Ever since Congress enacted the Hopi-Navajo Land Settlement Act in 1974, the Navajos have pushed for its repeal.
While rejecting the Navajo efforts, Rep. Morris K. Udall (D-Ariz.), chairman of the House Interior Committee, says he will consider legislation to ease the burden of relocation of traditional Navajos.
Udall vows that this year the 100-year-old dispute between the Navajos and Hopis will be resolved.
"I do feel that Congress has not given adequate attention to the heavy burdens of relocation, and I am looking for reasonable proposals to ease those burdens," he said.
A resolution could come in the form of amendments to the 1974 Hopi-Navajo Land Settlement Act. But even the form of the amendments is embroiled in a congressional dispute over the life estate provision of the 1974 act.
Last March a U.S. judge ordered what are considered "extremly limited life estates," in the words of a Senate staff report, allowing persons 70 or older who are mentally or physically impaired to avoid relocation and remain on five acres of land.
Now there are moves in the House and Senate to lower the age of Indians permitted to maintain life estates, thereby reducing the number who would have to move.
The Navajos, who oppose relocation, are giving reluctant support to an amendment by Sen. Dennis DeCondini (D-Ariz.) that would allow Navajos lacking education and job skills necessary for relocation, to live out their lives at their present homes from age 40 and older.
Udall favors a reduction in the life estate age to 65.
The Hopis support an amendment by Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.) that would expedite relocation by offering block grants to communities on and off the reservation willing to accept relocatees.
Last Friday the Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs met to consider the amendments but recessed for a month without acting on them.
Navajo representative Samuel Pete said that lowing the age to 65 would fail to take into consideration the shorter average lifespan of the Navajos, which he said is 55 years.
"We want to resolve this problem in a way that would leave the Navajos in their traditional homesteads, carrying on the traditions of the past," Pete said.
But Hopi Tribal Chairman Abbott Sekaquaptewa says that modifying the 1974 act to lower the life estate age to 40 is an outrage.
"If the Navajo tribe gets away with this, it's simply going to encourage them," he said.
Udall has promised to take up the issue after the August recess.