SENATOR McCAIN APPLAUDS PASSAGE OF LEGISLATION TO REPEAL THE BENNETT FREEZE
September 19, 2008
Washington D.C. – Washington D.C. – U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) today released the following statement applauding the passage of S.531, which would mark the end of the “Bennett Freeze,” a 40-year old land dispute over tribal land in northeastern Arizona.
Since 1882, the Hopi Tribe and the Navajo Nation have been locked in a bitter dispute over land rights in the Black Mesa. Conflicting views on land use, development, and protection of sacred sites had so seriously strained relations between both tribes that in 1966 former BIA Commissioner Robert Bennett imposed a ban on housing development for approximately 700,000 acres known as the Bennett Freeze zone.
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, generations of families have been forced to live together in homes that have been declared unfit for human habitation. 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 2005, the Navajo and Hopi reached a historic intergovernmental compact that resolved their land disputes and ended outstanding litigation. The Navajo Nation, the Hopi Tribe, and the Department of the Interior all support congressional legislation to lift the freeze.
“This legislation represents closure to an unfortunate saga and would usher in a new era of tribal relations for the Navajo and the Hopi. Moreover, thousands of individuals living in the Bennett Freeze would finally be able to improve their living conditions. I was pleased to introduce this legislation and urge my colleagues to support final congressional passage of this bill.”