In early September, the roar of bulldozers and
chainsaws in the remote desert of the Hopi Reservation gave modern
resonance to an ancient feud.
destroyed a site sacred to Navajo Sun Dancers, even removing the
site's "Tree of Life." The act was the latest in more than a
century of dispute over land shared by the larger but more recently
arrived Navajo, and the smaller Hopi Tribe, whose ancestors have
inhabited the region for thousands of years.
Mountain, Ariz., the location of the Sun Dance site, is part of the
Hopi Reservation, but is sacred to both tribes. Conflict over the
area escalated in 1974, when Congress divided 2 million acres of
disputed Hopi land between the tribes, placing Big Mountain on the
Hopi side and forcing the relocation of both Hopi and Navajo.
Several Navajo families have resisted relocation
and continue to live on Hopi land.
Heywood, of the Hopi Tribe, says that the Navajo on Hopi land are
subject to the same regulations as the Hopi; for the past two
years, she says, the Navajo have been holding gatherings at the Sun
Dance site without a permit.
"We didn't target
the site because it was religious. It was because it was a
gathering," says Heywood. She emphasizes that the Hopi Tribe was
sensitive to the site's religious significance; a Hopi religious
man performed a ceremony there to protect it from desecration
before dismantling it.
The Navajo Sun Dancers say
removal of the sacred site overstepped the bounds of normal law
enforcement. "The reason I'm affected," says Klee Benally, whose
family hosted the Sun Dance, "is that someone's church was