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The Land Dispute

Although it has been many months since I had last visited David, having been in the Central American jungle procuring various items for his clan's ceremonial needs, he begins our visit with a story. As always, it is as though he is continuing a conversation that had been left off moments before. He is speaking about the long-running dispute between the Navajo and Hopi, over land ownership.

"My father always took me with him when he rode the reservation, trading sheep with the Navajo", David begins. "I was a small boy and my father had been converted by the missionaries, to Christianity. They say he was the first Hopi to convert. This was around the turn of the century", he continues, closing his eyes and drifting to that time in his life. "My father told me that he allowed himself to be converted so that that the Bahanas (white man) would leave his family alone, satisfied with a 'token' convert. In this way the rest of his family could continue to live in 'the Hopi way'."

"So, we rode the borders of the Hopi land, trading sheep and preaching that God is Love, and that the Hopi are peaceful people, only wanting a peaceful coexistence between ourselves and our Navajo brothers. Oh, the Hopi had much, much land at that time. From Black Mesa to the San Francisco Peaks, where our katsinas lived during the winter…all the way to the Grand Canyon, and to where Snowflake, Arizona is today. All that was Hopi land", David continues, as though he were there and now was then.

"Wherever there was a wash or a spring, a Hopi farmer had peach orchards…small, sweet white peaches, and melons, and blue corn and beans." David licks his lips, his eyes still half closed, tasting those peaches. "We always had enough."

David pauses now, dwelling on a picture in his mind, remembering something, and continues, "The Navajo always came to visit us in winter. My father said to always welcome strangers at our door, even our enemies. Bring them inside, warm them, feed them, let them rest. When they go away, send them away with corn meal; give them a summer melon, a leg of mutton. This is the Hopi way. To be Hopi is to be in peace. We know no other way of life."

"Then one year a Navajo family came to us and asked if they could make a summer camp by a spring near us", David continues. We said "Sure; since no one is using that place right now. So they did, and they stayed all summer. We were friends. Our children played together. They brought us some of their corn that fall. We gave them some of our peaches. They did not go away that winter. It was a very cold winter, I remember. When that family came to our house and they were hungry, we gave them mutton, a squash, some parched corn." David is there, ninety years ago, speaking as though this happened last week.

"Spring came that year," continues David, "and some relatives of these Navajos came to visit them. They said it was good here and decided to stay. But, they never asked our permission. We thought to ourselves: 'There is much land here. We do not own this land. It is here to be used. We are a peaceful people. We can share a little with our Navajo brother.' I remember this because it was then that many Navajo people came to use our land. It was then that we began to lose our land".

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