by Oregon-based Pacific Domes International is a prototype experiment in the field of environmentally friendly, self-sustaining organic farming and energy.

The white seven metre diameter geodesic dome and white cloth sun reflectors consist on the inside of a pond and cascading water-fed planting trays.

This BioEnergy Dome manufactured by Oregon-based Pacific International Domes is a prototype experiment in the field of environmentally friendly, self-sustaining organic farming and energy.

It creates an ‘eternal springtime’ and when completely operational can produce around five kilogrammes of organic vegetables per day, 45 to 68kg of fish per year and enough methane gas to power a modern home.

Giver: When completely operational the dome can produce around five kilogrammes of organic vegetables per day, 45 to 68kg of fish per year and enough methane gas to power a modern homeGiver: When completely operational the dome can produce around five kilogrammes of organic vegetables per day, 45 to 68kg of fish per year and enough methane gas to power a modern home

No waste: Unutilised biomass can be dried and pressed into pellets which can be used for fuel, fertiliser or fodderNo waste: Unutilised biomass can be dried and pressed into pellets which can be used for fuel, fertiliser or fodder

Non-stop: CO2 and water vapour, which are the only emissions, are cycled back into the dome to feed the growing plantsNon-stop: CO2 and water vapour, which are the only emissions, are cycled back into the dome to feed the growing plants

Happy: Unlike most farmed fish systems, this system is self-cleaning and does not require the use of chemicalsHappy: Unlike most farmed fish systems, this system is self-cleaning and does not require the use of chemicals. Once installed, it takes an hour of maintenance per day to keep it running at maximum capacity.

The duckweed and algae convert solar energy biomass in the specially designed dome that maintains consistent natural sunlight.

Plant are harvested and composted in a methane digester. Methane is then fed into a generator which converts thermal heat into power. CO2 and water vapour, which are the only emissions, are cycled back into the dome to feed the growing plants. Unutilised biomass can be dried and pressed into pellets which can be used for fuel, fertiliser or fodder.

Minimum effort: Once installed, it takes an hour of maintenance per day to keep it running at maximum capacityMinimum effort: Once installed, it takes an hour of maintenance per day to keep it running at maximum capacity

Producer: Plant are harvested and composted in a methane digester. Methane is then fed into a generator which converts thermal heat into powerProducer: Plant are harvested and composted in a methane digester. Methane is then fed into a generator which converts thermal heat into power

Eternal: Inside the protype BioEnergy Dome in a Navajo Indian Reservation near Naatani, Arizona, it is always springtimeEternal: Inside the protype BioEnergy Dome in a Navajo Indian Reservation near Naatani, Arizona, it is always springtime

Prototype: Environmental activist Gary Christmas gives explanations to a visiting Navajo Indian leaderPrototype: Environmental activist Gary Christmas gives explanations to a visiting Navajo Indian leader

Multilevelled trays full of hydroponic vegetables are stacked inside of the dome. These vegetables are necessary to feed nutrients into the pond. Fish, grown in the pond, are also necessary to the system and together the fish and vegetables supply clean, consistent and abundant fresh food.

Unlike most farmed fish systems, this system is self-cleaning and does not require the use of chemicals. The dome was built to produce fresh vegetables year round and help link the youth to their ancestral diet and move them away from a junk food diet.

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http://turtletalk.wordpress.com/2009/11/06/la-times-on-the-bennett-freeze-at-navajohopi/

by | November 6, 2009 · 10:05 am

LA Times on the Bennett Freeze at Navajo/Hopi

From the LA Times:

Reporting from Cameron, Ariz. – This is the land where Larry Gordy was destined to live, until it was made unlivable.

The Navajo believe that a person will always be tied to the place where his or her umbilical cord is buried. When Gordy was born in 1968, his father put his in this rust-colored dirt. It was here on the family’s ranch on the edge of the Painted Desert that his father dreamed of one day building homes for his children, and of tilling a field where watermelon and corn could grow.

But the Gordys were forced to put their dreams on hold. In 1966, the commissioner of Indian Affairs, Robert Bennett, halted development on 1.6 million acres of tribal land in northeastern Arizona that was claimed by both the Navajo nation and the Hopi tribe. Bennett imposed the ban to stop either tribe from taking advantage of the other while they negotiated ownership.

The ban became known as the Bennett Freeze. It meant the Gordys and the 8,000 or so other Navajos living on the land couldn’t erect homes, open businesses or even repair their roofs. No roads or schools were built, no electric, gas or water lines were permitted.

The land dispute dragged on for 40 years, paralyzing residents in a state of poverty rarely seen in America. Because few Hopis lived on the disputed territory, the ban affected mostly Navajos like the Gordys, who deserted their ranch after it fell into disrepair.

 

The tribes settled their differences in 2006 — most of the land went to the Navajo — and in May, President Obama cleared the way for federal funding to help rehabilitate the area, but no money has been earmarked yet.

Navajo officials hope some money may come their way. But as politicians grapple with how to spend any funds, the people face a question of their own: Is it possible to make up for 40 years of nothing?

Gordy is now 41, with a wife and four children. They live in a drafty trailer in the town of Cameron, a 30-minute drive from the old ranch. Cameron was also under the Freeze, but in town, at least, the family could string an extension cord from a neighbor’s house to get electricity, and draw water from a working well a few miles down the highway. Though it is now free to do so, the family has not made improvements to the trailer. The cash Gordy makes selling firewood, and the money his wife earns selling jewelry to tourists at the Grand Canyon, an hour away, isn’t enough.

As often as he can, Gordy brings his children to the ranch, which is scattered with rotting buildings, dirt-caked appliances and rusty car parts, to teach them about their heritage and about the land they were forced to leave.

But he isn’t sure where to begin.

“If it wasn’t for the Bennett Freeze, we would have a place to live,” said Gordy, a large man with a patchy black beard and an amiable manner. “But now we just have a junk pile out here. Now that the freeze is lifted, we’re expected to come out here and build something out of all this junk. Well, with what? It’d be like if a rancher penned up a bunch of sheep for 40 years and then all of a sudden one day he opened the fence and let them loose. They wouldn’t know what to do. And neither do we.”

The Navajo nation, whose territory sprawls 27,000 square miles across three states, is America’s largest tribe, and one of its poorest and most isolated. The tribe only recently opened its first casino, and unemployment hovers about 50%. Many people still live without electricity and plumbing. But even by Navajo standards, the conditions in the former Bennett Freeze region are astonishing.

A study commissioned by the Navajo found that only 24% of the houses in the area are habitable. Most homes lack plumbing, and while a third of the residents haul in potable water, others resort to drinking from the same wells as their livestock — water that in some cases is contaminated with bacteria or uranium.

Nearly 60% of houses lack electricity, even as steel power lines strung across the land buzz with the energy they carry from the Navajo Generating Station in Page, Ariz., south to Phoenix and west to Los Angeles.

But on a recent afternoon, on a high, dust-blown plain known as Black Falls, the sounds of promise rang out from a rooftop. Two men, sweating in the sun, had spent all day on top of Mary and John Knight’s 47-year-old cinder-block home, hammering down a tarp to protect the roof from the elements. It was a simple act that had been illegal for nearly half a century.

When the freeze was lifted, a local community organizing group informed the Knights that they were now eligible for money from federal programs. They secured roofing materials from a weatherization program and called over some friends to help install it. As a gesture of thanks to the workers, they planned to slaughter a sheep to make mutton stew.

The Knights had tried to fix the roof twice before. Rangers from the Hopi tribe came by each time and told them to stop.

The tribes have been rivals since the 1500s, when the nomadic Navajo arrived on the Hopi-occupied Colorado Plateau, a stretch of high-altitude desert where Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico now meet. The conflict over land rights began in 1934, when Congress set aside a large tract in Arizona for “the Navajo and such other Indians as may already be located thereon.” The land was populated mostly by Navajos, but the Hopis laid claim to the area because a Hopi village, Moenkopi, was located in its midst.

In 1966, while the tribes negotiated ownership, Bennett imposed the development ban. Moenkopi and the Navajo town of Tuba City were exempt. But residents of Bennett Freeze lands lived under continuous monitoring.

“Our parents felt like they had to hide and sneak around,” Gordy said. “If you tried to do an addition, the Hopi would pay you a visit and say, ‘Hey, there’s no agreement yet.’ “

Some people found ways to evade the freeze by building horse corals slowly, post by post, to avoid attracting attention from Hopi rangers who circled overhead in helicopters. Others camouflaged improvements by remodeling only the inside of their homes. Gordy’s family stored the hay for their horses in a junked bus and built their corral on the side of a sandstone rock, where it was somewhat hidden. But they couldn’t hook up to water or electricity. Eventually the hardship drove them out.

Many, including Katherine Peshlakai and her daughter, Eleanor, stayed.

The Peshlakais live about an hour’s drive from Gordy’s ranch in a neatly kept house atop a wind-swept hill beneath the vast Arizona sky. From their home they can see hundreds of miles in all directions, from the burnt-orange mesas in the east to the San Francisco Peaks — one of the Navajo’s four sacred mountain ranges — in the west.

Both tie their silver hair back in buns and walk with the help of canes.

“Our children and our grandchildren is why we stay,” said Katherine Peshlakai, who is in her 80s.

Since the freeze was lifted, the Peshlakais’ home has been outfitted with a solar panel and a small wind-power generator, which they rent for $25 a month from their tribal chapter.

They say they are also in line to receive a water sanitation system that would include bathroom fixtures from the Indian Health Service. But they complain that the aid extended so far from the Navajo nation and the federal government has only come from the top down. “They don’t want to hear our suggestions,” Peshlakai said. “They don’t want to work with us.”

Many people who lived through the Bennett Freeze say they have little faith in the federal government and complain that the tribal government should have done more to get the freeze lifted.

“What really makes me sad is when the tribe gives up on its own people,” said Vera Redell Bennett, 52, who was told that she could not move onto a plot of land near her mother’s home on the outskirts of Tuba City because it was on the freeze.

Paralyzed from the waist down since age 18, when she was shot by her ex-boyfriend, Bennett has lived inside her van for the last six years. She parks it in an empty lot in Tuba City.

It’s cold in the winter, she said, and she often doesn’t have enough gas to keep the heater running. But at least she has a bed, piles of blankets and her little dog, Missy. Every day a caretaker provided by the state brings her food and empties the jugs that she relieves herself in.

Bennett has resigned herself to her disability, but not her third-world living conditions.

“People who don’t live on the reservation don’t live like this,” she said. “I shouldn’t be living like this.”

The development freeze was hardest on the sick, said Nina Tohannie, 50, who works for the Indian Health Service. She said substandard living conditions had led to a number of health problems, including an epidemic of upper respiratory problems linked to badly ventilated stoves. And life without electricity meant that sick people were unable to refrigerate their medicines. That was one of the reasons Gordy’s father, who, like many Navajo, suffered from diabetes, left his ranch. He died in 1995 from complications of the disease.

Roman Bitsuie, a Navajo official who is working with Arizona Sen. John McCain’s office to craft legislation to infuse money into the Bennett Freeze area, said it might be impossible to repay people for damage done to their physical and psychological health.

“How do you compensate for someone’s spiritual scars?” he asked. “I don’t think there’s a price on that.”

Bitsuie said he did not know how much money might be included in the bill, which could be introduced later this year, or how it would be distributed.

Don Yellowman, the president of Forgotten People, a Navajo community organizing group that is one of the only groups doing work in the former Bennett Freeze region, said that redevelopment money should not go through the Navajo government but through federal agencies such as the Department of Transportation or the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The people don’t trust the tribal government to handle rehabilitation, he said, because of a history of corruption — the Navajo president was recently put on leave while he and other top officials are investigated for fraud — and because they feel let down.

“There was no real public education about what people were enduring,” he said.

Some people, like Denise Almeida, who lives not far from central Tuba City, don’t even know whether they were living under the freeze.

All Almeida knows is that she was unable to get aid when her trailer burned down last year. She and six of her children now live in a sagging travel trailer without water or electricity.

People carry on; if there was one thing Larry Gordy learned while living through the Bennett Freeze, it was that.

Even though he no longer lives on the ranch, he still keeps a few horses there. When his children were born, he buried their umbilical cords in the corral.

Now that the freeze is lifted, Gordy hopes to rebuild and move his family back onto the land.

Next March, he said, he will start by tilling a field. The kids want to grow pumpkins. And he’d like to try his hand at watermelon and corn.

 

 

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