Courts may have ruled in favor of the Hopi Indians in their long-running land dispute with the Navajos. But court decisions will not resolve the ongoing feelings of antagonism, occasional violence and the destruction of sacred shrines in northern Arizona, said John Fritz, an expert in Navajo-Hopi relationships.
Fritz, an adjunct assistant professor of anthropology at Westminster College, told members of the Salt Lake Kiwanis Club Thursday that the conflict's resolution must come from the American Indians themselves, not from outsiders with no appreciation for the cultural heritage of both groups."The solution is not more litigation," he said. "The solution must come from the people themselves, by allowing them to solve their own problems. After all, they had a system of government long before the white man and it flourished."
Fritz spent 10 years working with the Hopi Indians, gathering information for a landmark lawsuit in which the Hopi claimed ownership of a large portion of the Navajo reservation.
Subsequent court rulings have resulted in the displacement of about 20,000 American Indians, most of them Navajos.
Today, about 10,000 Hopi Indians live in an area surrounded by 100,000 other American Indians, mostly Navajos. They currently live on three mesas in Arizona, including Old Oraibi, the oldest continuously occupied community in the New World.
The conflict between Navajos and Hopis is rooted in hundreds of years of tradition. The Hopis consider themselves descendants of the prehistoric Anasazi Indians, a position supported by archaeologists. The Navajo and Apache arrived in the Southwest 600 to 800 years ago.
While the Anasazi and Hopi were farmers, the Navajo and Apache were hunters and gatherers who raided the farming villages of the Hopi and other Pueblo peoples. After U.S. government campaigns in the 1860s decimated the Navajo, the Navajo turned to animal husbandry as a way of life.
That lifestyle and its demands upon the land brought them into even more conflict with the Hopi.
"To both the Navajo and the Hopi, the land is extremely sacred," Fritz said. "We must create a situation where wounds can be healed."
Fritz said he has worked for both the Navajos and the Hopi, and he takes no position as to who is right or wrong in the complex issue.