Dark Days on Black Mesa

Page 7 of 12

Hopi religious leaders, the Kikmongwi, beseeched President Harry Truman in 1949 to forbid such atrocity.

Truman ignored them.
In the early 1960s the traditional Hopi who followed ancient ways of self-governance by consensus protested efforts by a renegade Hopi tribal council to grant mining leases.

Washington, D.C., bureaucrats responded by usurping the Hopi Constitution that "prevent[ed]" the council from executing mineral leases without approval of the Hopi people by "delegating" leasing authority to the renegade council.

By the late 1960s the traditional Hopi leaders had grown deeply suspicious of the council's attorney, who had negotiated a one-sided mineral lease with Peabody Western Coal Company. The lease allowed Peabody to create one of the largest coal strip-mining and water-consuming operations in the United States--on Black Mesa.

Hopi traditionalists wrote presidents Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter seeking to halt the mining, but none listened.

They turned to the courts, filing numerous lawsuits. All were thrown out.
As the decades passed, many of the traditionalists faded into the dusty mesas where the Hopi first built villages more than 950 years ago and where their ancestors roamed 12,000 years ago.

Only a handful of the Hopi's traditional religious leaders remain.
And only now are the half-century-old suspicions being confirmed.
The Hopi, whose tenets are trust and loyalty, were deceived. And nobody played a larger role than Boyden, their longtime attorney.

Wilkinson takes no delight in his revelation of Boyden's dual role. But he's pleased it provides proof to support the long-held contentions of Hopi traditionalists.

"This is one of the largest single events in the Hopi's thousand-year history," Wilkinson says of Boyden's role in the Peabody mining lease. "At least now the record is clear."

John Sterling Boyden was a pillar of Utah Democratic politics for decades. A friend of Utah governors and an acquaintance of presidents, Boyden twice sought Utah's Democratic nomination for governor.

The prominent Salt Lake City attorney grew up a devout Mormon in Coalville, Utah. He served as a bishop in Salt Lake City from 1953 through 1958. His contribution to the Mormon Church was recognized at his funeral in 1980, when Marion Romney, of the Church's First Presidency, spoke.

Boyden was hired by an unofficial group calling itself the Hopi tribal council in 1950 to represent the tribe before the Indian Claims Commission. The commission was created to determine compensation to Indian tribes whose land was seized by the United States. The work was lucrative for Boyden, who eventually earned a $500,000 fee, equal to 10 percent of a $5 million settlement the U.S. offered to pay the Hopi for the loss of four million acres.

The elected Hopi Tribal Council was no longer recognized by the federal government when Boyden was hired. That council was dissolved by the federal government in 1943.

To legitimize his claim as Hopi attorney, Boyden executed agreements with leaders of seven of the twelve Hopi villages, along with the unofficial Hopi council.

Boyden expanded his role beyond representing Hopi interests with the Claims Commission in 1951, when he convinced the seven Hopi villages to hire him as general counsel to negotiate with oil companies that desired leases on Hopi land. Boyden told the villages he would be paid only out of revenues he produced for the tribe, according to Hopi tribal records.

The plan to make Boyden general counsel was problematic. The local Bureau of Indian Affairs director recommended the contract be rejected because it would legitimize the renegade tribal council without the consent of the Hopi people. But Boyden went over the local BIA director's head and won approval from Department of the Interior officials who were eager to see the Hopi grant oil and mineral leases.

A BIA memorandum describes a Boyden meeting with Interior Department officials in which he says "that remuneration for his services will depend largely on working out solutions to many of the Hopi problems to such a point that oil leases will provide funds."

The BIA approved Boyden's general-counsel contract in May 1952, triggering controversy on the Hopi reservation. While the protests caused the Interior Department to review BIA approval of Boyden's contract, in the end Boyden's appointment stood.

The lawyer turned his energy toward gaining federal recognition of the unofficial tribal council.

The original Hopi council had been created in the aftermath of the 1936 ratification of the Hopi Constitution. The constitution, however, was strongly opposed by Hopi religious leaders, the Kikmongwi, and many Hopi did not vote in the 1936 ratification election. More than 1,800 eligible voters stayed home. The constitution was approved by a vote of 651 to 104.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty

Latest Stories