More Arrests and Sheep Impoundments on Disputed Navajo-Hopi Land

By DAVID CORREIA

On Saturday we reported an escalation of conflicts, including arrests and sheep impoundments, over disputed Navajo-Hopi land. Yesterday Black Mesa Indigenous Support released an update on the conflict. On Tuesday of this week, while heavily armed Hopi rangers guarded and blocked nearby dirt road entrances, other rangers arrested two more Navajo sheepherders and impounded 120 sheep at the homesite of Tom and Etta Begay in Red Willow Springs.

Hopi Rangers impounding sheep on disputed Hopi-Navajo land. Photo courtesy of Black Mesa Indigenous Support
Hopi Rangers impounding sheep on disputed Hopi-Navajo land. Photo courtesy of Black Mesa Indigenous Support

One of those arrested, Milayia Yoe, was detained for hours. After her release she described the arrests in a statement released by BMIS: “Hopi Rangers came for our homestead early this morning. They tried to arrest my Aunt Etta who is almost 70 years old and my dad Bahe. They had barricades set up at the top of the hill with two police units, when we tried to get around the barricade they chased us for two miles, trying to hit us with their trucks, and they drew their guns at us. When we got to the house they brought four more units and tried to block us in by the north hogan. They grabbed us out of our vehicles. A male officer was grabbing me around my waist. I told them they were violating our rights and violating our elders. They were trying to arrest Etta who didn’t even know what they were saying [she doesn’t speak English]. She wasn’t doing anything. They arrested my younger brother Lance and me. Because we were a threat to them for voicing our rights and defending our family. It took three officers to detain me and another three to detain my brother. We didn’t go down without a fight. We were let go after six hours of detainment. I told them they are threatening our family who is all alone and elderly and they come out with guns and threaten and scare them. Who would have defended our family if we didn’t come? We didn’t come with guns and knives; we are not violent, we just came to protect our family. Who knows what they would have done if we weren’t there. We said, we are not scared. We are protecting our elders, if you are going to take us to jail for that, do it. They took 120 sheep from our homestead.”

One of the first Diné sheepherders arrested, Caroline Tohannie, who had her herd impounded last week, has a court date coming up where she will be facing trespassing charges for being at her homestead.

The arrests are alarming for elders like Tohannie who fear that they mark an escalation in efforts to remove Diné sheepherders entirely. “I disapprove of the impoundments,” said Black Mesa elder Jack Woody. “They really affect the elderly. Ever since I was a baby I was carried on a horse to herd sheep. I have herded all my life and I am in my eighties.  You have the livestock in your heart, and they want to take that away.”

Hopi Rangers claim the issue has to do with overgrazing, but Big Mountain resident Marie Glaude doesn’t believe it. “They way that the rangers are treating the people goes against the Dineh way; it is very taboo to point a gun at somebody. They are traumatizing an already traumatized community. If overgrazing was actually the issue they could just educate people. But it’s not. This is uncalled for.”

Signs defending the rights of Diné sheepherders to graze traditional lands on Black Mesa. Photo courtesy of Black Mesa Indigenous Support
Signs defending the rights of Diné sheepherders to graze traditional lands on Black Mesa. Photo courtesy of Black Mesa Indigenous Support

Yesterday Black Mesa Indigenous Support put out the following call for support:

Lawyers needed! Residents are requesting legal assistance.
 Also call protests into your local Department of Interior or Bureau of Indian Affairs offices. In addition money is needed to pay impoundment fees. You can donate funds here. Or come to the land as a human rights observer, email blackmesais@gmail.com for more information. Lastly, call the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Hopi Rangers, and the Department of Interior. Ask they stop impounding sheep on the HPL. Call the BIA superintendent is Wendel Honanie and demand an end to the arrests. He can be reached at (928) 738-2228. Call Hopi Chairman Herman G. Honanie to complain about the campaign of impoundments. He can be reached by email at hehonanie@hopi.nsn.us or by Phone: (928) 734-3102. And then call Clayton Honyumptewa of the Hopi Rangers and complain about the heavily armed response to peaceful sheepherders: (928) 734-3601.

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