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Statement Of Senator John McCain On Introduction Of A Bill To Repeal The Bennett Freeze

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, I am pleased to be joined by my colleague, Senator Kyl, in introducing legislation that would repeal section 10(f) of Public Law 93-531, commonly known as the "Bennett Freeze." Passage of this legislation would officially mark the end of roughly 40-years of litigation and land-lock between the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Tribe.

Mr. President, for decades the Navajo and the Hopi have been engrossed in a bitter dispute over land rights in the Black Mesa area just south of Kayenta, Arizona. The conflict extends as far back as 1882 when the boundaries of the Hopi and Navajo reservations were initially defined resulting in a tragic saga of litigation and damaging federal Indian policy. By 1966, relations between the tribes became so strained over development and access to sacred religious sites in the disputed area that the federal government imposed a construction freeze on the disputed reservation land. The freeze prohibited any additional housing development in the Black Mesa area and restricted repairs on existing dwellings. This injunction became known as the "Bennett Freeze," named after former BIA Commissioner Robert Bennett who imposed the ban.

The Bennett Freeze was intended to be a temporary measure to prevent one tribe taking advantage of another until the land dispute could be settled. Unfortunately, the conflict was nowhere near resolution, and the construction freeze ultimately devastated economic development in northern Arizona for years to come. By some accounts, nearly 8,000 people currently living in the Bennett Freeze area reside in conditions that haven't changed in half a century. While the population of the area has increased 65 percent, generations of families have been forced to live together in homes that have been declared unfit for human habitation by the United Nations and non-governmental organizations. Only three percent of the families affected by the Bennett Freeze have electricity. Only 10 percent have running water. Almost none have natural gas.

In September 2005, the Navajo and Hopi peoples' desire to live together in mutual respect prevailed when both tribes approved intergovernmental agreement that resolved all outstanding litigation in the Bennett Freeze area. This landmark agreement also clarifies the boundaries of the Navajo and Hopi reservations in Arizona, and ensures that access to religious sites of both tribes is protected. As such, the Navajo Nation, the Hopi Tribe, and the Department of Interior all support congressional legislation to lift the freeze.

Mr. President, the bill I'm introducing today would repeal the Bennett Freeze. The intergovernmental compact approved last year by both tribes, the Department of Interior, and signed by the U.S. District Court for Arizona, marks a new era in Navajo-Hopi relations. Lifting the Bennett Freeze gives us an opportunity to put decades of conflict between the Navajo and Hopi behind us. I urge my colleagues to support this legislation.

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