Hopi officials’ moves to impound Navajo-owned sheep goes beyond a mere tribal dispute over grazing land to reveal how acutely climate change is impacting Native traditions and ways of life in the American Southwest.
PINON, Arizona — Sheep have been an integral part of the lives of generations of Diné, providing food and wool to those living in relative isolation atop the Black Mesa in the remote north-central part of the Navajo Nation in Arizona.
However, the lives and livelihoods of the Forest Lake Chapter of the Navajo Nation were disrupted in October, when reports allege that federal SWAT teams set up roadblocks as helicopters and drones circled above the fields of shepherds while Hopi rangers and Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) agents impounded more than 300 of the Diné shepherds’ sheep.
The Hopi Tribe Department of Natural Resources conducted its annual livestock inventory in August. Citations were issued to those who had too many sheep, and they were given 60 days to remove any livestock in excess of the permit allowance. Five-day notices were posted, and written notices were issued by the Hopi Resource Enforcement Services to provide those with violations the opportunity to come into compliance voluntarily before the sheep were impounded.
The Hopi said in an Oct. 31 press release the impoundments were being carried out “equally for and between” the Hopi and Navajo. “Despite the misinformation being spread via the social media, there is no threat of violence by the Hopi Tribe against the Navajo and Hopi residents of Hopi Partitioned Lands,” the statement read.
The Hopi also called upon the Navajo to join together in protecting their sacred lands through “the continued and ongoing enforcement of the reasonable grazing regulations. It is in the best interest of all live stock (sic) owners that we work together to preserve the natural resources for the benefit of all.”
...One resident of the Navajo community, who spoke to MintPress on condition of anonymity, said, “The rangers came in the middle of ceremony. They came early in the morning, when people are asleep. They started taking sheep at gunpoint. These families depend on the sheep for food and wool for weaving. It’s how they make their living. Taking them away is destroying elders. They have nowhere else to go.”
The source told MintPress that it’s commonly believed that the Peabody Coal Mine wants to expand operations to mine the entire area, and that’s what’s behind the recent flock removal push.
“Peabody is lighting up most of the state with electricity, but these Navajo shepherds are not given electricity or running water,” the source said.