DISLOCATED: Contested homeland

Broken promises

Broken promises

Mae Horseman is a former Navajo Nation judge and now serves on the local government of the Nahata Dziil Chapter in the New Lands. She says relocation was hardest on elderly Navajos like her mother because most had never lived in another place.

A planned factory did not open. A grocery store burned to the ground and was replaced by a liquor store. Elders tell stories of their own adult children beating them, of being afraid to leave their houses for fear of being robbed, of being raped.

Parents told themselves that their children would benefit from living in this new place, because they had been promised jobs. But economic development never arrived. The nearest grocery store is a 100-mile roundtrip drive. Residents say they live in fear because of the lack of police protection. When people call for help, police officers respond hours later, if at all.

Houses constructed just 25 years ago are cracking along the floors, along the ceilings and around the windows. A few people’s homes have separated so badly that the federal Office of Navajo and Hopi Indian Relocation built them new houses. But most people just wait and wonder if their houses will be standing in another decade. Neighborhoods were built without telephone lines, and many cell phones don’t work in the outlying areas.

June Benally begged to keep the land where she was born. She told Congress that she knew the plants there, and used them for ceremonies and medicine. She knew where burial sites were, and avoided them, as is customary.

Meaning of home

Meaning of home

In the 1980s, families reluctantly began moving to the New Lands.

Elders take on liquor stores

Elders take on liquor stores

Glendora Burnside has been tending the window at the Ole Red Barn liquor store for a decade. There are few jobs in this remote area 45 miles west of Gallup along Interstate 40. Like the other women who work here, Burnside is a single mom and a 12 year employee of Red Barn Trading Post. She figures this job is better than no job. Burnside keeps a log book of every customer who makes a purchase. The log book consists of names, identification information and any details of the individual.

Betty Manybeads says she would not have moved to the New Lands if she had known alcohol would be sold here. She says drug and alcohol abuse has devastated the community.

The nearest grocery store is a 100-mile roundtrip drive. Residents say they live in fear because of the lack of police protection. When people call for help, police officers respond hours later, if at all. In Sanders, Ariz., men and women gather all day, every day, to drink alcohol behind a boarded-up food stand in the center of town. There are four liquor stores in the New Lands but no grocery stores.

In the 1980s, families reluctantly began moving to the New Lands. Parents told themselves that their children would benefit from living in this new place, because they had been promised jobs. But economic development never arrived. A planned factory did not open. A grocery store burned to the ground and was replaced by a liquor store.

Up in smoke

Up in smoke

Fire protection is virtually non-existent in the New Lands. The fire department is located as far as 30 miles away from some communities, and neighborhoods don’t have fire hydrants for additional water. Throughout the Navajo New Lands, burned-up houses litter the high-desert landscape because people cannot call the fire department, which is located as far as 30 miles away from some homes.

Marjorie Brown stopped drinking 17 years ago. She says she is praying that her relatives will stop abusing alcohol too. Alcohol and drugs became a poisonous salve for some relocatees who were overwhelmed by the stress of moving, paying bills and joblessness. Residents say the preponderance of liquor stores in the area — and the lack of other businesses — has been a curse on the New Lands.

Helping Elders

Helping Elders

Ted Nez gathers chopped wood for elders of the Nahata Dziil Chapter in the New Lands. Many people burn wood in order to keep down utility bills.

In 1974, Congress settled a 16-year lawsuit between the Navajo and Hopi nations over which tribe owned nearly 1.8 million acres of land long shared by both groups.

The federal government apportioned the contested land and ordered members of each tribe to leave what was now considered the other tribe’s land. The vast majority of those relocated were Navajos deemed to be living on Hopi land.

 

What resulted was one of the largest and most expensive relocation projects in U.S. history. Over the past four decades, the government has spent at least $575 million relocating more than 3,500 Navajo families.

The largest concentration of relocatees — about 400 families — moved to an area in northeastern Arizona they called the New Lands.

Government officials promised that Navajos moving to the New Lands would have modern houses along with jobs, a hospital, a grocery store and plenty of land to graze sheep and cattle. But residents of the New Lands say the reality has been quite different.

 

Alcohol and drugs became a poisonous salve for some relocatees who were overwhelmed by the stress of moving, paying bills and joblessness. Residents say the preponderance of liquor stores in the area -- and the lack of other businesses -- has been a curse on the New Lands.

Elders tell stories of their own adult children beating them, of being afraid to leave their houses for fear of being robbed, of being raped. They recount stories of friends being beaten, dumped and left for dead. They tell of relatives who’ve frozen to death while passed out drunk in a culvert under the highway and scores of loved ones taken by drunk drivers.

In January 2014, tension over alcohol and drugs in the New Lands came to a head. Gary McDonald, the owner of three area liquor stores was arrested for the second time on drug and weapons charges. Even though they feared retribution, a group of senior citizens has mobilized a campaign to close the liquor stores and take back their community.

 

© Amanda Ray all rights reserved.

amandamray001@gmail.com

425.941.0874

@AmandaRayPhoto

 

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