Two years ago, the U.S. government moved Dorothy Paddock, 59, and her husband Andy, 58, out of a one-room house on a patch of Northern Arizona desert, with no running waater, no electricity, no paved roads and no plumbing.

They moved the Paddocks into a suburban Flagstaff three-bedroom stucco with all the conveniences and with the mortgage paid off -- a dream come true by the standards of many Americans.

The Paddocks are not grateful.

Dorothy Paddock's health has declined. Among other things, she complains of loneliness and "mutton hunger."

"I used to tend sheep daily, and I did some weaving. Just light weaving, which I sold at the Trading Post," she said in the musical/guttural, almost Oriental cadence of the Navajo language, through an interpreter. She speaks no English.

"I don't think there is any job I could do here," she added, speaking softly against the hum of a refrigeator. Her thin leathery hands gnawed at the folds of her full Navajo skirt, as her creased gaze dropped to the polyester-pile horizon of the living room.

The Paddocks are among an estimated 1,200 families, or between five and six thousand individual tribal Indians, affected by the largest relocation by the U.S. government since white long knives hereded some 100,000 Cherokees along the Trail of Tears in 1830, or since Col. Kit Carson rounded up the Paddocks' Navajo ancestors and marched 8,000 of them on The Long Walk into exile in 1863.

This spectacle of traditional Navajos, uneducated in the ways of the whiteman, being dropped in the suburbs like Martians, is only the most dramatic current effect of an ancient conflict between the Hopi and the Navajo tribes -- a strange conflict, by eastern standards, in which people are fighting over and being "crowded out of" what appears to be empty desert.

To say that Navajos like the Paddocks are suffering the most right now, however, is not to say that the Hopis are the heavies this morally ambiguous drama. In the view of many, the Navajos are the victims now only because they were the transgressors in the past.

Judges all the way up to the Supreme Court have studied the evidence and concluded that the Navajos in effect pushed the Hopis off land to which they were entitled, both legally and by tradition. That is why thousands of Navajos now have been told they must move.

For some younger or better-educated Navajos, the relocation is a windfall. But bedrock traditional Navajos insist they will allow U.S. marshals to shoot them before they will leave their ancestral land.

Some have compared the Hopi-Navajo dispute to the Middle East conflict in its complexity and frustration, though it is much smaller in scale. Both arguments are centuries old; in both, the U.S. government plays the dual roles of villain and mediator.

From the mesa cliffs of Old Oraibi, considered by anthropologists "the oldest continuously inhabited settlement" in the United States, the desert scrub rolls in all directions to the edge of the sky -- hushed, arid, forbidding and almost as empty as it was in the year 600, when the Hopis are believed to have settled here.

To at least some of the descendants of those first Americans, this land is sacred, achingly beautiful and, by their standards, painfully crowded.

It is here, in Arizona's tableland, east of the Grand Canyon, north of the Painted Desert, that some 7,000 members of the Hopi tribe live surrounded by at least 140,000 Navajos.

The three Hopi mesas are in a heart-shaped area of 600,000 acres which are recognized as Hopi land and not a part of the dispute. But for at least 400 years, both tribes have tried to claim the same 2 million acres in a rectangle surrounding the heart.

In 1882, President Chester A. Arthur established the area as a reservation for the Hopis, although many Navajos lived there already. The U.S. government in subsequent years sat on its hands while the number of Navajos in the area increased from about 400 to over 11,000.

In 1977, after years of debate, and court cases, and congressional hearings, and failed attempts by the tribes to settle the matter themselves, a judge made a Solomon-like decision to split the disputed land and give each tribe half. All except about 100 of those to be moved are Navajos.

In 1974, Congress passed a law that led to the relocation order. Now, led by Arizona's Rep. Morris Udall (D) and Sen. Barry Goldwater (R), Congress is expected to pass more legislation on the subject by the end of this month. The new measure would add land and assistance to that already provided for the Navajos, so that most of those who wish can continue their way of life. It would be the most generous relocation program ever sponsored by the federal government, officials said.

"One of the big problems is that there hasn't been anyplace for those people to move except into town," said Roger Lewis, one of the relocation commissioners.

Nobody is predicting the land acquisition will be any simpler than the rest of the situation, however. A group of hunters, environmentalists and ranchers has effectively stalled a Navajo attempt to buy a parcel of land near Grand Canyon called House Rock Valley. And the bill in Congress, responding to fears of the New Mexico delegation, limits the amount of land the tribe can purchase in that state.

The legislation also expands the provision for life estates for 120 Navajo family heads of a certain age or disability, enabling them to live out their lives where they are.

But to many traditional Indians, such decrees and "white man's paperwork" seem as alien and oppressive and uncontrollable a force in their lives as the glaciers that carved out the mesas and canyons eons ago.

"I value life less here," said Andy Paddocks, who drives a truck for the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). In Flagstaff, he is wrestling for the first time with such strange suburban plagues as leaky roofs, faulty wiring, utility bills and taxes.

Among the 207 people who have already moved under the relocation program, most of them to Flagstaff, some 30 percent are "failing" and may become dependent on welfare, according to officials of the Relocation Commission in Flagstaff. That agency was created because neither side trusted BIA.

If the Navajos weren't so selfish and greedy over their livestock and grazing land, say Hopi leaders, they would allow families like the Paddocks to move to familiar terrain elsewhere on the Navajo reservation, beyond the disputed territory. The Navajos, largest of the American Indian tribes, now control a total of 25,000 square miles (over 16 million acres) in four states.

"If you care, you can make room . . . Why not give up some of their flocks and make room for their own brothers and sisters, if they want to talke about human rights," said Valjean Joshevema, 36, a Vietnam veteran born in Old Oraibi. He heads an agency of the Hopi tribe trying to help clear the Navajo off Hopi lands and resolve the feuding.

The Navajos respond that their livestock, which have special religious meaning, are already crowded in the arid reservation lands, all of which other Navajo families have claimed as "customary use" area (meaining it has always been theirs).

Indeed, the Hopis and some government officials have accused the Navajos of poor land management and habitual overgrazing. In the early 1970's, in another phase of the dispute, a federal court ordered the stock on the disputed land reduced drastically -- to about one sheep for every 112 acres -- in order to restore the grazing areas.

The government will buy the livestock for 150 percent of value. But to the Navajos, the animals are far more important than money.

"Money can be spent quickly," explained one official close to the problem. "But the sheep they use for warmth, for meat, for the wool to weave their rugs. The animals are blessed" in religious ceremonies. "They give a sense of worth."

But the Hopis intend to use their share of the partitioned land to expand their own flocks, they say, once they can get the Navajos off.

"The Hopis want to replace with sheep these people who are uneducated and for whom the land is sacred, and who don't know any other life . . . That's inhumane," said Percy Deal, 29, a Navajo who heads a tribal agency fighting relocation.

The Hopis, on the other hand, feel that their paper victories are weightless in the face of the great wealth and political clout of the more aggressive Navajos, their leaders say.

The Navajos "are pulling all the stops," said Abbott Sekaquaptewa, chairman of the Hopi tribe, referring among other things to the Navajos' hiring of the public relations firm of Hill and Knowlton to lobby for them.

"These are not poor, illiterate people who don't know the white man's ways. They're the smartest people I've ever run up against . . . They've led the white man's government around by its nose for years."

The Navajos retort that the Hopis have benefited from their close ties to the politically influential Mormons in Salt Lake City, where the law firm representing them is based. Hopi missionaries first came to the mesa tops to preach in the late 1800s.

Such charges, and occasional incidents of violence on the range, have punctuated the lives of Hopis and Navajos as far back as they can remember.

Joshevema's 85-year-old grandfather, Viets Lomahaftewa, who speaks no English, first traveled to Washington from his mesa village in 1935 to testify about the dispute.

Melvina Novasie, a crusty, round-faced woman with grey hair and glasses, is one of the few Hopis whose families managed to settle in the disputed land, among the Navajos.

On a slip of scrub land called Jeddito, her father built the family's cement-block house in 1912, and confrontations with Navajos are part of the family lore. Sitting surrounded there by some of her 12 children and 20 grandchildren, she expressed a certain skepticism about the value of telling her feud tales to yet another outsider.

"I used to have Navajo friends. They are not my friends anymore. I guess," she said in English, recalling indignities in repeated testimony at hearings on the subject. She refused to let her picture be taken because "the Navajos have called me a liar. I can see them throwing a dart at my picture, or doing other things to it. No pictures."

Her children ride to school on a bus filled mostly with Navajos, she said: "The Navajo kids, they hassle my kids."

Kevin Novasie, 14, Novasie's youngest, nodded a polite confirmation.

Novasie must move soon, because Jeddito has been partitioned to the Navajos. Like many Hopis, Novasie believes her tribe should never have been forced to give up any of the land within the rectangle.

Unlike some families of the rival Navajo tribe, Navasie does not face a major change in her way of life, but will move just a few miles away, to Hopi land. Still, she says, it isn't easy.

On the far side of the Hopi mesas, to the north, lies the stronghold of the traditional Navajos who most strongly resist the relocation. Here, on Big Mountain, they live in a tranquil isolation where, as Daniel Ashkle, 69, put it: "There is no boss to pressure you, no watch to look at."

Daughter Jo Ella, 29, interpreted for him, giggling shyly because of the "sunshade" she had spread on her face. Dark red like a rash, it was made of pitch, sheep fat and red sand, she explained. "You wear it for a week!" After that, the face is conditioned for a summer under the sun which drifts above the thin desert air like a frozen explosion.

The Navajos here live in rounded hogans, made of mud and wood, or wood frame houses, often just one room. They haul water in aluminum barrels from distant wells or natural springs. They haul wood for the stove from faroff stands of trees.

As the shadows lengthened on Big Mountain, in a remote place called Wide Ruin which is approached by a "road" that more resembles a dusty gully, a Navajo matriarch named Pauline Whitesinger goaded her diminished flock-of sheep into a corral with a stick. It might have been the same stick she used in 1977, in a famous encounter, to threaten and scatter a group of men who came to put up a partition fence on her land.

"In our traditional tongue we do not speak of 'relocation'" she said through an interpreter. "To move away means to disappear and never be seen again."

When they come to move Pauline Whitesinger, she said, "they may shoot me right here. I will refuse to put my shoes on.""