About 75 miles east of the Grand Canyon, in the high tableland of northern Arizona, Mae Wilson Tso sits at the window of her small, chinked-log Navajo hogan.

Late afternoon sunlight streams in the window, lighting one side of her quiet face, but she doesn't move. Betty, her 15-year-old daughter, is translating Tso's words slowly into English.

"Our rules are that if they surrounded us, we would come out one at a time if they shot at us, even the kids," Betty translates. Why would anyone shoot at Tso or her eight children? "If Washington tells them to, they will shoot."

The Tsos live on the wrong side of a barbed wire fence.

Their hogan is within something once called the Joint Use Area, a rectangular zone separating the Navajo and Hopi reservations, but joint use has never worked for these two very different tribes.

The Hopis, a small tribe whose mesa villages are surrounded by the Navajo Reservation, have been fighting in Congress and the federal courts for 17 years to have the Navajos removed from half the area.

In 1974 Congress authorized an equal division of the disputed area, giving each tribe almost a million acres. A federal judge has divided the land, 5,600 Navajos and 100 Hopis who live on the wrong side of the fence have been told they must move because they are on land partitioned for the other tribe.

The Tsos, and many of the other traditional Navajo families in the same position, say they won't move. I would rather stay here and die than suffer somewhere else," said Tso.

Her great grandfather escaped from Fort Sumner, during the Navajo's incarceration in New Mexico from 1863 to 1868, and made his way back to this remote area for safety. As a child Tso attended a mission school for less than a year before running away to be with her family, tend the sheep and learn to weave from her mother. She says, the idea of leaving the one place she knows terrifies her.

Her grim thoughts about relocation are no fantasy, according to Navajo Tribal Chairman Peter MacDonald. "When the time comes, and these people are forced to move by federal marshals, you'll have close to 6,000 domestic refugees."

MacDonald says 80 percent of the adult Navajos in the disputed area have not gone to school. "All they know is to herd sheep and farm with their hands. The American public doesn't have any understanding of what's going on over here.... We're talking about losing lives. Many of them may not make it when forced relocation begins."

Hopi Tribal Chairman Abbott Sekaquaptewa compares the Navajo migration into the lands surrounding the Hopi mesas during the last 100 years with the European occupation of America. "The nature of the Navajo is to dominate and control.... The Navajo and the white man are the same; they have the same nature. The reason why the white man is unwilling to enforce anything against the Navajo is because in the Navajo he recognizes his own image."

The hardship involved in relocating the Navajos is not really the major issue for Navajo tribal leaders, Sekaquaptewa argues. "It's the political defeat; the loss of face. It's the loss of dominance over the Hopi tribe and Hopi land."

If life estates are granted to elderly Navajos in the disputed area, allowing them to remain on the land until death, Sekaquaptewa doubts that the Hopi partition area will ever be cleared of Navajos. "The next generation will just say the same thing," he said.

When the Navajos returned from the Long Walk in 1868, the Hopis watched from their mesas as Navajos began to settle with their flocks on the range land around them. The Hopis were farmers who made intense use of small tracts near their steep mesas to grow corn, squash and beans. The Navajos were sheepherders who lived in scattered family groups and needed wide grazing areas.

In 1882, President Chester Arthur set aside a rectangular reservation "for the use and occupancy of the Moqui (Hope) and such other Indians as the secretary of the interior may see fit to settle thereon." About 1,800 Hopis and 400 Navajos lived within the boundaries of the 2.5 million acre 1882 reservation.

The Navajo population grew rapidly, spreading throughout the area and leaving the Hopis little land beyond their mesas. Although the Hopis repeatedly asked the federal government to remove the Navajos, by the 1930s there were 4,000 Navajos in the area, and 3,600 Hopis. Today there are approximately 11,000 Navajos in the area and 7,000 Hopis.

"No one involved in this dispute knows more about hardship than the Hopis," Sekaquaptewa maintains. Many Hopis attempted to settle in the disputed area, he says, but were driven back by the Navajos.

Melvina Navasie, a Hopi with 12 children, vividly remembers how difficult it was to live out in the 1882 reservation, far from the Hopi villages. Her father, a member of the Eagle Clan, was appointed to move into the area from First Mesa in 1912.

"It was hard; we were the only Hopis here," she said in English, surrounded by children and grandchildren in a small cement block house on the land her father settled. "When I was a little girl, herding sheep, the Navajos would chase me back on their horses with whips."

The federal government first divided the 1882 reservation in the 1930s, as part of a range management program to control overgrazing. The Hopis were given their own grazing district - about 631,000 acres, which included the three mesas, surrounding farmland and rangeland that would be off limits to Navajos. One hundred Navajos were evicted from the new district.

The Hopis still shared property rights to the rest of the 1882 rectangle, and Navasie's father stayed our there. He taught his children that "few Navajos are really bad," and that "even if an enemy comes by, tell him to come in, tell him to eat." Still, the family was harassed. Her father died after being hanged upside down in a hogan by several Navajos.

Nevasie remains bitter. "I'm for the whole 1882; we should get the whole thing," she said. "Whatever they're giving us, it isn't enough for what we've done out here."

But today the hardships of life in the disputed area are falling heaviest on the Navajos. While Navasie is one of 100 Hopis who must relocate, because they are now on Navajo land, the move for her will be relatively easy. "I want to move into my own land, where my tribe can help me," she said. She has already chosen a site for her new house, about two miles from her present one.

The situation faced by the 5,600 Navajos who suddenly find themselves living on Hopi land is quite different.

Mary and Jim Ahasteen have lived among the stunning black, volcanic monuments of the southern portion of the Joint Use area all their lives. Their parents were born "just across the hill." Mary and Jim raised eight children, ran livestock, and were vaguely aware that the Hopis, on the mesas far to the north, had a claim to the land.

Just how strong that claim was they had no idea, however, until a federal judge ordered their herds of livestock reduced drastically in the early 1970s. The Hopi tribe had filed for a federal order to protect the range land from Navajo overgrazing, and to enforce their rights as cotenants. The government has nearly completed a massive buy-up of Navajo stock.

Prior to 1972, the Ahasteens tended a flock of 70 sheep, as well as 40 goats and several cows and horses. Today the family has six goats.

"They don't have nothing to do here now," Lorraine Ahasteen, 18, says, interpreting for her parents in the main room of their 16-by-24-foot house. The only other room is a tiny kitchen, equipped with a bottled gas refrigerator and stove. Like the Navasies and the Tsos, they have no electricity and haul their water in by pickup truck.

"When they go outside, and there's nothing around here, cows or sheep, they just look around and go back inside," Lorraine says.

An accomplished weaver, Mary Ahasteen still sells her Navajo rugs to reservation traders, but the wool she put aside after selling her flock is running low. Soon she will have to buy her wool. She earns about $200 for a rug that takes three months to weave.

Her husband Jim used to spend his summers as a migrant farmworker in California and Idaho. When a local Comprehensive Employment and Training Administration job ended last spring, he began receiving $108 every two weeks in general assistance from the tribe.

"To many of the older residents, those hardest hit by the problems of relocation and livestock reduction, it seems that their only choice is to go on welfare or to starve," MacDonald says. Earlier this year the mental health branch of the Indian Health Service on the Navajo reservation reported that Navajos marked for relocation were asking for psychological counseling at eight times the rate of other Navajos.

The people on the wrong side of the fence are now in a period of coluntary relocation, but face forced relocation in 1981 to 1986, when they must all be gone. "They don't talk about moving," Lorraine Ahasteen says quietly. "We don't have no place to go."

Abbott Sekaquaptewa finds that unbelievable. "You mean the Navajo tribe, with a 14-million-acre reservation, can't make room for some of its own people?" MacDonald sounds weary as he responds that most of the reservation is arid, and every inch is spoken for by other families with traditional grazing rights.

"If we are going to get serious about the relocation of Navajos," MacDonald says, "then we had better get serious about where they're gonna" go."

The 1974 act authorized the secretary of the interior to sell the Navajo tribe 250,000 acres of federal land for resettlement. The tribe applied for acreage in House Rock Valley, north of the Grand Canyon, but met immediate resistance from non-Indian ranchers with grazing permits in the valley.

Four years later, the tribe's application is still pending for the land, which could only support 43 families with sheep.

"We still don't have any land to relocate people to, other than urban areas outside the reservation," said Sandra Massetto, the Phoenix attorney who chairs the federal Navajo-Hopi Relocation Commission here. Funded in 1974 with $37 million to purchase housing for the relocatees, the commission has until 1981 to present Congress with a master plan for relocation. Massetto expects to ask Congress to make an additional 250,000 acres available to the commission itself, and to allocate $250 million for resettlement.

Working "piecemeal" so far, Massetto said, the commission has relocated 78 families to Flagstaff and Winslow, Ariz. Almost all of them have been young people. About 1,200 Navajo families and 22 Hopi families must be relocated. "Urban life would be disastrous" for most of these people, Massetto feels.

"Americans have a funny idea about Indians. They see them as exotic. I don't think they really understand an Indian's attachment to the land. They don't understand why someone wouldn't want a brand new home, with electricity, and running water, free of a mortgage. These people just don't want it."

Even the new rural communities planned by the commission do not really satisfy Massetto. "They're still going to have to move. The best I can hope for is to minimize the destructiveness of it. Relocation has always tended to come out badly for the Indians."

The Indian Health Service has warned that resettlement communities "may indeed become behavioral sinks, populated mostly by older Navajos living on welfare who have very little to do with their time, and who are cut off from their traditional sheepherding life styles."

In the bright green rabbitbrush outside Mae Wilson Tso's hogan, two saplings are freshly planted and staked next to the shed where she does her weaving. Threaded across the bottom of her loom is the first half-inch of an enormous gray and red Navajo rug. Mrs. Tso is not planning to go anywhere. CAPTION: Picture 1, Mae-Tso: "I would rather stay here and die...", By Richard Pipes for The Washington Post; Picture 2, Mary Ahasteen: she earns about $200 for a rug it takes 3 months to weave. By Richard Pipes for The Washington Post; Map, no caption, By Dave Cook - The Washington Post