PHOENIX — As the Hopi Tribe signaled a new willingness to share representation in Washington, the Navajo Nation proposed Thursday that Arizona's new congressional districts include one with enough Native Americans to elect one of their own to Congress.
The Navajo and Hopi tribes in the past have had cool and even bitter relations, but Hopi Chairman LeRoy Shingoitewa said it makes sense for the two groups to be in the same district in order to have more collective clout on issues of common concern.
"The concept is what is good for tribes, not just one tribe," Shingoitewa said.
Leonard Gorman, executive director of the Navajo Nation's human rights commission presented the state's redistricting commission with several proposals that if implemented would dramatically redraw the landscape of much of rural Arizona.
Both of the Navajos' two congressional proposals would create a rural-dominated district covering eastern Arizona and much of northern Arizona, taking in the Navajo, Hopi, Havasupai, Hualapai, White Mountain Apache and San Carlos Apache reservations.
Both versions would reach southward to Cochise County on the U.S.-Mexico border, with one extending westward to include the Tohono O'odham Nation in southern Arizona and the other going through Pinal County to include the Gila River Indian Community.
Such a district, Gorman said, would put enough Native Americans in the district to ensure that their voting rights are protected and make it possible to have a Native American elected to represent Arizona in Congress for the first time, Gorman said.
A separate proposal by the Navajos would redraw the current legislative district that now includes the reservation to include less of Flagstaff and more of Apache and Navajo counties south of the reservation.
The Navajos a decade ago also proposed similar redistricting plans, but were thwarted. A former commission member from non-reservation areas of eastern Arizona succeeded in preserving a legislative district that excluded the Navajo Reservation, which instead was placed in the same district with Flagstaff.
The Navajo Reservation is now part of Arizona's 1st Congressional District, which includes Prescott and Flagstaff and most of east-central and northeastern Arizona – but not the Hopi Reservation though it is surrounded by the much larger Navajo Reservation.
At the time, the Hopis objected to being in the same congressional district with the Navajos on grounds that the more numerous Navajos would have more clout in Washington on land and other issues in dispute between the two tribes.
That resulted in the last redistricting commission drawing the congressional districts to have one extend inside another in order to place the Navajo and Hopi reservations in separate districts.
But the tribes' relations since have improved, and Shingoitewa said he expects the Hopi Tribal Council soon will consider a resolution on forging a common front with the Navajos on redistricting.
"Things have changed," Shingoitewa said. "Life has changed, and we live in a political world, and when you deal with politics, you need strength in numbers sometimes."
Commission Chairwoman Colleen Mathis later said a willingness by the Hopis to share a district with the Navajos would provide the commission with more flexibility.
Asked about the feasibility of drawing a congressional district as envisioned by the Navajos, Mathis said it would have to be measured against the full set of redistricting mandates. Those include creating competitive districts and respecting undefined communities of interest, as well as protecting minorities' voting rights.
"It's intriguing," she said during an interview.