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House bill would assist residents in one of the Navajo Nation’s most economically depressed areas

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Cameron Chapter
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The Cameron Chapter of the Navajo Nation was one of nine chapters within 1.6 million acres of the Navajo Nation that were impacted by the Bennett Freeze for more than 40 years. President Barack Obama signed a repeal of development restrictions into law in 2009 but widespread poverty still plagues the area.

For more than four decades almost all economic activity was halted on what was formerly known as the Bennett Freeze area of the Navajo Nation. A bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives aims to assist residents of one of the most economically depressed areas of the reservation.

In 1966, then-Indian Affairs Commissioner Robert Bennett suspended nearly all development in much of the western portion of the Navajo Nation. It was meant to resolve a land dispute between the Hopi and Navajo nations but prevented thousands of residents from even making basic repairs to their homes. Many still live without electricity and running water in the area larger than the state of Delaware.

Congress approved the Navajo-Hopi Settlement Act in 1974, which forced more than 16,000 people to relocate from the area.

More than a decade ago, President Barack Obama signed a bill repealing the freeze, but widespread poverty persists.

The House bill recently introduced by Arizona Democrat Tom O’Halleran would start a housing construction and renovation program along with infrastructure improvements and other economic development for the area. It would also allow some families to receive relocation benefits, among other initiatives.

"The relocation of thousands of Navajo families caused generations-long problems and has hamstrung growth and economic development of entire swaths of sovereign lands,” O’Halleran says in a statement. “It’s incumbent upon the federal government to live up to its promises to these families to right these wrongs and to provide social services, infrastructure, and acceptable housing."

Navajo President Jonathan Nez applauded the bill calling it a quote, “matter of fundamental justice for the Navajo Nation.”

Ryan joined KNAU's newsroom in 2013. He covers a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a frequent contributor to NPR.